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!

DVD Auditions for the Distance Dancer – Part 1

Uh-oh! One of your top summer intensive choices isn’t auditioning anywhere near you this year, and you can’t travel to them. No worries – DVD auditions are accepted by many national and regional ballet schools. (Though some, like SAB, only accept videos from foreign students.) And with a few tips, you’ll be well on your way to an audition-worthy disk.

This post is in two parts because there are so many tips on this that I’d like to give you. Today, I’ll focus on the content – what you are going to perform for your video audition. In Part 2, we’ll talk logistics, filming style, how-to and putting together the audition packet.

Just as with live auditions, most schools devote at least one page on their website to video auditions: what to wear, what steps to include, what papers to include and how long it should be. Find this for each of your video audition schools and print out the pages for easy reference and comparison. In order to prevent yourself from having to make more than one audition video, read through the requirements of all your schools of interest to see if you can make one DVD to satisfy all of them. Usually, the only time this won’t work is when one school requires a you to send a variation – many schools will not want variations on your video, so you will need to make a separate disks for the two types.

Most schools will simply want a short barre and center class, but with special modifications. If you read all requirements carefully, you will find that most modifications can be combined and do not conflict with each other, so that you can make one class DVD to use for all your auditions. If you can’t however, don’t try to buck the rules. If you need to make different tapes, just go ahead and make different tapes. Run a single taping session and use editing to pick and choose what portions should be included for each school. Then, make darn sure not to mix up those different DVDs.

While some of us (ahem, moi) might make perfectly successful SI DVD auditions without rehearsing, that is not the recommended protocol! I only made my tapes with no rehearsal as a young dancer because I didn’t know any better, and that’s the very reason I created this blog – So other dancers won’t be as clueless as I once was!

You want to decide ahead of time exactly what exercises you will perform, which side you will perform for each, what music you will use for each, etc, and then practice, practice, clean, clean. Make yourself a list so you don’t accidentally forget to perform one during your taping. If you forget to perform a step, it will be impossible to tape a new session and splice it into your DVD without the details of your hair, makeup and background giving away your cheat.

One of your teachers can help you put together exercises that conform with the audition requirements. Make sure to provide them with the requirements well in advance. If all it says is to include barre and center, here are some sample (Vaganova) exercises you might include for the barre:

Pliés – Just do something straightforward like demi, demi, grand, and a port de bras or port de corp in first, second, fourth and fifth.

Tendu – Three battement tendus (from fifth, first, and then fifth again) ending the third one in demi plié. Instead of en croix, perhaps go front, side, back, and then balance in fifth or rétiré before your reversal. I would also recommend using a full port de bras in each direction to show your understanding of the lines involved there.

Jeté – Two quick battement jetés and one pas de cheval, perhaps with the arm in second and ending with a relevé rétiré balance with arms in first or, if you are advanced enough, with a single pirouette from fifth. Perform this devant, a lá seconde, and devant with your inside leg to jazz it up before reversing, but realize how that will change the pirouette directions.

Rond de Jambe – To a waltz: two slow ronds par terre, two quick ronds, degagé to 90 degrees, demi rond at 90 to a lá seconde, one rond de jambe en l’air, demi rond to derrière 90, close fifth. Reverse. Since this is an audition, I would save time and not include a port de corp if you have already included one with your plié exercise.

Frappé – Two (Cecchetti) frappés devant, one relevé, repeat a lá seconde, repeat derrière, then frappé a lá seconde into relevé and petit battements. Reverse and balance in relevé sur le coup de pied before closing fifth.

Adagio/Fondu – Developpé devant, battement fondu simple to 90 degrees en relevé, hold or balance for a moment and close fifth. Repeat a lá seconde. Repeat derrière/arabesque. Instead of repeating to the side, hold the balance in arabesque for the final counts. Do not reverse.

Grand Battement – Keep it simple with two grand battements en croix with arm in third for devant and derrière.

You’ll note that this is a very short barre with few balances and port de corps. Remember that your adjudicators need only a snapshot of a class.

Center should include an adage, pirouettes, petit allegro, grand allegro and pointework for ladies so advanced. Some sample exercises:

Adagio – Beginning croisé, developpé croisé devant, passé through rétiré to attitude éffacé, stretch to second arabesque, relevé to pas de bourée into demi plié fifth, developpé écarté devant, promenade to écarté derrière, relevé and tombé into balancé to the right, devellopé the left leg through sur le coup de pied to chassé croisé en avant on the left and close the right leg back. Repeat left.

