Can Male Dancers Dance en Pointe?

men on pointe

 

 

 

I have been asked this question so many times by dance students, “Can male dancers dance on Pointe?”  There are several reasons that we don’t see this very often other than the famous Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. I will try to sum up a few and include a link to a great video.

The dancer extra  must take great time and effoet  in developing strength in the arch and ankles, and for many male ballet dancers it simply is not worth the trouble. At the same time, some male ballet dancers, have argued for the value of male dancers learning to dance en pointe, if only as a strength and balance exercise.

 The frame of thought is that you don’t see male ballet dancers on their toes because choreographers don’t tend to come up with choreography for them. There are a few exceptions to this,  one is Sir Frederick Ashton’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Bottom the donkey dances en pointe to represent hooves.

One other  exception is the all-male ballet corps of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, in which a number of the male dancers wear ballerina attire and dance female parts. As the corps focuses primarily on classical and romantic ballet, this means that most of their shows feature many male ballet dancers dancing en pointe. Although the corps is in many ways presented as parody, the tecnique of the dancers is pretty amazing, and shows the ability of male ballet dancers to dance en pointe with amazing strength and grace as you can see in the video link below. Watch this video of  Vladimir Makahlov and you decide…..

http://www.networkdance.com/album/view_wallmedia.php?pid=264&media_type=3&media_id=79393

 

After The Show Is Over……

 

on stage

 

As a Dance Educator, what do you think of after the final show of the season is over? When the curtain closes and your work, ideas and creativity have come to the finish? How do you feel about the production, your work and the effort that the dancers and yourself have put into it.? What did you think of the overall final performance?

 

For me, I always have mixed feelings…

I know that my dancers ALWAYS do their best. They are trained that way throughout the year. I never doubt their ability, their confidence or their joy of being on that stage. I have full confidence that they know their choreography, their placement and their cues. I am in love while watching them fulfill what I have created for them to perform on that stage…their special day.

For me, as a Dance Educator, I sometimes question myself when I see error in our productions. I know that the audience doesn’t see what I see from the wings or back stage or dressing rooms. I know that they don’t know that there was a problem or the mistake that I see. I know that the audience is enjoys seeing their loved ones on that stage and are happy their dancer is up there doing their best.

But sometimes, I question myself. I wonder if I gave my all to make the performance wonderful. Should I have chosen a different costume? Was the music just perfect for that age group. Was the blocking just right? Was the choreography too hard.? Was the scenery constructed properly? (yes in small studios the teacher/choreographer is in charge of set construction) Were the stage hands given proper cues? Was there too much delay between numbers. There are so many questions that go through your mind as the show is going on and as the Dance Educator.

But one feeling is a sadness that it is all over. Yes…I am sad….

I have to reel my thoughts in and sit back and think about what had transpired during that performance. I have to come to the realization of the “crash” of the excitement of the final few weeks leading up to the performance and come to realize….. what is this dance life all about? I have been involved in recital for as long as I have memory….I need to think, what am I here for if I find flaw in what I see happening during our performances.

I know…..

I am here to teach children how to dance…(most especially ballet…the most important dance form). I am here to teach them the discipline of dance, the health benefits of dance and keeping fit. I am here to teach them to work as a group. I am here to create a love of dance in their hearts and to hold on to for the rest of their lives, as I have been instilled in me.  But I think that most of all I am here to put happy memories in their lives that I hope they will cherish for ever.

For me…. I am feeling saddness that it is all over…as I think any dance educator will also agree…

BUT ……..we get to do it ALL over again next season……

Thank you to my dancers for being a part of my life …you keep dance alive in me always….and that is what being a Dancer Educator is all about. And that is what I feel …..

After The Show Is Over

after the show

Thinking Like A Dancer ….Happy New Year thoughts for a great 2014 dancing year!

ballet class barre

 

 I am wondering what dance students think about when they are not at dance class ……

Do they think about preparation for dance class? Do they review choreography and technique? I am on the positive side and hope that they do. Sometimes I am overly excited about what I see in class, but there are times that I am gravely disappointed in dancers that I expect more from. Am I expecting too much?

I have been finding lately that many dancers come to class unprepared. Hair not done, pieces of dancewear missing, a missing shoe, dangling earrings on in class (which they are requested to remove). Many are late for barre work because of “dilly dally” or chit chatting or fixing their hair in the dressing/waiting room. I am not understanding why? Do these dancers go this unprepared to school? Are there consequences at school that are not at dance school? Do the dancers consider the dance studio a school?……

Many dancers arrive at their studios directly from school. Which does take some planning on the part of the dancer for them to come completely prepared. I do remember going to dance school directly from school, as a young dancer, myself. My dad would pick me up at the ring of the school bell and my dance clothes where in my dance bag in the car and ready for me to dress at the studio. In some instances, where rehearsals were immediate upon my arrival, I dressed in school before the bell and I was totally ready at the studio or rehearsal hall. My long hair was done properly for dance, prior to attending school those rushed days. I was ready to go.

