Thursday, May 22, 2008

How To Improve The Basics Of Pirouettes For Pointe Shoe Exercises

The basics of classical ballet technique need to be thoroughly understood to build strength for pirouettes, and later for ballet classes in pointe shoes. Knowing the finer details of your daily routines gives you an extra advantage to the use of your core muscles in stabilizing your ballet positions and movements.

First a quick review of some basics that will help you make progress toward pointe work, good pirouettes and doing well dancing the kind of roles in ballet recitals you would like:

1. Is your postural plumb line correct in your fifth position standing with straight legs?

2. Do you maintain your postural plumb line and turn out when you demi plie in fifth or fourth position?

3. Do you have a relaxed neck for good spotting?

4. Do you maintain the placement of your hips in your retire position?

5. Can you releve straight up and balance there?

6. Can you keep the foot muscles engaged when you descend back to your landing position so that you land softly into a controlled demi plie?

If any of the above are non-existent or weak, pick the most basic and do a practice routine to correct it. Ask your teacher or a class buddy to help you until it is 100% correct.

If you tip to either side when you releve, check to see if your core muscles are not holding, or if loss of turnout on one side tips you. Also check to see if your arms are closing too forcefully and knocking you off balance.

Doing a series of quarter, half, then whole turns (once you've corrected the basics) without any arms at all gives you the right feeling for more effortless pirouettes. Put your hands on your shoulders or hips and just turn from the force of pushing up out of the demi plie and the working leg turning out as you place it into retire and begin the turn. You'll get around.

For pirouettes en dedans, you've got the force of the working leg pushing off and coming up to retire and the supporting leg turning out as you start the turn, to get around at least once with no arms needed.

The other issue is hopping towards the end of a turn, or throughout. If this happens, try getting a feeling of pushing down through the supporting leg into the floor as you pull up your core muscles and leg muscles. Connect with the floor, even get an idea of drilling down into the floor - use the image to keep you grounded. And check all your basics to see what you are compensating for.

This should help you in how to improve the basics of classical ballet technique for pirouettes. Enjoy! They're fun.

Go here for info on how to prepare for pointe and improve your pirouettes!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Men In Ballet - How To Get The Most Out Of Your Foot's Demi Pointe - And Then Your Pointe Shoes

I am going to cover a few of the finer details in strengthening, stretching, and maintaining your foot mechanics, and health. You want to get the most out of the joints and muscles that you have in your foot for your demi pointe.

Some men in ballet choose to work in pointe shoes and I recommend The Perfect Pointe Book for boys/men too.

I'm not referring to demi-pointe shoes in the title above, but your own demi pointe, your foot.

Whether male or female, I recommend that you view some drawing or x-ray of an ankle joint, and the foot bones. It is good to know what is under your skin.

If your ankle joint is flexible enough for you to point a straight line, or more, you can probably get up onto demi pointe so that your toes are a ninety degree angle to your instep.

To get or increase this ninety degree angle, first you can work on the big toe joint.

There is a muscle going under the big toe that can be gently massaged and stretched. Just working this joint can get you a gain on the angle you need to be fully on demi pointe, and therefore able to complete the postural plumb line of the body.

That means getting the metatarsal joints under your ankle joint, regardless of how the arch in between shows up curve-wise.

To maximize the ankle joint flexibility, consider the tension that builds up in the tibial, or shin muscles, practising ballet, that could detract from your ankle joint flexibility. This tension can be released, daily, with the help of a soft rubber ball. 
Spaulding soft rubber ball


  • kneel, then sit back on your feet, making sure there is no inward sickle. 

  • roll the rubber ball just below the knee joint, into the top of the shin muscle. 

  • lean on it, easing down the leg. 

  • press into the tender spots until you feel some tension release. 

Don't lean too heavily on it, it is just to get a release of the tension.

Get all the way down to the ankle joint. 

You have now resolved some of the work-related tension and can do a stretch for the top of the ankle/foot area.

Place the ball under the foot above the metatarsal joints (and you can do more than one spot here), between the big toe and second toe, and you'll feel a wonderful stretch. You can move the ball a little more in between the second and third metatarsal area, only if it does not cause the foot to sickle.

And stretch again, gently holding the stretch for 10 seconds at first. You can increase the hold time, but not to the point of pain.

Then start on the other leg. I have Deborah Vogel to thank for that rubber ball use and foot stretch.

Using a rubber ball or a golf ball on the sole of the foot releases tension in those muscles. Roll it and push gently. You don't want to exert too much pressure on the foot joints, just feel for tension release. Do this daily, or after every class.

Soaking your feet in warm water and Epsom Salts or mineral salt (sea salt) and then icing tired and aching foot muscles is a treatment your feet deserve.

Especially if you plan to dance classical ballet in pointe shoes, attend to these few daily routines. They are not pampering, but needed care for all women and men in ballet.

