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Getting your students to perform

By: The Dance World Editor

By: By Angela D’Valda Sirico of Dance Teacher Web

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With the new season just ahead of us it is important to get our students to perform for shows, competitions and in class! Students need to understand that it’s not just about the technique but to also get them to understand how to express themselves through their performance. When children are young it is relatively easy to get them to perform because they haven’t developed all the inhibitions that come along with pre-teen and teens, but once those hormones start to come to life it can be an uphill struggle to get them to just enjoy their dancing. Usually it is because they are afraid to demonstrate any emotion because they feel so unsure of themselves, but for those that have these issues they definitely need help to feel confident letting it all come out!

I don’t encourage “mirror dancers,” but very often students are afraid to really look at themselves in the mirror and to actually like what they see. This is the first hurdle that they need to get over. You know the dancers that I am talking about, the ones whose eyes are always darting from side to side giving a look of total insecurity. I encourage my dancers to get acquainted with themselves and to look in the mirror and see someone who looks fabulous and exciting instead of dull and unattractive. To find the qualities in their faces that they like and to make different expressions to see which ones they think reflect their personalities best. Of course, in the beginning they are unable to look at themselves without giggling and feeling supremely embarrassed but the more they get used to looking at their faces the more they begin to see their redeeming features. Then the key is to get them to dance to different types of music so that they can have an opportunity to express whatever feelings are appropriate.

Just as we teach technique so must we teach performance skills to our students so that they are truly able to not only express themselves but also to reach out to their audiences with something powerful and meaningful. There is so much emphasis today on how many leaps and turns dancers can do and all the other tricks that are used in choreography that the message can sometimes be very confusing to young dancers. Of course we want them to have clean, strong technique but let’s not get away from the real reason people dance, and that is as a means to express themselves. Let’s not override the beauty of movement and the feeling of being at one with the music, the pure joy and empowerment of making something memorable on stage that will leave the audiences wanting more!

I always tell my dancers that the technique is the vehicle to help them bring the most that they can to their dancing. It is extremely important to have correct technique, and the more you have the more possibilities open up for a dancer to show the world how talented they are, but technique alone does not a dancer make! There are many technically great dancers in every major city who struggle on a regular basis to find a job performing because they have become so hung up on only perfecting their technique that they have forgotten why they wanted to dance in the first place. I find this so sad because they probably didn’t have a teacher who could help them to develop their individuality and confidence to a point that they felt comfortable with themselves so that they could get out on a stage and express their feelings to their audiences. Some people are just shy and find it so difficult to come out of themselves and put their feelings on display, however if you can get them to do it as teens they will go out into the world with confidence and this will help them even if they don’t become performers because they will be well received everywhere.

Once dancers understand the whole picture and everything that is needed to make a terrific performance, they will fall in love with dance all over again! They definitely need help to arrive at this conclusion unless they just happen to have that “it” factor, but as we know, those individuals are few and far between. The more we are able to help them find themselves, the more they will be able to give to their audiences, and the better they will feel about themselves in general.

8 Ways to Make Pointe Pain-Free

By: The Dance World Editor

By: Rain Francis of Dance Informa

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If you’re a professional dancer wearing pointe shoes all day long, you may experience some pain with pointe work. However, it is possible for pointe to be pain-free, especially for the beginner. If you have your shoes fitted correctly, and achieve the right level of strength and mobility, you shouldn’t be experiencing any real pain. Rain Francis teamed up with renowned dance physical therapist Lisa Howell of Perfect Form Physiotherapy to bring you this list of 8 ways to make pointe pain-free.