What makes this decade different? Is it the loose hair that is seen on dancers on TV and video? Is it the many different colors and styles of leotards that the dancewear industry has today? Is it the new bare legged trend we see on dancers? Or is it fashion that the Hip Hop dancers are instilling in the dance profession that dance students think that this attire is acceptable for all dance genres.

On another note ….. some dancers, even whole classes, are not remembering steps, choreography, and even terminology. Where as other classes are right on top of these essential things. I would begin the class week after week repeating and repeating steps, dance combinations (enchainment) and writing them out on the mirror only to start all over again the following class. Where as other classes remember these essentials at the “bat of an eye“! Is distraction a cause? Are some dancers involved in to many activities to be faithful and determined to excel at dance class? Is their thought process that attending a dance studio a social activity and not viewed as a school?

A dance student who wishes to excel in the dance world needs to Think Like A Dancer. They need to be focused and determined to be the best they can be in class.

A good resolution for the New Year is to begin a habit that would be enriching for the dancer while in class. Here are some tips for dancers to think on…..

1) Prepare for class by attire, hair, shoes, dance bag, before hand. The night before if you attend class directly from school. Be sure you have a leotard, tights, proper dance shoes for that next day, hair ties and a brush. Proper warm ups (color and correct fitting) for when it is a bit cold all ready in your dance bag. If you have your class assignments ready for school each day than this should be a breeze for you.

2) Prepare mentally and physically for steps. Practice. Keep a dancer’s notebook for steps and combinations. This practice is beneficial for you and for the entire class so as to keep the class moving forward and not staying stagnant repeating and repeating essentials that were taught weeks before.

3)While in class, listen carefully to the teachers instructions. Dance class is not a time for socialization. The waiting and dressing rooms are a good place for that after class. Dancers need to be attentive while the teacher is instructing. Keep your eye on the teacher to learn the steps.

4) Be alert and attentive in class. One thing every ballet teacher wishes, is that the dancers be in position before the teacher asks and before the music starts. What a pleasure for the teacher to turn around after setting the music and seeing a class of dancers spaced properly and in the correct foot position to begin.

5) Prepare mentally for steps. Think at home on what you have learned in class. Be prepared for your next class. While in class, be thinking the steps so that your brain is ready to implement them. During the preparation music, focus on the step ahead.

6) When the teacher steps back and wants you do dance the enchainment on your own you need to “own” your steps and then wait for corrections, instructions and the famous, “Ok, One more time.…”

In 2014 put your “best foot forward” and make going to dance class worth it for you …you will be happier and grow as a dancer…if you are Thinking Like A Dancer……

Have a great dance year!

 

Thinking The Ballet Way

baby ballerinas

 

This past week, in a ballet class of dancers 6 to 8 years old, which we call our Novice Ballet class, a wonderful discussion came up out of a simple question. …..”Miss Teri, there are so many names that you say to the steps that we do. How can we remember all these names?”
Adorable! I just loved the question and saw a need for a very simple discussion…….So I proceeded to explain why I teach them all these strange words…..and we had a wonderful discussion!

Taking ballet class is beneficial at an early age. Ballet is a progression of many, many levels. The amount of levels and how the dancers progress is depending on the teacher and the school. Dancers should be taught simple and gradual in the beginning, to prepare the building blocks that they need to become the advanced dancer.

One of the most important things in ballet training is basic terminology, and the technique of those steps taught at the dancer’s particular level. One way I like to do that is have the dancers keep a journal, which we work on monthly. Very simple at the Novice level that I was speaking of in the beginning of this post, but more informative at the upper levels.

I prepare work sheets with vocabulary words (ballet steps and terminology) and also a diagram to paste in their journals, for the Novice level and the next level up the Mini level. (Older groups go on to dance history and more facts about ballets along with their level of terminology and syllabus.)

Along with our journals, that most of the dancers take pride in, I continually talk in ballet terms during our class times together. In breaking down their steps, I always speak in correct terms. Using the numbered walls and corners (Cecchetti method) and the terms upstage and downstage, stage right and stage left, is part of learning our steps. In learning choreography, traveling in the correct direction is just as important!

