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Category: Ballet

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

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!’

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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/

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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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