Wings and Sickles

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.

Practice To Pointe To Perfection

Bloch Axis Pointe ShoesThere 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.

New To Pointe

Bloch Axis Pointe ShoesDance 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.

The Making of Pointe Shoes

Bloch Axis Pointe Shoes

There is, without a doubt, no better feeling than watching a ballerina glide across stage, carried by her pointe shoes. This illusion is just one that captivates audiences and brings them back for more. However, finding out how pointe shoes are made explains just how they work and how they provide that ‘effortless’ look.

For example, Freed, a supplier of ballet and dance shoes since 1928, produces over 150,000 pairs each year, with much work going into each. Freed uses the “turnshoe” method which means that shoes are made from the inside and then turned out the right way around. There are approximately 250 workers across three locations, with 23 makers in total.

Each maker has their own symbol which is stamped under the shoe, with the shoe’s shape affected by the shoe-maker. Some Freed shoes are custom made according to the client’s specifications, and some experienced shoe-makers take just 10 minutes to create a pair of pointe shoes, with around 400 shoes created overall each day. Aside from pointe shoes, other shoes which are made include ballroom, Latin, stage and screen, tap, jazz, character and soft shoes, the method hardly changing since 1930.

Many dancers opt to customise their shoes themselves, such as by cutting the vamp into a V shape to make the shoe appear longer, and then sewn again to hold the shoe together. Elastics can also be sewn inside the shoe in order to add security, for the peace of mind of the dancer that their shoe is not going to slip from their heel. Dancers also work to remove the noise from their shoes, for example by shutting them in doors, hitting them against the floor, and so on, in order to achieve silence as they move around the stage.

The Pointe Shoe Puzzle

Bloch Axis Pointe Shoe

As ex-professional ballet dancers at Dance Direct, pointe shoes are carefully selected as essential elements of the young dancer’s dance journey. As foot strength and technique increases, young dancers are able to make the transition onto pointe and expand their dance capability.

Stocked by Dance Direct are pointe shoes from brands Bloch, Capezio and Sansha, which are suitable for both beginners and advanced dancers alike. Each shoe and its design have their own specification which is extremely important, as each dancer is different, and requires different things in order for their pointe work to be successful. Each foot is different, and some shoes even require a little personalisation on the part of the dancer to make sure the shoe fits their foot perfectly. Many dancers, both professional and non-professional, have been known to cut, modify and completely renew their shoes, even in order to make them last longer.

It is often useful to know a little bit about each of the brands’ shoes before going to try them on for the first time:

Specifically, Capezio’s shoes have been crafted to offer maximum support for balance and comfort. The top quarter of the shank is shaved so the sole follows the foot enhancing the instep on and off pointe, increasing fluidity of movement for the dancer.

On the other hand, in Bloch’s revolutionary new pointe shoe the Axis comes with a TMT toe box and TMT shank. The Axis is a tapered shoe that looks delicate, light and beautiful en pointe. It is a quieter shoe with cushioned pleats to reduce noise, and it is built on a curve last. This new pointe shoe from Bloch is more suited towards professional and serious students.

Finally, Sansha’s unique pointe shoes are designed for dancers at all levels of training: the shoe has a large platform and supportive shank for all kinds of work.

And don’t forget… there is 15% off the following pointes shoes until midnight on Sunday 3rd Feb:

15% Off Pointe Shoes

Sansha 202:
Bloch SO135:
Bloch SO190:
Bloch SO131L:

To see our full range of pointe shoes visit this page: Dance Direct Pointe Shoes .

Valentino Garavani to Design New York City Ballet Costumes

Valentino GaravaniItalian designer Valentino Garavani is making his New York City Ballet comeback, set to design all the costumes for the opening of next season’s programme, a far cry from practice tights and cover-ups. Garavani will be travelling back and forth to the Big Apple from Italy to prepare the costumes of the show, ready for an exhibition which will open in London in November which will be completely dedicated to his fashion and works.

At 80 years old, Garavani has much time to enjoy his huge art collection, but it has also led to him taking some time out to work for a ballet company, one of his lifelong passions. Simultaneously, the ballet world will also be privy to passionate work: both sectors complementing each other with the tutus set to dazzle the fall opening. Garavani’s return to the fashion, and consequently, artistic spotlight via the NYCB is speculated to “wow” audiences with his collection of ballet costumes, paired with the perfect pointe shoes of the impeccable company.

