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Category: Ballet

Here you’ll find all posts related to the great classical ballet we love so much!

Review – La Fille Mal Gardeé | Birmingham Royal Ballet

Review – La Fille Mal Gardeé | Birmingham Royal Ballet

On approach to The Lowry Theatre Salford Quays, the exterior neon blue lights make it hard to miss. The bright colours continue inside with a modern, almost industrial feel. So it’s fitting that a non traditional ballet production such as Birmingham Royal ballet’s La Fille Mal Gardeé (or La Fille for short) would be showing there.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here are the cliff notes. La Fille Mal Gardeé roughly translates as ‘the wayward daughter’ and is set amongst the rolling hills of the countryside. A rule breaking daughter and overly controlling mother are at the centre of the story, including a handsome lover and a particulalry awkward suiter.44331935275_7f78d0ead4_k

Lise, the daughter is played by Miki Mizutani, the most dainty, music box perfect ballerina I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Her breezy, carefree demeanour was endearing, but boy can she pout when she doesn’t get her own way! There were a couple of hair raising moments with entangled ribbons and pointe shoes, but Miki had the quick thinking skills to breeze through them too, picking the choreography back up almost seamlessly – sign of a true pro! Her highlight for me, was a balance in attitude en pointe, whilst holding a bunch of ribbons above her head, and being turned on the spot by the dancers at the opposite ends of the ribbons!44331934325_4c646a21f2_k

Lise’s mother, Widow Simone, keeps an eagle eye on her daughter to prevent her getting up to mischief. Played by the larger than life Rory Mackay. With his genius comedic timing and over the top facial expressions, he easily makes the widow one of the most well loved characters in the story. Despite sporting some major padding and numerous layers of peticoats, he managed to execute a perfectly timed clog dance, which even that wasn’t without some comedy highlights!44331936345_e5b8c6da72_k

Alain is the son of a prosperous vineyard owner, played by Kit Holder, and whom the Widow has chosen to marry her daughter off to. At first, the proposed nuptials between him and Lise, makes you resent him a little, however being teased by the villagers and having his hopes of finding a beautiful bride dashed, you certainly warm to him. The way Kit plays Alain is a cross somewhere between Worsel Gummage and Franck Spencer, and his ability to dance without an inch of style or technique despite his high calibre training and skill, is an art in itself, and he easily steals the funniest character crown!44331937085_afdabb5c5c_k

The star of the show however comes as somewhat as a surprise, one which I’m not going to spoil for you. You’ll have to watch the production for yourself to find out, just get ready for the ‘awwwww’ factor!

No story is complete without a hunky love interest, and Lachlan Monahan fits this role like a glove. He plays Calas, a young farmer in love with Lise. His busrts of energy and athletic jumps during the allegro defy gravity, his tour en l’air and pirouettes a la seconde are sturdy and precise! Not to forget the way he partners Miki with a nurturing quality and genuine affection.30303623857_0347facea1_k

La Fille Mal Gardeé is a ballet that has it all – intricate choreography, pas de deux, comedy, folk dance, a maypole and more comedy. Did I mention it has comedy in it?! There are so many tongue in cheek, slap stick moments, it’s reminiscent of a classic pantomime, complete with its own widow! In fact, it should be reclassified from a ballet, to ‘pa-llet’ or ‘ball-to’ maybe even ‘balle-tomime’ – you get the picture.30303624647_e226e69ae9_k

The uplifting music and joyful colours of the cotumes really cement La Fille as a ballet for all, young or old, first time watching a ballet or seasoned pro. Birmingham Royal Ballet have a programme called First Steps, specially tailored to better suit the needs of children, however La Fille is such a gleeful delight, I’d have no issues taking my 2 young daughters to see this version. It would serve as a perfect way to introduce children to a full length production.44331936005_f014b018f6_k

Birmingham Royal Ballet are currently performing La Fille Mal Gardeé at The Lowry Manchester until 27th October 2018, where they move on to Salder’s Wells Theatre 1st-3rd Nov and finally The Grand Opera House Belfast 7-9th Nov. Tickets and more information on dates and locations can be found here https://www.brb.org.uk/whats-on/event/la-fille-mal-gardee

La Fille Mal Gardeé is certainly not one to be missed, my cheeks are still aching from smiling the whole way through, and if laughter is good for the soul, then watching la Fille should be prescribed as therapy!

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English National Ballet’s MANON Review

English National Ballet’s MANON Review

Arriving at the beautiful Opera House in Manchester, you can’t help but notice that the Grade II listed building is perfect for hosting such an opulent and decadent production such as Manon, with it’s hunters green upholstery and gold brocade accents. It truely sets the scene for the ensuing scenes of early 18th century France.

Kenneth MacMillan’s production premiered in 1974 and uses scores by Jules Massenet, although not from his Opera, rather using his other well know works. Manon is based on the novel, Manon Lescaut, by Abbe Prevost. The novel was actually banned in France at the time due to its scandalous, controversial and explicit details! It did however prove to be incredibly popular, with pirate copies being widely distributed. I wonder what they would have thought to 50 Shades?!

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English National Ballet Manon – Laurent Liotardo

The curtain rises on ACT 1 to unveil a scene at The Courtyard at the Inn. We are immediately drawn to the differences in the classes. The present folk are disheveled and dirty, dressed in rags, with their hearty and robust allegro and vigorous, almost out of control pirouettes. They convey a light hearted, fun filled demeanour. This is in stark contrast to the gentry and aristocrats who also visit the Inn. Their costumes of rich, heavy embroidered velvets, corsets, frills and pleats, adds to their grandeur presence. Such restrictive clothing exaggerates their straight, nose in the air posture. Their choreography was bold and regal, proudly displaying like peacocks but always maintaining absolute control and pose. We are introduced to Lescaut  who is awaiting the arrival of his sister Manon, before her departure to a convent. Lescaut – played by Jefferey Ciriotis with his good friend Des Grieux – Joseph Caley , a penniless student. Manon’s arrival attracts the attention of everyone, including that of weathly Monsieur GM – James Streeter

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Jeffrey Cirio in Manon – Laurent Liotardo

Manon – Alina Cjocaru – and Des Grieux  have a chance meeting and it’s love at first sight. At first Manon is coy but relents to her feelings. The pas de deux has a beautiful quality to it. The choreography is light and fluid with seemingly gravity defying lifts, echoing those wonderful feelings of walking on air and butterflies experienced with a new relationship. They hatch a plan to run away to Paris together. Whilst Des Grieux goes to post a letter to his uncle, Lescaut arrives with Monsieur, who has promised Manon to him for a tidy sum. Initially Manon  resists Monsieur’s advances but she is easily swayed by gifts or fur coats and diamonds. The pas de trois between these 3 characters is wonderfully creative. Manon is passed between the 2 men, like a toy. She snakes her way around Monsieur with imaginative lifts. It is clear that Monsieur sees her as a trophy, something to be glorified and lusted over. he displays infatuation more than love and Manon enjoys the power she yeilds over him, using it to her advantage. Lescaut is compliant and convinces his sister to leave with Monsieur. She looks back one last time before being escorted away.

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Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 2 opens on a a party held at a house of ill repute (where prostitutes can be found if you’re unaware of that term). The music is playful and energetic which mirrors the suggestive and coquettish nature of the ‘ladies’ dancing for the highest bidder. We see Manon, draped in more finery, and Monsieur. This scene includes surprising comedic antics, the audience actually laughing out loud at points. The skill and strength displayed by Jeffrey Cirio is astonishing! To be able to dance as if under the influence of alcohol, stumbling and swaying, whilst still maintaining enough control to be able to lift your partner above your head is highly commendable! Love striken Des Grieux arrives, distraught by the betrayal. Manon is dancing for Monsieur. She sees Des Grieux, but refuses to make eye contact with him, denying her true feelings, but love creeps in, and she begins to flirt and dance for Des Grieux when Monsieur isn’t looking. She’s tempted by more gifts of diamonds but ultimately choses love over money and runs to Des Grieux. A fight breaks out. Swords are brandished. The scene is beautifully lit, casting the shadows off the dual on the backdrop. The lovers flee and plan to leave for Paris. They argue over taking the diamond braclet Monsieur gave, but agree to leave it behind. Monsieur tracks them down and has Manon arrested and kills Lescaut in front of her.

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Joseph Caley and James Streeter in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 3 begins in the dockyard of New Orleans, where Manon and all the other prostitutes have been shipped to. Des Grieux has followed under the premise that he is her husband. The music has a naval theme which turns into the progressive like motion of the waves of the sea. The ladies are all clearly distressed and almost unable to stand. The Gaoler turns his attention to Manon. He thinks she can be bought and offers her diamonds, but she has changed her way and refuses. He forces himself upon her in what is a particularly distressing scene to watch. Des Grieux bursts in and kills the Gaoler. The couple flee into the swamps but the effects of the long journey, assault and heat prove too much for Manon. She has bursts of life, repeating similar steps to the previous pas de duex but shaky and unsteady, then suddenly becoming limp. Her life and recent events flash before her and she gives up. Des Grieux is inconsolable.

Alina Cojucaru plays Manon beautifully. The way she was able to portray feelings with a simple glance and gesture of a hand was exquisite. Her playful and light mood when dancing with Des Grieux resonates to the audience. The greed in her eyes when she is bestowed with gifts and her enjoyment at being objectified make you despise her. And in the last dance with Des Grieux, her weak, lifeless and limp body whilst she is moved around like a rag doll, makes it evident that this is her swan song, and you pity her. Alina is able to shine on stage without the presence of heavily embellished attire and diamonds.

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English National Ballet in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

Joseph Caley perfectly captures the essence of a young man in love, full of exuberance and vigour. The way he looks at Manon is reminiscent of a puppy dog. Her betrayal leave him completely distraught and his dancing becomes slightly on the border of uncontrollable, lashing out just as one would. When Manon dies in his arms, you can hear his cry without him making a sound, it comes from his soul.

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Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

You can also read insights of performing with the English National Ballet with other lead principals Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez along with their take on Manon, just following this link ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Manon is an emotional rollercoaster of love, greed and despair. Never have I ever watched a production that has left me so tense and brought tears to my eyes. Unlike the other tragic love stories like Swan Lake or Giselle, Manon is infinitely raw because it could be real. The story is one of life, the dilemmas  presented, the decisions made and the life altering consequences. I defy you to leave the theatre without it having a profound effect on you.

 

Manon is showing at the Opera House Manchester until Saturday 20th October before it moves onto Milton Keynes Theatre 24-27th October and finally at The Mayflower Southampton 31 oct – 3rd Nov. Tickets can be booked through AGT website here. AGT TICKETS

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ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

The English National Ballet are touring with Kenneth Macmillan’s Manon for only the second time in 30 years. It has been selected as one of ‘Autum 2018 unmissable events’ by The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday.

