Friday, November 30, 2007

Dancing In Pointe Shoes - Not More Homework!

This is homework about dancing in pointe shoes you are going to love. Why? How do I know that?

Because I know that young dancers are serious, and usually quite organized. And they beam with satisfaction when they can do something that was extremely difficult a week ago.

In the book about the perfect pointe preparations, the organization is handed to you. Charts, progress notes, are all there for you to use.

Learning new information is quite thrilling when you may have been wondering "why don't my feet arch over as easily as hers"? Or "how can I get my foot into a pointe shoe when my toes are such different lengths?"

Thinking that you are simply stuck with the feet you were born with is quite discouraging. Every student is eager to know if her foot can be more flexible, to make pointe work easier, or if she is truly ever going to be able to control her hyper-mobile foot joints and progress without injury.

Having the tools you need to do more homework, safely, and more homework that you love and get results from, is being empowered to progress.

I think it takes a lot of the mystique out of the undefined "talent" idea.

When I first studied dance, I thought that talent meant you had the long legs, high arches, long neck, etc., etc., and I thought that because those dancers got all the attention in class. And yet, as a child, I thought that those girls didn't need the teacher's help much - she showed something and they just did it. And it looked right. So why weren't the less physically able helped more? That was logical. I had so many questions, but didn't expect that the teachers would want to illuminate my curious mind. I always felt I could do more. And I did more and more homework - getting up early to stretch, getting to school early to practise. I made some progress, but I could have used my time much better with guidance.

Talent is a mixture of abilities and charisma. And soul.

I never knew anything about foot bones, their shapes, and their potential to work better - or not.

I and my fellow dancers often suffered from shin splints, agonizing. We had no idea how to release the tibial muscles and work our feet muscles more. Yet we had fantastic world class teachers. But, then, "dance is suffering". No one ever said that, but the teachers acted like it.

Even the most physically able can get into trouble. I remember watching a rehearsal of a fellow student who later became a world class ballerina. She had highly domed arches and was rehearsing in pointe shoes that were mushy. I watched her bending way over her shoes, and sickling out too. I think back on that and wonder "why didn't anyone stop her?" She could have done one rehearsal on demi pointe, or been allowed to get different shoes. But protocol was rarely broken. At the risk of injury.....right before a tradition and the concept of discipline blinds us sometimes.

Luckily the present is much different. Education is available, those with the passion to do more homework and build strength and a good dance technique independent of class schedules, can do so! Safely, methodically and with results.

Get the finer details about dancing in pointe shoes.

Building Strength, Your Age Profile and Dancing in Pointe Shoes

Regardless of your age profile, you can now get the information on how to build strength and good classical technique toward dancing in pointe shoes.

Ballet shoes naturally lead to pointe shoes, and although there is no guarantee that you will do pointe work, repetition builds strength, and correct instruction creates good dance technique. Precision and detail are required to achieve this. Education prevents injury. A whole new world opens to dance students with the correct information!


When I was professionally training and needed pointe shoes, I could choose only between Gamba and Freed. Freeds were agonizing for my not so flexible and not quite strong enough feet, and Gambas were much easier to break in for me. Unfortunately, no one told us how to initially break in a shoe so as to enhance our work.

I was in a class with some younger girls and they were a year ahead of me in training. I was told that pointe work hurts, and not to complain. I was told that a little Lamb's Wool was ok to put in the shoes, but that the dancer should be able to do pointe without it, and not to complain.

No one had help in fitting the shoes, or breaking them in. I went through pointe classes seeing black spots from the pain, straining my neck and shoulders, getting the usual bloody blisters. It did not seem to occur to my teacher that maybe something was amiss with me and a few others who had these problems.

Students shared different tips and tricks with each other, to make things easier. Wrapping Kleenex around our toes was one. Another amusing one was that at The National Ballet School, the ancient washroom (long gone at this point) had funny little squares of toilet paper that were waxy, as opposed to absorbent. They were perfect for pointe shoes! Two layers meant that they would slide against each other, unlike tissue which could bunch up. The waxy paper also slid against the tights, preventing blisters. Later we used plastic wrap too, for the slippery effect.

By year two of training I had developed better techniques of avoiding the extreme pain. What a waste of a year, also the negative perception of my abilities by my teachers. I was truly struggling unnecessarily and could have done much better.

We all wore shoes that were too small. We had no guidance in strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles. I think I was already teaching when I heard another teacher describe the "dragging the towel" exercise to a student, for strengthening under the foot. That student had a problem with muscle cramps. Which we all did in my first year.

I was extremely lucky in another aspect however. Our pre-pointe training was excellent in that our posture, placement, turnout, rises, releves and retire positions were as perfect as our physiques could allow. We had teachers' assistants in large classes so everyone was corrected, constantly.

However, the anatomical knowledge that is available now, was unknown. The details that could have allowed some of us to flourish, weren't known.

