Fancy Foot wear

I often think that I should have purchased stock in Capezio, in particular their dance shoe section.  A dancer’s most valuable asset are the feet, so while they must be coveted and cared for, what they put on those feet for each dance genre is as important.  Without the click clack of the tap shoe, the dance wouldn’t be the same, and those wonderful ballroom shoes that allow the dancer to glide and makes their feet look good? Couldn’t do without them.  But why so many different dance shoes you ask?  I asked the same question.  My daughter started out with ballet slippers, life was simple.  For 3 glorious years, we purchased ONLY leather ballet slippers. Then she added jazz, and the decision was easy because the regulation jazz shoes for her studio were the lace up ones. Modern dance was the next genre added and I felt like we had hit gold since this dance type required NO shoes!! Tap, then hip hop, then character shoes were soon added. Oh! Let’s not leave out Pointe shoes, I remember the elation when she heard those glorious words “You are ready to go en Pointe”, and then the pleasure and thrill of the pointe shoe fitting, and then….the tally at the cash register.  I really should have purchased stock in Capezio.

Let’ talk dance shoes:

Ballet Slippers: These days you can purchase first ballet slippers at many retail stores, and while this may be a convenience you must make sure that a proper fitting is does. Your young (or older) dancers slippers should fit snugly but not too tight, don’t think you can pull it snug with the drawstring. That is not the purpose of the drawstring. Dance shoes are not street shoes and shouldn’t be treated as such, don’t think “I’ll buy them a little big so that she/he can grow into them. This goes for all genres, but especially with slippers because your teacher will need to see when you flex and when you pointe.

Pointe Shoes: If your dancer sticks with ballet & graduates to Pointe shoes, Congratulations! Pointe shoes allow dancers to stand on the tips of their toes for long periods of times.  There is a science and physics to the shoe, nothing I could get into elaborately on here (I’m no expert) but it is important that the dancer is properly fitted for the shoe. This means trying on several brands until the right comfort and fit are achieved.  Pointe shoes are not ready to wear out of the box, there is some sewing of ribbons and elastic to be done, another reason why the fitting appointment is important. The dancer receives training on how this is done correctly.  Why the shoes tend to be sturdy, based on the wear, muscle strength, and other factors, the shoes need to be replaced faster than other types of dance shoes.Every pointe shoe is hand-made and because of this the shoe can cost anywhere between $50-$100.

Bonus: Click here to see how the Royal Ballet get their Pointe shoes ready for a performance: 

Tap Shoes:  “On the Good ship lolllllllipop”………that’s the first song that comes to mind whenever I think of tap shoes; a young Shirley Temple, tapping away in her cute Mary Jane tap shoes.  Young tapers normally start with Mary Jane style of tap shoes. As the tapper advances, they can opt for the split sole shoe which allows for more flexibility.

Jazz Shoes: Jazz shoes are available in both leather and canvas, and a multitude of styles (lace, slip on, sneaker). Teachers will usually let their class know their preference in jazz shoe, but any jazz shoe should provide flexibility to perform the dance moves.  Like with the other shoes, the jazz shoe should fit Make sure the dancer has good arch support and allows for bending, and allows for lots of spring!

Hip Hop Shoes: NOT to be confused with the jazz sneaker.  Hip hop mimic most athletic shoes in that they are sturdy. Tennis shoes, or the thinner canvas shoes are NOT a replacement for hip hop shoes either.  Again sturdy is key.

Ballroom Dance Shoes: Cha Cha cha…..the ballroom dance looks more like a normal dress shoe and surprisingly has a thinner sole than normal street shoes. It is crucial to have a non-slip sole, but not a rubber sneaker type of sole as that can cause knee injuries.

The theme here is basically making sure you have the right footwear for the dance style (or styles) you choose. It’s imperative to have fittings to make sure the shoe fits well so that you can prevent any injuries.

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Bringing Dance to the Mainstream

In the past few years, mainstream television seems to have made a concerted effort to bring all genres of dance to television. Both So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) and Dancing with the Stars premiered to US audiences in 2005.  While both shows present in the same format (dancers performing before judges, and relying on the votes of the television audience), their mainstream audience tends to be different.  Dancing with the Stars relies on the draw of the celebrities featured and started out with choreography that was mostly ballroom; while SYTYCD has always featured everything from Modern to Broadway jazz to hip hop to Crunk to Bollywood.  In this season of SYTYCD there are 2 ballerinas and a couple of tap dancers competing for the top spot.  No matter what your genre of dance, SYTYCD dancers are challenged with choreography outside of their comfort zone.  In 2008, America’s Best Dance Crew came on the scene featuring mostly Hip Hop dance crews competing for a title.

