With the ever-increasing emergence of “theatre-training” programmes, children and young people of the twenty-first century are receiving multiple opportunities to engage in the arts of singing, dancing and acting.
One avenue which is receiving more and more popularity each year is that of summer schools, which are offered by a variety of organisations and institutions alike. For those aspiring to further their theatre training at a performing arts college or similar, summer schools are an ideal way of giving the young person in question an idea of what it might be like to train at that particular college, as they grab their favourite leotards, dance tights or tap shoes. Summer schools are particularly useful to determine whether the student would like to audition for a place for the following year.
Usually an intensive one week course, summer schools offer a taster in many theatre disciplines such as acting, jazz dance, classical ballet, singing and pas de deux, culminating in a showcase performance. In addition to the benefits that students may gain, summer schools are also a chance for colleges and institutions to get a glimpse of the potential talent they may have auditioning, and gauge an idea as to a student’s possible suitability for their course.
Aside from the specific focus on training, for children and young adults summer schools provide the chance to meet other like-minded and motivated individuals who are looking to further their theatrical training in this way. Summer school can be a welcome break from the confines of some theatre schools or academies that the students might already belong to, allowing them to connect a little more with their individuality away from their stage school regulation uniform. Usually there are mixed abilities of students taking part, which may mean you might not get to put on your pointe shoes this summer, but will still have lots of fun!
Dancers are generally aware of the importance and benefits of conducting a thorough warm up before taking part in any physical activity, including dance, yet often other factors prevent this from happening. Being late to class or rehearsals, for example, can restrict your warm up time, or even cut it out completely. Most dancers undertake a strict “pre class” ritual of warming up and stretching their muscles out sufficiently, but in some cases, it only occurs before the first class of the year. There are numerous dancewear specialists who offer a variety of dance warm up clothes; it is equally important to warm up properly as it is to warm up at all.
The body must be physically prepared for the strenuous demands of dance, and this can be done by gradually increasing the temperature of the body and increasing blood circulation, such as performing a 5-10 minute jog. Whilst this is happening, it is beneficial to layer up your dancewear with “baggies” or extra clothing like hoodies and tracksuits. Dancewear specialists such as Plume and Pineapple have a huge range of dancewear specifically designed for warming up, indicating how seriously dancers should be taking this fundamental activity.
During a warm up the body prepares to work as a whole in order to dance as best as it can. The heart rate increases gradually, the muscles warm up to prevent injury and the ligaments and tendons become more flexible which reduces the chance of tears and injury. In areas of the body where there are large amounts of muscles used simultaneously, such as the legs, leg warmers are often useful in order to keep the muscles warm and engaged during warm ups and even at the start of class. A common injury for dancers is torn hamstrings, so utilising them properly through a warm up decreases the risk of injury. Warm ups also help the brain prepare for the task ahead, which increases your chance of enduring the exercise and benefitting from the harder parts of the regime of dance.
Recently debated by The Arts Desk online was the purpose of ballet school for young students, in the grand scheme of their careers. It was reported that there are fewer than 300 full-time dancing jobs in UK ballet companies, insinuating that there are a lack of “home-grown” dancers taking up these roles and reaching the top of their profession. With the ballet shoe echoing the football boot, it seems stars from afar – rather than the UK – are increasing.
The dancers reaching the top of British ballet companies must survive injury, competition, subsidy cuts and criticism, regardless of the few jobs available in the profession. It must be questioned; are British ballet students reaching the required overall standard required by the ballet companies of the UK? It is naive to think that a brightly coloured leotard and new leg warmers are all that is required to make aspiring students stand out from the crowd, and be selected.
There is seemingly great focus on remaining far from the world of anomalies, where jobs are unlikely to venture. However, being one student of many identical to dozens of others may also be seen as a hindrance, as there may be nothing to make the student shine and be noticed. Is the strict discipline of ballet schools cloning students, providing them with no vigour for professional life? Or is it the “constant” which marks the way for each student’s relative success?
The abundance of the same practice clothing and footwear seemingly merges the crowds of students desperate for a job in a top ballet company, but similarly, if the rules of ballet schools were not present to adhere to throughout training, the required professional “standard” would not be met.
How can the students of today know if either adherence or personality is the winning formula?
Formed in 2006, Tap Attack has since established itself as a prestigious workshop provider. The teaching faculty of 15 have taught tap classes to over 3000 tap dancers in the UK, each teacher with notable achievements in their individual dance fields aside from their tap careers. Many have worked in the West End and on tap-specific shows, such as Tap Dogs, Hot Shoe Shuffle, Singin’ in the Rain and 42nd Street.
