The aesthetics of ballet are continuing to evolve, however something which has remained a constant is the appearance of the foot when it is fully pointed. The ankle joint has limited movement outwards and inwards, however the adjustments of the foot’s position can make a big difference to how it looks to the audience.
The foot as an extension of the ankle can elongate an arabesque or alternatively turn it inwards and demonstrate a weaker foot by sickling. When the foot is pointed in a neutral position an invisible line can be traced up through the floor, foot and into the ankle. Whilst this is technically correct, a winged shape can be seen as more desirable in that the toes are pointed outwards, extending the line. Sickling the foot might indicate poor training or weakness in the ankle, as well as demonstrating a more unsightly line.
The ankle has a slightly larger range of motion inwards, so students may be prone to sickling regardless. Genetics or anatomy can also contribute to a student’s tendency to sickle, and injuries can occur when the foot is both sickled and weight-bearing. This pulls the tendons of the ankle out of alignment, yet injury can occur when winging the foot too. Sickling can even be the intention for some choreographers, if that is what the movement or piece demands, yet for the majority of times, improving ankle strength and stability will minimise sickling.
If the foot winging is supporting weight, this too pulls the ankle joint out of alignment. Dancers may force their heels forward with tendus, instead of using their turnout. This places stress on the tendons on the inside of the foot and twists the knee joints. Despite this, winging could be encouraged in non-weight bearing positions in order to improve individual aesthetics and enhance the line – and limited turn out – the dancer is creating. Turn out must be fully engaged however, so as not to solely rely on the shape of the foot.
There are many dance-inspired fitness methods on the market today, from fitness trainers who used to be dancers to those who use dance as a means to remaining happy and healthy, whilst not having a dance background. Aerobics and Zumba classes still have their place, but these are now two of many different options for class participants. Workouts of these kind offer a combination of dance, fitness and wellbeing, and there is truly something to suit everyone, be it at sports centres or the local dance studio.
Today dance-inspired fitness – such as ballet-inspired workouts, dance cardio and toning barre classes – use dancers’ graceful and athletic bodies as a start point, aiming to emulate the idea of dance and being a dancer, rather than aspiring to lose weight or tone up. Strength, lengthening and athleticism can be just two focuses in classes of this kind, aiding existing fitness regimes for both non-dancers and dancers alike. Equally, classes such as HIIT (high intensity interval training), yoga and Zumba can be offered at dance studios that may have previously only offered technique classes.
Barre-style workouts can be used for physical as well as mental fitness benefits. They usually use the body’s own weight to gain lean muscle and a balanced mindset, where the focus is purely on the own body. Many may combine barre, Pilates and dance, and may even incorporate hand weights to aid the body’s training. Mixing up the body’s fitness routine – whether it is from a dance or fitness perspective – continues to challenge the body, and help participants find both energy and strength in the change in fitness activity.
Dance and fitness of course go hand in hand, so trying something different can renew your passion for the reason behind the workout, offering a range of benefits for both body and mind.
A dancer of any calibre can face pressures in the dance studio, from themselves, their peers and even their dance teachers. Pressures can take hold in many forms, such as healing after injuries, aspiring to create the ‘ideal’ dancing body shape and changes in the behaviour of dance teachers. Each has an effect on both your dancing and performance, hindering the creation and maintenance of a healthy mind and body, which is paramount to excelling in and enjoying dance.
Often teachers can appear unfriendly and cold, not offering encouragement or help to young dancers. This can stem the enthusiasm a young dancer has for dance and can be detrimental to their progress as a dancer. A dance teacher’s decision to teach is a result of wanting to pass on their knowledge and aid other dancers, so erratic behaviour can often seem odd. They can be overly critical of your work however they usually have many students they are working with at one time, so try not to take their attitude personally.
While there are often jarring relationships with dance teachers, this can also occur on a personal level with yourself. Aspiring to be a thin waif-like dancer is unhealthy and can lead to dieting, starving and an eating disorder, which can ultimately be dangerous. Fortunately, there is now more emphasis on creating a strong body which is fit and ready to take on the challenges of dance, not likely to collapse afterwards. Teachers are now more focused on healthy eating to prevent disorders, and promote dance alongside wellbeing for the body and mind.
Similar pressures of this type on the self can also occur as a result of injuries, especially those that are slower to heal. As a dancer the mentality is to power through the class whatever the cost, due to lifelong mantras such as ‘the show must go on’ and ‘no pain, no gain’. An ethos of this sort is now becoming less common, as ultimately it is of the upmost importance that the body and mind heals following an injury.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
There are many approaches to pointe training, and many reasons behind each of them. As an aspiring young dancer taking their first steps ‘en pointe’, you need training that will build up your strength whilst maintaining your technique, helping you to make a smooth transition onto pointe from ballet flats.