Along came Dance Moms in 2011.  With the popularity of these competition type shows, it’s no wonder that other derivatives such as Abby Ultimate Dance Competition  has gained such popularity, dancers are eager to see themselves in media, and Dance Moms claims to show another side of the dance world, the younger dancer and their stage moms.  I personally stopped watching Dance Moms after the first season, while I certainly felt the girls had talent, all the “reality” that went on with that show was enough to make me never want to be referred to as a Dance Mom again.

Most recently, the trend has been to see dancers in other roles on TV. The short lived TV shows Breaking Pointe which went behind the scenes of Ballet West and Bunheads about a Vegas Show Girl turned ballet teacher, shows that Hollywood has recognized that there is definitely an audience for dance outside of the theaters and dance schools.  Major brands have also recognized the power of the dance community and as such have chosen Misty Copeland’s to be one of the faces for Under Armor, a brand that is most closely associated with the Sports world, and Jasmine Harper from Season 10 of SYTYCD is one of the faces for Degree deodorant.  Dance has surely arrived.

And not to be left out of the trend, performers are embracing dance genres into their videos. Take a look that this very fun video for Taylor Swift’s newest song “Shake It Off”.  There is all kinds of dancing  going on here, and oh Taylor might just need a few more a ballet lessons….I’m just sayin… Shake It Off Video

 

 

The Value of Dance Education

dance

This blog speaks from the personal. I have seen the role dance education has played in my daughter’s life.  The way she has become this confident young woman with a presence both on stage and off. I see how disciplined she is with her schedule, her school work (bad grades=no dance); and her time management skills way surpass mine! I attribute all of this to the focus and discipline that she has learned through the years in her dance classes.

You ever wonder what the experts have to say about dance education?  Not just what they have to say, but what evidence/data may have been collected for or against?  Well the folks over at the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) but together a neat little fact sheet and some other great information about dance education here in the United States.  Take a look for yourself:  http://www.ndeo.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=893257&module_id=56441#Fast Facts

Dance Documentaries

It’s a rainy Sunday in my world, so that means lots of Netflix movies anda blog update.  I decided to combine the two today and write about 2 great dance documentaries; the first one, I think I’ve watched at least 5 times and will watch again today. The second one I’m looking forward to watch when it premiers this week:

FIRST POSITION: Award winning documentary directed by Bess Kargman features Aran Bell, Michaela DePrince, Miko & Jules Fogarty, Rebecca Houseknecht, Gaya Yemini and Joan Sebastian Zamora.  Each dancer is followed as they prepare to enter the world of professional ballet while navigating being far away from home and adolescence. Truly a gem of a movie, between the personal stories and fabulous dancing, it’s a joy to watch.

Here’s the official trailer: http://www.balletdocumentary.com/official-trailer/

And here’s where you can watch it (includes movie theaters and stream sites): http://http://www.balletdocumentary.com/in-movie-theaters/

If Ballroom is more your speed.  PBS has an upcoming documentary as part of it’s POV series. DANCE FOR ME will air on August 20, 2014. It follows 15 year old Egor who is from Russia but now living in Denmark to train in Latin Dance.  The trailer looks really good:

Enjoy your Sunday viewing. Let me know if you watch either documentary and what you think of them!

Marie

 

 

Feeding The Mind Of A Dancer with the Arts

When my daughter was 5, right before she started formal dance classes, I took her to see the Pennsylvania Ballet perform The Nutcracker. As I ordered tickets, I could feel myself getting excited, I LOVED the ballet and couldn’t wait to share the live experience with my daughter. Oh, we had watched countless episodes of Angelina Ballerina, and done the twirls and plies at home, but now we were going to see the real live experts!  As the days got closer to the show, I started to get nervous, “she’s only 5″ I told myself, she probably won’t be able to sit still through this show. ‘What if we are not in good seats”? “Ugh, I’ll be devastated if I have to take her out early”!