You can get ALL of this wealth of information and with instructional photos and video that will help you know how to start working your pre-pointe exercises, and assess your own progress, for dancing in pointe shoes!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Adding Turns in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

Building strength and good dance technique has to happen long before you get to multiple turns. Once there, increasing your turns is not too difficult. The feeling of spin is controlled through good spotting, musicality, and the same old practise, practise and practise!

One aspect of fast spinning is spotting. You must have a relaxed neck and quick and accurate head movement. Such as, no inclining the head. Inclining happens when you leave the head too long. For more neck flexibility, ice it for 15 minutes after hot showers, and tilt the head sideways for gentle stretches. Do not roll the head around in circles; the neck joints are not designed to do that.

You can work up to more turns by adding half a turn at a time. Do four and a half, which means changing your spot to the back after three and a half turns. That will just kind of bring you around to the back, to catch up to your head. And voila you have done another half a turn. Don't strain, and come down into a soft, controlled stretchy demi plie. Repeat this until it is easy, then add another half, and another half. Little by little as needed, so that you are not compensating for any postural loss, or losing control over your ending position.

I had a teacher once who set pirouette exercises like that, starting with two and a quarter turns. It meant changing your spot to the next wall, and coming around to it. Really easy, not too much difference. You'd do a double, then 2 and a quarter, 2 and a half, 2 and three quarters, then three. Or start with a triple, and do three and a quarter, etc. In pointe shoes, it takes not much more than a thought to add a quarter turn.

Another teacher I had used to say "during your preparation, imagine you are spiralling your spine in the opposite direction to where you are going to turn. Like your inner muscles are twisting to the left, though your shoulders stay square to the front; the prep position doesn't change outwardly. Then when you go up onto releve and turn, you release that twist and it makes you spin. That's a mental trick, and it really works for some people.

Assuming your technique is good, and your postural plumb line is correct, just keep on adding quarter or half turns, and let each addition get easy and natural.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dancing In Pointe Shoes - Building Strength For Strong Pirouettes

Get a detailed dancer's guide on dancing in pointe shoes, The Perfect Pointe Book. It will help you perfect the following issues.

With some students, all their pirouettes get thrown off balance. And with others, it is just one side that doesn't work as well. 2 things to observe are:

  • one side back/hip/leg muscles are weaker than the other side, when it is the supporting side
  • therefore you are also weaker in your demi plie just before the turn and rise slightly off balance and don't have the exact strength needed to recover just by gripping your position.

Here are some more things to examine:

  • When you are standing in fifth position, check to see where you compensate. Anyone who does not have 180 degree turnout from the hips, compensates.
  • To have the front leg looking turned out, the hips are usually a bit less than square. With muscles gripping to maintain the look of a square position, there will be extra tension in the muscles of your weaker side that may never be properly released. Therefore those muscles will be weaker.
  • Improperly gripped muscles are not stronger, but weaker. The muscle tone has to be maintained with proper stretching and relaxation.

So after you have checked your fifth position, slowly demi plie and see if anything changes:
  • for example, weight shifting onto one foot more than the other 
  • turnout changing on the leg that you anticipate becoming the supporting leg
  • sole of the foot tension changing in either foot
  • any visible tilt in the shoulders or hip levels.

Then rise up into your pirouette position in super slow motion. Have a friend watch you. See exactly what other adjustments, if any, occur.

Sometimes it takes a few times to notice what is adjusting, that is going to throw
off your balance.

Also take note that once something has adjusted to correct a weakness, your neck may not be as relaxed for spotting as it should be on your weaker side. This will add to your being throwing off.

Once you've figured out what is going wrong, you need to practice the super-slow-motion demi plie and rise onto the pirouette position, repeatedly, to establish new muscular habits.

If it is a hip level problem, do your pirouettes with a lower retire for
a while, until you get that placement retrained. Presumably you are doing the usual turns in class, and you would see a gradual improvement if you do these suggested exercises.

Exercises for pre-pointe, to strengthen the feet/ankles/ legs etc., for pointe work, will bring to light any weaknesses that need to be addressed for anything more advanced.

These will cover all the rises, positions, and balance needed for pirouettes as well. The basic necessity of turnout, back and other torso muscle strength that is referred to in pre-pointe exercises, is the same necessity that your overall development requires to be fulfilled.

Understanding the mechanics of good dance technique prevents injury and places your development more into your own hands.

The Perfect Pointe Book gives extensive training info, anatomy info, and self-assessment and home practice regimens to build strength for dancing in pointe shoes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ballet Toe Shoes - Building Strength for Good Dance Technique

Get a detailed dancer's guide about when a dancer can get into ballet toe shoes (pointe shoes). How should your ballet teacher decide?

The best strategy is to start doing strengthening exercises for the feet before starting pointe classes.

One or two classes a week will not prepare the feet, or whole body for pointe work. Three classes a week for at least a year will enhance the preparation, but even then, to achieve the optimum strength for pointe work, there are exercises a student can do every day.


