Dancewear en l’air: Elastic Pointe Shoe Ribbons

50 PhotoWay back when, I told you about the original “tendinitis ribbon”, a pointe shoe ribbon manufactured by Bloch, Prima Soft and Bunheads that featured an elastic insert to be aligned with the achilles tendon for protection. Well an even better version is now available from Body Wrappers / Angelo Luzio and also from Prima Soft. I recently tried the Body Wrappers version, and I am sooo in love with this product!

Available in their Pointe Shoe Ribbon Kit and their Stretch Pointe Shoe Ribbon Spool, these trimmings are made entirely of a stretchable synthetic material that gives a slightly shiny appearance while providing an excellent balance of support and flexibility. Prima Soft’s version, Extension, is available in either Original (Normal Support) or in Extra Support for high arches and overly flexible feet or ankles.

In addition to providing ergonomic support, these stretchable ribbons look lovely with canvas ballet shoes. If you are required to wear ribbons with your soft shoes, you’ll find that the stretchable material looks less contrasting with your tights and shoes than actual satin. They look so good in fact, that I’m using them for my advanced class ballet shoe performance this year.

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Dear CBT: Help for Broken Pointe Shoes?

Dear CBT,

It’s been eight months since I last bought a pair of pointe shoes and my left pointe shoe is already starting to die. My right shoe is completely fine but my left shoe is becoming soft and hard to get onto for pirouettes. I had my teacher check them, and she said my left shoe was dying and that its a good idea for me to start breaking in another pair. I just wanted to know if their is a way to strengthen just my left pointe shoe to get a couple more months out of them. Thank you!

There is a way to use jet glue or hot stuff glue to give pointe shoes a bit more strength. Check out this video by Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Maria Chapman to learn how:

As an added bonus, Maria shows how to find the arch point for your shoes, an important part of proper pointe shoe break-in. However I don’t recommend breaking the shank as she does, but gently bending them repeatedly instead.

I wouldn’t want you to think you can get too much time from one pair of shoes though – I went through a pair a week at my training peak. Ballet can be a sadly expensive pursuit! The important thing is to determine if one shoe is breaking in too fast compared to the other one and why. If there is a dramatic difference, it could indicate either an anatomical difference or a technique issue or both. Technique issues, fortunately, can be controlled to an extent. Talk to your teacher about whether you are working optimally on both feet. It’s possible that you are either not “pulling up” properly (shaping the foot with your own muscles and not letting the shoe take over) on the left or that your right foot is not working hard enough.

If this turns out to be only an anatomical issue, you may have a technique solution anyway, so ask your teacher about that as well. If there is not a sufficient technique solution to it, you have a superficial solution of purchasing two pair of pointe shoes – one pair with a shank suitable for the right and one with a harder shank for the left – and pairing them with each other so you have two pairs with a harder shank on the left than on the right. You want to make sure both feet are properly supported.

Thanks for reading and take good care of those hard-working feet!

Dancewear en l’air: The Procut Convertible Mesh Tight

Do you prefer the feel of no tights in your shoes? But your teacher makes you roll them down? Well now there’s now a tight made especially for you! I was truly impressed to see this design from Body Wrappers style A47, which mimics what dancers often do to their tights with scissors. Built to look to from a viewer’s perspective as a full-footed tight when the dancer’s shoes are on, it actually has three cutouts that reveal most of the foot within the shoe – at the toes, sole and heel. These cutouts provide easy access for foot care post- and pre-pointe class and allow better feel of the shoe for those who like as little as possible between them and the floor. BW included a thong between the big and second toes to keep the fabric secure around the foot despite the cutouts.

The fabric is the same as Body Wrappers classic mesh tight, A46, and like that tight it features a backseam to highlight your lines. Currently, it’s only available in one shade of pink which they call “classic ballet pink”. This color seems to be much lighter than the notoriously bright ballet pink but slightly darker than their popular theatrical pink – which makes it a lot closer to most pointe shoe colors. Available in small, medium, large or tall (yay!), this is a great tight for dancers who need to look completely classical but love that no-tights feel.

Check out the always beautiful Tiler Peck as she introduces this tight in this video by BW:

Is My Class Schedule Pre-Professional?

The word “pre-professional” is thrown around a lot. I mean a lot. There are a huge range of schools in the U.S. that use the word in their advertisements – sometimes when it shouldn’t be.  What does it really mean to be pre-professional? And what is a solid schedule for a pre-professional dancer?

First let’s define this somewhat over-used word. Pre-professional is used to describe dancers who are training specifically for a professional dance career. Pre-professional training programs are designed for dancers who show promise for professional careers. Admittance is typically by audition and these dancers are trained separately from those who train recreationally so that the classes can keep an accelerated or advanced pace. Pre-pro training is also sometimes called vocational training.