1. Get the right shoes.

Correctly fitting pointe shoes are absolutely essential. Once your feet have stopped growing, and have found a shoe that works for you, it may be more convenient to purchase them online, but for anyone who is still growing and developing, and especially for your first few pairs, make sure you see an experienced pointe shoe fitter, who has access to a wide range of styles. If the shoe is fitted correctly, it will be firm around the front part of the foot but should not be squashing your toes in together too much, as this can lead to ingrown toenails. If the box of the shoe is too wide, the foot will slide down into the box while en pointe, putting pressure on the toes, which can lead to bruised toe nails. If the box is too short it can cut in under the joint of the big toe and may contribute to the formation of a bunion. Always ensure that the wings of the shoe come up to the level of your big toe joint. As everybody’s foot is different, there is no one perfect shoe that is right for all dancers, and it is essential that all students at a school have shoes that specifically fit their individual foot type, even if this means that they are in different brands.

2. Be prepared. 

Every student should undergo a pre-pointe assessment with a qualified practitioner, for example a physical therapist who specializes in dance, or a private lesson with a very experienced dance teacher. This is important to ensure that you have the required range and strength before you attempt pointe work. Otherwise, you risk injury and developing incorrect technique, which can take a long time to correct. Be patient – if you don’t pass your pointe assessment the first time around, listen to the advice from your assessor and work on all of the elements that are identified before your next assessment. It may only be another six weeks of sticking to your exercises before you are able to get your first pair of pointes! Refer to Lisa Howell’s The Perfect Pointe Book for some exercises that will really help with your preparation for pointe work.

3. Strengthen correctly.

Ask your teacher for a structured program to improve your strength en pointe gradually. It is not just about being up on pointe or down on flat – it’s imperative to learn how to really articulate the foot in the shoe in every single rise and every tendu. Working through a graduated rise and being able to control your lowering is the most essential part of pointe work and will improve your strength and technique while helping to prevent injuries. For more information on this, check out the My Beginner Pointe program that Lisa developed with ex Australian Ballet Principal Artist Vicki Attard.

4. Use the right shoe for your level.

The shoes you wear should be appropriate for your level of pointe work. As a beginner, while just working at the barre, a softer shoe will help you learn to articulate the foot correctly in the shoe. When you move into doing things like multiple turns in the center, a stronger, more rigid shoe may be more appropriate. As you progress further with your pointe work, you may find you need a few different pairs of shoes – a really supple one for barre work and softer, more Romantic solos; and a stronger, more stable one for center work, or stronger variations, which require multiple hops en pointe.

5. Look after your feet.

Foot hygiene is extremely important, yet often neglected. If you don’t clean your feet and take care of your pointe shoes properly, you’re at risk of all sorts of nasties, such as blisters, ingrown toenails and fungal infections. Treat your toe pads or ouch pouches like socks: Remove them from your shoes and wash them frequently. You sweat a lot through your feet and wearing the same dirty pair of toe pads every day without letting them dry out can be a direct road to pain! If blisters do develop, make sure you deal with them hygienically and cover them up for class rather than letting the raw skin rub on the inside of your pointes.

6. Use appropriate padding.

There are many different options on the market these days, but when choosing padding for your toes, look for something that has minimal fabric underneath the toes. Too much bulk here can interfere with the placment and working of the feet. Any padding you use should be minimal. The biggest issue with pain en pointe is usually due to the toes clawing in the shoe, and the knuckles rubbing on the underside of the box. Most dancers then feel they need to put something in place to stop the rubbing. However, it is much better to deal with the clawing in the first place, by developing the articulation of the foot and strength to the correct muscles to keep the toes long in the shoe. Clawing indicates the incorrect use of the long toe flexor muscles which can lead to problems in the back of the ankle, such as posterior impingement. If your toes are clawing, focus on learning how to articulate the foot better during all aspects of class.

7. Keep your shoes strong enough.

If you leave any padding in your shoes after dancing, the sweat may soften the glue of the box. This can cause the shoe to weaken and will result in your foot sinking down too far in the shoe. Always make sure to dry out your shoes thoroughly between each use, especially if you live somewhere that gets very humid. Having a couple of pairs that you cycle through during the week will help extend the life of the shoe, especially if you are dancing on pointe every day. You can also use a glue, such as Hot Stuff or Jet Glue to help re-stiffen the middle of the shank to extend its life. Also, each pointe shoe may have a few reincarnations; it may start off as a performance shoe, then become a class shoe, then a rehab/pointe exercise shoe, before finally the shank is pulled out and it becomes a demi pointe shoe for class work. Make sure you have shoes that are each stage, so you’re not using your stronger class shoes to do the really deep articulated exercises, especially when you’re doing more than 4 or 5 hours of pointe a week.