Ahead of being invited to the premier for review next week, we thought we’d give you a tantalising teaser with a Q&A with 2 of the lead principals – Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina.

Isaac Hernández, Lead Principal at English National Ballet

Q. How did you get into ballet?

I.H. Both my parents were ballet dancers, so it was in the family. I grew up in Mexico, the seventh of eleven children. We were home schooled, and alongside our academic studies, we also did ballet classes. It was a great childhood and I was hooked on ballet as an art form from an early age. I then headed off at the age of 13, to the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

Q. What’s special about Manon – in particular, this version by Kenneth MacMillan?

I.H. For me, it’s the narrative – the roles are well defined and so you get a real sense of a story unfolding on stage. I think it’s the most dramatic ballet I’ve ever danced – your acting ability as a dancer is really tested, which I enjoy.

Q. Tell us about the role you are dancing in Manon?

I.H. I’m dancing the role of Des Grieux, the penniless student who the central character Manon falls in love with. It’s a great role to dance – he’s naïve, romantic and a bit of a dreamer and so taking on his character allows you to go back to the simplicity of being a young man, experiencing life for the first time, and the emotions that go with that.

Q. What is your favourite thing about touring with English National Ballet?

I.H. For me, it’s being able to perform for audiences all around the UK – it feels like we build a connection with the cities we tour to and returning to these audiences feels special.

Q. Give us 3 words that sum up the ballet Manon for you?

I.H. Passion, jealousy, tragedy.

Jurgita Dronina, Lead Principal at English National Ballet

Q. How did you get into ballet?

J.D. I did lots of different types of dancing as a child – hip hop, street dance, ballroom. I also tried gymnastics, but I didn’t like it, so my teacher suggested I give ballet a go. My mum took me to see a ballet performance and I really liked it. I then auditioned and got into the National Ballet School in Lithuania, and my career started there!

Q. What’s special about Manon – in particular, this version by Kenneth MacMillan?

J.D. This is one of MacMillan’s masterpieces. The storytelling is just fabulous. As with all of MacMillan’s ballets, he finds the human relationships, emotion and realness in the story. In that sense I can find how to relate this ballet to modern life, and the way that one decision can have such an impact. In this story, you see Manon’s decision and how she can’t escape the consequences that spiral out of control in her life from then on. The audience sees her tragic destiny unfold.

Q. Tell us about the role you are dancing in Manon?

J.D. I’ll be making my debut in the role of Manon – it really is one of the dream roles for a ballet dancer, and one which I feel I’ve been waiting to do for a long time. She has a complex character and I enjoy working through the different layers and challenges she must face and working out how to best portray them on stage. The way you walk, stand, gesture – it all adds up to her character. I find there is a very clear idea of how she is seen by others and what she is to herself. There’s also her interactions with others on stage and the way the movement can convey the different relationships she has with each of them. It’s fascinating and very interesting to work it out.

Q. What is your favourite thing about touring with English National Ballet?

J.D. As we tour we bring the best that English National Ballet has to offer all around the UK. We bring an exciting and varied repertoire to different cities and different audiences and for me that’s really special.

Q. Give us 3 words that best sum up the ballet Manon?

J.D. Love, desire, destiny.

English National Ballet performs Manon at Manchester Opera House, 17-20 October 2018, before heading onto the Milton Keynes Theatre, 24 – 27 October, Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, 31 October – 03 November and finally st London Coliseum 16-20 January. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the website http://www.atgtickets.com

Don’t forget to follow our Facebook http://www.facebook.com/danceniche and Instagram http://www.instagram.com/danceniche pages for up to date news and inside information at the premiere of Manon next week, and check back here o our website for our review article on what we really think of it!

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Yoga For Dancers | 5 Reasons Why Yoga Is Good For Dancers

Yoga For Dancers | 5 Reasons Why Yoga Is Good For Dancers

Yoga can seem deceptivley easy, particularly to well limbered dancers, used to the break neck speed ethics of the studio, dismissing it as being too easy and even perhaps boring. Yoga is so much more than working the body, and the benefits are life changing. Read on to find out why every dancer should include yoga into their work out regimes.

 

  • Breathing Control

Ever been doing an exercise at the barre or centre and found yourself completely out of breath? Do you hear “don’t forget to breath” all the time from your teacher? You are probably unaware that you hold your breath during some movements, particularly the more difficult ones where concentration is needed. Yoga, specifically Ashtanga or Hatha yoga teaches you to focus on your breath and move with it. It’s a particular branch of yoga thats philosophy is to connect breath and movement, flowing through each pose. When you become aware of your breathing and tune into it, you become aware of when you’re holding it. Holding the breath creates tension in the body, and dancers want to look relaxed, making movements appear effortless. The use of the breath also adds a wonderful quality to your dancing, during port de bras for example, the breath should initiate the movement. Another good example would be pirouettes, breathing in whilst turning helps with the feeling of lift. By applying this technique to your dancing, it can really set you apart from other dancers, by literally breathing life into your performance.

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  • Stretching & Mobility

When dancers aren’t dancing, they’re probably stretching. However doing the same old stretching routine day in day out is not only boring, but your body switches off too, it needs new ways to be stimulated in order to progress. Yoga is a great exercise to add to your workout, because there are many different poses to choose from that target stretching out certain areas of the body. So you can tailor your workout depending on where you want to stretch in particular, making it different every time, keeping it fresh and engaging. Not only that, but due to the flowing aspect of continually changing poses, you’ll be training the body to have greater range of motion. It’s no good having great hamstring flexibility if you can’t access its full potential during movement.

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  • Reserve Judgement

Dancers constantly judge themselves. They analyse and criticise not only every minute detail of their performance, but their bodies too, after hour upon hour of observing themselves in the mirror. Dancers are hard on themselves, sometimes too hard. It can lead to a downward spiral of anger, self loathing, and low confidence. They will tear themselves apart and say things to themselves that they wouldn’t dream of saying to another dancer. Yoga harbours no judgement.You learn to be so present in the moment when doing yoga, that your brain has no room to think of anything else. Your taught to silence your ego, to hush that little voice inside your head that tells you you should be better. The more you practice, the more you are able to apply this train of thought to other aspects of your life, including dance.

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  • Listen To Your Body

One thing dancers are particularly bad at is listening to their bodies. They will push themselves to the absolute extreme, no pain no gain right?! They will keep working on something, despite feeling a little niggle here or there, until that niggle becomes a serious injury taking months to heal, instead of a couple of weeks rest it would have taken to soothe the original niggle. Why?! Because it’s so easy to fall behind in your training when  you take even just one week off, and they are scared. Scared of being left behind, scared of not being at peak performace for that audition, scared of their fellow dancers gaining an advantage. You have to look at the bigger picture. 2 weeks of rest, then coming back and working hard to regain what has been lost, compared to months of not dancing, followed by slow and repetitive rehab, then getting back to class and feeling years behind, is a small price to pay. Sadly some injuries are career ending. Yoga helps you to really be in tune with your body, to know what it wants, what it needs and what it doesn’t. Yoga unites mind and body. Some days during practice, an area can feel unusually tight, and you may not be able to deepen a pose as much as you usually can. Because your taught not to judge your body, you learn to accept. To trust in your inner voice that that is not what your body needs right now, to just let it be. To understand that pushing your body beyond its current capabilities is harmful, some even say its a form of abuse. We have to treasure our bodies, its the only one we have.

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  • General Wellbeing

In our current society, there are so many distractions in life, social media, commuting, manic work schedules. Our brains are constantly overloaded with information. Now couple that with the demands of a dancer, trying to remember countless routines and at some point, your poor brain will start to shut down. Ever have those days where the steps just aren’t staying in?! The brain is an amazing organ, but it can only cope with so much before it starts to let us know that its not coping with the work load we force upon it. Yoga helps to cleanse the mind. Due to the focus on breathing and being in the present moment, everything else is pushed aside, giving your brain a well earned rest. Just like restarting your computer or resetting your phone, your brain is refreshed and re-energised, more able to absorb information, commit it to memory and recall it quicker. This enables dancers to concentrate on performance and execution, exactly whats needed at auditions, not worrying about keeping up. Yoga promotes positivity, calmness, wellbeing and mindfulness. Studies found that an hour class, once a week, significantly reduced anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. We wrote about the importance of mental health in dancers featuring advice from ex professional dancer and psychotherapist Terry Hide, you can read here Mental Health In Dancers | Why Is No-one Talking About It? So by doing yoga, you reap the benefits  in all areas of your life.

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The world we live in today is fast paced, chaotic and, at times harsh, non more so than the world of dance. You’re judged in an instant, before you’ve even been able to showcase what you can do and why you’re different. Its tough on the mind and its tough on the body. Yoga is unique in the fact that it works on both simultaneously. It strengthens and stretches the body, and brings clarity and wellbeing to the mind. There are no negative reasons why you shouldn’t be doing yoga. So before your ego tricks you into believing that yoga isn’t enough of a work out for you, I urge you to try it just once. You will reap the benefits.

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Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks

Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks

The world, and certainly our social media feeds are awash with hyper flexibile poses and stunts, each one more jaw dropping than the next. Each person trying to push their bodies to the absolute limit. But at what cost? Yes, they are young now, their bodies are mailable and have been trained to be so for many years, but do we truly know the consequences of such extremism further down the line for these dancers, when ageing and all that that entails comes knocking?

The risks of hyper flexibility and over stretching are certainly a topic in their own right, but one person who knows the perils of over stretching from experience is Alixa Sutton. Alixa created a safe flexibility programme, which is so successful and achieves almost instantaneous results that she travels world wide, taking her skills and passing them on to the future generation of dance. We chatted to Alixa about her background, reasons for creating the programme and general thoughts on flexibility in today’s world of dance.

DN: Alixa, tell us about yourself and the reasons behind setting up your own flexibility programme.

A.S: I come from a Rhythmic Gymnastics background, and then went into Circus Contortion.  All my career I had traditional coaches & teachers who believed in the old style methods of stretching.  As an athlete & artist, I had one injury after another.  All the injuries finally acclimated in me breaking my back, and being barley able to walk for a year, let alone train or perform.  This was such an eye opening experience for me, as it made me realize that there was another way of doing things.  I also never wanted to see my students go through what I had.  I spent the next few years studying & learning from doctors, physical therapists, reading every single study I could find on all the new information we have now about how the body works and what is best for the body.  Then I took this information and incorporated it into the practical knowledge I have about dance, gymnastics, and contortion.  I have created a method that works for every body type, age and level of flexibility- but safely.

DN: How long has the programme been running?

AS: I have been teaching the Alixa Flexibility Method for 20 years now, but we have just expanded into doing Instructor Courses the past 2 years.  I also have to say that the program is constantly changing. One of the issues is that children’s bodies are different now than 20 years ago!  Some teachers may have noticed that the younger students are much tighter than in years past.  This is because the children sit so much now, and at younger ages.  They actually cause their hips to fix in a rounded position, shorten their hamstrings, and cause a huge muscle build up in their spines from all the rounding & sitting they do.  As teachers, the “traditional” stretches we used to use to improve flexibility, just don’t work anymore as we are trying to apply them to a different type of body.  I am constantly creating new stretches to help open the body naturally through mobility &

extension.

DN: Can you tell us some of your success stories?

AS : Oh goodness there are so many!!  Just this week I had a teenage girl who came into my course and told me I shouldn’t even bother with her as she was just horrible and would never be flexible.  I told her to wait and see.  At the end of the two hours, she came over and gave me a big hug crying and said she couldn’t even believe the difference she had seen & felt.  

A dance teacher took one of my Instructor Courses to help improve her teaching.  Several months later she wrote me that she was having so much pain with her own body that she was unable to walk. She started using my stretches daily and in 2 weeks was able to go on a hiking vacation with her family.

A student came to me and stated that she wanted to be a contortionist.  She was so tight in her shoulders, she couldn’t do a bridge and get her head off the floor. Her hips were also extremely tight.  We worked very slowly & steadily to improve her, and 4 years later she got her dream and was working as a contortionist in Cirque du Soleil.

(A before and after of one of Alixa’s clients)

DN: What drives you?

AS: Definitely what drives my is seeing the joy in students.  I love seeing someone who was always in pain feel better, or having that student who felt like a failure light up because they have had a success.  Flexibility is hard work, there is nothing easy about it in the beginning if you do it correctly, but it is so rewarding to see the changes in the students and to see them gradually become naturally flexible and to love doing it.  It is the best feeling when you able to give the tools to a student to help them improve and to hopefully stop them from being injured before it happens.

DN: What do you hate to see the most that’s currently in the industry?

AS: Improper technique.  It is very easy to do things wrong, and the students like to do everything on their good leg, or with their hips unsquared etc. because it is much easier.  But not doing flexibility in the correct alignment or on both sides equally, is so damaging to the body!  I think a perfect example is with back flexibility.  Most students use their middle/lower back to bend at because it is easiest and their cores are weak.  To do back flexibility correctly, they need good core strength and to use their hip flexibility & upper back/shoulders- not their middle/lower backs.  This takes longer to learn and is not as much fun, as students have to focus on good technique.  However, it will be the difference between having back pain & problems later on, or being safe & having a healthy spine their entire lives.

DN: What would you say is your no.1 tip tip for safe stretching?

This is a tricky question because I don’t think you can nail it down to one.  

1st I would say correct alignment & technique is very important during stretching.  

2nd It is important to relax.  I use mobility exercises with all my stretches to help the body relax, and to assist students who are very stuck improve more quickly & gently.

3rd  Making sure you stretch all areas of the body.  For example, ballet students tend to focus on turn out as they need it so desperately.  However, they often make themselves very flexible in one area and neglect others, creating imbalances which then cause overuse injuries.   They can improve much more quickly by stretching the glute & IT band areas which will open up their hip flexibility overall.

The Alixa Flexibility Programme offers student workshops, teacher certification courses and specialist contortion programmes. It’s currently on its extensive tour of the U.S, followed by Australia, the U.K and Canada. For more information on courses, locations and dates, please see the website following this link Alixa Flexibility

Safe stretching!

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Fame The Musical | UK Tour

Fame The Musical | UK Tour

Fame is synonymous with the 80’s, shiny spandex and a myriad of coloured leg warmers.  Following the huge success of the original 1980 film, a subsiquent spin-off series was aired, and the immensely talented cast also went on to have a string of creative successes of their own. So the word ‘FAME’ is heavily ingrained in people’s minds, and hearts, but just how well would this new 30th anniversary musical production stand up to the die hard Fame fanatics (myself included) , I was about to find out.

Sat in the auditorium of The Palace Theatre Manchester, there is a buzz of excitement like I’ve never known before a production. As everyone takes their seats, theres a burst of brightly coloured neon lights, and we open on a drummer and guitarist playing the oh-so-familiar chords of a certain ‘light up the sky like a flame’ song. But its just a tantalisingly  slither, as we realise its the beginning scene of auditions at New York’s Performing Arts School. (You can read our advice about auditions here Top Audition Hacks ) We then cut intermintenly to the other auditionees, until the final line up is revealed.

We soon get to the nitty gritty of the production with the freshman year, “a discovery of self” proclaims Mr Myres, the resident drama teacher, (played by Cameron Johnson). We get to meet the main characters, suitably nervous and unsure in disposition, well, apart from the gregarious, larger than life Joe, played effortlessly by Albey Brookes, who knows where the actor end and the character begins?!

Nick Piazza, played by Keith Jack (who shot to fame in the BBC series ‘Any Dream Will Do’) is a serious classical actor, solely focused on honing his skills, and oblivious to the romantic advances of his classmates, Serena Katz aka Molly McGuire, who’s vocals will blow you away in contrast to her nerdy and unasuming character!

We meet Tyrone jackson, (Jamal Crawford) who plays a typical wayward teen, angry at the injustice in the world, particularly surrounding race, but who’s passion and natural flare for dance carry him through. He is instantly attracted to Iris Kelly (Jorgie Porter of Hollyoaks fame) who’s a prima ballerina in the making with all the airs and graces that seemingly come with it. She confides in him that its all an act and she desperately poor, and once her guards are down, they become romantically involved.

Fiery latina Carmen Diaz is played by Stephanie Rojas, is ravenous for fame and will stop at nothing to reach her goal. She strikes up an unlikely partnership with Schlomo (Simon Anthony) a classical trained violinist, who’s father is also a famous violinist, but who’s rather be tickling the ivories of a piano, and sets up a rock band. Mr Sheinkopf is the German music teacher, and vocal about his dislike for rock and roll.

Lambchops played by Louisa Beadal, is the rock chic tomboy, who is the drummer of the band, never taking school seriously, and is constantly mocked by Goody, the trumpet player in the band, for being ‘a girl’.

Then there is Mabel Washington aka Hayley Johnston. She’s a talented dancer/singer, but struggles to reign in her love for food, and consequently, her weight, to the dismay of resident choreographer, Miss Bell, played by Katie Warsop.

All this is headed up by Principal Miss Sherman, (renowned Mica Paris) who’s comes down hard on the kids for not performing well enough academically, but truly loves and cares for every one of them and has the best interests at heart.

The quality of the dancing throughout the show is tremendous, and the energy never wains! We are treated to technically beautiful ballet scenes. Jorgie Porter positively glows whilst executing them, nailing double pirouettes into arabesques effortlessly! (Jorgie told us about her previous dance training when we interviewed her during a press afternoon. You can read about it here Jorgie Porter Talks Fame The Musical ) In stark contrast, the hip hop and jazz styles certainly pack a punch, as do the enviable leg extensions by the ensemble! The whole cast take on each genre with finesse and sense of style, completely maliable and adaptable, which are sought after characteristics in they arts.

Dance and music go hand in hand, and the live instrumentals played by the multitalented cast are seamlessly woven into each scene. You truly believe you are peering in on a band rehearsal, jamming away. As for the vocals, you will be left with goosebumps, multiple times. Keith Jack has a way of story telling to his singing, perfect for the stage. Molly’s high notes are angelic to the ear. Stephanie has a real raw quality to her voice, in perfect harmony to what her character goes through. And last but certainly not least, Mica’s soulful and earthy rendition of “These are my children” received a standing ovation from the audience, mid scene! She blasts out the lyrics without loosing a drop of sincerity, in what is a completely believable emotion and performance.

The show takes us on a journey from freshman year, to senior year show, in which you see the journey the characters make, as they blossom and fulfil their destinies. Those years are melted away by clever snippets of dialogue and scenes to show progression of time. This means there are huge amounts of swift changes for the cast and scenery, but its done in a way to mimic the fast paced nature of being in the arts. Subtle effects like the hushed sound of traffic in the background, add to the believability of New York life. I also have to mention the wonderful addition of the original cast of Fame headshots are illuminated as the backdrop, which light and fade echoing who’s currently in the scene. The journey ends with the whole auditorium on its feet, dancing and singing your cares away to the title song track, in what is almost an immersive theatre experience! I defy you not to join in!

Fame is as relevant and real now, as it was back in the 80’s. Controversial topics such as discrimination, race, drugs, teen angst and unrequited love hit home to many. Being a performing arts student, putting yourself on show and subject to criticism is a tough job, one made incessantly harder by dealing with the normal difficulties of growing up. To quote Miss Bell ” artists are special” and if you’ve got a special something within you, you need to work hard, fight to let it shine and the rewards will be limitless.

The production is currently running at the Palace and Opera House Manchester until 28th July 18, before embarking on it’s mamouth nationwide tour, ending August 2019. To find your nearest venue, dates, and how to book, visit the official website Fame The Musical UK Tour

FAME LIVES FOREVER

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Jorgie Porter Talks Fame The Musical

Jorgie Porter Talks Fame The Musical

We spoke with Jorgie about her upcoming role as Iris Kelly in the new production of Fame, her dance background, how she prepared for the role and advice for pre-professionals who want to succeed in dance or performing arts.

Marching through the busy streets of Manchester, I finally arrived at Studio 25, purpose built dance Studios with all the mod cons. As I’m guided through, I get a glimpse of Jorgie through the window, finishing off her previous interview – this girl is busy! She was in London appearing on a t.v show only the night previous, getting the first morning train to Manchester and heading straight into photo shoots, PR events and interviews. Oh the life of a pro!

I’m ushered in and greeted with a beaming, infectious smile and energy to rival a 2 year old after a nap! Her aura is open and sincere and I’m immediately at ease. It takes no time at all for us to strike up a conversation.

D.N Fame is such an iconic dance movie (which we included in our all time top dance movie list Top Dance Movies You Need To Watch ) Had you watched it growing up?

J.P – It wasn’t really my era, it was more the music. When you’re in dance school and do a show, music from Grease and other films are always used, as was music from Fame. I remember opening a show with a kick *demonstrates* to a Fame track. Obviously I’ve seen every show and production of it now, I needed to find out ‘who am I?!’

D.N – Your character, Iris, is a trained classical dancer. Can you tell us a little about your training?

J.P – So I danced from when I was 3, with my local ballet teacher. She was like a second mum to us. We adored her, never wanted to put a foot wrong, we respected her. I learnt so much self respect and discipline through ballet. She then encouraged me to audition and I was offered a scholarship at The Hammond in Chester, a prestigious college. It’s been 10 years and I’ve been so lucky to do Hollyoaks in between, but now coming back to it, I’m so much more confident.

D.N – Iris puts on a facade of being wealthy and upper class. Is it easy to be drawn into pretending to be something your not, in the industry your in?