Whilst you are training in pointe, before you get to full scale performances, the chances are you are spending a lot of your class and rehearsal time in pointe shoes, to aid them in moulding to your feet, also so you get used to the sensation of moving in pointe shoes. You may be required to wear pointe shoes throughout all of your regular technique classes even, to help articulate the foot in the shoes rather than sticking to flat shoes until the end of class for separate pointe work.
Often teachers will ask that the whole of technique class is taken en pointe, even at the barre. Wearing pointe shoes from the start of class pushes students to develop the same facility they have in flat shoes, also working to master that infamous penché wobble in pointe shoes! Here students learn how to use their toes and roll through their feet in pointe shoes, however this is not the same as taking a pointe class. Barre exercises will still warm the feet up, rather than performing pointe work immediately. Teachers may feel that an extensive warm up further builds strength and avoids injury.
Alternatively, teachers may feel it is important to save pointe shoes for the end of class, or even a separate class all together. Students would then wear flats for their their technique class, to use and feel the floor throughout barre and centre work. It is argued that during jumps, for example, pointe shoes can shorten the depth of the plié, so by wearing flats the plié is used to its full extent. Jumping in flats will help students learn how to land quietly by rolling through the feet whilst obtaining the maximum height if the jump. Pointe classes are likely to take place straight after technique so the students are fully warmed up; here also it is argued that injury is further preventable.
There are vast differences in pointe training methods: each one strengthens the dancer, just achieves the goal in a different way.
Dancers cannot just be fit to dance. Dance fitness in itself is not as wholesome as if the body undertook a wide range of physical activities to maintain fitness as a whole, whilst complementing that obtained through dance.
Many dancers are fans of swimming, as it maintains stamina and works the muscles of the entire body in a low-impact way, as much as Pilates helps to keep the core strong with little to no impact. If you are not currently working in dance and auditioning widely, it is important to keep your body in peak physical condition so it is constantly ready to be used to the best of its ability. Auditioning in peak condition shows directors strength and provides the confidence to attack any movement. It is difficult to anticipate how vigorous auditions will be, so being as fit as possible prepares you for anything.
In this instance, cross-training is of ultimate use. Integrating cardio training into your workout schedule boosts energy and complements the requirements of dance with its short bursts of activity. Additional training, through extended cardio sessions for example, then improves endurance for full-out dance combinations or longer variations. The body will also be able to recover quicker afterwards, providing more peace of mind during intense auditions. 30 minutes of cardio a few times a week is usually what is recommended, however interval training is even more beneficial than steady paces, as high intensive intervals closely mimic the varied aerobic demands of dance classes and auditions.
Working with your body in different ways can help to identify weak and imbalanced areas, and means your body is ready for anything, not just the dance technique you have trained in your whole life. A variety of exercise techniques will improve overall strength, especially to keep the body active and attentive to changes, adapting quickly. However, do be wary of letting your cross-training become overly time-consuming or draining on your number one priority of dance, instead of complementing what is already taking place. Avoid overtraining and take one day off per week for rejuvenation.
You have successfully auditioned and booked your first professional dancing job! Whilst this is hugely exciting and a great achievement, don’t make first-time mistakes that could reflect negatively on you as a professional dancer… Some mistakes are common, some you only learn once you have been there and have done that.
Before you start the job, receive your contract or agreement terms in writing from your employer. In your eagerness and excitement this may not be the first thing you think of, but having this in a hard format protects both you and your employer. Whether you are a freelancer or a full-time company dancer, read through your contract thoroughly.
Of course you will want to bound into the studio on your first day of rehearsals, but be wary of being over eager. In your aim to please everyone don’t let yourself be taken advantage of – taking on too much could be detrimental to your dancing. Don’t nab the first spot at the barre or place in the room you set your sights on either. Existing dancers in the company or on the job may have already claimed these – dancers are very territorial! – and you don’t want to start with rubbing another dancer up the wrong way.
Anticipate everything you will need when you start your new job, especially food and drink to fuel you through the long, intense days. When you are rehearsing there is often no telling how long the day will go on for so stock your dance bag with plenty of high-energy, nutritious snacks. Make sure you have spare everything, and also be prepared for injuries – they can affect anyone and everyone.
And remember… muscles don’t like having to go from cold to dancing full out, even when you are excited about starting!
Dancing barefoot for modern or contemporary dance doesn’t come without its pitfalls – ballet dancers certainly suffer but that’s not to say contemporary dancers don’t too! Many dancers opt for socks, or their costume may demand them to be worn, however to fully feel the floor beneath you – and to move in response to that – requires barefoot dance. Despite this, dancers may still encounter problems along the way.
Hard skin on the soles of your feet is a good thing to help you turn and slide, although it takes a long time to build up. As a dancer your feet may not look as attractive as possible in summer sandals, however you can use a foot file or pumice stone to pare the hard skin down. If calluses develop some dancers may soak their feet in Epsom salt, or use vaseline overnight to keep the skin from cracking. This can also be done if your feet are prone to splitting. Splitting the skin in and around the toes is difficult to bandage and splits can reopen, deepen or become infected. Here, prevention is the best cure by keeping your feet moisturised, but clean and dry.
