ballet · Dance

Ballet classics – Giselle

Giselle is a story about the true power of love, and I can’t help but be wrapped up in it!

Originally performed in 1842, Giselle was written in the romantic era of ballet (think long flowing tulle skirts and picture perfect postcard poses) It’s about a peasant girl Giselle, who lives a simple and happy life with her mother. Giselle loves to dance, but her mother always worries about her and is overprotective, as she has a weak heart. 

During festivities for Harvest, a young nobleman, Duke Albrecht, visits the village and falls madly in love with Giselle, even though he is already betrothed to another, Bathilde. With help from his squire, he disguises himself as a peasant boy by the name of Loys, and woos Giselle, who falls in love with him.

Giselle has another admirer in the village, Hilarion, who goes to Giselle to warn her Loys cannot be trusted, and not to get involved with him, but she does not listen. At the festivities, there is lots of dancing, and Giselle and Loys dance together. Meanwhile Hilarion has discovered the truth about Loys, and outs his secret in front of everyone. Poor Giselle is devastated at being deceived by her lover, flies into a crazed episode “the mad scene” completely heartbroken, she starts to dance irratically, which proves too much for her fragile heart, and she passes away in Albrecht’s arms, who then flees the village in guilt.

Hilarion visits Giselle’s grave, but is scared away by The Wilis, a group of maiden spirits who were betrayed by their lovers. Their leader Myrtha, is particularly scornful, and together they seek out men and make them dance until they die of exhaustion as their revenge. Myrtha summons Giselle from her grave, just as Albrecht comes to pay his respects. He begs Giselle for forgiveness, and because her love for him is so strong, she accepts, then disappears, Albrecht following behind.

Meanwhile The Wilis have found Hilarion, made him dance until exhaustion, then drowned him in a lake. They then turn on Albrecht. He. He and Giselle beg Myrtha for him to be spared, but she does not listen, and makes him dance until dawn. However, the power of Giselle’s love is so strong, it breaks the Wilis spell, and Albrecht lives. At sunrise, the wilis return to their graves, but Giselle’s love has also broken their hold over her. She  returns to her grave and can rest in peace.

The choreography plays a big part in this ballet, particularly for The Wilis. The endless courus, that glide so effortlessly across the floor, as though they were hovering, the lightness and height in the jetes, combined with the floating tulle skirts, and continuous flow of the arms in ports de bras, actually transform them into ghosts right before your eyes!

Such a beautiful story, one that is still relevant today. It offers hope,that even though we can be hurt, lied to, betrayed and heartbroken, love really is the most powerful thing. It will mend, it will repair, it will teach us to trust again. And there’s no better story than that!
Alicia 💗

ballet · Dance

Ballet Classics – Swan Lake

This is a new series of blogs about the great ballet classic stories, that we may or may not be familiar with. You may have seen one of them, you may have seen them all, so this series will either reignite your passion for your favourite, or enlighten you  with a new story.

How could I begin without starting with Swan Lake. It is my, and I’m sure, many of yours, favourite ballet. It is a tale of enchantment, love, perseverance, deceit and betrayal. The main character, Odette has been put under a curse by the evil Rothbart. By day she is forced to live as a swan, with others who suffer the same fate, only transforming to her human form at night. The only way to break the spell is for a man to declare eternal love for her. Enter Primce Seigfreid. He discovers Odette on a hunting trip and completely captivated by her, falls in love. He slowly wins the love of Odette, and invites her to a ball at the palace. Rothbart is furious that his spell might be broken, so sends his daughter Odile, to the ball. She entices and tricks poor Siegfried into him thinking she is Odette, and he declares his love for her. At this, Odette’s heart is broken. Unable to cope with living as a swan forever, she takes her own life, as does Prince Siegfried, who is distraught at the realisation of what has happened. Don’t worry though, true love conquers all, all they are reunited in death for eternity.

I’m not entirely sure what makes Swan Lake such a hit. I think it’s a real combination of things coming together to create a masterpiece that even non ballet lovers have taken to their hearts. The music, written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  is wonderful at setting the tone for each event. The costumes for the swans encapsulate the elegance, the signature moves and positions which are immediately recognisable, and the wonderful choreography and perfect synchronicity of the corps de ballet, which have a huge role in telling the story, and wouldn’t be the same without them. 