J.P – Obviously with acting, it’s different, you’re pretending to be a different character. My friends literally save my life! It’s a lot harder to pretend or hide when you’ve got friends around. Iris Kelly doesn’t have that, but she finds it in a romantic relationship with Tyrone Jackson, that’s why they become so close, so tight. She opens up to him about being poor. As a kid, you think not having the right clothes and trainers matter, it’s a big deal. The show deals with so much issues, it’s so good!

D.N – You said you had 10 years off dance. How did you prepare for this role?

J.P – Basically, rehearsals for this have been enough! It’s mind boggling! When your mind has moved away from making your body move, it takes a little while to reconnect it. Rehearsals are so intense, every day, with everyone! Some are just out of college and have so much energy, amazing! I’m so lucky to be in it with them! All your training comes back, you have to do it full out every time. You know know, to be better, you just have to try harder.

D.N – Do you go en pointe in the production?

J.P – I can do pointe, but the fact that the tour is so long and a lot of the stages are so raked, I didn’t want to do it it and have to come off it. I didn’t want to jeopardise the whole show for one night of brilliant pointe shoe movement. I’d love to do pointe all the way through, it’s just not ideal. There’s other dances in it like street dance, and there’s just no time, it’s so fast paced this show!

D.N – Lastly, what advice would give anyone who’s wanting to peruse a career in dance or the stage?

J.P – It is the hardest thing ever! If you aren’t fully immersed into the hard work, if you think you’re going to have an easy time, it’s not for you. You have to take criticism and make it into a good thing, because you will get criticised no matter what.

(You can read our advice on how to take criticism and corrections here Receiving Corrections- How to be a good student )

You can watch the rest of the interview over on our Instagram page @danceniche using the new IGTV feature or on our YouTube channel using this link Jorgie Porter Fame Full Interview

Fame is premiering Friday 20th July at The Palace & Opera House Manchester, where it runs until 28th July. You can buy tickets through the website https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/fame-the-musical/palace-theatre-manchester/ or by calling 0844 871 3019. The Production then heads off to Glasgow to continue its nationwide tour lasting until August 2019! More more information on dates and venues, you can visit the official Fame The Musical website http://fameuktour.co.uk/

#famelivesforever

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Let’s Hear It For The Boys – because ballet isn’t all tutus and tiaras. (Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

Let’s Hear It For The Boys – because ballet isn’t all tutus and tiaras. (Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

Hear the word ballet, and you probably conjure up an image of a little girl with a pink frufru tutu on, pink ballet shoes, pink wrap cardigan, pink, pink, pink. It’s no wonder that there is a lack of boys in ballet classes! But all that is slowly starting to change.

Since time began, people have always put certain occupations and past times into little tiny stereotypical boxes. Firefighter – man, nurse – woman, football – man, ballerina – woman. You’re either pink, or blue, and woe betide you if you decide otherwise, because the whole world will try and convince you otherwise. But why?! Thank goodness that nowadays, these stereotypes are being blown apart. And the world of ballet is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we are only just scratching the surface here, but it’s definitely a scratch in the right direction!

Perhaps most of the problem stems from the fact that previously, the majority of professional male ballet dancers were gay or at least, perceived to be. Not that that should have absolutely anything to do with it, but in years gone by, when the world was a less tolerant place than it is now, boys interested in ballet were put in another little box all of their own, that they too must be gay. Like gay was some form of insult (insert eye roll here). This would either make them quit ballet, or not start altogether for fear of being ridiculed.

Thank goodness the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) has come up with a solution. They have recently launched a new programme, Project B. Their aim is to encourage and support more boys and men to participate in ballet classes by 2020 – the RAD’s centenary year. They want to help enrol more male dance teachers (as the teaching industry is predominantly women) to help encourage more boys to take classes and have role models to look up to.

(Iain Mackay leading a Boys Ballet Masterclass.)

They also plan, as well as many other aspects, on hosting more boys only workshops with specific male repertoire, so boys and young men won’t feel outnumbered and so discouraged from participating.

(Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

The program has already been a huge success, and looks set to continue on the same direction. Bravo RAD. For further information on the project, visit their website http://www.royalacademyofdance.org/projectb

We all know the amazing benefits of taking regular ballet classes are – good posture, healthy supple joints, long lean muscles. It’s now become popular for football players to take ballet classes as part of their fitness regime. They might sound like polar opposites, but think about it for a second. Ballet will help with having that explosive power needed to jump into the air for that header, it will stretch everything out so that sliding tackle is less likely to cause any pulled muscles or ligaments, and it will definitely help with agility, making them light on their feet when dribbling around opponents! In fact, it’s been documented that celebrity footballers Ryan Giggs and the Ferdinand brothers take classes, and owe many attributed skills to ballet. So perhaps when young boys, who see their idols talking about going to ballet classes, they will see it in a different light and think “If they can do it, so

Social media has also helped the situation along. With the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and particularly Instagram, which hosts an impressive dance community, we now know more about celebrities and idols than ever before. We follow their daily lives, their habits, their work and home lives. Dancers are no exceptions here. Many of the professional dancers use Instagram as a way of documenting their lives and connecting with the public. Take Steven McRae for example. Steven is a Principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. He is known for his strong, sound technique and athletic performances. He is also known for being a loving family man, married to Elizabeth Harrod, a soloist with the Royal Ballet, and their 2 adorable children (really need to check out their IG accounts, seriously cute as a button, doe eyes bambinos). McRae mostly documents his dancing life, rehearsals, backstage, warm up routines and eye watering stretching, but he also indulges is with how kind and gentile he is with his wife, and how he dotes on the children. Hugely admirable stuff. He, along with countless other male dancers, are proving old stereotypes wrong. They are shouting from the rooftops that there is absolutely no shame in boys/men being dancers. They are physically strong and fit and able to express themselves fully in their roles without sexuality even being questioned. Applaudable role models.

Girls have always outnumbered boys in dance classes, but no genre more so than ballet. I hear many studio owners and teachers crying out for more boys, so we all have to ask “What can We do?” Well, advertising is key here. Most studios I’ve seen advertise their ballet classes, usually stick with the pink theme, tutu’s tiaras and sparkly wands. Not exactly shouting out to the boys! Let’s make signage more colour neutral. Let’s just have bright colours instead of a sea of pink. Let’s have some boy models on the posters. That goes for Dance shops too. Hardly the most inviting place for boys/men to come and buy their ballet gear, if the pink is glaring at you from the shop front before you’ve even got through the door! Let’s search for more male teachers, be it as permanent members of staff or one off workshops hosts, so boys have someone to aspire to. We can all play our part, no matter how small, in helping our young boys realise a dream and being confident and brave enough to follow it through.

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ENB’s ‘My First Ballet – Swan Lake’ Review

ENB’s ‘My First Ballet – Swan Lake’ Review

The English National Ballet have created their ‘My First Ballet’programme, retelling classic ballet stories with more of a U rating, (let’s face it, the world of ballet is often gory and tragic) suitable for little eyes, but still as much artistry and original scores to satisfy any ballet enthusiast. With help from a narrator and a shortened running time, they bring ballet productions to the masses, inspiring the next generation of art lovers.

The Swan Lake production starts with a friendly and theatrical narrator, Louise Calf, on stage, setting the scene and detailing the backstory. She is enthusiastic and expressive, perfect for captivating little minds and getting them to engage, yet quietly sits at the front of the stage and observes the following scenes, as not to become a distraction.

The dancers themselves are all members of ENB’s ballet school. It gives them valuable performance experience, as well as a taster of what it’s like to tour with a production and dance those iconic roles that are the pinnacle of every professional ballet dancer’s career. However, don’t let the fact that the cast are still students put you off. The English National Ballet School is a prestigious education system for only the very best emerging artistes of the future.Although, Swan Lake is regarded as one of the most demanding productions, not least because the characters Odette/Odile are traditionally played by the same dancer, here they are individual roles. However, even the legendary 32 fouettés (series of difficult, consecutive turns en pointe) have been included in this production. On this particular showing, I only counted 29, whether I miscounted whilst being in awe, or the dancer felt something was amiss and didn’t complete the whole series, that in itself is no mean feat, and they were executed perfectly!

The production has been cleverly reworked by Lou Cope, with choreography by Antonio Castilla and musical arrangements by Gavin Sutherland. There is a great emphasis on ballet mime, with is echoed through the narration, further helping to bring the story to life for the younger ones. The music scores have been shortened to keep production time down yet still include the most beloved melodies, and the choreography still contains some of the classic repertoire whilst injecting moments of humour and simplicity. No diving to her death for Odette here. The story now goes that Odile cannot go on with the trickery of the evil Rothbart’s plan, so she reveals her true identity at the ball, scuppering Rothbart’s efforts, and sides with Prince Siegfried and Odette, helping them to overcome the sorcerer and follow the path of true love, whilst Rothbart himself is released from the clutches of the dark side, to live harmoniously, and everyone, in true Disney style, lives happily ever after.

I’d also like to mention the wonderful programme that has been put together, again with little ones in mind. It contains beautiful illustrations by Mark Ruffle, the storyline written down with photos and picture symbols depicting the plot, some classic ballet moves and mimes to spot and even pages to colour in. And of course who can resist production merchandise at the end?!

From start to finish, My First Ballet Swan Lake is a complete sensory experience. It’s a wonderful way to introduce a younger audience to the world of ballet and the arts, perfect for their first to the theatre, and no doubt will encourage them to want to see more productions, as well as perhaps inspiring them into becoming the ballet stars of the future.

The tour is showing at The Opera House Manchester until Sunday 29th, with last minute tickets still available via this link http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/opera-house-manchester/or call the box office on 0844 871 3018. They then continue on to;

The Grand Theatre, Blackpool 5th & 6th May

http://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/

New Victoria Theatre, Woking 12th & 13th May

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/new-victoria-theatre/

Princess Theatre, Torquay 19th & 20th May

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/princess-theatre-torquay/

All information can also be found on ENB’s website www.ballet.org/myfirstballet

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Comp Etiquette – A Guide To Good Manners At Competitions

Comp Etiquette – A Guide To Good Manners At Competitions

So we’ve previously written about good manners as a dancer in a studio and even dance Mum Manners, but do you know the things that are required of you at competitions and the things that are deemed acceptable?! Yet again, we are here to enlighten you to help you avoid any embarrassment!

ARRIVALS

When you first arrive at the comps, make sure you sign in so they know you are there and hand all music over that is to be played there and then. Make sure the CDs are clearly marked with your name, dance school and genre of dance. Once all that is done, make your way to the designated changing area. You may want to do your hair and make up well in advance, and just get changed half hour or so before your section is due to go on. This will give you time to warm up and suss out the stage area before your performance. We mentioned these things in our Comp Survival Tips article which you can read here.

BACKSTAGE

It is important to remember there will be lots of other dancers and teachers in the wings, whilst another dancer will be performing. You must act appropriately. Keep any warm up routines or practicing of certain elements away from the backstage area. These can be distracting for the dancer on stage and also pose a health and safety risk if there are a lot of others in the same area. Instead, find a quiet, open spot for any last minute practicing and warming up, then head backstage when you’ve got a few routines before you are due on. It’s also considered rude to talk too much or be too loud, as again, it’s disrespectful to the dancer on stage and could distract them from their routine.

