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 💗

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Dance · Exercise

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – strengthening your feet for pointe

Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina, and every ballerina dreams of her day when she will finally be en pointe. However this is not something that can be rushed. There is no magical age when a girl is ready. It does not matter if she is the best dancer in the class, if she has won competitions or can do a clean double pirouette. It will be down to the teachers to decide when a girl is ready. It is dependant on technique and strength in the feet and ankles. The teacher may also take in to account the maturity of the stundent. Being en pointe is hard work and takes total dedication. So they will need to understand the hours of practice that will need to be done. 

There are, however, some techniques and exercises that can be done to improve on foot and ankle strength, that can be transferred into class, hopefully catching the eye of the teacher. Show her, prove to her!
Some props and aids you may need;

Tea towel,

Resistance band,

Tennis ball,

ELEVES OR RISES

Firstly, without needing any props, simple one footed rises will work wonders! Start on 1 foot in parallel or turned out, with your other foot coup de pied (just by your ankle bone) Slowly and in a controlled manor, rise up on to Demi pointe as high as you can, really concentrating on pulling the heel up. Then use the same control to lower back down. You will be surprised how quickly your foot and calf muscle fatigue! Do as many as you can, 15-20 is a good starting point. Repeat on the other foot. Try and aim to do this every night, you’ll soon see the benefits!

DEMI POINTE SHOES

Demi pointes, or soft blocks are a mid way shoe between your ballet flats and pointe shoes. They are manufactured in the same way as pointe shoes, but without the hard shank and not as many glue and paste layers to the box. Your feet have to work much harder in demi’s than they do in flats, which will really strengthen the intricate muscles in the feet and get then used to wearing something a little harder. Also great for helping to build balance, as the sole is not as flat, so you have to work harder for stability. 

DOMING

Grab your tea towel and place it on the floor. Place your foot at one end. Without curling your toes, tense your foot so it arches towards the ceiling, in a dome shape. This will slowly inch the tea towel in towards you. Carry on until the whole towel is ruched in. Focus on keeping the toes as straight as possible. Repeat on opposite foot.

RESISTANCE WORK

Using your resistance band, place the top half of your foot (from the ball of big toe and all of toes) in the centre. Flex your foot and pull back the two ends of the band creating some resistance. Slowly point your foot into the band. Try and think rolling through the foot, pushing the ankle away first, then slowly pushing the toes through last. Then reverse back to flexed foot, so toes first then rolling back through the ankle. Controlling the flexing of the foot is just as important as pointing it, so make sure you take just as much time on each half of the exercise. Repeat on opposite foot. Aim for 10 each foot. The emphasis here is the quality of movement, not quantity.

FOOT ROLLING

The muscles in the feet are all so small. It’s important to really warm them up before class or working on any exercises. Place a tennis ball under your foot, and roll it backwards and forwards applying as much pressure as you can stand. You can really work on any particularly tender or tense points. This is also a great exercise to do after class, to release and massage after all that hard work.

STRETCHING

Stretching the feet needs to be approached with caution. You can damage and weaken the muscles and tendons, so care needs to be taken. This can be done with a partner. Sit comfortably on the floor with one leg extended. Get the person to place the heel of their hand across the metertarsals and toe joints. Keeping your leg straight, get them to gently apply pressure, pushing your toes down towards the floor. You should feel a nice stretch along the front of your foot. Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort by your heel, your Achilles’ tendon. Hold for 5-10 seconds then release. Start of with 5 rounds on each foot.

Do make sure you talk to your teacher. Let her know you want to work towards being en pointe, you may be able to come up with a regime together, as she will already know your strengths and weaknesses, so will know where you need to improve. As always, be sensible and safe. These things cannot be rushed, and need a lot of hard work putting in, but it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally get the go ahead. 

Alicia 💗

Dance · Exercise · Self love

Leap of faith.

I have some exciting news!