Get a copy of the comprehensive resource on pointe shoes, pre-pointe exercises - The Perfect Pointe Book.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Parent Volunteers Can Help With Natural Stage Fright Before Ballet Recitals

Parent volunteers for ballet recitals are the support every ballet academy needs. Sewing tutus, dyeing pointe shoes, help in the dressing room with hair and makeup, are the many tasks that need to be done. The excitement of performing sometimes becomes fear - a natural stage fright that some children need help with.

If your young ballerina, tap dancer or hip-hop performer starts to express more anxiety than excitement there are ways to help.

Firstly, you may be hearing expressions of natural stage fright, which almost everyone feels when the reality of opening night strikes - even if just for a few moments.

If you have a child that worries, let her/his teacher know that he/she needs encouragement as well as corrections. Remind your child of compliments regarding their dancing you may have overheard from the studio or stage area.

Some dance teachers like to provide each student with the music of their dances, so that they can practice mentally. When they are resting with their sore feet up at home, they can visualize and feel themselves performing, applying their corrections over and over. The earlier they learn this the better. It is a method that actually helps develop neural pathways and better performance. This is a great way to increase confidence, without getting exhausted, or spraining and straining muscles.

Having a couple of soft ice packs handy at home eases aches and pains.

For older children, remind them about good nutrition. While a lot of sugar can be a tranquilizer, it also weakens the muscles. And for many children sugar is an irritant and increases nervousness.

Fruit is a wonderful source of the minerals that get lost in excessive perspiring....and that, along with good water, is something that students can have with them during long rehearsal days. Replacing minerals and staying hydrated (frequent sips, don't wait until your throat is dry) also helps prevent muscle spasms.

Backstage volunteers can help by remaining cheerful and calm no matter what happens. If a child freezes up in the wings, deep breathing can remedy it. Practicing deep breathing is a good idea during staging rehearsals, while kids are in the wings waiting for their entrances.

Speaking of waiting... modern theaters are often chilly with air conditioning. Your child will need leg warmers, even sweats, to keep their muscles warm during the staging rehearsals.

Having them ready with everything they will need in the dressing room, with some Band Aids, a sewing kit, extra hair pins and nets - anything that could be suddenly required - will reassure a worrier that all angles are covered. Aside from that, it is a good professional habit to ingrain in aspiring dancers.

Natural stage fright turns into exhaltation when the performances are done and well received - and hopefully that won't wear off for a while. And parent volunteers get to share that with the joy of seeing their child close a year of hard work at the barre by getting to dance for you!

Go here for professional books on nutrition for dancers, ballet wear and pointe shoes, and tons of technical advice.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Technique For Pointe Work - Including For Men In Ballet

There are several famous male ballet dancers who have practiced classical ballet in pointe shoes. Some required it in their roles - for example, for the donkey Bottom in A Midsummers Night's Dream. Some choreographers have put on pointe shoes in order to empathize with their ballerinas. And many men in ballet want to take advantage of the opportunity to stretch their ankles and build strength.

I know many dance teachers would love to see some boys/men in ballet take pointe classes. Men in ballet actually can get exactly the right fit in pointe shoes, or let's say most can.

Why would men want to put on pointe shoes and do those cruel-looking exercises?

Some men in ballet might have the ambition of getting into Les Trocs (Les Ballets Trockaderos du Monte Carlo, all men, many ballerina roles). Pointe work is an absolute necessity.

The majority of men in ballet do not have the mobile ankles that typically females have. A high curve, or ANY curve on the top of the ankle and instep is a plus, to meet the ballet fashion.

Female dance students quickly learn how to use pointe shoes to stretch the top of the ankle and instep, if they need more flexibility in the ankles. In second position, rise onto pointe, and plie, allowing the weight to go over the platform of the pointe shoe. If the ankle is not flexible, the weight of the body, supported by the pointe shoe, gives it a fabulous stretch.

And to build strength, if ankle flexibility is sufficient, rise onto pointe, and plie but stay on the platform of the shoe. This requires restraining the ankle joint and holding it exactly where you want it. For ballerinas, this is a requirement for control in general, and a necessity for the repetitive tiny hops on pointe found in classical ballet choreography.

While there are perfectly good exercises to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet without using pointe shoes, basic exercises on pointe are excellent for strengthening the feet. I recommend strengthening the feet before going onto pointe, but keep it up once you have started pointe classes. A simple exercise like rising onto pointe, slowly pressing down to demi pointe (as opposed to dropping down) and then pressing back up onto full pointe, will build strength. Adding repetitions as you can, you will develop strength and control.

Getting back to men in ballet - you will need to learn all about foot and toe types, and all the tips and tricks of toe leveling, toe spacers, and toe padding. Avoid dancing in pain! You are surrounded by experts - all the girls you study with!

I think many boys and men in ballet need to hear it from their teachers - that this would be a good idea! Not for the lucky men with the hyper-mobile arches, necessarily. Even for them, however, it would introduce an understanding of what ballerinas need, to check out the delicate balance that men learn to support, as a partner.

If you are among the men in ballet and already learning technique for pointe work - good for you!

Go here for more information on excelling at pointe work and all the relevant technique details that you need.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How Can I Improve The Basics Of Pirouette Exercises - Especially In Pointe Shoes?

Even if you are never going to dance ballet in pointe shoes because of gender, casting, dance style or because you are starting ballet at a later age, how to improve pirouettes is important. Pirouettes are fun, showy, and prominent in classical ballet choreography as well as other dance styles.

The postural plumb line is where you start, in looking at what is going to make a pirouette succeed. Firstly, can you stand with good posture?

If so, can you rise up and down, firstly in a cou de pied position, on one leg, without losing your postural plumb line? If so, can you do a series of releves holding a good position, without neck or shoulder strain?

If you do lose it, correct your posture, then see if you lose it going into your demi plie. Is your weight sitting back? Do you lose any placement at the hips? Do you lose any turnout?

If any of the three things above occur, you need to get those fixed and forget about pirouettes until you build strength to maintain the basics of posture, turnout and a correct demi plie. You will still do your pirouettes in your ballet class, but for your daily practice routines, you need a step-by-step approach to get stronger.

If everything is good so far, raise your leg into a retire position and check that no placement gets lost at the hips. If this occurs, you need more stretching in the hip and pelvic area. Or, perhaps you need to rearrange the tension at the hips and you will find that you can get your hips level after all.

While the feeling of the spin is important and not to be lost for the sake of good technique, it is still vital that you be able to do sixteen, twenty-four, and then thirty-two strong releves in retire on both sides, without strain. You need a relaxed neck and shoulders to spot properly in multiple turns.

Especially in pointe shoes, you need to do these repetitive releves, to see that you can stay on one spot and not travel around. If you have trouble with this, use the barre. Check your balance at the bottom of your demi plie, as well as in the releve position. Seeing where your weight wants to go tells you where the weakness, or excess tension is. To build strength is important, and to train the muscle memory properly is too.

The reason why I recommend back-peddling to basic exercises in order to correct or build on an exercise, is because practicing things incorrectly is a waste of time. Asking your teacher for help or getting another student to buddy with you on practicing and correcting each other, is really worth the while.

It is more fun just doing turns, but technical inaccuracies will catch up with you and hold you back. Instantly, when you put on pointe shoes.

On your rest day, be sure to relax, stretch out the tired and tense muscles, using a rubber ball for the tight and tender spots. Ice the sore spots for 15 minutes, two or three times a day.

If you have worked so hard in ballet class or rehearsal that your legs are throbbing, lie down and stick them straight up the wall for a few minutes. It is easy to fall asleep that way...

Whenever you find yourself thinking "how can I improve..." just go back to the basic, slow motion movement to discover what classical ballet principle of technique is missing. Regardless of your dance style, simple ballet exercises done well, build strength. And then it is even more fun.

Click here to get the definitive home practice manual written by an expert dance medicine specialist, The Perfect Pointe Book.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Technical Cornerstone To Getting Into Pointe Shoes

Is there a technical cornerstone that builds strength toward getting into pointe shoes? If a student of classical ballet has a reasonably suitable physique, a reputable ballet school, and access to at least two classes per week, what might be the key to advancing faster?

If your ballet teacher outlined a customized instruction list for every student in their ballet academy to use for technical priorities, each list would include the basic technical cornerstones of:

***the postural plumb line (involving mechanics) and the exact degree of tension to maintain it (introducing qualities)

***the holding of one's turnout in both position and movement (involving mechanics)

***the shifting of tensions in the demi plie and grand plie while maintaining the postural plumb line and turnout

These three basic aspects of classical ballet technique could be called technical cornerstones. They introduce the mechanics and introduce the qualities that will determine all of your barre work, your center work, and one day - your pointe work!

Being able to exert more effort or tension quickly and then revert to a lesser tension in a beat, requires practice, prediction and musicality. Again, mechanics and quality. For example, more exertion is required in the core muscles for faster tendus than slow, for faster degages than slow. And, faster shifts of tension. All applies to dancing in pointe shoes.

Musicality makes it easier. You are more like a boat going with the current rather than against it.

If you can notice where in the barre work you feel an awkwardness in the shifts of exertion, that is where you need to build strength as a key to YOUR advancing. When I say exertion I do not mean strain or struggle. I mean an increased effort to put into a movement but where you already have enough strength to do it.

I really hope this makes sense because if you can feel this in your work, you will always know exactly what the key to your advancing is. If you are in a large class and don't get a lot of corrections, or personalized corrections, you can figure out a lot for yourself.

Awkward transitions in ballet exercises usually call for increased strength in your core muscles. This includes turnout, in the case of classical ballet.

Study the very basics and you'll understand the ruling factors - what is your technical cornerstone strength, and the key to your advancing in classical ballet.

Get an amazing dancer's guide with hours of instruction and video to get YOU ready for getting into pointe shoes.