CAMARADERIE

This doesn’t just mean to your own troupe or team of dancers, it extends to all the dancers competing, even if from another dance school. It’s good manners to wish a competitor good luck (or break a leg if you’re old school or superstitious like me) before they perform. Once they’ve finished their routine and head back into the wings, clap along with the audience and congratulate them, a simple “well done” will do. It shows no rivalry or animosity between different schools. It’s also customary to congratulate the winners and all other fellow competitors after adjudication, to show no ill feeling. We should be genuinely happy for them. Being humble is an admirable trait to have.

THANK YOU’S

This is a huge part of competitions and costs nothing at all. It should be second nature, but sadly it isn’t always so. Once you’ve danced, you need to curtesy before exciting the stage. It’s nice to look the adjudicator straight in the eye when doing so, it’s like a non verbal way of saying thank you. If you’re lucky enough to be placed, you should step forward out of the line up and curtesy again, to say thank you for being placed. Don’t forget to say thank you to the person giving out the medals, you don’t want to look self entitled or snatch! Be a gracious winner. The adjudicator may say what they particularly liked, what you did well or even some constructive criticism, so make sure you keep eye contact with them whilst they are talking to you to show you are listening. Just because you’ve been placed, doesn’t mean you still don’t have things to learn.

ADJUDICATION

When a section is finished, all dancers will be handed their numbers and sent back on stage for adjudication. Make a decision on which position you will stand – 5th or preparatory position are the most common. You may be stood there for a while, particularly if it’s a big section. Keep to the position you chose, keep fidgeting to a minimum, but most importantly, keep smiling! Once the adjudicator stands up to give critique and award medals, it’s customary for everyone to clap, this includes dancers too. Make sure you listen intently to their feed back, not only to show respect to the adjudicator but there maybe something that you could genuinely take away and learn from, even if it wasn’t directed at you. We mentioned this and other important things to remember in our post about receiving corrections here https://danceniche.com/2017/06/06/receiving-corrections-how-to-be-a-good-student/ As each place is awarded, you should give a small round of applause with the audience, then return to holding your number clearly with that all important smile. Then as the section is dismissed, all dancers should curtesy, as a thank you to the adjudicator and audience, before swiftly exiting the stage.

ENTERING/EXITING AUDITORIUM

Again, this pointer is common sense to most but not common knowledge. When music is playing in the auditorium, a dancer will be on stage. It is so important not to enter or exit whilst music is being played. Not only will it be a distraction for the dancer on stage, it could also distract the adjudicator from watching and critiquing the performance. Once you hear the music stop, quickly and quietly find a seat or exit the auditorium. The compère will try and wait before announcing the next act, but time schedules will already be tight and they can’t wait forever. In between acts, keep talking to a minimum, with a hushed tone. I’m sure I don’t need to mention that there should be no talking whilst someone is performing!!! On that note, anything that could create noise, mobile phones and devices, noisy snacks like crisp packets, even smaller children, you should try and avoid. Babies and toddlers are hard to keep entertained, I know from you experience. If you have to take them with you, bring lots of things to keep them entertained. If they do become upset or too loud and distracting, it’s thoughtful of you to quickly and quietly head out of the auditorium with the least disruption as possible. We all know how toddlers can go from 1 to 10 in lightening speed!

HUMBLE PIE

No one likes a boaster. It’s fine for you to win and be happy about it, but please don’t have a huge mass celebration for all to hear.It’s distasteful and can be upsetting or can come across as gloating. Keep celebrations to a respectful level until you’re home. On the flip side, be happy for your fellow competitors and their wins. They won fair and square and were better than you on the day. Learn from that. Do not show how cross or disgruntled you are in front of everyone. No scowls. Concentrate that disappointment into making your dancing better for next time.

TROPHIES

Most smaller festivals require for any trophies won to be returned the next year. If you receive a trophy, make sure you get in engraved with your name, school and year you won before handing it back, usually on the first day of the festival the following year. Make sure it’s not damaged and has been cleaned or polished, no one wants to receive a dusty trophy!

Lastly, it’s important to remember when you attend festivals and competitions, you are an ambassador for your dance school. You will most likely see the familiar faces of dancers from neighbouring schools who attend the same comp circuits as you. What you do and how you act reflect directly back on the school and earns it a reputation. With the above tips, that reputation will be one of praise and admiration.

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Surviving dance comps as a parent

Surviving dance comps as a parent

Dance competitions and festivals can seem pretty intense, especially for parents of dancers! There’s your baby, all on their own on a stage that seems to swallow them up, not matter how old they are! What if they go wrong? What if they slip and fall? What if they miss a beat, or speed ahead of the music?! In your eyes, they will always be your baby, and you’d do anything to protect them, but there they are, so exposed and you can’t do anything to help them if something doesn’t go quite to plan! But never fear, Dance Niche is here to guide and help you through comp season.

DON’T PANIC

Try to stay calm as much as possible. Children feed off emotions of parents, so you don’t want them to start stressing out and worrying unnecessarily. If they are worrying or nervous, they will look to you to be their rock, so make sure you’re the picture of calmness, even though your stomach is about to turn inside out!

Remember to breathe! The only difference between excitement and nervousness is the amount of oxygen getting to the brain, it’s the same chemical responsible for both emotions. Take big deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is also advice we give dancers too, you can read our competitors tips here https://danceniche.com/2017/04/11/top-5-dance-comp-survival-tips/

BRING PROVISIONS

Comps and festivals can be a long day, especially if your children have multiple dances. It’s a good idea to bring some food and drink with you for you and your dancer. The festival organisers afternoon have refreshments available, but if you’re there all day, it can get expensive! Try not to bring anything that’s too messy, so your child can eat in her costume whilst waiting if needs be, but make sure they don’t eat for at least half hour before they are due to dance, to make sure food has settled and they will be at their best.

It can also get very tedious waiting around, so bring a book or iPad to help pass the time. Taking your mind off the waiting will help keep the nerves at bay.

BE ORGANISED

If your have a tiny dancer, you’ll have to do the prep work for them. Make sure you make a check list and have everything ready the night before, including costume, footwear, music, make up and hair box etc. It’s a good idea to get them to help you in the preparations. It teaches them how to be organised and helps them understand what’s needed, as when they’re older, it’ll be their responsibility. If you have an older dancer, you can verbally check in with them to make sure they’ve got everything covered.

ITS NOT YOUR ROUTINE

This one applies to parents of the younger dancers mostly. I know they are small and look like a dot in the stage but it can be incredibly off putting for the adjudicator if you are doing every single step of the dance in the audience. Not only that, how will your child every learn how to take responsibility for their own dance and actually learn it, if they know they’ve always got you mirroring for them. If they have a blip and freeze, give them a small prompt of course, it happens all the time, but that should be enough to jog their memory. Let them get on with it. If they cannot remember the majority of a routine, you have to question if they are ready yet.

REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE THERE

You might feel feel like comps are the worst things in the world, and the added time, stress and pressure just isn’t worth it, but does your dancer think the same? I bet your child loves comps, thrives off them even. They love to perform, and not only does it give them more experience, but they wouldn’t even be doing them if they didn’t want to be up there dancing on their own, centre of attention! If you ask your dancer, they may feel a little nervous pre performance, but afterwards, they’ll be bouncing off the walls with adrenaline. You’re there to support you child, help them build confidence and make memories. If they don’t feel anxious about it, you shouldn’t either.

Being the parent of a comp dancer is often a thankless task, and it’s hard work too but just remember these few tips and it should be a whole lot less of a stressful thing. Don’t forget the other mums too! Competitions bring a real sense of togetherness and camaraderie, so there will always be a seasoned pro Mum there to hold your hand! You will find you might actually start to enjoy comps.

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Pointe Shoe Chronicles – To Darn Or Not To Darn, That Is The Question.

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – To Darn Or Not To Darn, That Is The Question.

Ah, the world of pointe shoes is the most unique and one of a kind since the Fairy Godmother magically crafted Cinderella’s glass slippers. What brand, manufacturer you wear, the specific maker, the padding required, all so dependant to that of the individual dancer, that no pair of pointe shoes are ever exactly the same. Sometimes the shoes within that pair aren’t even the same!!! Hence the reason for having a professional fit your shoes, which you can read more about here https://danceniche.com/2017/04/25/pointe-shoe-cronicles-importance-of-a-professional-fitting/ How each dancer chooses to prepare her shoes is also unique. You can read about the basic ways of getting pointe shoes ready to wear here https://danceniche.com/2017/05/09/pointe-shoe-chronicles-preparing-your-shoes/

How a dancer chooses to protect the platform of her shoes, is completely down to personal preference. Darning is by far the most traditional method. Not only does it protect the satin on the platform and the pleats, but it can increase stability and traction. However, it is a labour of love. It can take up to 2-3 hours per shoe, and is heavy going in the fingers. With this in mind, some companies have come up with a suede fabric piece that can be glued to the platform area, essentially doing the same job as darning but within a fraction of the time. This has come as a god send to some dancers and parents for whom time isn’t a luxury, who aren’t adept with a needle and thread, or those who simply lack the patience!

There is now another option. There are now people who provide a ‘darning service’. You pay them to take the hassle and effort out of preparing your shoes! Amazing! Dance Niche spoke to Maxcene, of Darn&Dance based in Bedford, UK, on the service they provide………..

DN: How did your company Darn&Dance start?

M: The idea was born some 18 months ago. My daughter dances, and after speaking to some of the other dance parents and listening to their struggles with darning, I asked them if they would welcome a service and use it – the answer was a resounding ‘yes!’

DN: Do you darn all the shoes yourself?

M: Darn&Dance is currently a team of 4 people, including myself. The team vary in experience from dancers themselves to arts and crafts enthusiasts. All members are fully inducted, so they are up-to date on the different processes and understand our standards.

DN: How long does it take to complete an order?

M: Anything from 3-5 hours for a pair of pointe shoes. The time difference is due to the stiffness in the pleats and how loose the satin is. Freed’s of London are my favourite to darn due to how the pleats fall! But I love them all, Pointe shoes are beautiful!

DN: Do you use a standard darning method?

M: My preferred method is using the blanket stitch. It’s clean and leaves a professional finish. However everyone has a particular style, so we have basic standards set out and work within these for a custom request.

DN: What are your plans with Darn&Dance for the future?

M: We currently run out of the UK and internationally. I would love for D&D to become my full time occupation and be established for every country that has a good concentration of dance schools and/or home to a major ballet company.

So if you are a dancer who wants to hold on to and preserve the art of darning, yet lack the skills or time, pop on over to Maxcene and her specialised team who are ready and waiting fulfil your request! You can find out more by visiting their website www.darnanddance.co.uk. Don’t forget to let them know Dance Niche says ‘Hi!’