When that curtain lifted, she was totally mesmerized. I distinctly remember her moving to the edge of her seat so that she could better see when Clara wakes up to see the Christmas tree growing before her very eyes. I remember the awe in her face as the Mouse King gets hit in the head by the heroine Clara’s slipper! When Clara arrives at the Land of the Sweets and sees the Hot Coco dancers, my little girl clapped and clapped and clapped! Afterwards, as we waited to get Clara’s autograph, I remember her telling me that she “wanted to see this again”. I was so proud.

love_the_arts_thumbThe next year, I decided to go ahead and subscribe to the PA Ballet.  It was a luxury that I couldn’t really afford but the return on investment from just that one show the year prior was worth it.  Our first show in the series was La fille mal gardée.  While the premise of the ballet totally escaped her 6 year old brain, the awe in her face was still there. By the time we got to her second viewing of The Nutcracker, she had announced to anyone who would listen that she wanted to dance with the PA Ballet.

Thanks for letting me walk down memory lane, but there is a point to my rambling.  You see kids need to be exposed to the Arts. It’s important for them to use their visual senses to see/hear/feel the beauty that is music, that is dance, that is acting.  Not just what they see on television, but the medium of live performance. The interaction with other live bodies who are watching together,and breathing the performance on the stage.

I’m going to reiterate that it can be pricey. But the ROI is so worth it.  We went on to do free performances in parks and schools; Broadway matinees;The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Shows; traveling Broadway shows in our city. and even the SYTYCD live performance shows.  I saw it as an opportunity to learn outside of the traditional classroom,to see the potential of dance.  She was at this point, totally entrenched in formal dance classes, but I needed her to see it’s potential outside of those dance studio walls.

Invest in live productions, it’s an investment in your child’s education.  It opens up a whole new world of appreciation, and it’s a class all in itself.  Watching professional dancers get those steps just right gives your child the incentive to go back and nail it in the classroom.

It’s worth it.

Dancers with Special Needs

Dance is really a wonderful gift, it, like music has no prejudices, no barriers, just an awesome form of self-expression, exercise and creativity for all. I have 2 special needs kids in my life and both have the gift for music and dance.  One loves to play the piano and sing to anyone who will be his audience. He totally excels at his lessons and his school teachers encourage the arts as it seems to keep him focused. My other little artist will dance around a room all day every day.  Turn music on? His feet get to stepping!

It has been proven that children with Down syndrome benefit socially from dance but like with any child, dance builds confidence.  special needsThe combination of social integration, creative self-expression and the big C: Confidence. Some children with special needs have motor delays, dance opens the door for movement provides needed physical exercise, flexibility and strength.

In addition to the many benefits for children with special needs, dance classes have very positive results for children on the autism spectrum. The mix of rich sensory /motor experiences in dancing minimize the frequency and intensity of negative behaviors for children with autism.  Dance also has a calming effect that helps children on the spectrum regulate emotions while playing with other kids in age-appropriate activities.

A patient, trained teacher, who will encourage not just technical learning but encourages social engagement with the other students. The special needs child learns to interact with, learn from and contribute to the lives of the other students as well.

Whether a parent chooses a school that integrates children or a dance movement program geared specifically for special needs kids, the benefits are the same. Dance is a great activity for all children!

My Son Wants to Take Dance Classes

My daughter has never had the pleasure of having a male dancer in any of her classes in the 13 years she has taken lessons. Not one.  We’ve seen a boy here, one there, come through the school, last about 1 or 2 years, then poof…gone.  It saddens me.  At one of the parent observation classes, a younger brother was in the audience.  At the very end of the class, the teacher taught a quick routine and asked the observers to participate.  This kid was GOOD! He caught the entire routine and executed it first try, no errors.  I asked his mom why he wasn’t taking dance classes. Her response “His dad won’t let him”.

A large part of why more boys aren’t dancing is because of societal views on men in tights, or heck men in dance classes in general.  It’s ok to learn the latest hip hop moves at home and display them on the dance floor at any party but formal classes? No way!

But some of the same reasons why girls should be encouraged to dance also hold true for boys:

  1. Discipline: Dance requires practice and repetition. Try and try until you get that combination right.  This try and try mentality transcends outside of the studio and into life skills
  2. Confidence: When that combination is finally excelled? The level of confidence surpasses all the negative energy (teasing etc) that may have been hurled at them for taking dance classes
  3. Great balance, posture & agility. In a previous post about ballet, I shared a link of football players who use ballet as a form of cross training during the off season. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it and see the reasons why, here’s another chance: http://www.dancespirit.com/2013/09/are-you-ready-for-some-football-players-in-ballet-class/
  4. Have you ever seen a male dancer who wasn’t toned built? Probably not. Dance develops muscles and gives tone like no other aerobic exercise there is.