My favourite part about Swan Lake, which has always inspired me, is that the roles of Odette and Odile, are played by the same ballerina. Each role is strenuous enough that they could be separate roles, so the prima ballerina must have enough strength and stamina to be able to perform both. It’s the most physically demanding of all the balllets. Not only must the ballerina have the technical ability, she must be the ultimate actress. She must be able to portray Odette/Odile in their own right. Facial expressions, subtle changes in posture, demeanour. If you’ve ever seen Swan Lake, it’s the ballerina is almost unrecognisable from when she starts as the white swan, the epitome of purity, delicate, shy, elusive, unassuming and gentile, to when she enters as the black swan, bold and brash, sly, seductive and confident. They are polar opposites, and for the same ballerina to use all her skills and allow her to transform, is a true spectacle and what contributes to the magic.

I cannot write this blog without talking about ‘the dying swan’ scene. The music is haunting. It was created for the great Anna pavlova. If you haven’t seen her perform it, I urge you to look it up. Yes, you can tell how much ballet technique has progressed, but the feeling she puts into it is like no other. She really becomes the dying swan. You can feel her pain and heartache. You can feel her beginning to get tired and let go, then the frantic last moments of resistance before she finally gives in and succumbs to death. She is mesmerising.

Ultimately, I think it’s the love at the heart of the story that captivates us. Two peaople coming together, so beautifully, only to be torn apart. We love when love prevails, even if that has to be in death. Love knows no bounds, and Odette and Seigreid remind us of that.

Be sure to keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages, where I’ll be posting some videos and photos of the iconic steps and poses!
Alicia 💗

Dance

Receiving corrections – how to be a good student 

Why do you go to dance? Is it a hobby? Is it a passion? Do you want to improve? Whatever the reason, when you attend a class, you will enevitably receive corrections from the teacher. Here is how you can be a humble student.

I touched up slight on corrections in my last blog post Class etiquette https://amummyfirst.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/class-etiquette-a-guide-to-good-class-manners/  so I’m going to go into a bit more detail to help you.
Firstly, your teacher will assume you are there because you want to be there, and want to LEARN. If you truely want to learn your craft, and excel in it, you have to be humble. No one but no one is born a perfect dancer, you have to work for it. You have to realise your weaknesses and work 10 times harder on them. 


ATTITUDE

Always remember, your teacher WANTS you to improve. They would not give a correction if they did not think you were capable of improving on it. They have faith in you! They don’t pick things out to be mean or embarrass you, it’s quite the opposite. So when you receive a correction, don’t see it as a negative thing, see it as an opportunity to impress your teacher. Prove to them you want to be there! Equally, don’t be offended by a correction. Watch your body language and always be thankful for recieving a correction.


MEMORY

Embarrassment is one thing, flippancy is another. You must REMEMBER what your corrections are. A good way to do this is to have a little notebook with you, and at the end of the class, write down any corrections you were given, while they are fresh in your mind. Once your teacher has given you something to work on, they expect just that. So if you’ve written them down and looked over them a couple of times through the week, you will be able to apply yourself more to those areas when doing that particular exercise. One step better than that, is actually WORK on them at home or in between classes! By practicing your errors over and over, you will slowly improve on them, to the point that one day, you won’t even have to think about doing it, your body will just automatically do it! Practice makes perfect! 


LISTEN

Your teacher won’t be just giving corrections to you during class. They will be firing them out to anyone at any time that they spot something isn’t quite right. This does not mean that it doesn’t imply to you. Whenever you hear a correction, take it upon yourself to self critique. Ask yourself “am I doing that too?” If you are, you can go about fixing it. Even if you’re not, it will only make you aware of what technique is required for that particular aspect of the exercise. By doing this with every correction, you will be improving on your own technique tenfold. Never assume you don’t need a correction, check if you don’t!!!!

So please above all, don’t take it personally. Take it as a chance to shine. There is no better feeling than working hard on something, repetitively over and over, until finally you crack it! The sense of achievement is huge! You will be so proud of yourself, and so will your teacher. Go make them proud!
Alicia 💗

Dance

Class etiquette – a guide to good class manners

We all know good manners cost nothing, simple P’s and Q’s (that’s Please and thank you for anyone not familiar with that term) are the very basics expected of you. But do you know what’s expected of you when you step into the studio or class? I’m here to enlighten you!

 

APPEARANCE

Most schools and studios will have a set uniform. It’s important to stick to this uniform for a couple of reasons. Firstly, like school, everyone will look exactly the same. No one will stand out for the wrong reasons, and if you go out as a group to an event, you’ll be easily recognised as to which dance school you attend. Secondly, your teacher will be able to see your body clearly. I know this might not sound appealing, but your teacher will be able to visibly see muscles that are/need to be engaged, so it will help with corrections, this helping to improve your technique.

Uniform should be kept clean and neat, no ladders in tights or holes in ballet slippers. Keep on top of when items go beyond a quick wash and repair.

Hair should always be neatly and securely off the face in a tight bun. Not only is it distracting for you and your teacher if you’re constantly fiddling with your hair, stopping you from fully concentrating on your dance, it’s also a health and safely risk. A whip in the eye from a loose ponytail or plait when executing a pirouette can do some real damage!

Both these aspects of appearance show your teacher you are serious about dance and your class and you’re ready to work hard.

PUNCTUALITY 

This is a biggie. It does not mean arriving when class is about to start. My teacher always used to say to us

“if you arrive on time, you’re already late”

Think of how long it takes everyone to enter the room, say their hellos, put on shoes and warm up. At least 10 minutes. So arriving as class is about to start will delay the class by that amount of time. Which might not sound a lot, but it soon accumulates over a few classes. That’s less dance time. Try and arrive 10-15 minutes before class, puwt on required shoes and do a little warm up. This means when you enter the room, you’re ready to start class with a warm body, meaning you’re less likely to injure yourself, and more able to execute the steps to your full potential.

INTERRUPTIONS

Always try and keep any interruptions to a minimum, but things will crop up, toilet brakes, loose ribbons, etc. Wait until your teacher has stopped talking, politely raise your hand and ask to be excused. If you are in the middle of an exercise, wait until the music has finished. Similarly, when coming back into the room, wait until you can hear the music stop before re entering. This is so you don’t distract your fellow dancers from what they are working on.

The same applies if you are late for class. Get ready outside of the class, and wait until the music has stopped before entering. This may not always be possible if you’re in back to back classes, all the more reason to make the transition as quick as possible. Apologise for being late to your teacher and quietly and quickly take your place, ready to start work. Your teacher does not want to hear lengthy excuses, nor do they need to, it will only delay class further. If you feel the need to explain, wait until class has finished and speak to them at the end.

DEMEANOUR 

Be mindful of how you act in class between exercises. Body language says a lot! Try not to fold your arms, slouch and sit and lean into one hip. These are all passive aggressive postures, and although you may not mean them to be, they may be interpreted differently by someone. Also it may give your teacher the impression that you’re not interested in being there or working on corrections.

If the teacher is giving you a correction, listen intently and look like you are. Also, give other stundents the same curtesy, keep quiet whilst someone else is receiving corrections, so they don’t miss anything.

GOOD BYES

You probably already do a set cutesy or bow at the end of class, but it’s good manners to thank the teacher again and say good bye as you are leaving, to show you really mean it. Don’t forget your fellow students too! But try to keep chit chat to a minimum. There will probably be another class on straight after yours, and you don’t want to hold their class up! If you have something to say, wait until you’re outside of class, then you can take as long as you like!

Some schools will vary how strict they are with these kinds of things, and all schools and teachers will differ. But it’s good to be aware of how to act and what may be expected of you, particularly if you are considering a career with a professional company.

I hope this has been of help and Ill use good manners by thanking you for taking the time to read this!

Alicia 💗

Dance · Pointe

POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – shoe aftercare

You’ve bought your pointe shoes, prepared them, broken them in and dance your heart out in them during class. That’s it right?? WRONG! What you do with your pointe shoes after class and how you store them will have a big impact on how well they wear and ultimately how long they last you! So take note!
Typically, a class can be anywhere between 45 mins to 90 mins. That is up to an hour and a half of your hard working feet being encased in your torture chambers………ahem………….I mean pointe shoes! And like any part of your body, they perspire. That means sweat! Yes, I know it’s gross, but when you’re a dancer, you do a LOT of it, so get used to it. Sweat is moisture, and moisture will break down the layers of paste and fabric in the structure of your shoe. In the end, of course, that’s inevitable, that’s how you end up with dead pointe shoes, but there are a few things you can do to help prolong the life of your shoes. 