Just as learning a foreign language, which as we all know that ballet terms are in French, immersion of the correct terminology is essential in order to keep these terms and steps deep in their little brains and close to their hearts. Just as a child learns English, or any native language, the conversation in kept in that language or in ballet class, the terms are constantly used. Conversation, or terms, may be simple at first, but always used as communication.

Along with correct terminology, always Thinking the Ballet Way, we must use correct musical phrasing. Learning to keep rhythm and proper timing to music is essential to any piece of choreography. Most often, tap class is suggested as a method to learn simple timing. I agree with this method of teaching. Nothing better than some metal on the bottoms of those little feet to get the dancers to learn timing. Even as the dancers grow in age and ability, tap dance is one of the basics to feeling musicality, and a joyful way to just dance. I myself love tap, always have and I enjoy teaching it!

Another way to teach rhythm at an early age is through clapping or using rhythm sticks. Where the dancer learn patterns of timing using wooden dowels. Almost as a drummer would learn their skill. I like this method at the Pre dance level. They seem to enjoy it, but I prefer teaching tap instead since the rhythm is directly in the feet.

Terminology and Musicality…essential for Ballet class…..
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Teaching with a Set Barre

ballet black and pink 2

 

 

With the beginning of each dance season, in September, I teach a set of barre work that we will do each class for the entire season. The set of barre work is choreographed according to the level of ballet that we are beginning and is advanced as each season begins. A barre syllabus to be more explicit. Dancers often ask me why, we do the same barre work for an entire year. I will begin here, why and the necessity of a Set Barre.

To begin, in many small local studios, ballet class is a once per week maybe twice per week class. I am not an advocate of this method, but many families are on a set budget, and to allow their dancer to experience several styles of dance, only one or two ballet classes per week is their only financial option. For this primary reason, is why I like a Set Barre. The dancer who only takes a minimum of ballet classes per week will get to memorize the sequence in the beginning of the season and will eventually be able to correct themselves, and bring their work to excellence without having to concentrate on barre choreography.

Using a Set Barre allows the teacher to rotate some combinations. For example, some barrework will be done every class, such as plies tendus, ron de jambe and grand battements. Others every other class and some just here and there to review as the season progresses and gets more complicated with center and across the floor work. This enables the teacher to save time during the period of the year when the dancers are cramming to learn choreography for a performance. By repeating the same concepts the dancers have time to actually master the skills and their body has time to memorize positions the feet need to be in.

Another reason for a Set Barre is that when using a graded syllabus, the barre exercises correspond to the grade. In other words as the dancer moves up level by level each year so does the set of barre work. The barre combinations, needless to say, become more difficult and complicated with each level of ballet training. This is a proven method, that shows results in training, of how a dancer progresses at a slow continuous rate, as ballet training should be.

Learn your barre combinations each year so you may do them without thought of choreography, but just a thought of a good warm up. A warm up to excellence…..

Improving Your Leg Extension

side extenstion

 

So many dancers ask how to improve their leg extensions. Developing a good leg extension is one of the most cherished things a dancer looks forward to. Here is a re-post of  important information in creating that beautiful extension in you.

 

 

There are a number of things that ballet teachers work on diligently to develop in their dancers. First and foremost is a love of dance. Next is the appearance of the dancer’s body. Correct alignment, stretched and pointed feet, good spotting technique, beautifully stretched out leaps and higher jumps. But one of the most impressive skills that is sought after, is high leg extension. I am referring to the working leg either to the front or to the side. This is practiced first at the barre, then moves to the center with adagio music and developpe exercises. A standard ballet class will have at least one exercise at the barre and one center floor. Both barre and center exercises will repeat right and left sides, to train the extension that defines the beautiful slow developpe.

The typical ballet class is not enough to develop the necessary strength, flexibility and coordination required of the dancer to develop the necessary muscle groups to achieve the highest of extensions. I would like to recommend that while practicing at home that several conditioning exercises should be done. Conditioning outside the dance class, at home, will show good results for back strengthening, arabesque height and front and side leg extensions.

There are two muscle groups involved in good extensions. The quadriceps and the hip flexor muscles.

The quadriceps are a large muscle group that includes the muscles on the front of the thigh. It is the a large muscle that extends out of the knee, forming a large fleshy mass which covers the front and sides of the thigh bone. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that act to flex the thigh bone. They are situated on the upper thighs and just beneath the hipbones. Hip flexors allow for lifting of the knees and bending at the midsection. Because they continuously work to support the body, hip flexors tend to become stressed and tight, which can prevent the highest of leg extensions

Here is a five minute exercise that should be done in three sets of ten repetitions on both legs. It should be repeated three times per week for six weeks to get some better extension results.This exercise is to stretch the hip flexors. 