8. Pre-weaken your pointe shoes.

Pre-weakening (sometimes called ‘breaking in’) your new shoes in the areas you want it to weaken will help to stop it from breaking in the middle of the shank. It is important not to cut the shank, heat it or wet it; these things may have been done in the past but are simply not relevant any more. Pre-weaken the shank in the demi pointe area a little so that you can rise through it correctly, and also soften in underneath the heel so that the shank can sit in close to the arch when you are en pointe. You can check out a video on how to do this here. Just using your feet to weaken the shoes can cause them to break in the middle of the shank, which will make you start sinking down and back into the shoes, meaning you’ll need to replace them more often. The shape of everyone’s pointe is different, so measure where the breakpoint is in your foot (where the heel becomes the arch) then weaken the shank of the shoe at this point so that it sits flat against your arch. It will feel better, look better and can also help extend the life of your shoe.

A Dancer’s Rights

By: The Dance World Editor

By: The Dance Project

10 Rights I Wish I Knew I Had as a Dancer

Some lessons, I suppose, are best learned the hard way, and I hope that you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes.

The biggest mistake? Not knowing my rights as a dancer.

Knowing my rights, that I had the power to make my own decisions and stand up for them, could have kept me dancing for longer.

Some of these ideas may ruffle some dance-parent and dance teacher feathers, but I think it’s important for dancers to be empowered and know that every part of their career is a choice, and THEY need to make those choices.

10 things you are entitled to choose as a dancer:

1. You  have the right to choose your dance studio/teacher. If you have a teacher that makes you feel bad about your body or your abilities, you should voice your concerns and find a new teacher.

2. You have the right to rest when you’re in pain, and not to feel guilty about it. No teacher should allow you to feel bad about sitting out because of an injury.

3. You have the right to do what you want with your summer and off-seasons. Dance teachers and parents may push summer intensives onto you, but if you know you need rest, or have something else in mind that you feel to be more productive and enjoyable, do that thing!

4. You have the right to ignore negative body talk. If teachers, peers, or parents suggest that you don’t have the “right body” for dance, give yourself permission to disregard it.

5. You have the right to a good performance therapist or rehabilitation specialist. One who understands dancers- Their bodies, their needs, and their mindset. Find someone who knows that dance is not the problem, but that a lack of education is. Allow that practitioner educate you on how to keep your body performing pain-free. You have the right to more than just a passive therapy, adjustment, or massage, but to be taught how to integrate this correction into your movement.

6. You have the right to filter the nay-sayers who tell you that dance isn’t a viable career choice, or that a dance degree won’t get you anywhere in life. Whether you get a career in dance or not, dance is a wonderful holistic form of education.

7. You have the right to tell a dance teacher when to not touch you. Dance teachers mean well, and most of the time it is totally OK when they use touch to correct you, but some teachers take it over the top- Forcing you into stretches that are beyond your limit can sometimes harm you, and you must learn to tell them politely to please not do that because it hurts.

8. You have the right to choose how much and how seriously you dance. This may sound silly, but I know there are some dancers out there who are pressured by their parents or teachers to dance more or compete more, when they might only want to pursue dance for fun. Speak up!

9. You have the right not to let the fears of others affect your decisions.  You don’t have to let anyone-teachers, parents, peers- make choices for you. Accept advice and constructive criticism, but if you are making choices to please someone else, it isn’t going to help you.

10. You have the right to drop out of a dance program, change careers, or take 17 years off from dance and not feel bad. Life is crazy and unpredictable- You don’t know where it’s going to take you. Your best dancing days might be in your 40s. If taking a break from dance now means you’ll be able to enjoy dance as an adult, that’s an acceptable choice to make.

Did I miss anything? What other rights do we dancers need to stand up for?

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