Archive | February 2013

Performance Preparedness – What To Do When Your Costumes Arrive

revue 2012 Reflections22 What to do when your costumes arrive

After hours and weeks (oh.. about two months of work for me because I am so fussy), of selecting just the right costumes for the dancers in late summer and early fall, those boxes start arriving around winter break. The dancers see these large cardboard boxes entering the dance room and they know that their costumes have arrived. With months of anticipation, they are so excited and very ready to try them on and dance in them for the first time. When the costumes get home here are some suggestions that will make your performance days run much more smoothly.

In the past few years, costume manufacturers have been making things much easier with shipping costumes on hangers and in zippered garment bags. Bravo! for those manufacturers. But not all of them have gotten the idea yet and still ship costumes rolled up in plastic bags. When the costume arrives home, it is a good idea to place it on a hanger and slip a kitchen size plastic garbage bag over it and let it hang. A zippered garment bag is ideal for this, as accessories can be places at the bottom or the bag.

Do not iron your costumes. Even a cool iron can scorch it. You can place your costume in a steamy bathroom and most of the wrinkles will drop out. A steamer is also a great idea if you have one to get out the wrinkles with out harm to the costume. Place short tutus on a flat surface to help them maintain their shape. Hang romantic style skirts – long tutus – upside down to keep them full and fluffy.

Make sure you have all of the pieces for your different, dance costumes that you will be wearing. It is a good idea to have a practice “dress up” at home so you can remember how all the pieces go. Make a checklist and include everything you will need from head to toe. There is nothing worse than to arrive at the dressing room and then find out that you left a costume piece at home.
Some schools will supply a check list with each costume. Teachers may want the headpiece a certain way, or gloves worn . If not, make your own check list . Begin with the shoes and correct color, what color tights and what style is needed. Does the costume need to have a tutu, skirt or sash stitched in place? Do the straps need to be adjusted? Do not allow extra strap length to poke out of your bodice. I am not one for safety pins unless in an emergency, I suggest that you sew all pieces on your costume that needs to be sewn….not pin them. In my years of dance revues, recitals and dance concerts, I have seen costume pieces fall off, and even tops fall down…..
Be sure you have a body liner and that it fits properly. Body liners are perfect undergarment for your costumes. They allow for modesty in the dressing rooms and for “accidents” on stage. You school will inform you as to what age dancers should be wearing a body liner.
Be sure to check to see that you understand how your headpiece is to be worn, and bring the proper hairpins or attach a chin elastic, if requested to do so, to fasten it into place. Give your head a good shake when you’re done, to be sure the headpiece stays in place. It’s hard to dance with ribbons and flowers flopping loosely around your head!

One of the most important things is to label all costumes and their accessories. There will be a number of dancers in your dressing room the day of performance and with many dancers with quick changes, accessories and even whole costumes tend to get mixed up. Keep your costume’s accessories together with your costume. One good idea is to have a zip lock bag with each costume and puncture a hole in it to fit over the hanger. Place gloves, mitts, small headpieces in it to keep everything together and organized.

Start preparing your costumes one at a time as they arrive home…it will keep the stress level down and you will keep your joy…..

Preparing For Performance

backstage dancer


Winter break is over and it is late February. This is the time that we dance teachers focus on what is going to be presented on that stage this Spring. Call it Revue, Recital or Dance Concert. It is all the same. Those beautiful dancers that you have been preparing with all that dance technique are going to show what you have taught them. …..And this is what we teachers have going through our heads this time of year.

The most essential thought that goes through my mind is, “Did I give them enough technique to make their stage presence meet my expectations?” Will they give it all they have on that big stage?” “Will they entertain the audience?”

But what is going through a dance student’s head? What are their concerns? When you come down to it, preparedness is not only what is taught in the classroom. The technique learned and choreography remembered is the most important part, but are they ready for the stage otherwise. The next few posts will be on preparing for your performance, not only techniquewise but the other essentials that bring you to that big stage……

Today’s post will be about what to bring the day of the show and how to get those important things ready to take. I like to think about preparing for that big day on the stage like preparing to go to the hospital to have a baby! Well sort of…..

Start preparing a Tote bucket with a lid, to take to the theatre with you every time you perform. This bucket, which I simply call a Dance Bucket, should be always ready. Whether it is for the Revue/Recital/Concert, competition, or just a talent show at your school. A tote bucket is perfect to store all those essentials, for a dancer who is always ready. It will keep you stress free when you need to think of other things, like your choreography. When not in performance season it can be stored away, with all your performance needs inside and ready at a moment’s notice.