Tours – On the diagonal in fifth croisé with right foot front, chasse croisé en avant to prepare. Tombé pas de bourée to the right, piqué to first arabesque, land in fourth position with left leg front, single pirouette en dehors to fourth, double pirouette en dehors to fourth. (Or balance in retiré and then a single pirouette if that better suits your level.) Perform once right and once left, preferably without a break – Just rond the right leg around at the end of right side.

Petit allegro – From fifth en face, right foot behind: Glissade, jeté right, glissade, jeté left, balloté devant éffacé, balloté derrière éffacé, coupé and brush to assémblé side with the left leg, closing back. Peform right and left, with battu on the jetés and assemblé if you are advanced enough.

Grand allegro – Same preparation as pirouette exercise. Sauté first arabesque, glissade, pas de chat, sauté first arabesque, glissade, grand jeté, pas couru and piqué into third arabesque, chasse into grand jeté en tournant entrelacé landing in fourth arabesque, small devellopé through to devant and chassé into chainés, chassé out and into first arabesque a térre.

If you are over 13, you may be required to perform the whole video en pointe in addition to the next section.

Pointework 1 – En face: two echappés changée to second, one to fourth, and one passé through retire; repeat that phrase to the left; pique with the right leg into pas de bourée suivi traveling right, continue into a small circle around yourself, changée fifth in sous-sous, chassé an avant croisé on the left foot and close right foot behind to fifth. Repeat to the left.

Pointework 2 – En diagonale: pique first arabesque, tombé over, coupe under to renversé, pas de bourée en tournant, coupé over on the left foot into piqué pas de bourée closing in fifth position demi plié, and chassé en arriére to croisé devant in prep for left. Repeat to the left.

Pointework 3 –  Piqué turns en diagonale.

Pointework 4 – If you have enough room on your tape, show off any pointe strengths that you would like in a set of 16 or 32 counts. I always added hops on pointe to my audition videos. Fouetté rond de jambes en tournant (foutté turns) are rarely requested, but do include them if they are a specialty of yours.

Remember to finish each exercise cleanly. And check those requirements – San Fransisco and Miami City have very specific DVD choreography specifications that would not be satisfied by the above sample.

If a variation is requested, make sure you don’t include something so long that you can’t also fit your barre and center while accommodating the time limit. Two of my favorite short variations for pre-pro dancers are Bluebird from Sleeping Beauty and Kitri’s (second) first act variation from Don Quixote. Each one is only about a minute, and both feature jumps, turns and pointework.

See? This won’t be so bad. Videos let you a) audition in the comfort of your home-field-advantage studio, b) create exercises that present you at your very best, c) practice the exercises ahead of time and d) take multiple recordings from which to choose your best execution. In the next post, I’ll help you get this awesome DVD made and help you put together your best video application packet.

Pretty Pointe Shoes, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Peachy pink satin pointe shoes … so beautiful! But they don’t stay that way for long do they? No, after a few hours worth of barre, your pointe shoes will be broken-in and start showing small signs of wear. That perfect amount of break-in only last so long before they start getting too soft and worn down.

If you are taking multiple pointe classes a week, your shoes could even be all used up in a week or even less! If you are still early in your pointe training, your shoes will last much longer – you may even grow out of them before they have a chance to get totally “dead” – but it’s still important to know how to look for signs of too much wear.

The reason that pointe shoes are unfit for wear at a cetain point is that they stop supporting the foot. That will put unnecessary strain and stress on the joints, muscles and connective tissues of your feet. Your pointe shoes are unfit for wear when they offer only minimal resistance in roll-through releve, when they stop supporting the arch and certainly when they allow the metatarsal to pop out of the throat of the shoe.

Some dancers prefer to keep their dead shoes for demi-pointe use during non-pointe ballet classes. This can help a dancer continue to become comfortable in a pointe shoes. Personally, I prefer a real soft shoe for ballet technique classes, but some might find the dead pointe shoes useful for training. Plus, they don’t have to buy soft shoes anymore.

Before storing your “dead” pointe shoes or giving them away as gifts, take some time to analyze how they broke-in. Did the shank break or break-down much more quickly than the box? You may need a stronger shank or possibly a higher vamp. Did the box break down before you got the shank broken-in? You might need a softer shank or even a lower vamp. Take note of how the features of the shoe worked for you throughout your working in them. Make a list of good and bad things you noticed about the break-in and bring it and the shoe’s brand and style name with you when you go for your next fitting. This information is invaluable in deciding whether you should move to a different brand or style or if you are having technique issues that need to be straightened out. Ask your teacher for help if you’re not sure how to make these observations.

Pointe shoes are expensive and breaking in new ones can be no fun, but your health and safety are paramount! Learn to recognize when your pointe shoes are beyond safe use and when it’s time to get re-fitted and buy new ones.