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

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – importance of a professional fitting

Recently, I went for a pointe shoe fitting, as my last ones were well and truly dead – RIP beautiful babies! There were a few things I wanted to ask, question some finer points, and wondered wether these would ultimately effect the brand and model I’d be fitted with this time. Michelle, at That’s Entertainment in Liverpool looked at my previous record, then at my feet. She then thoroughly inspected my old pointe shoes, the dirt marks, where they had worn, where the shanks had softened, even feeling inside of the shoe. To an experienced fitter, worn shoes give away so many clues as to wear and tear, how they have been stored, and any issues that may have arisen. After trying on a couple of different options, I came away with the same model, which I’m thrilled about, as I loved them! But I came away realising just how important an expert fitting is. It’s not to be taken lightly. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Foot types

A fitter will first look at your bare feet. They look at length on toes, length of  the foot as a whole, width, height of the arch, and compression amongst other things. Looking at this information, they can start to narrow down the brands and models of shoes which might be suitable.

Padding

There are a range of different offing options available to help protect your tootsies. Now is the time to tell your fitter what your preferences are, as she will want to start fitting and trying out different shoes with your padding on. No point finding a perfect shoe only to find out after it’s too tight with your padding in!

Brands & models

There are so many different manufacturers of pointe shoes, each with a huge selection of models. Each different model will have a different shank strength, profile height, vamp height, width, box shape etc. An expert fitter such as the guys down at Thats Entertainment,  have years upon years of knowledge. They can easily look at a foot and  match it with a maker and model without a second though.

Trial & Error

Even with this knowledge, everyone’s feet respond differently. A good fitter will access each shoe on the feet, how they look on the flat, and up en pointe. They will also ask a lot of questions about how they feel on. Too much pressure on toes? Pinching or squeezing? They will be able to analyse what the issue is, and try out a different shoe.

Usage

You will be asked how often and for how long you wear your pointe shoes. If it’s often, they may recommend a harder shoe so you get a longer wear out of them. If it’s more than twice a week, they may even recommend 2 pairs of shoes, to use on rotation to prevent them breaking down too early.

All in all, pointe shoes are a specialised piece of equipment, and the damage that an incorrect fitting can cause, not only to the foot itself, but your technique, is not worth the risk. It’s also a costly mistake buying your own and only when you go to wear them, discover that something isn’t right. I understand that a reliable fitter may not be hugely accessible all of the time, but I’d rather travel an hour to receive such a high level of expertise and after care, than risk injury or irreparable damage.

Your body is your medium for dance, look after it.

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

Top 5 dance comp survival tips!


Last week, I was at a dance comp (or festival, same thing) with my 6 year old daughter. She came 4th with both her dances, and her comp team as a whole, collected a hefty bunch of medals, go Team Elite! When I was younger, I also competed in dance competitions, so I’m in the unique position of having been a competitor AND now a dance mum. (which is WAY harder by the way, I’d much rather be on the stage, than watching my baby on it). Having experience from both sides means I have a few little gems of knowledge I’m going to share with you that will make comps a whole lot easier, whether you’re a seasoned pro, comp novice or part of the entourage.

#1 – Prepare in advance.

You don’t want to be worrying and rushing round the morning of the comp, looking for your stuff and potentially being late, the vibes could effect your performance. Write a list the night before of all the things you need, music, costume, make up, props, and have it all ready by the door. That way you can wake up and have a peaceful mind knowing everything is ready, so you can concentrate 100% on your routine. If you’re doing multiple dances, make a list for each dance, so nothing is forgotten.

#2 – Arrive early.

Make sure you plan to arrive a good 45 mins to an hour before your section is due to start. Comps sometimes run behind, but they also run ahead of time, don’t let yourself be rushed. An hour means you can see the stage or area you’ll be performing on, and perhaps even having a run through on it if there is a break, so it’s familiar to you.  Spacing is essential, so assess what adjustments you may need to bare in mind to make the most of the space you’re dancing in. You will also be able to apply your make up, and dreaded liquid eyeliner, to perfection, because you won’t be rushing!

