July 15, 2013

Pointe(less)


I still haven't sewn on ribbons, but the elastic works well without. The shoes are Bloch Jetstreams, a pair I reinstated out of storage. Should really write a post about that. In short: I bought them too small, but recently figured out that I don't need ouchpouches. Tape on one toe and bunion area is enough. 

I haven't had a proper pointe class since May. To be precise, it was my last class with Madame, right before our spring show. During the summer schedule, my school does not offer pointe technique, probably because attendance would be too irregular. The only option is to take regular class on pointe, provided you're an advanced student or get permission from the teacher. I did just that, but it didn't work out as well as in previous summers. For one thing, the "easiest" level I'm able to attend is basic-intermediate - which is fine at the barre, but a challenge in center. Usually, I don't mind challenges, but the class is packed, and I don't like to feel crowded or rushed when I'm up on pointe. It makes me nervous. Another drawback: no pointe exercises at the barre. Last year, our teacher would give a few basic relevés and piqués (which benefit all students), but no such extras this summer. I modified the barre as much as I could, but... There were hardly pointe-specific corrections either, except once or twice. My teacher (not Madame) told me that with this many students (over twenty), it just isn't possible for her to look at my pointe technique. At least she didn't tell me to leave my shoes at home, which means that she trusts me to handle myself in a safe manner. So there's that. But, what's a grown-up dancer to do when she wants to progress on pointe, and there is none?

First, let's forget about progress for a while. Wearing the shoes in a regular class is work-out enough, even standing flat. There's a lot more resistance to simple degagés, and try standing in arabesque in center.. Controlling the wobble is a challenge! The first four weeks of our current 12-week summer schedule, I did a self-modified barre (fondues facing the barre), and switched into flatties after the first center exercise. Once, I tried to do a full class on pointe, but it got too frustrating. I have only three weekly classes and I do not want to waste one tripping over myself. Be as it may, doing something is better than doing nothing, even though most of my fellow students don't seem to mind the three-month break. I guess I'm a bit ballet-crazy like that. But you already knew that.

I have also been doing something you are not supposed to do. That is, I have been my own ballet teacher, practicing pointe by myself. I like doing pointe when my body is properly warmed up, especially my feet and ankles. My classes are last, and depending on the day, we have half an hour or longer before they throw us out. This gives me enough time for basic exercises, the kind I'm most familiar with - and the sort where I've been getting so many corrections, that I know what problems to look out for. Of course, it is not the same as working with an expert teacher. It never is.


Microfoam tape (above: Gaynor Minden Toe Tape) is slightly padded, and does not leave a sticky residue. It works great if your shoes are very snug, and cannot fit ouch pouches. Downside: it doesn't stay put when you sweat a lot.  Apply on dry feet only! Here, I used another tape to secure it at the big toe. The shoe's box/vamp holds the other end in place. Bonus: you can use the tape more than once (it's not that cheap). The pink arrows point to my ouch spots. 

In case you're interested, here's what I do: I start with demi pliés, rising onto demi pointe then stretching to full pointe, then lowering myself back, through the highest demi pointe possible. The same in reverse, and repeated in seconde. On full pointe, I add a plié, really pushing over the boxes and trying to retain that arch when I straighten again. I take care no to loose my turnout and not to stick my popo out. I then do the same relevés, but going up without pliés. Again, more relevés but this time with pliés and quicker. Then, rises on one leg and passé retirés. I've also been doing fondues and ballonés, but skip the harder stuff (like echappés). I have, however, compromised on my alignment: in class we are not supposed to look down at our feet (when practicing at the barre), because it changes your placement and line. But when you have only the mirror to rely on, it can't really be helped. I don't trust my sense of proper pointe placement that much yet.

And I do have quite a few pointe problems. My right knee still does not stretch and straighten properly. Either it's too slow, or too lazy. I know it has something to do with my leg length discrepancy (the right one is functionally longer), but mostly it just needs more awareness and more work. My right foot also has less of an arch and needs more pushing to get over the box. Second position is the worst, because I don't have a lot of turnout - and keeping those heels forward and feet pointed is Real Work! I think that in the three years I've worked on my pointe technique, this remains the biggest challenge.