So how many classes are enough? How much is too much? Friends, there are many paths to Rome. I am going to lay out for you an ideal progression with an eye towards the female dancer with an above-average natural facility, but there are exceptions to every rule. If you read this and find you are not where you should be, think about what you want to change – and then figure out how to get there! I started late myself by many standards and in a small town. First I had to catch up to those my age, and sometimes I had to piece together a good schedule from multiple schools. Very often it’s up to you to make it happen!

It all begins with the first dance class (after finding a the right school of course!) There are varying philosophies on the age for starting ballet class. Personally I believe that the earliest age for ballet should be seven. In Russia, the national schools accept students for formal training at around ten. Whether starting at seven or ten, by the age of eleven pre-pro students may be taking daily ballet classes. Pilates, Gyrotonics, or another strength and conditioning program can begin at this age too. When I say daily ballet though… I don’t actually mean every day,  I mean six days per week. No dancer should train seven days per week – the body requires a day of rest to rebuild and recover the muscles!

By age 12, well-trained and naturally apt girls should be ready for weekly or bi-weekly pointe training. As a part of an advancing curriculum, character dance is a terrific add-on in this year for beginning to train in expression, acting and a bit of dance history in a different classical dance form. Hours should range between 9-12 per week. Also at this point, it is time to start auditioning for summer intensives. This will help students to get their faces further out in the dance world, network and explore other schools and potential companies.

With the beginner year of pointe behind her, a dancer at thirteen is ready for more classes and more challenge! Pointe should be studied 2-3 times a week now, always split across the week as evenly as possible. (Guys will often start strength training for partnering at this point.) Also the addition of newer dance forms like modern, jazz and hip-hop are great. The body should be technically ready to build off a solid classical base, and adding non-classical forms of dance as early as possible after that foundation is prepared will ensure that you become a much more versatile dancer. (Some extremely traditional teachers believe these classes are at best a waste of time and at worst harmful to classical training. I disagree with that very much.) A typical schedule at this level would be 12-16 hours per week.

By fourteen on this path, training can take 15-18 hours of classes per week. Girls should continue to work towards daily pointe classes by upping their schedule to 3 or 4 pointe classes per week. Increased mental maturity means that variations and repertoire classes can be added to the mix. These classes can be some of the most valuable for a dancer with her eye on a career in ballet. The choreography learned in variations and rep classes often follows a dancer for the rest of her career!

At fifteen, it is time for daily pointe classes… and pas de deux! (Many European schools begin partnering in early character classes and some U.S. school begin as young as 13, but typical U.S. training and also culture makes 15 a better choice here.) Twice weekly is great for pas classes, but weekly is certainly fine. A dancer at this stage should be training for about 20-25 hours a week.

In the last two years of training, cross-training might be introduced. (Think cardio and special exercises done during the dancer’s free time.) Training hours should increase to 24-30 per week. At the same time, performance opportunities should increase as technique becomes more established and artistry takes increasing focus. If you’ve been keeping track, our theoretical dancer now takes daily ballet class, daily pointe class, partnering, character, modern, jazz, hip-hop, variations or rep and a conditioning class – This translates to three to four classes per day, six days per week! And that’s not counting rehearsals (which don’t count towards technique training, in case you’re analyzing your own schedule), which would then be added on at the end of the day. I’m sure you can see why preparing for a professional career is considered such a serious commitment.

Now you’ve got a full-cycle layout of a training load for a pre-professional dancer. Does it sound exciting and wonderful? Or exhausting? Not everyone knows from the start if they want to pursue dance as a career. We can’t all be like Susan Jaffe, who dreamed about being a dancer and was sure from that day on! But if you are considering it, it’s really valuable to know what pre-professional training is like. Not only can you take a look at how much your would-be future competition is training, you can analyze whether you are getting what you need yet… and whether you want it at all!

Dear CBT: Too Late for Pointe?

Dear CBT,

I’m 21 and studied ballet from the age of 4 until 13. However I gave up and returned at 19 but had to stop due to lack of funds! I have my Bloch pre-pointe shoes and my flat ballet shoes which I do practice on, and I’d never buy pointes without a teacher’s instruction.

I’m looking to getting into training soon again, but do you think its too late to work for pointe?

– Ballerina Interrupted

Dear Ballerina,

Good for you for returning to your passion despite setbacks! First, I just want you to know that pointework is certainly not the be-all end-all of dance or even ballet. Ballet can be beautiful, striking and extraordinary without pointe shoes. I’m pointing this out because, not knowing your health nor seeing your feet, I cannot guarantee that you are eligible, but I will give you the parameters so that you can get going in the right direction.

Provided that a dancer is physician-approved for exercise, the only age-related barriers would really be related to bone strength – too young could mean the bones have not sufficiently ossified, and too old could mean they had reached a point of brittleness. There are other possible roadblocks to your success – genetic predisposition to ingrown toenails, limited flexibility in the tendons and ligaments to make an arch sufficient to get over the box of a pointe shoe and other such issues that are best assessed by a well-qualified teacher and your physician in-person.