#3 – Warm up.

Use your time before the section wisely, and warm up fully. It’s so important not only for execution of your steps, but safety too. If you’re body is not fully warm and limbered up before throwing yourself into a routine, it can cause injury. Look after your body! This goes for cooling down too, especially if it’s colder outside. To go from being super warm after just performing, to rushing on out after you’ve finished, can cause your muscles to contract quickly, leaving them tighter. This can cause injury the next time you dance (speaking from experience, pulled hamstring – not good). Spend 5 mins or so just doing some gentle flowing stretches to let your body cool down slightly before being exposed to the elements.

#4 – Team spirit.

Team morale is so important, it can really give a dancer a much needed extra boost. If you’re dancing before or after one of your other team members, it’s really nice to watch and cheer them on. It’s vital for building camaraderie between you, and having that extra support in the audience can make confidence soar. Also, don’t forget your fellow competitors in your section. It doesn’t matter if you came first, or didn’t get placed, it’s correct etiquette to congratulate everyone. A small “well done” is all that’s needed. It will show you are graceful in defeat if you didn’t get placed, and not too big for your boots if you did win. No one wants a reputation for being the resident diva!

#5 – Have fun!

Don’t let nerves get the better of you. Did you know, that the hormones responsible for nerves and excitement are EXACTLY the same?! The only difference – breathing, the amount of oxygen getting in your body and up to your brain. Taking slow, deep breaths will really keep your brain and body on the right side of excitement. Remember why you are there. You obviously love to perform and thrive off it, so enjoy every chance of performance you get. You’ve put in hours of practice to get you to this moment, don’t waste it. Go out there and show the adjudicator exactly why you’re here and what you’re made of! That buzz you’ll feel when the audience applause is so worth it!
There we have it. They might seem like obvious things, or they may not, but they are so important. If you’re competing, I hope they are of help to you. Let me know if you have any tips I’ve not included, they may help someone else too!

Break a leg everyone!

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

Uncategorized

Self love

Last weekend, I went out to celebrate an engagement. Despite my initial knee jerk reaction to hide in bed and have an early night (parenting does that to you 😴😴😴😴) I gave myself a talking to, made an effort to have a shower and actually do my hair, and went to be social. And boy am I glad I did!! I had the most wonderful evening! Chatting to friends, who some I haven’t seen in years, and it wasn’t once awkward or stilted, but that may have had something to do with the free prosecco that was flowing a little too easily!!  

I was reminded of the woman I was pre children, the woman I still am today, but she quietly takes a back seat whilst I do the most important job I’ll ever do, taking care of my girls, being a mum.

Being a parent is the most rewarding job in the world, but it is also the most consuming and overwhelming. Sometimes I can be so busy, I realise I haven’t eaten yet, or I frequently put off having a shower purely because I don’t have the time. But it is so important to look after yourself. The grass is greener where you water it. In other words, if I have looked after myself, I am better and more able to be a better mother. More Mary Poppins and less the Incredible Hulk. Although after the 100th time of being asked the same question inside 5 minutes, the Hulk needs serious control!!!!

I went out and enjoyed myself. I didn’t feel guilty about it one bit. I received comments and lapped them up. Perticularly on my hair, which I refrained from replying that’s it’s actually because I’d washed and blow dried it. It hadn’t been that long had it?!

Jokes aside, I’m so glad I went. Not only to congratulate my friends on their commitment to each other, but because I feel I can give my all to the other aspects in my life, be a better mother, wife, friend. Please please don’t neglect yourself. Self love is not narcissistic or self indulgent, it’s imperative. So next time you feel like turning down a social event, whether it’s a daytime coffee or full blown night out, accept it, your inner self will thank you for it 💗