Dance Niche

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Dance Mum Etiquette – How to be good parent.

Dance Mum Etiquette – How to be good parent.

Being a Dance Mum is hard, REAL hard and it’s a rollercoaster of high emotions and situations which can be tough to tackle week on week. I know this because I am a Dance Mum myself. Not only did I dance when I was younger, my eldest daughter is currently dancing, and I’m now also a dance teacher myself, so I’m in a unique position of seeing things from all sides. I’ve put together a few do’s and don’ts to hopefully make it a smoother ride.

DO make sure you are organised.

There are going to be so many dates to remember, exams, rehearsals, festivals, shows, workshops, fundraising, you name it. Get yourself a calendar specifically for ‘dance’. As soon as you get anything important through from the school or studio, write it down straight away. Even if the exact dates are not known until closer to the time, you can always mark with a star or TBC so you know roughly when or at least have those dates in the back of your mind if anything else were to crop up. When each event draws nearer, write a list of all the things that will be needed, costume, make up, accessories, food. If your child is older, you can give them some responsibility and compile the list together. Come the day, you can check everything off the list, and avoid a whole lot of stress.

DO make sure you pay fees on time.

This may not be your child’s calling in life, it may just be a flash in the pan hobby for them. For the studio owner and teaching staff, it’s a career, a livelihood. Blood, sweat and tears are literally invested into not only the studio, but the children. So by making sure all tuition fees are paid when they are due, you are thanking the staff for all their hard work and efforts, not just paying their wages. If you pay by direct debit, check that all details are up to date and correct to ensure a smooth transaction every month.

DO teach your child about responsibilities and commitment. Yes, they may only be young. No, the local studio is not a professional gig. Yes, your child may have exams coming up. It’s your job as a parent to teach your children some fundamental life lessons to prepare them for the real world. Ultimately if your child no longer wants to take dance lessons, wait until the end of that term. It disrupts the flow of the class to have children leaving mid term. You may have already pair the term upfront anyway, so notify the teacher beforehand that your child has requested to leave. Don’t worry, it’s not against the law, it just gives everyone time to adjust to the news before it happens and allows them to say their goodbyes. In particular, if there is a show or production coming up that your child is included in, please please wait till the end of the show before pulling out. It is every teacher’s nightmare to suddenly have bodies missing from a group dance, that may not be able to be replaced. Not only that, if your child has committed themselves to being part of that team, then they cannot let the rest of their team members down. Teach the the value of sticking it out until the end, for everyone’s sake. In the real world, they won’t have mummy or daddy to fall back on and give excuses out for them when they decide that they can no longer be bothered.

DON’T live your life through your child.

Perhaps you always wanted to dance but never got the opportunity. Perhaps you were destined for greatness but an injury ended your career before it started. It is plain to see when a child is being ‘pushed’ into dance more than they want to be. The passion is just not there. There is no sparkle behind their eyes. They grow to dislike dance more and more with every passing week that they are ushered to classes. Just because they have amazing ability or a general interest, does not mean they want the same things as you did. Dance may just be a fun hobby, or outlet for them. Don’t take that away from them by inadvertently placing your own dreams upon their shoulders. It’s heartbreaking to see, and not only will they resent taking classes, in the end the will resent you too. Listen, really listen to your child.

DON’T compare.With a mixture of different fortes and personalities, it’s easy to start comparing your child with someone else’s. So what if one child’s leg is higher than your child’s, or has an oversplit when leaping, or pirouettes like a spinning top. As soon as you start comparing one thing, you’ll soon find your picking at more and more things and the list suddenly begins to grow. One of my favourite quotes is “comparison is the theif of joy” ~ Theodore Roosevelt. When you compare your child to another, you are instantly sending a message to your child that they aren’t good enough. Not only will it kill the joy for you, but it will sap all of the joy out of dance for your child as well. Their confidence takes a huge nose dive. Think about it. It also works the other way around. No one likes someone who gloats. So what if your child has won 5 trophies last week, nailed her fouetté turns and been chosen to represent some brand. Everyone is happy for you, but it doesn’t make you any better than the rest. Stay grounded.

DON’T question teacher decisions.

As a parent, you can have a very blinkered view on your child and their ability. As teachers, we see them as an individual but as a whole group as well. We carefully consider every action and outcome before deciding upon anything, and it’s ALWAYS with the child’s welfare at heart. If your child isn’t on the front row for a particular number, if she didn’t make the cut at all, if she’s not yet been invited to pre pointe class, if she doesn’t have a solo, if she isn’t taking the exam, it’s because there’s a good reason. It may be your child has already been at the front and we want all the other children to have a fair chance. It may be your child’s feet are beautifully arched but not yet strong enough to meet the demands that pointe requires. It may be your child is a wonderful dancer as a team, but we’ve seen them struggle to cope on their own. It may be we genuinely don’t think they’re ready for that exam, when a couple more months hard work will have them ready and confident enough to achieve the marks we know they are capable of. If we make a decision it’s either based on health and safety or the wellbeing of your child. Please respect that and back us up.

Being a dance mum or Dad is a tough gig. The relentless taxi service you provide, the endless supply of money, family meals altogether a thing of the past, the stress and anxiousness you feel in their behalf. We, as teachers, are eternally grateful to you, as without you and the support you give your children, we would have nobody to teach, we wouldn’t have jobs! Just remember why. You do all of this because they don’t just love dance, they live it, and you love them, unconditionally. One day, when they’re grown and a family of their own, they will understand everything you did for them, and they will thank you for it. In the mean time, stay strong, and keep reminding yourself why you do it whilst opening a bottle, you’ve definitely earned it!

If you enjoyed reading this, you might like previous article on how to be a good student! http://danceniche.com/2017/05/30/class-etiquette-a-guide-to-good-class-manners/

Dance Niche

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Dancing Icons – Dame Darcey Bussell

Dancing Icons – Dame Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell has become a household name of late, chasséing her way into our homes (and our hearts) every weekend, thanks to being one of 4 judges on the glitziest tv show around – Strictly Come Dancing. She judges fairly, with eloquence and always with constructive criticism, making sure she ends on a positive note as not to dishearten the dancing celebrities, keeping them encouraged. She has firmly taken the seat as not only one of the most likeable and sincere judges, but as one of the nations sweethearts. A rare accolade indeed. But many of the younger viewers may not know the Darcey that we, as dancers, know and adore. So let’s delve a little into her life story.

Darcey – born Marnie Mercedes Darcey Pemberton Crittle, joined the Royal Ballet lower school ages 13, where she progressed to through the upper school before joining the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet (now known as Birmingham Royal Ballet) in 1987. Darcey was hailed for her clean and precise technique, so it’s not surprising that in 1988, she had a lead role written for her, which is when she moved to the Royal Ballet and promoted to principal dancer at the tender age of only 20, becoming their youngest principal dancer at the time.

Darcey danced many of the well known leading roles including Aurora in the Sleeping Beauty, and and the Swan princess in Swan Lake. My personal favourite role she played was that of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker – the qualities she brought to that role are exquisite! Another favourite was a sketch she did with comedienne Dawn French, where they danced the infamous ‘mirror dance’. It is hugely entertaining, and really shows Darcey’s wonderful personality and not taking herself too seriously! If you haven’t watched it, here’s a link, you’re welcome! https://youtu.be/UyIMLz_jRbI

In 2007, she retired from ballet, with her last performance of Song of the Earth, and received an 8 minute standing ovation! Dame Darcey is still very much involved in the dance world, despite her retirement. Not only is she one quarter of the Strictly judging panel, she is also President of the Royal Academy of Dance. Being quite the creative, she wrote a series of children’s books called ‘Magic Ballerina’ , about an aspiring ballerina who discovers her shoes are magical! She has also recently launched ‘DDMix’ Diverse Dance Mix, a dance based fitness regimes in which she pulls inspiration and moves from dances all over the world. She is passionate about getting people moving and enjoying dance!

Her most recent accolade, was being named in the Queen’s New Years Honours list, receiving an OBE and her title of Dame, which is hugely fitting. She said “I gratefully accept it on behalf of all the dance organisations that I am so fortunate to be part of. Dance is such a beautiful art form, it is inspiring and provides joy, social cohesion and wellbeing.” and we couldn’t agree more.

So here’s to Dame Darcey, congratulations, and long may you continue to enrich lives through inspiring others to dance.

Dance Niche

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TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, and is a fairly controversial topic, as there will always be strong views for either side. Before I continue, I’d just like to say that I am in no way advocating poor technique, or the lack of, as we all know technique and good form help keep us as dancers safe and injury free. It’s more to do with current trends in the dance world and of course, personal opinions will always come into play.

With the rise of social media, National T.V competitions and reality shows, dance – and dancers, have been projected not only into the lime light, but into the lives of young aspiring dancers everywhere. They follow their favourite dancers week by week, voting for them to get through to the next stage. They follow their social media accounts with enthusiasm, marvelling at each new pose they post. Instagram has a particularly large and influential dance community, as t.v and professional dancers from all over the world display their craft. Professionals. People who have spent years upon years honing and perfecting their craft with complete and total dedication. And of course much like you and I, they only post the very best photos, the ones that are timed just right to get that perfect shot, the grande jete beyond 180 degrees, the developpe a la seconde by their ear, and the ever popular ‘crotch shot’ aka side tilt, which seems to be as common as leg warmers in the movie Fame! In fact, it’s that common, and some say distasteful, that it has its own hashtag ‘#stopthecrotchshot

We live in a world where how many ‘likes’ your photo receives, dictates how good you are as a dancer. So naturally, young dancers are wanting to emulate the idols they follow, and post the best dance pose they can, hoping to rack up the likes. This has also transpired into choreography. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. More and more I see dancers at festivals show off their acquired skills, one into another, into another, but it’s getting to the point where they are almost showing off. Yes, of course, that’s what they are aiming for. They want to wow the audience and adjudicators with the amazing tricks and displays of hyper flexibility, however these elements are beginning to roll into one another, BAM, BAM, BAM! Quite often, these are the dancers that are placed. The ones who thrill us with their continual display of talent. But is it that thrilling?!

For me, Dance has always been about telling a story, being able to dance with such emotion that the audience pick up on the vibrations, making the hairs on their arms stand on end. You know the exact feeling I’m talking about. A good dancer can move you to tears. It’s part of the magic. You feel like you’ve been let into a private moment. It’s intoxicating, and leaves you wanting more. Can this simply be achieved by a display of capability? I think not. Don’t get me wrong, a well placed trick or element can really add a spectacular highlight to the dance, but it’s more than that. What about the steps in between, the facial expressions to convey the feeling, a well placed pause, a moment of stillness can hold so much tension and captivate an audience so much so the atmosphere is almost tangible. This is the true art of dance surely. To be able to give yourself so fully to a piece, to bare your soul, that the audience are able to re tell the story back, as they live it with you. Martha Graham famously said “great dancers are not great because of their talent. They are great because of their passion” and I think that speaks volumes.