Long post short, is there a point to my pointe endeavor? Yes, I think so. It has actually been fun. In addition to a mini barre, I've been doing piqué turns in center, as well as single pirouettes. Together with a friend, I've worked on relevés in attitude (holding on to my friend's arm, as in a pas de deux). Nothing we haven't done before, mind you. I'm not about to take any stupid risks or teach myself bad habits. I keep it simple, focus on my alignment, feel every muscle work and try to apply every correction I have ever received (and there have been plenty).  Do I recommend solo pointe work to everyone? No, I do not. Certainly not if you're still a beginner. Intermediate students: you might want to talk to your teacher about your options. I really miss taking pointe classes with Madame (she's back later in August), and being my own teacher is a poor substitute...  But it has been another learning experience. And that is not pointless at all.

16 comments:

  1. You are lucky that your studio offers at least some classes during summer... I´m happy to have one class or so per week.
    You wrote that you do not have perfect turnout. But you can still work in 5th, right? I´ve been dancing for a year now and my turnout did not improve at all (far from 5th...)

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    1. Yes, you're right. It's one of the advantages of living in Big City. :)

      You don't need perfect turnout to work in 5th. The kind of "handshake" position where both heels touch toes is more of an aesthetic issue, and rarely achieved without compromising knee or ankle alignment. Turnout is really required to enable speedy movement in all directions, especially sideways. For this purpose, a dancer does not require 90 + 90 degrees of rotation. Really, look at professional dancers doing exercises in center. There is space between the heels and toes.

      Turnout can be improved, but only as far as your anatomy allows. Meaning you can stretch and strengthen your muscles, but not change the skeletal structure. Proper placement that does not put undue stress on your ligaments and joints is most important. You will get stronger and more flexible with practice and focus on clean technique. Meanwhile, I would recommend working from a good third position, but talk to your teacher about it. Ballet takes time and patience, so don't be too hard on yourself!

      Here's a really good article about turnout: Your Hips Don't Lie - A Realistic Look at Improving Turnout

      http://danceproject.ca/your-hips-dont-lie/#.UePUW9JFDK3

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    2. Thank you for the informative article. I enjoyed reading it although I knew a lot of it already...
      I think I´ll focus on clean technique (other things need to be improved too...) for now. Maybe I´ll also talk to my teacher because my right foot is turned out more than the left one. Isn´t that unusual?
      Good luck with your pointe work!

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  2. Just started to follow your blog. I love it! Thank you for being an adult ballet inspiration!

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    1. Thank you so much! It seems odd to think of myself as (ballet) inspirational, especially when I'm struggling along with everyone else. I do have my own hang-ups, flaws and insecurities - but then I suppose everyone does. The secret is to believe in yourself (and be kind), to be serious about the work, and always delight in every step along the way. Ballet is hard, but it can be such a joy! :)

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  3. Just started pointe this summer and am actually wearing Jetstreams as well. So far I haven't been using padding of any sort as that was recommended to me, let my feet find out what they need in their own time, instead of immediately trying with ouch pouches. Just curious what made you change to just tape?

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    1. The Jetstreams are too snug with ouch pouches, but if I use the padded tape on my tender spot, I don't need more than that. I had to look for padding alternatives, see how lite I coud go (and still enjoy class). By the way, Have you noticed that the Jetstreams have a teeny tiny bit of padding in the entire box? If you press against it from the inside, you will notice a little "give". This is not with other pointe shoes. Though I ilke my Balance Europeans too, with ouch pouches.

      As long as you're not suffering too much for the art.. :)

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  4. Have you considered wearing the pointes for barre, then switching to soft slippers for center?