With the popularity of shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew”, the idea of male dancers is hopefully become more mainstream.  Male dancers looking for professional jobs have less competition than their female counterparts for the simple fact that there are less of them to compete.  Broadway Shows like “Newsies” and “KinkyBoots” display the diverse male dance talent that exists and showcases it well.

Don’t discourage your young men from formal dance classes, root them on and show them that dance is just as powerful as any sport they could play.

The First Day

I can totally remember my daughter’s first dance class.  I remember walking into the dance studio thinking there would be a seat waiting for me to watch welcome refreshments for all of us Moms….ok, ok, I did know there would be no refreshments but I didn’t know I’d be sitting outside with a 10 other moms all vying to peek through one small window to see how our toddler was doing. I also didn’t know that Disney ballerina skirts were not proper dress code. We survived, and so did our dancers.

How do you get ready for your child’s first dance class? TALK to your studio.  Check their WEBSITE. Read those pesky signs posted all outside the dance studio’s walls.  Studios will provide you with their dress codes for each class (some studios are stricter than others), remember there are different shoes for each dance style.  The studio Director can also make recommendations as to where you can purchase these items.  Many studios carry items in their own in-studio stores.  ASK.

For the first time dancer, ask if the studio allows them to watch a class before diving in. Some kids (young and older) may need to see what they are getting into.  Make an appointment to see the studio before your dancer gets started. On that first day, get there a little early so your dancer has a chance to see her classmates; a few connections can be made even before the start of class.

first dance class

Dancers will need to have a dance bag.  It’s not recommended to wear any type of dance shoes outside of the studio, so your dance will have to travel with their shoes in something. Older dancers who are taking more than one class will find it convenient to carry their dance shoes and any change of dancewear they may have. Younger dancers may consider carrying a change of tights, underwear or even a leotard just in case of an emergency (sometimes the little just can’t make it to the bathroom in time…or they may have not wanted to miss the dancing with the wand and didn’t ask). There is such a variety of dance bags available that finding one should not be a problem.

Snacks can be packed if there is time for snacks within the class schedule.  A water bottle is recommended as dancers do work up a thirst.  Make sure to check with your studio before you pack a snack. These days, most studios have policies about snacks due to the many allergies.

Most importantly, don’t let the first day jitters scare you! Enjoy the dance!

Why Ballet?

Once upon a time little girls wanted to become ballerinas.  Oh to wear a tutu and a tiara on stage..that was a 5 year old goal! Somewhere along the line, these girls discovered that there are a lot more genres of dance, styles that used more modern music, where you moved body parts like they do on television.  These same little girls now chose to opt out of ballet slippers and get into tap and hip hop shoes.

My daughter has been student teaching the 5 year old creative dance class for the past 4 years.  I can’t count the number of times a mother has caught me in the hallway to say that their dancer is “bored with ballet’ and wants to “do a dance style that is more fun”.  In past years, I’ve never found it my place to speak up for ballet, but this year was different. I watched one little girl in particular who was naturally graceful.  This was her first dance experience and she simply got it.  So it was a total surprise and disappointment to me when her mom caught me in the hallway and gave me the bored and fun talk.  I found myself (surprisingly) forcefully arguing the benefits of ballet and why she had to keep at it and perhaps add another style to her repertoire the next year.

So Why Ballet? Here’s why:

  1. The crawl before the walk. Not to sound cliché, Ballet is the foundation of dance. With the right instruction, the littlest dancer begins to develop the muscles, and tonic that will later help deter dance injuries.
  2. Foundation again. ALL dance, yes that would be EVERY dance style has its foundation in ballet. Those quick turns in HipHop? Those sharp kicks in jazz? Those high jumps in…everything? That’s all ballet.
  3. It fosters discipline. Ballet is hard (no one ever said it was easy) , it requires practice and more practice. Even those dancers, who eventually go on to drop ballet, find themselves working hard to get it right while in it. This disciplinary aspect translates itself well into the dancer’s school and other areas of life.
  4. Great balance, posture & agility. Ballet requires all of these. Ever wonder why you hear about football players taking ballet during their off season as a form of cross training? It’s true. Look for yourself:http://www.dancespirit.com/2013/09/are-you-ready-for-some-football-players-in-ballet-class/