But this doesn’t stop at tricks, and here’s where I could become unpopular with my view, it can also be true of actual technique too. Let’s set the scene……….local dance festival, lots of competitors in a section. There’s that one girl who has been genetically blessed for Dance……..the almost flat turn out, legs for days with slight hyperextended knees giving beautiful lines, feet that arch like bananas, and all the grace and beauty of any prima ballerina that has passed. But she lacks something. That spark behind her eyes, the fire in her belly, the calling from deep within her soul. She dances because she is good at it, REALLY good, but what drives her? Does she perform and project? No, she is selfish with her performance, and has a face like she’s simply stood waiting for a bus. Dare I say it………perhaps slightly boring! Cue the girl that isn’t so genetically blessed. Her legs aren’t as long, she doesn’t have the best turn out but she works with what she’s got and she pointed her feet as much as they allow, but she has something special. She has that ‘X’ factor. She doesn’t want to dance, she needs to. Her face visibly comes alive as soon as she steps on the stage and the audience know instantly they’re in for a treat. She captivated them so much, you can hear a pin drop. It’s also visible when you watch a group dance. There will always be that one dancer who catches your eye whether they are at the front or back. They catch your eye because they perform! They use their face as well as their body. They dance with such passion that it oozes from ever pore. It’s what an audience want to see. They want to watch someone who is interesting and intriguing, who’s fire burns so brightly they too can feel the heat and they get that all over tingling sensation that brings tears to your eyes. Someone who moves them when they dance. It’s echoed very much in the computer animated film ‘Ballerina‘(or Leap if you’re in the U.S) Effectively a battle between a talented girl who’s danced all her life, but dances because that’s what she’s always done, and a girl who has dreamed of being a dancer but wasn’t given the same opportunities, but her passion and determination she’s her through. It makes such a good story, because it’s a true one, “nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

So who would win? Ultimately, it’s down to the individual adjudicators, and again, this varies. Some favour perfect technique over performance, but I will always be swayed by that special something a dancer gives. In a perfect world, a dancer would have both, and these rare creatures are the ones that make it pro, all the way to the top, but they are just that, a rarity. Don’t let that stop you though, there is a growing trend in the dance world. Things are changing, slowly, but for the better. Companies are beginning to hire different dancers, differently by age, build race, but that’s a whole other blog post………

So what is your opinion? Which camp do you lie? Are you Team Felice or Team Camille? Content or creativity?

Dance Niche

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POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – shoe aftercare

POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – shoe aftercare

You’ve bought your pointe shoes, prepared them, broken them in and dance your heart out in them during class. That’s it right?? WRONG! What you do with your pointe shoes after class and how you store them will have a big impact on how well they wear and ultimately how long they last you! So take note!
Typically, a class can be anywhere between 45 mins to 90 mins. That is up to an hour and a half of your hard working feet being encased in your torture chambers………ahem………….I mean pointe shoes! And like any part of your body, they perspire. That means sweat! Yes, I know it’s gross, but when you’re a dancer, you do a LOT of it, so get used to it. Sweat is moisture, and moisture will break down the layers of paste and fabric in the structure of your shoe. In the end, of course, that’s inevitable, that’s how you end up with dead pointe shoes, but there are a few things you can do to help prolong the life of your shoes. 

HANG THEM UP.

When you’ve took you’re shoes off after class, DO NOT just throw them in your bag or wrap the ribbons around them and forget about them until the next class. When you take them off, they will be softer due to your feet and sweat working them hard! By burying them in your bag, never to see the light of day till your next class, you’re not giving them time to dry. Air needs to circulate in and around them for them to dry off in a natural position. Squashed in your dark bag, they will dry unevenly, if at all, causing them to distort. The best way is to tie your shoes together by their ribbons and hang them off your bag by the strap, then when you’re home, hang them over your door handle, wardrobe door, mirror, hook or anything that will give them air and light. And what’s more, they will then double as a pretty room decoration! Bonus! 

Another thing to mention here is that if you wear padding in your shoe of any sort, take them out of the shoe straight away, for the same reason. If the pads are damp and they stay in your shoes, your shoes will stay damp.

MULTIPLE PAIRS.

If you’re a full time student, or you take 3 + classes a week in your shoes, you may want to consider buying 2 pairs (or more if needed) Pointe shoes need at least a FULL 24 HOURS of drying time. If they are not getting that, they are potentially not fully dry the next time you wear them, meaning they are slightly softer each time, and so you’ll get less wear out of them before the die. Buying 2 pairs at once might seem expensive, but with only 1 pair, you’ll be getting though them double the speed, and have to buy a second pair much sooner anyway, so it’d be the same cost, but the shoe will maintain its structural integrity, helping your technique and safety of execution. 

NEW ENGINEERING.

Technology moves so fast these days it’s hard to keep up. Or if you’re like me, a traditionalist through and through, nothing but the age old paste and fabric will do. But what if there’s another way? There are now   new innovative designers of pointe shoes that have shunned the perhaps outdated methods for something all together more modern. Mentioning no brands in particular (I’m sure you know anyway) there is a certain company that manufacturers pointe shoes using pliable plastics. Just like other brands, they come in different shapes and shank strengths, but the difference is that because they are plastic, they aren’t so much affected my moisture, making them last much longer than a traditional shoe. This brand is particularly popular with full time students and professionals who have multiple classes and performances, not just because they last longer, but because of the pliable plastics, they are almost broken in straight away, supple but still with the strength and support needed. You pay a hefty sum for such engineering, but again, of you weigh up the cost of buying multiple shoes, it becomes more affordable.

SEASONS.

You need to take into account the time of year it is. In the summer, you will sweat more, but it will mean your shoes will air dry slightly quicker. In the winter, you will still sweat, but because of the colder temperatures, shoes will take longer to dry. A good trick is to place them standing up on the box platform on top of a radiator or boiler cupboard, or somewhere that’s dry and warm. It will help them to dry out thoroughly. This is also a good idea if you have multiple performances or a show where you would be dancing in your shoes on consecutive nights. Putting them on a radiator will ensure they are dried out enough without having being left for 24 hours.
Pointe shoes aren’t cheap, and you should also think about your safety. The tips above will help you to get the most out of your shoes and hopefully save you some hard earned cash too. 
Happy pointe-ing!
Alicia 💗

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POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – Breaking in your shoes

POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – Breaking in your shoes

As I have brand new pointe shoes at the moment, I thought I’d share with you a few little exercises I do to help break in my pointe shoes, so I can dance the best I can in them at classs. These may not be the technical terms, but it’s what I call them, so here goes;

SOFTENING

I talked in my previous post POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – how to prepare your shoes https://amummyfirst.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/pointe-shoe-chronicles-preparing-your-shoes/ about this. Simply wearing them around the house will start to soften and warm the layers of paste up, moulding them to your feet. You don’t even have to execute any dance steps! Walking around in them will really help to soften the shank and the top of the box, to help you find your semi pointe. You can also hold the shoe directly over a boiled kettle. The steam will do exactly the same thing. Give them a second or too to cool slightly before putting them on, then as they cool down, they will be cooling and setting to the shape of your foot. But please be careful! I don’t want any scalded fingers or toes! Use your caution or get your mum to help you.


ROLL THROUGHS

Start in parallel (6th position) facing the barre. Rise up to Demi pointe, pushing as hard as you can. (Demi is particularly hard in very new shoes as the shank will be stiff, but the only way it’ll get easier is if you keep doing it!) Go through Demi on to full pointe. Do a  small plié (bend your knees) you’ll feel you will naturally go over your box more. Use this weight to push through your ribbons and the tops of your ankles, it will help to bend the shoe so you can be fully on your box. Keeping the knees bent, lower to demi, again pushing forward. Then lower the heels and straighten your legs. Repeat this maybe 10 times.


REVERSE ROLL THROUGHS

This is exactly what it means. You’re going to do everything you did before, but in reverse order. Start in parallel and bend your knees. Peel the heels off the floor as your rise up to Demi, keeping the knees bent. Again the weight you create whilst having bent knees will really help to bend the shoes. Slowly rise onto full pointe. (Be mindful not to let the shoe do the work and ‘pop’ up from Demi to full, really feel the pressure and use your toes to rise up, this is where you build your strength!) push through your ribbons and ankles to full get onto your box. Straighten the knees whilst trying to maintain the position of the feet and ankles. Slowly lower down to Demi, then follow with the heels. This can be done around 10 times. You will notice the difference in the feel of these 2 exercises, even though they are essentially the same.


PRANCES

I call these prances, as it reminds me of horses that compete in dressage! Start in parallel. Rise up through demi on to full pointe. Starting with the right foot, slowly lower in onto demi pointe, keeping the left on full pointe. You’ll need to bend your left knee as you lower. Push through Demi onto flat foot. So right foot in flat and left in en pointe with bent knee. Whilst you’re here, you can then push over your box on the left foot. Then rise up to Demi on to full pointe again. Then switch legs. Slowly lower left foot to Demi keeping the right en pointe. Lower left heel. Push over pointe with right foot. Push up to Demi with left, then back up to full pointe. Do 10. Key to this exercise is speed. Keep it nice and slow and controlled making sure not to miss out demi pointe. 


PULL BACKS

Start in parallel. Rise up through demi to full pointe. Take a small plié and push through your ribbons and the front of your ankles. Slowly straighten the knees whilst reign to keep the alignment of the feet and ankles. Repeat 10 times. Here you are using your body weight to help bend the shank.


ONE FOOTED PULL BACKS.

Only attempt these if you have strong ankles. Not suitable for beginners. Stick with the 2 FOOTED version until you build your strength. Start in parallel and rise up through demi onto full pointe. Pick one foot up to coup de pied (by the ankle bone) Slowly bend your supporting leg, using the weight to push through your shoe. Straighten the leg trying to mainting the foots position. Alignment is especially important here. Do not let your foot sickle in this position, you risk damage. Keep the line straight running from your hip bone, down your knee, through the top of the foot and your big toe. Don’t compensate your alignment in order to push over, you’ll be building bad habits that are harder to correct once you reach the centre. Do 5 on each foot. This one is particularly hard going on your feet.


PULL BACKS IN SECOND.

Exactly the same thoughts with the regular PULL BACKS but this time in second position. Take a wider SECOND than you would normally when en pointe. This is because when we take a plié, we want to stay in a nice 90 degree shape, not letting the knees push to far over our toes. Rise up through demi to full pointe. Plié and really think about pushing ankles through your ribbons. Again you are using your weight to help you. Try to mainitain position as you straighten. Do 5 really nice slow ones, and watch those knees! 

