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.

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