The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

Just another site about the love of ballet

Little Girls, Pointe Shoes, and YouTube February 24, 2017

Filed under: ballet,ballet class,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 5:44 am
Tags: , ,

Let’s do an experiment: go to YouTube, type “first pair of pointe shoes” in the search box, and tell me what you see.  23,000 results?  Yeah, that’s something like it.

I don’t mind the young girls (and adults) who take us along to their fitting or their first pointe class.  After all, it’s an exciting time no matter what your age.

What bugs me is the kids who absolutely don’t know what they’re doing, probably haven’t even taken ballet classes for very long, shouldn’t be anywhere near pointe shoes…and yet are pretending to be experts.  Of course that doesn’t impress an adult, but what concerns me is the effect on other kids.

For instance I just saw a video by a little girl who kept saying something about having perfect feet because they were “tapered,” (actually she had no arch and weak ankles and couldn’t get over the box; having tapered toes has nothing to do with having perfect feet but the other elements — arch, ankle, strength — do).  Then she confused the shank with the box when discussing the “four types of pointe shoes” (????) and then, although she admitted that these were her first pointe shoes, she proceeded to explain how she “always” breaks in her shoes.

You guessed it: she had no idea how. The shanks on her shoes were so hard that she couldn’t even bend them with her hands, let alone her feet.  She said they were medium shanks, but judging by her difficulty in getting them to bend at all, that wasn’t exactly the truth.

Back in the day, very hard shoes were recommended for beginners (at least they were in the schools I attended).  The thought was that although kids already had two to three years of training when they began pointe, pointe was like starting all over again and they needed the help of the shoe for getting up on pointe and staying there.  The more specific muscle strength required for pointe work would develop during beginner-level pointe training and continue to evolve after that (probably by fighting to get to, and stand on tiptoe in those industrial-strength shoes).

In time students could graduate to less-heavy shoes. In those days, many professionals bragged about how soft their shoes were.  That was the goal.  Once you were dancing with the big girls, strong pointe shoes were not cool unless you needed them to help with some injury.

Nowadays the thinking seems to have changed; kids who already have training and are ready for pointe develop their feet by working very hard on specific exercises in class, and with things like Therabands and demi-pointe shoes, for up to a year before getting pointe shoes.  Some schools have special classes for pre-pointe students.  After all that preparation, the shoes they get depend on their feet, ankles, and overall strength (although the lightest shoes are still recommended only for professionals, and some teachers complain that even after going through all the preliminaries, the kids still aren’t strong enough for pointe).

At the same time, the strongest pointe shoes now seem to be recommended only for fully-developed dancer’s feet that need the extra protection for whatever reason; I’m guessing that feet like these are the super-bendy “banana feet,” but I don’t know.  Extreme feet like that were uncommon decades ago, but seem to be more universal now, so maybe someone out there has the answer.

But even the dancers who need strong shoes three-quarter the shanks and whatnot to break them in, because the fact is that you can’t dance very well with concrete blocks on your feet no matter how much training you have.

So how is it that this kid who can barely do a proper demi-pointe — actually she couldn’t at all — ended up with such a heavy-duty pair of shoes?  (I think I have the answer; see it in one of the paragraphs below.)  The kid also couldn’t tie her ribbons correctly, demonstrated her toe spacers but then didn’t use them under her Ouch Pouches, and mysteriously showed us a ridiculously large bag of lamb’s wool — half a ewe’s worth, it seemed — which she had purchased even though she claimed that her “perfect feet” didn’t need lamb’s wool.  No it did not make sense.  No one needs both lamb’s wool and an Ouch Pouch, for starters; it’s usually either one or the other, or else you risk overcrowding your box…in which case you should be questioning whether the shoes are properly fitted if they hurt you so badly that you need all that stuff.  (Also, if you over-stuff your box, your shoes may end up not fitting at all.)

An aside: lamb’s wool is nothing more than what we used to use for protective padding in the old days before Ouch Pouches.  Some dancers still use it. It has nothing to do with how perfect your feet are.  Some of the dancers with the loveliest feet don’t wear any padding at all.  My feet are average, but I used to use padding only over the tops of the toes.  Back in the day I used lamb’s wool because that was pretty much all we had.  Hated it because it never worked for me; it would shift and bunch unless you taped it down, which I never wanted to do because I’m allergic to adhesives. Worse for me, lamb’s wool did little to protect from blisters, especially in the “thin layer” that was encouraged for use inside the box.