HANG THEM UP.

When you’ve took you’re shoes off after class, DO NOT just throw them in your bag or wrap the ribbons around them and forget about them until the next class. When you take them off, they will be softer due to your feet and sweat working them hard! By burying them in your bag, never to see the light of day till your next class, you’re not giving them time to dry. Air needs to circulate in and around them for them to dry off in a natural position. Squashed in your dark bag, they will dry unevenly, if at all, causing them to distort. The best way is to tie your shoes together by their ribbons and hang them off your bag by the strap, then when you’re home, hang them over your door handle, wardrobe door, mirror, hook or anything that will give them air and light. And what’s more, they will then double as a pretty room decoration! Bonus! 

Another thing to mention here is that if you wear padding in your shoe of any sort, take them out of the shoe straight away, for the same reason. If the pads are damp and they stay in your shoes, your shoes will stay damp.

MULTIPLE PAIRS.

If you’re a full time student, or you take 3 + classes a week in your shoes, you may want to consider buying 2 pairs (or more if needed) Pointe shoes need at least a FULL 24 HOURS of drying time. If they are not getting that, they are potentially not fully dry the next time you wear them, meaning they are slightly softer each time, and so you’ll get less wear out of them before the die. Buying 2 pairs at once might seem expensive, but with only 1 pair, you’ll be getting though them double the speed, and have to buy a second pair much sooner anyway, so it’d be the same cost, but the shoe will maintain its structural integrity, helping your technique and safety of execution. 

NEW ENGINEERING.

Technology moves so fast these days it’s hard to keep up. Or if you’re like me, a traditionalist through and through, nothing but the age old paste and fabric will do. But what if there’s another way? There are now   new innovative designers of pointe shoes that have shunned the perhaps outdated methods for something all together more modern. Mentioning no brands in particular (I’m sure you know anyway) there is a certain company that manufacturers pointe shoes using pliable plastics. Just like other brands, they come in different shapes and shank strengths, but the difference is that because they are plastic, they aren’t so much affected my moisture, making them last much longer than a traditional shoe. This brand is particularly popular with full time students and professionals who have multiple classes and performances, not just because they last longer, but because of the pliable plastics, they are almost broken in straight away, supple but still with the strength and support needed. You pay a hefty sum for such engineering, but again, of you weigh up the cost of buying multiple shoes, it becomes more affordable.

SEASONS.

You need to take into account the time of year it is. In the summer, you will sweat more, but it will mean your shoes will air dry slightly quicker. In the winter, you will still sweat, but because of the colder temperatures, shoes will take longer to dry. A good trick is to place them standing up on the box platform on top of a radiator or boiler cupboard, or somewhere that’s dry and warm. It will help them to dry out thoroughly. This is also a good idea if you have multiple performances or a show where you would be dancing in your shoes on consecutive nights. Putting them on a radiator will ensure they are dried out enough without having being left for 24 hours.
Pointe shoes aren’t cheap, and you should also think about your safety. The tips above will help you to get the most out of your shoes and hopefully save you some hard earned cash too. 
Happy pointe-ing!
Alicia 💗

Dance · Exercise · Pointe

POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – Breaking in your shoes

As I have brand new pointe shoes at the moment, I thought I’d share with you a few little exercises I do to help break in my pointe shoes, so I can dance the best I can in them at classs. These may not be the technical terms, but it’s what I call them, so here goes;

SOFTENING

I talked in my previous post POINTE SHOE CHRONICLES – how to prepare your shoes https://amummyfirst.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/pointe-shoe-chronicles-preparing-your-shoes/ about this. Simply wearing them around the house will start to soften and warm the layers of paste up, moulding them to your feet. You don’t even have to execute any dance steps! Walking around in them will really help to soften the shank and the top of the box, to help you find your semi pointe. You can also hold the shoe directly over a boiled kettle. The steam will do exactly the same thing. Give them a second or too to cool slightly before putting them on, then as they cool down, they will be cooling and setting to the shape of your foot. But please be careful! I don’t want any scalded fingers or toes! Use your caution or get your mum to help you.