Contemporary dancers may also suffer from floor burns – although they are common they still need a little attention in order to prevent them worsening. You can relieve a painful floor burn by running cold water over the wound, but don’t use ice or lotions. Overall, ensure your feet receive the relevant care they need by spending time with your feet on a daily basis and be alert for potential problems. You can really spoil your feet by soaking them in a foot bath — especially if your feet are tired or sore — and by applying moisture treatments to ensure they are receiving the best possible care for dance.
Related: Our range of foot thongs and dance socks.
Do you want to take your dancing to a professional level? As glamorous as it may seem, the life of a performer is a lot of hard work, pain and strict dedication to the goal. If you still wish to pursue a career in dance you must strive for it completely, as it requires a lot of passion and hard graft.
It is important to keep your feet on the ground, metaphorically speaking, and think realistically about your career. If you are the strongest dancer locally this will not make you the strongest amongst others in an audition. Open auditions are perhaps a dancer’s worst nightmare for being noticed, and a closed audition means agents put forward their very best dancers for that job – you may be one of many very similar dancers.
It is important to play up to your strengths and use them to your advantage in any dance environment, be it a class, audition or workshop. It is also important to continue learning and conquering your weaknesses in order to develop as a dancer. It’s easy to get complacent when you are responsible for keeping yourself in shape for auditioning, so keep challenging yourself and trying new things. Despite this, there will be auditions and jobs that you simply won’t get or be out forward for based on non-personal reasons, such as looks, so you must develop a tough skin.
Have a “plan B” too: make sure you have a substantial education behind you in case you must stop dancing for any reason. It is also important to have a clear idea of how you can work when you are in between dance jobs, so develop your skills, and build up professional experience. Don’t forget you also need persistence and a positive attitude: don’t take life too seriously and remember to enjoy the hard work involved in reaching your dream.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Even if dancers aren’t pointe novices, often there are still things to learn about caring for dance shoes, pointe shoes in particular. If you are new to pointe work for the new year, start as you mean to go on and ensure your shoes are cared for in the best possible way.
When you buy new dance shoes it is very tempting to put them away in the small plastic bag they were purchased in, to eke out the time that they are still ‘new’. This, however, means the shoes cannot dry out sufficiently after use and may begin to prematurely decompose. Plus, you may come to put them on for your next class and they may still be damp and clammy, which means your feet aren’t receiving the best treatment either. Keep your shoes cool and dry, after having aired them after use.
As one of dancers’ main essentials, dance shoes require proper care to provide maximum support and protection for your feet, as well as meaning you can perform to the best of your ability. Make sure you are wearing your shoes correctly too: pointe shoes should be worn with tights and possibly toe pads, rather than socks, and socks should be worn with tap and jazz shoes to help prevent the growth of bacteria. Be careful too when you’re putting on your shoes, as for more delicate shoes in particular, their life span is affected by how you put them on and take them off. Don’t dance in broken shoes, as this can have serious consequences in the form of injuries.
If you need to clean your shoes, make sure you do so depending on the shoe that needs the care. Canvas shoes can be washed in the washing machine, but not tumble dried as they may shrink. A shoe brush on suede-bottom shoes will keep them clean and help maintain their texture, but don’t wear your dance shoes outside. Not only will they get dirty, but it can damage the soles too.
Dance students new to pointe are always excited to get going, inspired by what they have seen through their dance training so far. Watching older students or favourite ballerinas dancing en pointe is often an enamouring experience, and now it is the turn of the younger students to get their first pair of pointe shoes.
Dancers who are not training at vocational dance schools usually are allowed to begin pointe in their early teens, due to the development of their bones and ultimately, their classical technique. Other factors which must also be considered are the regularity of attendance to ballet classes and a teacher’s approval, and it is paramount that each dancer is professionally fitted for pointe shoes.
Often being en pointe doesn’t feel as dainty as young dancers may have thought. Stepping onto pointe for the first time is uncomfortable, but is not a reason to be discouraged. Even minor discomfort is normal as dancers get used to the sensation of pointe, and they get stronger by practising their technique and not rushing the process. Extreme pain is a good indicator that a shoe has not been properly recommended or fitted for the student’s individual needs, and if manually breaking in the shoes has not happened.
To make the time en pointe more comfortable (and more enjoyable!) there are a few things that dancers can do. Strong abdominals are vital for pointe work, as it is a strong core that will help dancers lift their weight out of their shoes. Also important is correct body placement and flexibility in the ankle and foot, which must be built up before and during pointe training. This is primarily done through learning to roll up onto pointe and down through the shoes.
Ultimately, dancers must take good care of their feet, as well as their shoes by airing them between lessons to prevent fungus and bacteria growth. Don’t give up, and approach a teacher or studio director if something feels wrong.