Provided that you have no such limitations, the most important thing is for your pointe preparation is to get a quality teacher, preferably someone who has taught adults long enough to understand limitations that they run into and how to relay information in a way that makes sense to them. A good teacher for any age group will enforce a minimum of two ballet technique classes per week leading up and for at least the first year of pointe. You should expect at least two years of re-training to prepare, possible more. If you get there in less time, consider it lagniappe.

If you’ll go to my website homepage, look on the black menu bar and click Pointe Shoes. Read those articles. Then check out the Adult Beginner Pointe link on my blogroll to read about one adult ballet students foray into her first year of pointe. Finally, create an account at BalletTalk for Dancers, where you will find message boards moderated for professional dancers with forums for adult student technique issues and adult student support. Search those two forums for “pointe” – there are some great threads there. I think you’ll find these resources inspirational and substantively helpful for understanding what to expect as a potential adult pointe student. Let me know if you have any more questions after checking them out!

Dancewear en l’air: Elasticized Pointe Shoe Ribbons

I used to cut my pointe shoe ribbons and add an elastic strip to the spot that landed at the Achilles. The extra flex gave some room for the ribbons to expand and contract going from plié to relevé and vice versa. Thanks to Bunheads Flexors, there’s no need for such arduous work on top of all the attachment sewing you have to do!

Flexors come four to a pack (enough for one pair of shoes) and come in two versatile shades of peachy-pink to match practically any pointe shoe. These ribbons are recommended by dance teachers (like me) and physical therapists.

Getting Accepted: What Are “They” Looking For at SI Auditions?

Summer Intensive auditions are now in full swing, and I’ve gotten tons of great questions from you guys lately about what the SI adjudicators will be looking for! I know you all sometimes feel a lot of pressure about these auditions, but you should know that the adjudicators will make it as positive an experience as possible. Often, your audition fee will be a “master class” fee, and you will have the benefit of instruction and correction from exceptional teachers during the audition class.

I know what you’re really interested in, though, is the nitty-gritty of how your are being judged. Many factors are considered in your evaluation. I like to divide these factors into two categories: physical attributes and performance attributes.\

By physical attributes, I am referring to the body of the dancer. Dancing is a sport (and of course an art), and just like any sport you must have a body that is physically capable of doing the work required. Your adjudicators will be looking for dancers of a healthy weight who have a suitable physical facility for ballet. By facility, I mean dancers with:

  • Good rotation for turn-out
  • Long, flexible limbs
  • Supple muscularity
  • Balanced proportions
  • An overall good “look”

Of particular interest to auditioners might be:

  • Longer limbs combined with a shorter torso
  • A small head
  • High but strong and controlled arches
  • A touch of hyperextension in the knees

Of course, we can’t talk about ballet bodies without getting to the touchy question of weight. I am not going to sit here and tell you that SIs never accept underweight dancers. Sadly, some SIs might overlook an underweight dancer who is able to hobble through an audition, but these dancers generally do not make it far in ballet (or sometimes even that SI) due to their sheer inability to physically keep up. Without a proper muscular structure and proper food intake these dancers inevitably cannot perform as required. One of the saddest things I saw as an SI student was when dancers were sent home from a program for concerns of being underweight or unable to physically keep up. It goes without saying that being overweight will be similarly inhibiting, and that an athleticly slim figure is often preferred. So the most important thing is to be of a healthy athletic weight, and that means being neither over nor underweight.

Physical attributes are secondary to performance attributes, however, and these attributes include movement quality and the dancers ability to … dance! Performance attributes include:

  • Quality training commensurate with age
  • Good basic placement and core strength
  • Coordination
  • Musicality
  • Proper use of plie
  • Good lines
  • Strong and articulated feet
  • Quality port de bras
  • Extension appropriate for age
  • Strength on pointe, if appropriate
  • Ability to understand corrections
  • Ability to apply corrections
  • Ability to pick-up choreography quickly
  • Style and artistic expression
  • Great mental attitude
  • Passion for and enjoyment of dancing

You probably notice that the first ten items on this list are all related to technique. Remember that these adjudicators are not looking for perfection. In fact, up to the age of about 14, they are giving quite a bit of consideration to the dancer’s potential. If you are lacking in technique due to inadequate instruction for example, you can show through your ability to pick up corrections and choreography that you are very teachable and therefore perhaps an excellent candidate. As you get a bit older, however, adjudicators will be looking for a more finished product. By the age of 17 or 18, you will want to present yourself as a dancer who has most of her technique and movement quality at a professional level. They will want someone at that age to be working mostly on artistry with perhaps some technical fine-tuning remaining to be done.

Do not underestimate the importance of the last two items I’ve listed. Showing your love for dance through enthusiasm for learning and enjoyment of movement can and often does cause an adjudicator to give a student a second, third or even fourth look. Avoid the “deer in the headlights” look at all costs! Be present in the moment, attentive, focused mentally and with your eyes, and remember why you are there in the first place … because you love, love, love to dance!

Merde, ballerinas! May you all have an exciting and educational audition season!!