On Wednesday evening, I shall be teaching my first class! Little old me, a teacher! Eeeeeek! The class in question is our adult Urban class, so it’s full of very familiar faces, my dance friends. Does this make me more nervous? Hell yes! But I know it shouldn’t. They are all hugely supportive, and kind and funny and enthusiastic. We really are like a little family. So how did this come about you may ask? Our teacher/friend is expecting her first child. She teaches dance and fitness classes throughout the day, and now the time has come for her to start scaling back in preparation. Urban is one of those classes. We do have a particular ‘style’  and we have had a substitute teacher on a trial basis, but unfortunately, it was not what we were used to. Humans are creatures of habit! So the dilemma being, if we had no one to take the class, the class would have to be cancelled until after the baby arrives. We were all a little sad at that prospect. So it was proposed that I trail taking the class this week, after all, I should definitely know our style by now! 

This past week, I’ve been listening to the radio and chose a track, “levels” by Nick Jonas, it has a great beat to it, and started doing some choreography. I’ve actually really enjoyed it! Which surprised me as in my younger days, ‘own choreography’ was the worst section for me, that and impromptu’ but that’s a whole other blog! I’ve enjoyed it that much, that I’ve now taken steps to become a certified teacher! I’m going to be doing my IDTA Level 4 Diploma in ballet, and I can’t tell you how excited that makes me! This means, I will always have dance in my life, no matter how old I am! It means I can to really get to grips with my passion, ballet, and hopefully share and spread that passion to children and young adults! It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s one that I feel I can do justice to. Because dance is not just about technique. Yes it plays a huge part in dance and to be able to execute it safely, but for me, the most important aspect of dance, is feeling. It’s being able to express and portray emotions using your body as the medium. To be able to create that atmosphere that the audience can physically feel and makes their hairs stand on end. That’s a dancer’s true job. “dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion” – Martha Graham.

And this is what I hope to instil in my future students. I feel like this maybe some sort of life calling, that I hadn’t realised until now. Life works in funny ways like that. Things will materialise for you at precisely the right time in your life, it’s no coincidence.  It’s doesn’t matter if your 16 finishing school and have no idea where you see yourself heading. It doesn’t matter if you’re middle aged, stuck in a continuous ground hog day with no fulfilment. When you are ready, something amazing will come along, shake your soul and lead you to the right path, you just have to trust in it. If you’d have told me 3 years ago when I first returned to dance class, that I’d now be teaching a class and studying ballet, I would have laughed in your face! “If someone offers you an opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes and learn how to do it later” – Richard Branson. 

There will always be self doubt, but life is about taking chances, learning from mistakes and bettering ourselves. Be your own cheerleader. Believe in your qualities and have the courage to seek out new opportunities in life, you won’t regret it.

Alicia 💗

Dance · Exercise

Ballet gear on a budget

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Last weekend I was shopping with my mum in London when in Miss Selfridge I spotted this gorgeous little top! The ballerina pink hue caught my eye first. Then I saw the back! A delicate ribbon interlaces all the way down and ties in a perfect bow at the bottom, echoing the crossing of ballet shoe ribbons. Sold! I have to say, the soft cotton and almost fleecy feel to the inside, make it increadibly comfortable to wear! And the slightly cropped and rolled hem is perfect for showing a little midriff, think peek-a-boo not Spice Girl! It’s perfect as a cutesy casual daywear top, but also would fit right in at the barre or warm up!

It got me thinking, what other little gems could I find in the high street that I could easily add to my ever growing dance wardrobe, spending a fraction of the price?! We all know how expensive proper dance attire can be, so what if we didn’t NEED to spend mega bucks on dance labels and instead could grande jeté our way to the till in some of our favourite high street shops with change to spare?! I’ve done the hard work for you and sourced some bargains that will have you feeling like a prima in the studio!