Sit in a long sit position: back straight and both legs extended front

Lean back on your hands

The leg to be exercised is turned out with the knee slightly bent like a front attitude

The other leg is bent and the foot is flat on the floor

Lift the attitude leg slowly and then bring it back down again, in three sets of ten repetitions.

The achievement here is to use the quadriceps as little as possible and work the hip flexors.

Another way to stretch the hip flexors is to:

Lie flat on your back, and pulling one leg into your chest.

Lift the other leg up and pointed towards the ceiling and turned out.

Then slowly lower the leg until it eventually rests on the floor.

As you hug one leg, feel a release in the hip flexors in the extended leg.

Hold the working leg off the floor as close to the floor as possible for about 20 seconds before releasing the foot to the floor.

Remember to keep the small of the back pressed to the floor. Repeat for the other leg.

Stretching the quadriceps is important for good leg extension and hip flexors stretch ability and should not be totally neglected.

Lie on to your stomach flat on the floor.

With a flat back, relaxed neck and relaxed legs, Begin lifting your right foot and lower leg upward and bend it at the knee.

Lifting your body up slightly, reach back behind you and grab your right foot with your right hand.

Pull your leg upward and hold the stretch for about 20 seconds.

Next, perform the same quad stretch using your left leg.

You can also perform quad stretches for your hip flexors from a kneeling or standing position.

Or…Use a chair or wall for support if needed.

Pushing backwards toward a wall with your leg bent between your body and the wall during quad stretches will intensify the stretch and provide support. So instead of holding your foot, use the wall behind you for balance and stretch.

For a more intense stretch,

Start with your left leg. Kneel down on your left knee and position your right foot in front of you, knee bent.

Place your right hand on your right leg to guide your balance. Your other hand should be at your hip.

Keep your back and head straight, with your abdominal muscles tight. Shift some of your weight to your right leg, moving forward slightly. You should feel your left thigh stretching.

Extend the left leg behind you so that you are on the ball of the foot.

Raise both arms straight up above your head parallel to your ears.

Hold this position for about 30 seconds and repeat it three times, then switch legs.

There not many things in ballet as beautiful as a high leg extension…..one that can be held with ease. Work on it!

How To Find The Right Dance School

vaganova grade 2 ext (2)

Finding the right fit in a dance school for you, with the new dance season approaching, can be a  task. Let’s talk about what you are looking for ….. 

 

The first step to finding the right dance school for you is discovering what you truly want to do with dance in your life. Realize what your goals, dreams and desires are in respect to dance. Do you just want some exercise? Do you just want a social activity? If your focus is purely social and a little exercise, then your journey is much more easier than you thought. Just ask around.

But, if you absolutely love to dance —if you eat, think, sleep and dream dance — and have the thoughts of a professional career, either on stage, as a teacher or choreographer, then your goal is to find a school with teachers who have a focus on those same ideals. A teacher who has your dreams in their heart as well.

Once you know what kind of a dance school you are looking for, it will be much easier to find it. First, talk with the owner of the school. Do the teachers who work for the school have some type of certification or are on their way to one? What kind of experience do the teachers have? Where did they study? Don’t just be impressed with rows of trophies, since to be judged is always just someone’s opinion. Not all schools with rows of trophies have the dancer’s heart first and foremost in their value.

Well rounded dance programs should offer an array of classes with the main focus on classical ballet and ballet technique with possibilities of pointe work in the future. Jazz, tap and modern should be second on the list of classes to search out. All of these classes contribute to the building of a well rounded, well informed dancer.

Does the school offer a graded syllabus where the dancer will progress to a certain level from year to year? This is an important question to ask. Just as you would graduate from grade to grade in school the same should be for dance school.

Does the school know what method of ballet that they offer. You would be surprised that some local dance schools have no idea that there are different methods or the differences between them. I teach the Cecchetti method, but some of the others that are foremost are the Russian Vaganova method and the Royal Academy of Dance method. We will discuss their differences in a future post. It is good for a school to focus one method instead of combining methods as many do. The variations in the syllabus and the technique can confuse a dance student.

Are you interested in an end of the year performance? Are you interested in dancing in a Nutcracker at Christmas time? Although these two aspects of dance school are important for learning stage presence they should not be the focal point of the studio, learning and increasing your dance technique should be the main objective.

Some signs of quality dance training are:
-Proper placement in class and focus on correct fundamentals
-Emphasis on correct execution of steps, with focus on clean lines, strength and stability,.
-Technical proficiency of a majority of students in the school. -Graduating dancers with intent to continue dance.
I am hoping that this dance season will be your best one ever,

learning good solid technique,

gaining strength,

progressing

and having fun!