Your Dance Bucket, should include hair accessories….. among them; a brush, comb, hair elastics, bobby pins, hair pins, clips and hairnets. Also, hair spray and hair gel products to slick the hair back and otherwise hold it in shape. Stray and loose hairs are sloppy on a dancer who is performing. Hair should be totally confined to the scalp, and without these items, that cannot be done. Start to “feed” your Dance Bucket with these things now so you can forget about them.

Other handy items for your Dance Bucket are safety pins, a needle and several spools of thread in different colors. You never know when your costume needs repair or just a slight “lift”. Or even the elastic or ribbons on your ballet/pointe shoes may need to be re-sewed on. In an emergency you don’t want to go running around the dressing room searching for these items.

In terms of costuming, you should have at least two sets of each color tights that are required for your costumes. A perfect pair to wear for performance AND your back-up pair in case of unexpected events such as a snag, hole or run, and/or dirt or smudges. Also included with performance wear, is your body liner and dance bra. Are they in good shape? Do they fit you properly? Now is the time to make sure that they do. Check them, and order new ones now if necessary. When you get them, just throw them in your Dance Bucket for that needed day.

Do you have a pair of dance shoes for performance? Are the ones you are wearing going to make it to May or June? For beginner dancers, new shoes on performance day is no big deal, but for an intermediate or advanced dancer, they would want to have a pair of ballet/pointe shoes that are “broken in” but yet presentable for performance. Dancers who are on Pointe sometimes “pancake” their pointe shoes. This practice is done to cover any blemishes on comfortable “broken in” pointe shoes. Pancake make-up, foundation, is applied to the pointe shoes and ribbons for not only covering blemishes on the shoes but also to keep them from being shiny under the stage lights. The softness of the pancake make up also hides the audience’s eye from picking up flaws in the feet. It keeps the feet from being eye catching. The color of foundation should be a close match to your pink tights. This color is for your teacher to decide. So, the next items to be placed in your bucket is performance shoes and if needed your foundation/pancake makeup for your pointe shoes.

Some other popular Dance Bucket items may include – BandAids and antiseptic ointments, bandages and first aid tape, nail clipper, deodorant, tissues, and a hand towel. Younger dancers may want to have something to do or read in the dressing room. Favorite books or a favorite stuffed toy are good suggestions. Card games, like Go Fish or Old Maid will pass the time for young dancers who are only in 1 or 2 dances. Avoid bringing expensive video games and the like, to the stage. These items will only stress you more to keep track of them.

Preparedness is just that….and now is the time to begin……


The Discipline of Ballet Class

ballet teacher 2



Discipline in ballet class simply means learning , practicing and demonstrating expected behaviors specifically associated with ballet. From the dancers’ viewpoint, discipline comes from the desire to meet and obtain the desired results in class, that is, learning and perfecting the steps taught. Taking ballet class develops self discipline of the body as well as critical thinking skills. Practicing ballet physically changes the body by teaching it a way to communicate through the choreographed movements, we call steps.

Dancers, executing the required barre, center and across the floor dance combinations, requires them to focus on the exercises and combinations in logical, orderly phrases, that create a sequence. Those phrases relate to the accompanying music. The dancer requires self discipline to meet the standards of ballet. Sometimes, learning to commit to the study of ballet, dancers increase self discipline and abilities which may have a positive effect on learning in other areas of their lives.

The ballet teacher views discipline as a commitment to practicing the steps taught as well as structure, rules and etiquette of the ballet class. Discipline in the ballet classroom connects dancers to the history of ballet that dates back to the courts of the Renaissance period and the formal traditions that have become ballet classroom heritage The connection to tradition results in combining performance with an appreciation of the beauty of ballet.

Dance students need to understand that becoming a dancer requires accepting feed back from the teacher. Too often, teacher feed back is received by the dancer incorrectly. Dancers who are Teens, high school students, especially, believe that the teacher may be there to make their life more difficult, and take correction personally. The teacher, while applying discipline to her class is only applying discipline as a whole.

One area is class attire. The dancer’s and teacher’s attire for class contribute to professionalism and class atmosphere. The school director decides how stringent classroom attire should be to obtain professionalism. Today there are too many dance catalogs on the market and online dance stores in which the manufacturers believe how dance students should dress for class. It is not up the manufacturer of these garments to dictate what the dancers need and need not wear. It is up to the teacher of the class to promote professionalism within the classroom.

Class attire is a discipline that is important for me as a teacher. Unity in class attire gives the dancers a piece of history as well as an ease of eye, for the teacher, while she looks at her class in the mirror. With class unity, it is easy for the teacher to identify any mistakes or dancers who are out of place. Confusion comes from seeing too many colors, styles and forms of dancewear in the mirror. Hair needs to be confined and off the neck. Bangs and short hair need to be confined. No hair should be swinging at any time. It creates a distraction to the dancer as well looks sloppy in class.