Let’s start with the basics, a Leo. Standard price around £30, going up to at least double for a top brand. I found this one in New Look, by Pink Vanilla. £14.  Super flattering black hides a multitude of sins. The v -neck plunge will lengthen the neck area and make the most of those collarbones, and the cap sleeves will widen the top half, making it perfect to even out the peachiest of derrières!FullSizeRender 3

Ballet tights are a must, especially if, like me, you have areas you wish to cover in a class full of young whipper snappers half your age! These are from Topshop. 80 denier just just right thickness wise, and a delicate shade of pink. £6. And if you like, you can easily transform them into convertibles by snipping a small hole in the sole. Job done!FullSizeRender

If you want to express your personality in class, add a splash of colour! These gorgeous striped wool joggers are a steal for Gap. Down from £34 to £14.99 in the sale! Ideal for warm up before class! And I’m loving the little drawstring detail at the waist!

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Every ballerina since time began, from babies to ladies in their eighties, absolutely needs a wrap over cardigan. It’s a ballet staple! This one is from Jane Norman and comes in an assortment of colours, but I like this pale grey one the best. Another v-neck, but it’s so flattering, so why not?! And the pretty tie side makes it quick and easy to take off once your’re ready, yet won’t get in your way if you keep it on during winter months. It’s the most expensive item at £29, but for something that you can wear to class AND double up as every day wear, basically means you’re getting 2 tops for the one price! Bargain!FullSizeRender 2

If you’d rather not stare at your derrière in the mirror all class, a skirt is another must. Not only will it skim over and lumps and bumps, but as soon as you put one on, you’ll feel as graceful as Giselle and won’t be able to resist doing a pirouette (or 2 or 3 if you’re feeling brave) to show it off. I found this one from New Look. I find by matching the colour of your skirt and your leotard, it will really lenghthen your whole appreance. It was £5 in the sale! Take my money!

FullSizeRender 4So there you have it, my top 5 ballet gear bargains. And the great thing is, they could all be worn outside of the studio too, transitional ballet wear! Let me know if you’ve found any little gems on the high street.

Much love,

Alicia

Dance · Exercise · Self love

A New Chapter………….

Hello, me again! 👋🏻👋🏻👋🏻👋🏻

I bet you’ve forgotten who I am?! Sorry about that! You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve been getting on with life! I still have ups and downs, who doesn’t?! Thus is true family life! And would the highs feel as enlightening as they do if we didn’t have the occasional low every now and again to contrast? I’m not sure they would.

I originally started this blog just for me, as a way to document and help make sense of my feelings and emotions at what was a difficult time in my life. I’m quite a closed person really, I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about troubles, but writing it seemed to help me vent and process and mend. It worked, and I found the need to blog or vent, less and less and just got on with things.IMG_0566

One thing that really helped me, and still does, is exercise, particularly dance. One of my previous blog posts was about self love.  Self love Running, yoga and starting dance classes again really helped me to remember who I am, not just ‘mummy’. Which, of course, is THE most important job, but you cannot pour from an empty cup, and dance is what keeps my cup nice and full, like when you have the unlimited latte option at soft play centres ☕️☕️☕️☕️

We all need that unlimited top up option in our lives, whatever it may be for you. Exercise like running or going to the gym, taking up art classes, shopping, appearance, or simply having an hour to yourself with a good book or magazine. It’s whatever floats your boat so to speak. Find what keeps you buoyant, what makes you feel good, what gives you that spark in your belly and don’t let go. Indulge your new found hobby, not only will it make you feel good but in turn you’ll become a better mother, wife, partner, friend, as you’ll be able to give them the very best version of yourself, your cup will soon be overflowing! IMG_0671

So, here it is, my new chapter. I’m steering my blog boat to a new destination, a port that has given me a new purpose, new friends, and a renewed determination. Dance. My posts will be about my journey back to dance, which I feel is my swan song, my soul food. I find it so easy to talk, discuss and share all things dance, as I’m so passionate about it. I hope you will all continue with me on my journey, and maybe even find your own swan song along the way!

Much love from your aspiring Oddette,

Alicia 💗 FullSizeRender 2