The dancers I talk to seem very motivated to get into a pointe class, so I am assuming that adding an exercise regimen to their already busy day would not be a problem.

Lisa Howell, author of The Perfect Pointe Book, explains many fine points of anatomy, especially of the foot structure and muscles. She covers turnout, hip placement, and more.

Students wonder "do I have the right arches for pointe?" ...."do I have the right toes, the right ankles, enough turnout?"...."why does my teacher say I'm not ready?"

I've always advocated holding a student back, if there is the slightest reservation in my mind about putting her on pointe. A child can improve ballet technique in any area, so why risk an injury or deviated growth pattern?

Concentration and awareness is extremely important in ballet class. It is recreational for many children, but there comes a time when dedication is required to ensure safety.

This dedication has to show up before pointe work begins.

Developing good technique in ballet, means pushing your physique to the max without sacrificing
safety. Preserving the integrity of the joints and muscles may mean a restraint of advancement. Fellow students who are a little older, more physically developed and stronger, may go into pointe class sooner than others who are not.

I've had students who are "born pros". When I've had to hold them back in some way, I explain exactly why and they really get it. They are willing to build strength for good dance technique, knowing that they will catch up once the strength has been established.

This attitude reflects a positive outlook and a visionary one. Children are more than capable of this. Whether or not they have a great talent, some have an instinct for the more productive approach to their progress. They are ready to suffer (and they do!) a short term disappointment.

It's truly difficult for a teacher to work out a long range plan for every individual student, to get them to build strength for future pointe work.

If a student can find a prepared series of assessments and exercises, and can assess her own progress, the ones who want to advance in this way, will.

The good news is, you can go and get what you need for your own strategy to get into ballet toe shoes!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

7 Highly Effective Tips for Fouettes To Improve Ballet Technique

Get a highly detailed home study manual to improve ballet technique, which will make all this easier.

Traveling, in a series of pirouettes,ballet fouettes, or turns a la seconde, is a problem of strength holding the postural plumb line. If the movement is not perfectly vertical, the turns will travel and flounder.


Here are 7 highly effective tips to examine your technique for fouettes and turns a la seconde:

Postural Plumb Line

Standing sideways to a mirror, do a few press ups in first position. Do you have a postural plumb line? If your core muscles, your turnout, your ankles and soles of the foot are steady, also check to see that these movements are done with no strain in the shoulders and neck.

Core Muscles Strength

With fingertips on the barre, do slow motion press ups and down in retire, or a la seconde. If you can do this without strain in the neck and shoulders, great. If there is strain, you need to build up strength in your core muscles, and possibly overall. If a postural deviation from your plumb line shows up here, check for technical accuracy.

Compensations/Counter Compensations

What specific technical accuracy? The basics, always. Is your turnout strong, or have you compensated by shoving your supporting heel forward when you plie, changing your center of balance?

Are you dropping your weight back in the bottom of the demi plie? A shorter demi plie is not a bad thing.

What counts is being in good posture in your demi plie so that you can press with your heel/foot, into the floor, and use gravity to push up, without having to make another compensation to rise into a straight position.

It's a lot more work to keep all these compensations/counter-compensations going.


Spend several weeks if necessary, to address the above issues, until you can do rises and releves with correct posture and placement. Learn some Pilates core work, and stretch and relax all your muscles, before, during and after class.

Spotting/Inclined Head

To check your spotting, walk on the spot, turning as far as you can toward a quarter turn, leaving your head to the front. I don't specifiy exactly how far you should turn, because this depends on the extent your head will turn without inclining.

Memorize this feeling and this head position. This is just to feel the looseness of your neck muscles in leaving your head behind.

Rinse And Repeat

Repeat this exercise in retire or a la seconde. Use a partner, to hold the hand of your supporting side as you turn away from the front. Again, this is to check the neck (and shoulders) relaxation as you releve, and to check your postural plumb line in the position of your turn, and your demi plie. (We haven't dealt with fouette yet).


For fouettes, use a partner in the center, to do your demi plie with the leg extended devant, and then do a slow motion press up with the ronde de jambe and into retire, turning a little.

This is to again check the postural plumb line, correct demi plie, and ease of the neck in leaving the head behind.

This whole process may take place over a whole year. You will be doing your pirouettes, fouettes and turns a la seconde all the time. But as you gain strength, and learn to see and feel those tiny compensations you have been doing, you will build excellent work habits for these spectacular feats.

Ballet is much harder to do incorrectly. If your early training wasn't the best, you can back-peddle like this to improve ballet technique in your advanced levels.

For any overworked muscles use an ice pack at least twice a day. An arnica cream or BioFreeze is wonderful for soft tissue repair. Apply after icing.

So save yourself time and over-exertion. Get The Perfect Pointe Book if you need to re-learn more ballet technique moves.