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    1. Hi Reece! I have done that before, but it depends on the barre/level... This summer, I only have three classes - and I think that I need each class to work on my basic technique, in flatties. But I've been practicing pointe 10-15 minutes after each class, and last time I got corrections from one of my teachers. My regular pointe teacher (who is on vacation) has also given her blessing for my solo practice. She said that I know what to focus on, just to keep it simple. Not that I would attempt any fouetté pirouettes anyways.. ;)

      Thanks for commenting, I appreciate your input!

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  5. What a great blog! I've been wanting to pick up some ballet classes in Naperville for some time now, but didn't really know what I was getting myself in to. After reading all of your stuff, I understand a little more of what to expect. Thanks!

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  6. Hey, I love your blog, it is so relatable as I am a ballet geek myself :)

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  7. Hi! Your blog is great and very inspiring! :) Perhaps you can make a video of your pointe work on barre, centre, work on ballet slippers and post it here? I'm sure there are lot of people who can share with you their knowledge, support and giva a feedback with some advices.
    Our teacher )more like a colleague than teacher really, I'm 18 years old, so not so much younger than she is ;p ) is 23 year old girl from Russia, who has been for like 2 years on ballet school in russia, then drop out ballet and returned to it some time ago. No she is a student in one of private ballet schools but she is too making ballet classes as a volunteer in my local dance theatre (not opera). When I was like 3 months on pointe she did some exercices with me like developpes and passe (EN POINTE!). That was super-crazy. We even did on end of year performance short mix of Balanchine's Serenade- and it was another crazines too. But she is very much russian-school minded. She says "it have to hurt to be good", and rather would like us to practice even pointe work a lot in home. I know that for a lot things most of us aren't reall ready for, but it is some kind of mind-thinking.
    From the other hand, teacher from workshops in my local opera house (I have class with her once a mont) which is also ballet teachewr at local ballet school is doing everything very carefully, so we woudn't hurt ourselves. I'm from Poland and we have here more like mix of french/rad techinique than russian one, so looking at students and teaching ways are way different.
    So after all I practice pointe work for myself, but trying to be very carefull about it. Otherwise when I'll have ballet class after summer break my russian teacher will say again "you are doing it wrong! Go to the barre and practice your foot when others will do the exercice" (yeah, russian way of training- not very pleasant to hear that, but this is what happens when you don't practice a lot...).

    I'm looking forward to see some video from you or hear some feedback ;)

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    1. Hi lj!

      It's always very interesting to read about classes and teachers and the different styles... I'm not a fan of the "it has to hurt to be good" -method, but you cannot avoid doing the real work if you want to be any good. Sometimes that means sore muscles the day after, or discomfort in pointe shoes. But it should never mean working against your anatomy, forcing turn-out and putting stress on knee and ankle joints. Getting hurt is so not worth it. I would also advise against practicing pointe at home, unless you already have some experience and keep it very simple & basic. It's easy to learn bad habits, but much harder to unlearn them... It's good to know that your ballet teacher is doing everything very carefully!

      About the video.. It's not something that I would feel comfortable doing. Sure, I could get some expert opinions, but a lot of opinions and comments you see posted are not really that helpful. I'm very much aware of my weaknesses, and I'm never going to be as good as pro, but I'm working and improving. Little by little. Anyway, my regular teacher is back and pointe class is on the schedule again. I could not ask for a better teacher and I know she will continue to support and help me with my dancing. :)

      Thanks for your support!

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  8. I miss your posts a lot, I hope you get back to blogging soon :/

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    1. Hi Emma,

      I'm working on several posts right now.. Hope I will get something out today! Thank you for reading & commenting :)

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  9. Hi Johanna,
    I am so happy I have found your blog. it gives me inspiration. I have come back to ballet after 30 years +! I am in my early 50s and I guess it is a bucket list thing. I want to get back to pointe in a class. I have gone back to class at grade 6, so am hoping to work my way backup to pointe. I do go en pointe at home like yourself as there is nothing more exhilarating! I took comfort in reading that there is no retirement age for the recreational ballerina and I plan to continue for as long as my body will let me! Thanks again for this fabulous blog, keep posting. : )

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