Another area of discipline is class behavior. During class, dancers are expected to be quiet while the teacher gives the instructions for combinations, or offers a correction. Talking in class to your classmates, should be prohibited. If the dancer has question, then she should raise her hand and wait to be acknowledged by the teacher to ask her question. Obviously gum chewing is unsafe and unsightly in the class and also distracts the dancers concentration. Jewelry should be absent. Small post earring are not a hazard or distraction and may be worn, but dangling earrings create not only a hazard for the dancer but a distraction for the teacher.

Classroom behavior also involves courteousness towards other dancers as well as respect for authority…the teacher. Cell phones, which are a distraction, need to remain off and tucked away and never checked during class time. This is not only a distraction to concentration for the dancer but rude to the class and mostly to the teacher.

Discipline in ballet is a way of life, a good way to learn to lead your life outside of the dance room. Self discipline will follow your for the rest of your life and your beginning is in the ballet classroom.

The Relationship Between The Barre And The Center

russian ballet class


The traditional classical ballet class consists of a barre followed by a center and across the floor work. In the beginning stages of taking ballet class, this traditional separation is not so noticeable, however, as training continues, the dancer will spend more time center and will need a longer class length.

At the barre, the dancer learns barre exercises, where she will gain strength, balance and technique. During the center portions of the class, the beginner dancer sometimes will return to the barre from time to time to learn and practice steps that will be performed in the center. A binding relationship will exist between the barre and the center in which each depends on the development and strength of the other.

In the beginning ballet class, the time that is devoted to the barre and center change during the dance season, as the dancers gain more ability and confidence to perform center steps and combinations. In the more advanced levels, the dancers need even more time at the barre before coming to center, where as they need to not only warm up properly to prevent injury, but to perfect their technique and heighten their physical strength.

The level of achievement a dancer will gain at the barre will support their center work. The ballet teacher and dancer, should be aware that if barre work appears strong, the center will not always be of the same excellence. The excellence of technique performed at the barre will not be the same quality that the dancer will display in the center.

  • The ballet teacher must realize that the repetition of practicing technique in the center will make the dancer’s personal technique stronger
  • The ballet teacher should observe the dancer’s work in the center to discover what areas of the barre work needs to be strengthened.
  • The ballet teacher should make the center a smooth and manageable step up from the barre and not such a great separation of what is being enforced at the barre. In other words, the advancement of certain steps needs to be made is small portions, not in leaps and bounds.

Beginning dancers need to understand that the barre exercises are the beginnings of their center dance combinations and across the floor work. These little exercises at the barre need to be perfected in what is learned physically and mentally, to prevent sloppyness once in the center. All of these components combined will allow the beginner, intermediate and advanced dancer to learn the language of ballet.

And it all begins at the barre……

Format Of The Ballet Class

ballet dancers at the barreThe traditional ballet class contains two parts, the barre and the center. However, I break my classes in to three parts, barre which is the most essential to learn body placement, balance and the basics themselves. Center floor, learning to bring the barre work to the center of the stage, and across the floor, learning to travel across the dance room or stage. Now, the traditional ballet class, which I follow most definitely, just considers center floor and across the floor as one, I don’t. I believe that the dancers need to learn the difference between staying in place but yet dancing, and actually traveling, gliding, leaping, and turning across the stage.

Today I want to discuss with you the importance of these class components, and the need for each of these parts in each and every ballet class taken.

The Role of the Barre
The barre is a series of exercises performed at a rail that typically surrounds 3 sides of the dance room if they are wall mounted. Portable barres are a handy tool for when wall mounting is not permissible or if the wall mounted barres are over crowded. At the barre, dancers learn and practice exercises that will be the basis for their work in the center and across the floor. The barre provides the support the beginner dancer needs to obtain. Such as proper body alignment, balance and proper technique of the working foot. All of these components will be needed for center and across the floor combinations. The intermediate and advanced dancer requires a full barre for class and performance warm-up and to improve their over all technique. The intermediate and advanced dancer truly should be at the barre daily for true improvement, whether it is in a class of their own level or below their level. Barre work is never wasted time.

While practicing at the barre, the dancer embeds into their mind, and combines that knowledge, with the body movement into a working whole. Dancers discover their attributes, develop the sense of the motion, weight, and position of the body during movement. They access their natural ability and sculpt their body to make it ready for the work in the center and across the floor.

