Footloose: Socks, Thongs and Shoes to Choose

Photo: bark on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/4202477346

With the growing trends of dance-related talent shows throughout the media, the trend for wearing socks as a “performance accessory” is also emerging as one that is taking the dance sector by storm. Turn to So You Think You Can Dance, Got To Dance, or Britain’s Got Talent; socks are becoming increasingly popular to aid acts in spins, falls and complex lifts.

Whilst the dancers’ seemingly enhanced talent may be exciting to view and even awe-inspiring, the fact remains that there is a certain level of danger involved in wearing socks to dance, for example, an injury occurring as a result of a slip or fall. The number of YouTube clips presenting many dancers’ falls as “entertainment” are by no means criticising the wearing of socks for dance practice.

Undoubtedly, the use of socks can aid a dancer in class or rehearsals where a floor may not be suitable to dance on; however, the fact remains that during performance, the dancer may not have had sufficient experience of dancing without their socks. A great alternative to socks has been shown through the use of foot thongs, such as by Capezio, with numerous designs emerging as they become more popular.

Additionally, there is without a doubt, the largest range of dance shoes and sneakers on the dancewear market today, with numerous brands spanning a huge range of designs. Whether they are sold for grip, support of the foot, or simply for fashion purposes, brands such as Capezio, Bloch and Sansha have all produced excellent and indeed beneficial shoes for whatever the dancer needs. To observe such fantastic alternatives to the presumable risk of wearing socks to dance provides much hope for the future of dance, in that it will continue to be provided for, regardless of circumstance.

 

Making a Song and Dance about Celebrity Casting

Photo: ExCharmCityCub on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/excharmcitycub/155326032/

Many may argue that Theatreland is the ultimate place for suspending belief amongst other audience members also preferring the stage to reality. Over the years, stages have been inundated with reality TV stars and celebrities eager to step into the dancing shoes of their predecessors, potentially forcing out home-grown talent whose skill would cause their success rather than vice versa.

Many stars have graced the stages of London’s West End and Broadway. Audiences have seen Whoopi Goldberg’s divine descent, jazz shoes and all, into the comedy musical Sister Act as Mother Superior, which she helped produce. With Sister Act already a blockbusting hit, it is easy to see how the legendary Goldberg aided the production rather than carried it.

Others who have wowed audiences are Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde, and Tamzin Outhwaite and her feisty fishnet tights in Sweet Charity. In particular, Chicago has seen many celebrities take on the character shoes of lead roles, such as Ashlee Simpson, Jennifer Ellison, along with David Hasselhoff and John Barrowman.

Audiences are almost guaranteed when Hollywood actors are billed, with a huge hype being produced – but can these invasions continue to sweep audiences along?

It is commonplace for audiences to book tickets as a result of the cast, to then be disappointed when certain members are absent. Even if the magic atmosphere of theatre is still created, they may never return.

The same could be said for some of the stars of reality TV and where are they now – it is an automatic presumption that this is because they are simply the favourites of the home viewers, rather than the casting director. It is therefore difficult to comprehend the slog that has gone into an actor’s early life before they are finally pipped to the post by a celebrity or TV show shortcut winner, worthy or otherwise.

 

The Children of Theatre

Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre

Photo: ell brown, Flickr

One of the most notorious unwritten rules of theatre is never to work with children or animals. Difficult divas at the best of times, the combination of the two would arguably be a theatrical nightmare for both the director and the chaperones. Despite this, children, and young children specifically, can often become the selling point of the production, be it a West End musical, touring production or a large-scale ballet, simply due to their irresistible appeal.

Specifically referring to London’s West End theatre scene, musicals such as Mary Poppins, Matilda and Billy Elliot have all focused directly on telling the stories of children. The ballet shoe donning Billy has had a worldwide appeal for its audiences; the story of the aspiring male ballet prodigy warming the hearts and legwarmers of many. The magical world of Matilda has additionally entranced audiences from its inception, with a similar enchantment of Mary Poppins felt for the London and UK stint of the production.

The combination of dance and the charisma of youth is a pure winner. The interweaving of leotard-based animals and little lion cubs of The Lion King has proved a hit, with an extensive run in London and elsewhere in the UK such as Bristol and Manchester. Similarly, the touring and London-based Nutcrackers‘ children are palmed between the twinkling tutus of the Snowflakes and the feisty tights of the Rat King, charming both the children and the adults of the audience alike.

Naturally, the employment of children in theatre does raise many questions, but undoubtedly the largest is… how well can the show sell? The talent of the performers and illusion of the theatre is a main influence in selling tickets, yet the inclusion of children is undoubtedly a sure-fire way to make audiences skip all the way to their seats.