Tap Attack has achieved remarkable success since its inception. The performance company of Tap Attack – Xtreme Tap – offers a wide variety of exciting performance opportunities. Tap Attack claims its dancers are unrivalled in their ability to entertain; be it a classic tap performance or a more bespoke requirement, Xtreme Tap hosts a team of talented tappers, donning tap shoes and ankle warmers! Apart from traditional tap work, Xtreme Tap have performed at a whole host of corporate and commercial events with additional success performing at fashion shows, product launches and corporate entertaining events. With such a variety to choose from, suddenly the decision of Bloch tap shoes, Capezio tap shoes or So Danca tap shoes seems easy!
The first of Tap Attack’s 2012 “Total Tap Workshops” is in Birmingham on Sunday 29th April at The Dance Workshop, supported by Capezio. The sheer variety of opportunities offered by Tap Attack is emphasised by its Total Tap Workshops, available for 3 standards of tappers. The event is marketed as a fun and informative day for attendees, adding considerable amounts to their tap repertoire. Additionally, the “Rhythm Routes” of 2012 is due to follow up its sell-out success of 2011, as an exciting collaboration between Tap Attack and the ISTD. Rhythm Routes gives participants a chance to experience the best of UK tap as a journey through tap history, designed to inspire teachers and students alike with a range of classes. Rhythm Routes 2012 is taking place on Sunday 20th May, at Preston College; tap shoes at the ready!
Sadler’s Wells is due to stream its annual international hip hop dance festival Breakin’ Convention live on May 7th. This date marks the new on-demand initiative by the Arts Council England – named The Space – in partnership with the BBC that offers audiences a new way to uniquely experience some of the most exciting arts events from across the UK. A great place to scout the latest dance wear trends, Breakin’ Convention has showcased over 400 UK and international companies, and a total of over 3,900 performers to audiences in excess of 75,000 since its inception in 2004, having become one of the most influential hip-hop events of the year.
Breakin’ Convention is The Space’s first dance event, offering audiences the opportunity to observe all aspects of the international hip hop dance festival, from foyer events to smaller performances in the Lilian Baylis Studio and performances on the Main Stage. From urban dance trainers to Breakin’ Convention hoodies, there is much for dance fans to engage with, including workshops, film screenings, DJ demos, impromptu foyer freestyle sessions and live aerosol art.
Breakin’ Convention is in its ninth year, featuring some of the very best UK and international acts in hip hop dance, offering audiences a fashion show of different styles from breaking and popping to locking, b-boying and newer styles such as house dance, devised from the dance floors and born out of club culture.
The line-up for Breakin’ Convention 2012 includes ILL-Abilities, a breakdance company that challenges the misconceptions about people with disabilities; Vagabond Crew who are the current world champions winning both Battler of the Year and the UK B-boy championships in 2011, amongst many other talents.
Audiences will be able to watch Breakin’ Convention live from 4pm on Monday 7 May on www.thespace.org, www.sadlerswells.com and www.breakinconvention.com. It will also be available on demand after the 7 May on www.thespace.org.
Produced by English National Ballet and premiered on April 3rd at the Peacock Theatre, the English National Ballet School presented the magical production of My First Sleeping Beauty, introducing the magic of ballet to children from the age of 3 and showcasing graduating dancers of outstanding potential from English National Ballet School. For many young children, this will be their first taste of satin ballet shoes, glittering tutus and pristine pink tights of the ballet world.
Whilst the arts sector presents a huge variety of dance works and ballets in particular, there will nonetheless be masses of captivated children throughout the UK, privy to a specially crafted version of the usual 3 hour production of Sleeping Beauty. A national tour of My First Sleeping Beauty will travel the country until June 3rd 2012, inspiring children and young people alike in a piece that has been adapted especially for them. Children are encouraged to boo, clap and cheer, expressing themselves through the pantomime elements of My First Sleeping Beauty and becoming part of the story.
Award-winning choreographer Matthew Hart is responsible for creating the wondrous spectacle of My First Sleeping Beauty in all its finery, tiaras and all. Set to Tchaikovsky’s score, the amazing cast of dancers from the English National Ballet School pirouette their way through this shortened version of the original Sleeping Beauty. However, Hart has worked to maintain much of the original choreography in order to educate these new audiences in the link between the School and the Company.
Engaging young children with such a timeless classic as Sleeping Beauty is an innovative creation, with this being the first of a presumable line of “children’s ballets” aiming to inspire families to eventually come and see Sleeping Beauty in its entirety, continuing the story and classical technique.
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.
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.
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.
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.