During a dancer’s barre work time;

  • Dancers are bending and rising for stretch and balance.
  • They are using brushing or gliding movements on and of the floor for quick pointing and stretching of the feet.
  • They are rotating the legs in the hip sockets to learn or improve turn out.
  • The dancers are using quickly isolating leg and foot movements to learn to prevent the entire body from moving.
  • They are repetitiously using beating actions to obtain quickness for center floor jumps.
  • The dancer is also stretching the legs and torso, transferring weight, balancing using slow and controlled movements

Barre work is indeed all for a dancer’s preparation of their appearance in the center and across the floor travel.

The Role of the Center and Across the Floor
In the center and across the floor section of the class, barre exercises connect into steps. the steps combine into ever changing combinations that expand the dancer’s skill and memory. not only of executing steps, but also of applying principles rules and the feeling that makes the movement actual ballet. The center is especially challenging for the teacher as well as the dancers. Dancers perform here without he physical aid of the barre and have to combine the principles, rules and exercises that were taught them at the barre into steps and dance combinations. The teacher will see here if the dancer can apply what they have been taught at the barre to their actual performance.

Center floor and Across the Floor Work includes;

  • Exercises to practice classical arm positions and movements
  • Repetition of barre exercises in the center of the floor without the use of a support
  • Learning room and stage direction; upstage downstage, stage right and left, the walls and corners of a dance room or stage.
  • Classical poses such as arabesques, and body positions
  • Moving to a slow tempo, as in beautiful adagio work, keeping to maintaining your balance and improving your leg extensions
  • Executing hops, small and large jumps, alone or in combinations
  • Practicing introductory transitional and basic turning movements, learning to acquire your center
  • Learning slow and quick steps and later executing them in short combinations.

Including here, across the floor work would involve, turning, hopping and leaping, in a traveling fashion which may or not be repetitious and can be combined with small stationary steps.

All levels of center and across the floor work include center barre, adagio, petit allegro, and grande allegro. These are the components of a traditional ballet class.

What we have been discussing, describes the traditional ballet class. As performances come up, some portions of a typical class may change with rehearsal for the stage taking its place.

My next post will be discussing the relationship between the barre and center or across the floor. Dancers….be sure you practice today…..even if you are not in class…do your own barre exercises that you may have learned in class. Any classical music will do…..

ballet class 5

The Benefits Of Practice

vaganova grade 2 ext (2)

This week in one of my classes…….The class was an intermediate class, with dancers of high caliber. Dancers who take many classes per week. Dancers whose parents spend lots of time shuffling their children back and forth to the studio almost on a daily basis. Dancers whose parents spend a quite a bit of money on tuition for classes. Dancers who are having difficulty with a step since November ….that I write this blog post.

There are many children who take dance class, that one day would love to be professional dancers. Many dance students will spend an entire lifetime studying ballet, me included as I still study every day even though I am a teacher of this wonderful thing called ballet. Practicing and studying this craft has many benefits. Taking ballet classes or any dance class for that matter, should not be considered just an “after school activity” a social gathering place for children to meet. Dance class is education. Just as school has homework time, dance class needs practice time. There is no way to perfect this art without practice, as I have seen dancers who boast that they have had 10 years of ballet experience and look as though they should be in a beginner class…this is no joke, as I see and hear of this daily. They are those who do not practice and take their classes and parent’s hard earned money too lightly.

First and foremost, to be progressive in dance, it is essential to have perfect attendance. I must interject here that the class in which I am referring to above, does have perfect attendance. Every dancer in that class I cannot complain about their attendance record.

To keep up with your personal progress, missed classes cannot be tolerated, as you will fall behind, and the class as a whole will not progress as they should, since too much correction will be needed for the dancers with poor attendance.

How to practice dance is up to you. It is important to make progress every single day. This can only be done by practice. Practice of steps and combinations what was taught in class when you arrive at home. It is beneficial to practice in front of a mirror, but not necessary. Keep in mind what was taught in class that day and write it in your dance journal if you keep one. Keeping a dance journal is a good practice point. Practicing what you have learned in class ballet requires you to repeatedly doing the same physical movements over and over again, until the steps feel right.

To have music to practice with is helpful. While dance schools are in what I like to call recital, revue or concert mode, your teacher may be able to supply you with music for your dance piece that you are working on in class for your presentation. When you are practicing technique, there is a web site where short selections of classical piano pieces are available for download, for free. To have the proper music for practice is most beneficial as it makes your practice time at home more like an extension of class time.

To progress in this wonderful art called ballet and to become a true dancer you must master what is learned in class. Remember class time is valuable time spent but worthless if you do not practice what you learn.

ballet arabesque 1