The Pointe of the Debate

Pointe Shoes

Photo: Megyarsh, Flickr

A controversial question throughout the ballet world surrounds the “correct” age for dancers to go en pointe. For the aspiring ballet dancer, pointe work may begin at a much younger age (approximately 11 or 12) than perhaps a dancer who enjoys the “ballet tights ideal” of one or two casual classes per week.

Many strands run through the age argument, such as those regarding the height of the instep, the individual and relative strength of the foot – in its complex structure of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles – and the dancer’s ability to control their body en pointe. Naturally, different circumstances affect each and every decision to train the body for this transition into pointe shoes.

In addition to this debate is the decision of the brand and type of shoes to select. Each foot requires different constructions of shoes, and a ballet dancer often remains committed to one type of pointe shows throughout their whole career. The most popular choice of brands appears to centre on those from the likes of Capezio, Bloch, and more recently, Gaynor Minden. Each shoe has its own appeal and its own unique design, meaning a first fitting for pointe shoes can be a rather long process! Despite the fact that there are few bespoke creators of pointe shoes, brands can often be customised by the dancer to suit their own feet.

For example, the Freed Studios shoe, as a stock shoe, tends to fit many people. However, an increased workload or intense pointe classes may mean that a more customised shoe is needed. Bloch shoes, in comparison, have been seen to incorporate rather innovative techniques of heating the shoe and using this to mould its shape to the individual foot. This therefore emphasises that the art of acquiring pointe shoes is no less than the art of twirling in a tutu: the shoe must be completely right for the foot that may one day posé into a leading role.

Hampson to Join RAD Guest Speaker Series

Royal Academy of Dance

Credit: www.rad.org.uk

Internationally acclaimed choreographer Christopher Hampson is due to return to his ballet shoe roots and further step into his role of speaker at the Royal Academy of Dance on April 10th for the Faculty of Education. Hampson is the first of the Guest Speaker Series and will discuss his journey through the dance sector – a story both intriguing and inspiring.

Hampson’s experience of dance began as an RAD student aged six, grasping his first taste of the ballet bug. Swapping his RAD white leotard and navy leggings for more choreographic attire, Hampson is set to take up the role of the Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet in August 2012.

As a former member of English National Ballet, Hampson created numerous works, including Double Concerto and The Nutcracker, going on to win the Barclays Theatre Award and the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography. In addition to ENB, Hampson has choreographed works for The Royal Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, National Theatre in Prague and Ballet Black, among others, and is also a sought-after guest teacher and coach for companies throughout the world, including Hong Kong Ballet and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. Hampson’s works for the Genée International Ballet Competition have recently been included to form part of the RAD Solo Seal Award, emphasising the profound influence Hampson holds over the dance sector, from the tutus and tiaras of The Royal Ballet, to jazz shoes and black costume gloves of New Adventures.

At the RAD, Hampson will discuss and show clips of his work, going on to take questions from the audience, inviting dance fans from all over the world to engage with this inspirational dance practitioner. The event is free of charge to Faculty of Education, RAD members and RAD staff, and additionally non-members are welcome to reserve in advance in order to take full advantage of this fantastic opportunity.

Reserve your place by Friday 30th March by contacting Zofie Fraser at zfraser@rad.org.uk.

Image courtesy of the Royal Academy of Dance.

The Future Turnout for British Musicals

The Victoria Palace Theatre, London
The Victoria Palace Theatre has a statue of Anna Pavlova on top

London’s West End is currently in a state of flux. Musical productions continue to close, making way for others to take their place, for sometimes only weeks at a time. At first this seems localised; however, it may be that these occurrences spread outside of London, nationally and even internationally.

From the blue spangled leotards and tap shoes of Crazy For You, to Betty Blue Eyes the singing pig, it is hoped that this does not mark the end of the British musical. Successes such as Billy Elliot the aspiring young dancer who steps boldly into professional ballet shoes – hold hope that West End musicals contain the magic ingredient that will spell a lengthy run.

However, it is inevitable that there are musical productions waiting left, right and centre ready to fill previous shows’ homes, and fill again those tired tights which once ruled the stage. The level of competition to rule the West End stage is seen to have increased dramatically.

The correlation between a show’s origin and success rate appears irrational. Whether a show’s life is home-grown from “baby ballets” to pointes, its content relating to that of its surroundings, or a production of far-off wonder, it bears no relation on how long it will stay running, which is additionally independent of how much an audience appears to love it. Despite this, even the most least likely musicals such as Thriller have been received spectacularly – if the jazz shoe fits, wear it!

Arguably a certain amount of performance relies on popularity in order to be a triumph, yet another key element of the mix is of course originality, to maintain freshness within the industry. This only further emphasises how unpredictable a show’s success can be and how we cannot predict the future of the British musical industry.

PhotoAndyRobertsPhotos

Yonah Takes The Lead!