The instatement of fashion with ballet is not a new venture within the dance sector, however. Earlier in 2012, English National Ballet’s Beyond Ballet Russes programme saw a new leotard clad Firebird choreographed by young British hopeful George Williamson in his first commission, utilising costumes designed by David Bamber, who has designed for many of the world’s leading fashion houses including Gucci and Tom Ford.

Additionally within the programme, Apollo‘s various costumes – such as the Muses’ layered white dresses – were designed by Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel. Chanel has a long association with ballet, with Coco Chanel herself having designed costumes for both Le Train Bleu in 1924 and the original costumes for Apollo (originally Apollon musagète) in 1929. With a long historic association of fashion with ballet, it is any wonder which direction new collaborations will take.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

International Dance Festival Birmingham

International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012

The International Dance Festival Birmingham is due to run from April 23rd until May 19th, bringing an outstanding line-up of hit shows to the Midlands, such as Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant’s Push, combining elements of ballet, contemporary, capoeira, t’ai chi and yoga; a solo for Louise LeCavalier named Children & A Few Minutes Of Lock created by Nigel Charnock; and the premiere of new work The Impending Storm, featuring dance virtuoso David Toole.

The month-long dance programme is now in its third edition as a major biennial festival produced by DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome, programmed across theatres, streets and public places, creating a wealth of participatory activity for people of all ages by animating the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands, encouraging them to pull on their dancewear and get involved.

The IDFB is one of the largest dance festivals in the world, and is unique in its diversity and internationalism through its programming of exceptional dance from across the globe, and hosting collaborations with international choreographers and artists. The IDFB is set to include additionally engaging features such as the pointe shoes of The Royal Ballet of Flanders (performing Artifact), a screening of the jazz shoe classic West Side Story and the exotic Danza Contemporanea de Cuba from Dance Consortium. Added to the mix is the transferral of urban hoodie-wearing Breakin’ Convention from London to the Midlands, the international festival of hip-hop dance theatre within the IDFB.

Sylvie Guillem & Russell Maliphant in Push

The IDFB aims to bring an outstanding quality of work and worldwide attention to the numerous arts organisations and venues in the Midlands and the incredible dance scene which resides there through many partnerships and collaborations. Building on the successes of previous years, the IDFB 2012 aims to be even more distinctive than before, attracting more visitors from across the UK and beyond, consequently benefitting the local economy. With a strong international focus, the IDFB will celebrate artistic excellence, promote artistic exchange and express the youthful, diverse and energetic spirit of dance in the Midlands.

IDFB 2012 image courtesy of IFDB. Sylvie Guillem & Russell Maliphant image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Power of Drama and Dance Workshops

Whilst straightforward lessons are in no shape of form headed for the archives, dance and drama workshops for children and young people are gaining more and more popularity. At a glance, prestigious companies and organisations such as Rambert Dance Company, Tap Attack and West End Kids are offering their expertise to young, aspiring individuals who are willing to give up their free time in order to receive a worthwhile result. In the mix of leotards and “New Yorkers“, those engaging with the workshop may not ever dust off their pointe shoes and become The Dying Swan, but some may indeed embrace the new leg warmers of their dance life and take on an entirely new path.

Whilst taking part in workshops focus on the fun and enthusiasm the work creates, overall they provide much more. As a workshop leader, being able to noticeably nurture a young person’s desire to perform on stage, or focus their energy into raw talent is immensely worthwhile. Earlier this month in the Guardian online, the Associate Director of Creative Learning at the London Bubble Theatre Company wrote about The Speech Bubbles programme which encourages young children with speaking, listening or communication needs to overcome these barriers with phenomenal results. This may not be the case for all the children who take part on the programme, but to see a small improvement in areas such as emotion, conduct and behaviour is very encouraging to the workshop leaders.

To observe numerous workshops taking place that provide a multitude of resources for young people is extremely heartening; arts organisations, through various sources of funding, are able to support the next generation of artists and continue their line of work through what the leaders offer. Workshops in the art sector are not difficult to come by, with a whole host of successful organisations managing their time in order to provide.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Summer School Fun

Summer Schools

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!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons