Thursday, February 24, 2011

Remembering Glenn Gilmour - A Wonderful Colleague and Friend

On this page from The National Ballet School of Canada's newsletter, poignant passages are written by Mavis Staines and Paul Winston, I won't re-iterate.

Glenn was so refreshing in Cecchetti classes when I taught him the grueling grades after he'd danced the classics for many years. He and fellow professional Brian Scott had the funniest ways of embellishing some of the duller sequences.

Later it was always wonderful to come back to his class at NBS when I was a performing pro.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Pointe Shoe Exercise - Tips For Pointe Beginners

 Pointe Beginners

Pointe shoe beginners need more than one pointe shoe exercise - naturally. But here is one to get you started, if your goal is to dance in pointe shoes.

The following describes a pointe shoes exercise, for the pointe shoe beginners and the hopeful. It focuses on training the feet to point, extending the ankle joint as far as possible, to force up the instep into its maximum arch.


Don't Curl Your Toes!

However, the toes, next for the completion of the movement, can point, and stay long and strong, or curl over. This is what you want to avoid. The toes can follow the curve of the arch, but not curl in their own joints.

This should be the way you have always pointed your toes in soft leather ballet shoes.

Many dance students try to feel more arch by curling their toes over, but this does not help ankle flexibility. It puts the toes into a position, that inside pointe shoes, will create blisters. The top of the joints press into the stiff box of the toe shoe.


If you are not sure how precisely you have been pointing your toes in soft shoes, just practice the following exercise:

  • Sit on the floor, legs straight in front of you

  • Point the foot, extending the arch/instep as far as it will go. But keep the toes flexed.

  • Next, begin to point the toes. When they are in a long position, following the curve of the foot, but not curling over in your toe joints, STOP.

  • Hold and memorize this position. You may have been doing this all along, from your very first ballet class. If not, you can correct and re-train this important ballet position right now.

  • Then flex the toes back up, and then flex the whole foot. Push through the heels and get a nice calf stretch.

  • Repeat twenty times.

If your feet or ankles cramp, stop and rotate the ankles in circles to loosen the muscles back up. If the sole of the foot cramps, massage it until the tension releases, and then start the exercise again.

You can avoid dance injuries, blisters, and pain, if you know how to use your feet properly in ballet toe shoes.

If you are an adult ballet beginner, this works for you too. Visit us to get the best in a group of routines that give you much more than a pointe shoe exercise.

I like this video because the teacher stresses long toes, not curled, and also shows the best position of the leg for getting the most turnout activated.

D. Buxton is a writing partner with Vone Deporter, of The Sedona Series, about a surfer girl in pointe shoes.

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A Pointe Shoe Exercise For Perfect Ballet Positions

Would you like to do perfect ballet positions? While true perfectionism is an illusion, learning one pointe shoe exercise properly will take you far.

The following foot strengthening routine is one example from The Perfect Pointe Book.  

here is a great way to practice press ups, or rises.

As long as you understand the form and the movement, you will do it right. Sitting in a chair, you do not have your body weight on your foot.

Repeating the ballet movements exactly as you will do them in pointe shoes, you prepare your brain and your feet to do these actions precisely, safely, and in a way that you will get stronger and prevent dance injuries.

Start sitting straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, resting evenly on the ball of the foot, the heel, and the little toe joint.

In other words, no rolling ankles or pronation, or leaning to the outside of the foot.

The purpose of this exercise is to train your foot to perform it perfectly, in a way that develops strength, and prevents over-use of the shin and calf muscles. (which can lead to painful shin splints or Achilles Tendon strain).

Your arch muscles should be "on", meaning ready to move, but not clenched.

One foot at a time:

  • peel the foot slowly off the floor 
  • work and control the muscles and keep the foot/ankle angle in a straight line
  • no leaning to the inner side of the foot, or the outer.
  • lift the foot off the floor, as though you were completing a jump or releve 
  • stretch the toes long, do not curl them. (This is the top of a jump, or where your toes will be positioned in pointe shoes.)
  • touch the tips of the toes to the floor.
  • press the heel back down, with resistance through the sole-of-the-foot muscles 

Resume your starting position and repeat twenty times. Simple yet very effective!

This is one in a series, a wonderful pointe shoe exercise.

The Perfect Pointe Book is a complete ballet ebook showing you how to make you stronger in perfect ballet positions.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I Hope This Does Not Sound Purely Philosophical About Ballet Training

I recently heard from a mom who was concerned about her 12 year old daughter's dance training.

It seems like her daughter was ahead of her age group in a former ballet school. For some reason, her daughter had to change ballet schools.

Now her daughter is in a school that puts students in age appropriate classes, which is a surprise for this young dancer. Or nasty shock. She was expecting to start dancing in pointe shoes.

I had to encourage this loving mom to flip to the positive here; her daughter is 12, and she has plenty of time to progress in her new school. The time during which she feels "held back" is a time during which she can perfect her ballet technique, and then be even more prepared than she would have been, to dance in pointe shoes.

This is not an uncommon scenario. Perhaps if her daughter can somehow see that she actually has an advantage here, and is not being cheated in some way, then she can just continue to enjoy her dancing and excel in it.

Sometimes the "grade" or the "level" has to be relegated to the background, and the urge to dance and the love of it has to come forward. I hope this doesn't sound abstract or purely philosophical - but her daughter - or maybe YOUR daughter has TIME on her side. If she were 17, then my thoughts on this would be different.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Big Dance World And Professional Ballet Dancing

You are between fifteen and twenty years old and you have suddenly decided that only professional ballet dancing is for you. It is your passion and excludes all else. What are you going to do? Which ballet academy will you choose? Will this dance studio accept you as a serious student? Will you ever dance in pointe shoes? You are in a very vulnerable position right now. You are actually considered to be an adult ballet beginner, even if you just turned fifteen. That seems unfair!

I know you are aware that ballet is like the Olympics. You start young, like nine or tens years old. Ideally you have the best professional training offered, ballet six days a week with character dancing, modern dance, endurance training and eventually pointe work. Your school has a physical therapist, a massage therapist, and you learn dance notation and anatomy as you progress.

What? You don't? Well before you get depressed about not doing all of the above, think about why you love ballet. What qualities do you admire in ballet dancers? What aspects of the drama grab you o that you dream about it, run it over and over in your head.

I ask this, because this is important. If you HAVE missed the ballet boat, you must seriously engage in the things that draw you to ballet. Why?

I believe this has something to do with you and your destiny. Whether it is dancing ballet on stage or - being a stage manager, a dance medicine specialist, a costume designer, a dance photographer.... a professional in dance notation - do you see how big the big dance world is?

I am not suggesting that you don't start ballet classes right away. First and foremost, this is going to engage your love of life and art at a crucial level. Your intensity in learning ballet now will carry you through all the moments of doubt. "My legs are too short". "My arches are not flexible". Whatever - in ballet, something will come up short, guaranteed. But that is not the point!

You love ballet for a reason. Even if you decided this "too late" there is still a reason. I hope you will explore your instincts further and follow your heart to the big dance world.