ROLL THROUGHS

Start in parallel (6th position) facing the barre. Rise up to Demi pointe, pushing as hard as you can. (Demi is particularly hard in very new shoes as the shank will be stiff, but the only way it’ll get easier is if you keep doing it!) Go through Demi on to full pointe. Do a  small plié (bend your knees) you’ll feel you will naturally go over your box more. Use this weight to push through your ribbons and the tops of your ankles, it will help to bend the shoe so you can be fully on your box. Keeping the knees bent, lower to demi, again pushing forward. Then lower the heels and straighten your legs. Repeat this maybe 10 times.


REVERSE ROLL THROUGHS

This is exactly what it means. You’re going to do everything you did before, but in reverse order. Start in parallel and bend your knees. Peel the heels off the floor as your rise up to Demi, keeping the knees bent. Again the weight you create whilst having bent knees will really help to bend the shoes. Slowly rise onto full pointe. (Be mindful not to let the shoe do the work and ‘pop’ up from Demi to full, really feel the pressure and use your toes to rise up, this is where you build your strength!) push through your ribbons and ankles to full get onto your box. Straighten the knees whilst trying to maintain the position of the feet and ankles. Slowly lower down to Demi, then follow with the heels. This can be done around 10 times. You will notice the difference in the feel of these 2 exercises, even though they are essentially the same.


PRANCES

I call these prances, as it reminds me of horses that compete in dressage! Start in parallel. Rise up through demi on to full pointe. Starting with the right foot, slowly lower in onto demi pointe, keeping the left on full pointe. You’ll need to bend your left knee as you lower. Push through Demi onto flat foot. So right foot in flat and left in en pointe with bent knee. Whilst you’re here, you can then push over your box on the left foot. Then rise up to Demi on to full pointe again. Then switch legs. Slowly lower left foot to Demi keeping the right en pointe. Lower left heel. Push over pointe with right foot. Push up to Demi with left, then back up to full pointe. Do 10. Key to this exercise is speed. Keep it nice and slow and controlled making sure not to miss out demi pointe. 


PULL BACKS

Start in parallel. Rise up through demi to full pointe. Take a small plié and push through your ribbons and the front of your ankles. Slowly straighten the knees whilst reign to keep the alignment of the feet and ankles. Repeat 10 times. Here you are using your body weight to help bend the shank.


ONE FOOTED PULL BACKS.

Only attempt these if you have strong ankles. Not suitable for beginners. Stick with the 2 FOOTED version until you build your strength. Start in parallel and rise up through demi onto full pointe. Pick one foot up to coup de pied (by the ankle bone) Slowly bend your supporting leg, using the weight to push through your shoe. Straighten the leg trying to mainting the foots position. Alignment is especially important here. Do not let your foot sickle in this position, you risk damage. Keep the line straight running from your hip bone, down your knee, through the top of the foot and your big toe. Don’t compensate your alignment in order to push over, you’ll be building bad habits that are harder to correct once you reach the centre. Do 5 on each foot. This one is particularly hard going on your feet.


PULL BACKS IN SECOND.

Exactly the same thoughts with the regular PULL BACKS but this time in second position. Take a wider SECOND than you would normally when en pointe. This is because when we take a plié, we want to stay in a nice 90 degree shape, not letting the knees push to far over our toes. Rise up through demi to full pointe. Plié and really think about pushing ankles through your ribbons. Again you are using your weight to help you. Try to mainitain position as you straighten. Do 5 really nice slow ones, and watch those knees! 

I have advised what exercises/how many I do. Please listen to your body. Your feet will tire more easily in new shoes, as they have more resistance to work against. Perhaps start with half the amount first and build up. Also, with all these exercises, it’s quality of movement rather than quantity. You want to be building your alignment and technique correctly, right from the beginning. If you are tiring, your technique will slip. So be mindful and enjoy the process. 

These exercises can be used as a warm up before class to get your feet and shoes ready to work! 