Diaghilev's Ballet Russes
Photo: Russian Ballets Russe, Wikimedia Commons

Yonah Acosta, the English National Ballet winner of both the Emerging Dancer Award and The People’s Choice Award, has recently spoken of the admiration he holds for Royal Ballet principal dancer (and uncle) Carlos Acosta.

He also described his own self-consciousness, and the pressure he feels to break from his uncle’s celebrated career, despite his recent award success. One thing’s for sure: Yonah has one large pair of ballet shoes to fill!

Yonah grande-jeté’d onto the British dance scene at the young age of 13, when he played his Cuban uncle as a boy; his first taste of professional life. Now 22, having taken part in two of the most prestigious dance competitions in the UK, Yonah has begun to carve out his own destiny.

This is the third year of the Emerging Dancer Award, featuring a number of upcoming dancers. Drawing particular attention was fellow English National Ballet dancer Nancy Osbaldeston, wearing a striking red lace leotard of her own design. Meanwhile, Yonah, who performed solos from both Don Quixote and Diana And Acteon, wowed audiences with his incredible acrobatic interpretations of the pieces, costumed in a simplified toga design and taupe ballet shoes.

The English National Ballet’s Autumn Tour and Christmas season at the London Coliseum lead to Yonah’s additional winning of The People’s Choice Award, voted for by members of the public across the UK and in London. It is now expected that Yonah will continue this winning streak in the upcoming Beyond Ballets Russes programme at the London Coliseum, featuring alternative dancewear designs by both David Bamber for the World Premiere of a new Firebird, and by Kinder Aggugini, for revamped ballet The Rite of Spring.

Watch out for Yonah celebrating the legacy of Diaghilev’s famous company with English National Ballet, as they step out in a new direction!

The Royal Ballet Live

The Royal Opera House

Friday 23rd March was a mesmerising and completely unique day for ballet fans all over the world. The Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House was streamed live all day from 10.30am on YouTube and The Guardian website, a world-first for dance.

The real-time day began with how every dancer’s day begins. The ritual of daily company class was followed by a whole day of rehearsals of the current season, such as the hi-tech spectacle of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The broadcast included interviews and an examination of dancers’ lives, countering the numerous myths which have arisen surrounding the “notorious” side of the ballet world. Finalising the day was an exclusive Insights event, which explored Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor’s new ballet in collaboration with musician Mark Ronson, Carbon Life. Contemporary McGregor demands entirely different physical aesthetics from the dancers, for example the abstract form and nude-coloured dance underwear of CHROMA.

Running parallel to the streaming was a Twitter trend, a constant feed by both official parties and fans alike, tweeting tales of tutus and discussing the blood, sweat and tears it takes to be a dancer in the famous pointe shoes of one of the world’s greatest ballet companies. The immense fan-base of The Royal Ballet was immeasurable, notably inspiring many followers to release their inner dancer and don their legwarmers!

The spectacular events unveiled online by The Royal Ballet give way to the speculation of a phenomenon inextricably linked to the streaming: the virtual ballet class. This would increase the accessibility of high-end ballet to general dance fans, providing a means for many more people to actively engage with dance by downloading or following a live, online ballet class. Dusting off the leotards and pink practice shoes may prompt the realisation of the integral “daily class” strand of ballet to the success of principal dancers to those participating in their first class.

Has Zumba Got Your Number?

ZumbaMany dance crazes throughout the years have come and gone, yet with a programme boasting over 12 million participants in 2011; Zumba looks like it’s set to stay.

With classes taking place in over 110,000 locations in 125 countries, it is clear that Zumba has taken the fitness and dance world by storm, utilising dance styles such as salsa, hip hop, and tango.

Zumba Fitness emerged in the United Kingdom in 2001 as a global fitness phenomenon following its huge success in Columbia. Its popularity demanded an increase in Zumba instructors, leading to the creation of an instructor training programme, mirroring that of the Royal Academy of Dance.

Where Does This Leave Dance?

As a fitness regime, Zumba is renowned for its catchy beats and vigorous workouts but appears to be marketed as a strand of the dance sector. If course the links between Zumba and dance are inextricable: leotards and jazz pants are suitable for any Pineapple Dance class, for example, be it Commercial Jazz, Lyrical or Zumba.

The influx of Zumba throughout the world may insist that it is now categorised in the same way as other dance forms used to keep fit. Zumba is without a doubt equally, if not more, accessible than the RAD and other dance training programmes.

The easy-to-follow moves and international rhythms provide an intense workout, but there is no evidence whatsoever that places Zumba on par with dance aesthetics, or the formalities of alternative teaching practices. Additionally, the shift towards the popular culture of Zumba may complement the rise in the increasingly fashionable dancewear. The urban dancewear, for example, is ideal for Zumba practice and getting around afterwards, with its dance sneakers-come-fashion trainers and dance hoodies verging on the couture.

If you haven’t tried it, give Zumba a go!

Photo: Universitetssykehuset Nord-Norge (UNN)