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Category: Ballet

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

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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