Be sure to visit my Instagram page @ballerina_mum for a video of these exercises as a visual!

Alicia 💗

Dance

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – preparing your shoes

So you’ve been fitted and chosen your make and model of shoes, and brought them home. But there’s a lot you need to do to them first in order to be able to dance in them! Pointe shoes come as they are, so you’ll need to sew your ribbons on, possibly elastic too, and darn the platform. Knowing correct placement and methods can be confusing, so here’s the best way to get them fit for class!


RIBBONS.

 Pointe Shoe ribbon should be 1 inch wide, and you’ll need around 2.5 meters in length. Cut the ribbon length in half just once, so you’re left with 2 1.25 meter pieces and set aside.  Next take the shoe and fold the back seam down flat into the shoe, and you should be left with a triangle shape from the sides. Take a pencil, insert into the folded seam and score along the crease to the outer edge on both sides. When you lift the heel piece back up, you’ll find to diagonal lines on the inside of the shoe. These are your guides on where to sew your ribbons. 

Take one piece of ribbon, find the centre and pin it on the inside of the seam at the heel, BELOW your pencil line, and follow along until you reach the end of the shoe, like this; 

Begin to sew from the centre seam, all the way along the ribbon until you reach the centre seam again, and repeat on the other side. I like to double up on my cotton and use a running stitch which keeps it nice and neat and continuous. When you’ve finished and turned the heel back inwards, the ribbon should lie almost across the back of the sole, so effectively your heel will be standing on the centre of the ribbon. This provides extra strength to the shoe and ribbons themselves, which in turn should help you with your technique. 


ELSATICS.

Depending on thhe fitting and requirements of your shoe, you may, like I, need to sew elsactic onto the back on the shoe to prevent the heel slipping off the foot when dancing en pointe. Please check with your fitter if you are experiencing problems, as this may be able to be rectified by using a different model shoe. If you need elastic, then you need what’s called ‘invisible’ elastic. It’s 1 inch wide again, and less visible and bulky than other types.

With your shoe on your foot, measure from the heel, around your ankle and back to the heel on the other side. Cut the elastic to this length. Pin the ends of the elastic to the seam running down the back of the heel piece. Sew in place on both sides. This will mean the elastic loop sits inside the shoe, like this; 

This enables your ankle to not be too restricted, but provides the support the heel piece needs.


DARNING.
There are so many different techniques to darn your shoes, it’s a mine field for first timers. What I’ll say is that many professionals use techniques and materials of their own preference. As a rule, if you’re a student, the way I will show you is the best all round for your needs. You’ll need some pink darning cotton, it’s much thicker than normal cotton thread, and a darning or curved needle. I start in the centre of the platform, and using a chain stitch, start working my way around, in a spiral, until I’ve darned the whole of the platform of the shoe, and just underneath until you reach the tip edge of the outer sole. 


DARNING is quite labour instensive and hard work in your fingers. You can now buy suede pieces themat are glued onto the area, however for me, DARNING is part of the discipline of dancing en pointe, and is such a beautiful thing to look at! 


SOFTENING

Before wearing your pointe shoes in class for the first time, you may want to start to soften your pointe shoes a little. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not; use a hammer, a door frame, stand on them, bend them. You will just destroy your shoes and possibly render them unfit for use. They may no longer offer the support you need, then you’ll be paying for a new pair pretty quickly! Professionals do this as they need several pairs of shoes for a single performance, which they need them to be broken in straight away. When you’re a stundent, your feet need to do this alone, that’s where they will build their strength from. But you can help the process. Wear them around the house like slippers. Out then on, put socks over the top to stop the satin getting dirty, and keep them on. It’s the heat and moisture from your feet that will start to soften and begin to break down the paste layers in the box, making them mould to your foot. Then they will be a bit less stiff for class when you can really start to work them during exercises.
I really think there’s something so special about preparing pointe shoes for use. It almost builds a bond between you and your shoe, you will literally have put blood sweat and tears into these torture chambers, but they are part of your craft, and all the sewing signifies the hard work has already begun.

Head on over to my Instagram page @ballerina_mum where I’ll be posting a couple of videos and ribbons and darning to give you extra clarity if you need it. 

Happy sewing!

Alicia 💗