I have advised what exercises/how many I do. Please listen to your body. Your feet will tire more easily in new shoes, as they have more resistance to work against. Perhaps start with half the amount first and build up. Also, with all these exercises, it’s quality of movement rather than quantity. You want to be building your alignment and technique correctly, right from the beginning. If you are tiring, your technique will slip. So be mindful and enjoy the process. 

These exercises can be used as a warm up before class to get your feet and shoes ready to work! 

Be sure to visit my Instagram page @ballerina_mum for a video of these exercises as a visual!

Alicia 💗

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Pointe Shoe Chronicles – preparing your shoes

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – preparing your shoes

So you’ve been fitted and chosen your make and model of shoes, and brought them home. But there’s a lot you need to do to them first in order to be able to dance in them! Pointe shoes come as they are, so you’ll need to sew your ribbons on, possibly elastic too, and darn the platform. Knowing correct placement and methods can be confusing, so here’s the best way to get them fit for class!


RIBBONS.

 Pointe Shoe ribbon should be 1 inch wide, and you’ll need around 2.5 meters in length. Cut the ribbon length in half just once, so you’re left with 2 1.25 meter pieces and set aside.  Next take the shoe and fold the back seam down flat into the shoe, and you should be left with a triangle shape from the sides. Take a pencil, insert into the folded seam and score along the crease to the outer edge on both sides. When you lift the heel piece back up, you’ll find to diagonal lines on the inside of the shoe. These are your guides on where to sew your ribbons. 

Take one piece of ribbon, find the centre and pin it on the inside of the seam at the heel, BELOW your pencil line, and follow along until you reach the end of the shoe, like this; 

Begin to sew from the centre seam, all the way along the ribbon until you reach the centre seam again, and repeat on the other side. I like to double up on my cotton and use a running stitch which keeps it nice and neat and continuous. When you’ve finished and turned the heel back inwards, the ribbon should lie almost across the back of the sole, so effectively your heel will be standing on the centre of the ribbon. This provides extra strength to the shoe and ribbons themselves, which in turn should help you with your technique. 


ELSATICS.

Depending on thhe fitting and requirements of your shoe, you may, like I, need to sew elsactic onto the back on the shoe to prevent the heel slipping off the foot when dancing en pointe. Please check with your fitter if you are experiencing problems, as this may be able to be rectified by using a different model shoe. If you need elastic, then you need what’s called ‘invisible’ elastic. It’s 1 inch wide again, and less visible and bulky than other types.

With your shoe on your foot, measure from the heel, around your ankle and back to the heel on the other side. Cut the elastic to this length. Pin the ends of the elastic to the seam running down the back of the heel piece. Sew in place on both sides. This will mean the elastic loop sits inside the shoe, like this; 

This enables your ankle to not be too restricted, but provides the support the heel piece needs.


DARNING.
There are so many different techniques to darn your shoes, it’s a mine field for first timers. What I’ll say is that many professionals use techniques and materials of their own preference. As a rule, if you’re a student, the way I will show you is the best all round for your needs. You’ll need some pink darning cotton, it’s much thicker than normal cotton thread, and a darning or curved needle. I start in the centre of the platform, and using a chain stitch, start working my way around, in a spiral, until I’ve darned the whole of the platform of the shoe, and just underneath until you reach the tip edge of the outer sole. 


DARNING is quite labour instensive and hard work in your fingers. You can now buy suede pieces themat are glued onto the area, however for me, DARNING is part of the discipline of dancing en pointe, and is such a beautiful thing to look at! 


SOFTENING

Before wearing your pointe shoes in class for the first time, you may want to start to soften your pointe shoes a little. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not; use a hammer, a door frame, stand on them, bend them. You will just destroy your shoes and possibly render them unfit for use. They may no longer offer the support you need, then you’ll be paying for a new pair pretty quickly! Professionals do this as they need several pairs of shoes for a single performance, which they need them to be broken in straight away. When you’re a stundent, your feet need to do this alone, that’s where they will build their strength from. But you can help the process. Wear them around the house like slippers. Out then on, put socks over the top to stop the satin getting dirty, and keep them on. It’s the heat and moisture from your feet that will start to soften and begin to break down the paste layers in the box, making them mould to your foot. Then they will be a bit less stiff for class when you can really start to work them during exercises.
I really think there’s something so special about preparing pointe shoes for use. It almost builds a bond between you and your shoe, you will literally have put blood sweat and tears into these torture chambers, but they are part of your craft, and all the sewing signifies the hard work has already begun.

Head on over to my Instagram page @ballerina_mum where I’ll be posting a couple of videos and ribbons and darning to give you extra clarity if you need it. 

Happy sewing!

Alicia 💗

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Pointe Shoe Chronicles – strengthening your feet for pointe

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – strengthening your feet for pointe

Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina, and every ballerina dreams of her day when she will finally be en pointe. However this is not something that can be rushed. There is no magical age when a girl is ready. It does not matter if she is the best dancer in the class, if she has won competitions or can do a clean double pirouette. It will be down to the teachers to decide when a girl is ready. It is dependant on technique and strength in the feet and ankles. The teacher may also take in to account the maturity of the stundent. Being en pointe is hard work and takes total dedication. So they will need to understand the hours of practice that will need to be done. 

There are, however, some techniques and exercises that can be done to improve on foot and ankle strength, that can be transferred into class, hopefully catching the eye of the teacher. Show her, prove to her!
Some props and aids you may need;

Tea towel,

Resistance band,

Tennis ball,

ELEVES OR RISES

Firstly, without needing any props, simple one footed rises will work wonders! Start on 1 foot in parallel or turned out, with your other foot coup de pied (just by your ankle bone) Slowly and in a controlled manor, rise up on to Demi pointe as high as you can, really concentrating on pulling the heel up. Then use the same control to lower back down. You will be surprised how quickly your foot and calf muscle fatigue! Do as many as you can, 15-20 is a good starting point. Repeat on the other foot. Try and aim to do this every night, you’ll soon see the benefits!

DEMI POINTE SHOES

Demi pointes, or soft blocks are a mid way shoe between your ballet flats and pointe shoes. They are manufactured in the same way as pointe shoes, but without the hard shank and not as many glue and paste layers to the box. Your feet have to work much harder in demi’s than they do in flats, which will really strengthen the intricate muscles in the feet and get then used to wearing something a little harder. Also great for helping to build balance, as the sole is not as flat, so you have to work harder for stability. 

DOMING

Grab your tea towel and place it on the floor. Place your foot at one end. Without curling your toes, tense your foot so it arches towards the ceiling, in a dome shape. This will slowly inch the tea towel in towards you. Carry on until the whole towel is ruched in. Focus on keeping the toes as straight as possible. Repeat on opposite foot.

RESISTANCE WORK

Using your resistance band, place the top half of your foot (from the ball of big toe and all of toes) in the centre. Flex your foot and pull back the two ends of the band creating some resistance. Slowly point your foot into the band. Try and think rolling through the foot, pushing the ankle away first, then slowly pushing the toes through last. Then reverse back to flexed foot, so toes first then rolling back through the ankle. Controlling the flexing of the foot is just as important as pointing it, so make sure you take just as much time on each half of the exercise. Repeat on opposite foot. Aim for 10 each foot. The emphasis here is the quality of movement, not quantity.

FOOT ROLLING

The muscles in the feet are all so small. It’s important to really warm them up before class or working on any exercises. Place a tennis ball under your foot, and roll it backwards and forwards applying as much pressure as you can stand. You can really work on any particularly tender or tense points. This is also a great exercise to do after class, to release and massage after all that hard work.

STRETCHING

Stretching the feet needs to be approached with caution. You can damage and weaken the muscles and tendons, so care needs to be taken. This can be done with a partner. Sit comfortably on the floor with one leg extended. Get the person to place the heel of their hand across the metertarsals and toe joints. Keeping your leg straight, get them to gently apply pressure, pushing your toes down towards the floor. You should feel a nice stretch along the front of your foot. Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort by your heel, your Achilles’ tendon. Hold for 5-10 seconds then release. Start of with 5 rounds on each foot.

Do make sure you talk to your teacher. Let her know you want to work towards being en pointe, you may be able to come up with a regime together, as she will already know your strengths and weaknesses, so will know where you need to improve. As always, be sensible and safe. These things cannot be rushed, and need a lot of hard work putting in, but it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally get the go ahead. 

Alicia 💗

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Pointe Shoe Chronicles – importance of a professional fitting

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – importance of a professional fitting

Recently, I went for a pointe shoe fitting, as my last ones were well and truly dead – RIP beautiful babies! There were a few things I wanted to ask, question some finer points, and wondered wether these would ultimately effect the brand and model I’d be fitted with this time. Michelle, at That’s Entertainment in Liverpool looked at my previous record, then at my feet. She then thoroughly inspected my old pointe shoes, the dirt marks, where they had worn, where the shanks had softened, even feeling inside of the shoe. To an experienced fitter, worn shoes give away so many clues as to wear and tear, how they have been stored, and any issues that may have arisen. After trying on a couple of different options, I came away with the same model, which I’m thrilled about, as I loved them! But I came away realising just how important an expert fitting is. It’s not to be taken lightly. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Foot types

A fitter will first look at your bare feet. They look at length on toes, length of  the foot as a whole, width, height of the arch, and compression amongst other things. Looking at this information, they can start to narrow down the brands and models of shoes which might be suitable.

Padding

There are a range of different offing options available to help protect your tootsies. Now is the time to tell your fitter what your preferences are, as she will want to start fitting and trying out different shoes with your padding on. No point finding a perfect shoe only to find out after it’s too tight with your padding in!

Brands & models

There are so many different manufacturers of pointe shoes, each with a huge selection of models. Each different model will have a different shank strength, profile height, vamp height, width, box shape etc. An expert fitter such as the guys down at Thats Entertainment,  have years upon years of knowledge. They can easily look at a foot and  match it with a maker and model without a second though.

Trial & Error

Even with this knowledge, everyone’s feet respond differently. A good fitter will access each shoe on the feet, how they look on the flat, and up en pointe. They will also ask a lot of questions about how they feel on. Too much pressure on toes? Pinching or squeezing? They will be able to analyse what the issue is, and try out a different shoe.

Usage

You will be asked how often and for how long you wear your pointe shoes. If it’s often, they may recommend a harder shoe so you get a longer wear out of them. If it’s more than twice a week, they may even recommend 2 pairs of shoes, to use on rotation to prevent them breaking down too early.

All in all, pointe shoes are a specialised piece of equipment, and the damage that an incorrect fitting can cause, not only to the foot itself, but your technique, is not worth the risk. It’s also a costly mistake buying your own and only when you go to wear them, discover that something isn’t right. I understand that a reliable fitter may not be hugely accessible all of the time, but I’d rather travel an hour to receive such a high level of expertise and after care, than risk injury or irreparable damage.

Your body is your medium for dance, look after it.

Alicia 💗

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