Later the first pouches came out, but unlike today’s they tended to be thick, heavy suede bags lined with curly wooly stuff.  You literally had to go up a shoe size to accommodate them, and they were hot, and they interfered with any feeling you had left for the floor beneath you because they were lined all the way around.  Professional dancers laughed at them.  Very quickly after they were first released, they were marketed only to students.  Shortly thereafter the manufacturers came out with thinner (but still sweaty) vinyl pouches that contained squshy gel, but it was about then that I quit dancing.  I recently bought a pair of modern-day gel pouches for my demi-pointe shoes (which I work out in), and was dismayed that although the pouches were lightweight, someone still hadn’t thought not to put gel on the bottom of the pouch.  Hence my remark in one of the comments on a previous post about just buying rolls of Silipos gel padding and cutting it to size.  One roll of that stuff could last at least a few years, which would save a lot of money over time because ready-made gel pouches tend to be outrageously expensive.

Anyway, back to the story, this kid then claimed that her “teacher just came round and said these shoes are perfect for me.”  Um…I’ll bet that never happened.  In fact I’ll bet that the teacher, if she exists, doesn’t even know about these shoes.  If she’s a proper teacher, she’ll throw a fit if she ever sees that video.  The kid just isn’t ready to be on pointe, and given her age, obvious lack of training, and the shape and apparent weakness of her feet and ankles, it will be a long time before she’s ready.

In other words, it looks like mom and dad just got her some toys.  I also question if she was actually fitted for them or just chose them online, or told the store she went to that she always uses those shoes.  They did appear to fit her, but that could have been dumb luck.

Of course this is a new day and there’s no way of controlling everything kids get into online.  I’m not advocating censorship. But if you have a young daughter who dreams of going on pointe one day, be aware that there are videos like this out there.  Even though I realize the kids making them have no idea what they’re doing and are just having fun and being kids, that’s just it: they have no idea what they’re doing and could get badly hurt, or cause other kids to get hurt imitating them.

This particular little girl answered, “stop hating! you’re hurting my feelings,” etc. every time someone commented that she probably shouldn’t be on pointe yet, which is another thing that tells me that she definitely shouldn’t be on pointe yet and is just pretending.

That’s the point: it’s pretend.  And this isn’t “hate,” which is becoming over-used slang among kids referring to anything said to them that they do not like.  (Note to kids: hate is a very strong word and should be reserved for only very serious issues.)

No, this is more like demonstrating ‘tough love’ by pointing out something that is potentially dangerous.  Kathryn Morgan touched on this subject recently, only she was talking about bad advice being given on YouTube — again, by inexperienced kids — on the subject of stretching.  She has far more authority to talk about stuff than I do, but she said pretty much the same thing I just said: beware YouTube videos.  Consider your source if you take advice from them.

And for goodness sake, pointe shoes are not toys.


Susan Jaffe as Odile, 1999 February 22, 2017

Filed under: ballerina,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:22 am
Tags: , , ,

Never saw Susan Jaffe dance as a principal. Her tenure as an ABT prima ballerina came after I had stopped watching ballet, although she started in the ABT corps, and quickly made an impression on the dance world, during my last days as a balletomane in the 1980’s.

What follows probably isn’t the best video of her.  The music is frantic, the stage looks shrunken, and her shoes are annoyingly loud.  But I know a lot of people still treasure the memory of her dancing.  And so, enjoy:

Black Swan


Is it just me or are her shoes dead? February 19, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:11 am

The Dream Sibley and Dowell, 1966


Ballet and Health February 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 5:40 pm

The following is from a contributor, Paz Puente of Spain.  It contains too much important information and insight to leave as a comment, so I am turning it into a blog post.

I know this may stir up a hornet’s nest of angry teens and post-adolescents who may or may not worship Joy Womack.  If that be the case, know in advance that I’ve dealt with that situation many, many times before, and trolls never leave this blog in quite the same condition they were in when they found it.  Nor do they get their comments published.

Don’t read this for the controversy or the butt-hurt.  Read it for what it truly says; it’s a very profound warning.

Hugs to you, too, from long term total recovery lane.
In part, we can speak about these subjects with knowledge and objectivity because we were there and we came back. We also have some medical education to assess the risks of what she is subjecting her body to.
What few people get about eating disorders beyond starving and overexercising is that it’s a very obsessive compulsive, narrow focused and autistic mental state. Those who suffer it are not only perfectionistic, but self aversive and self punishing and they are actually trying to control what they feel out of control THROUGH their body and body-control measures.
She is creating a world not for us to live in, but to control how we perceive her and to control (through her perception of how we are perceiving her) a deep sense of being lost and vulnerable in strange land.
She has teachers -no matter how beloved or devoted- who pinch her flesh, call her fat and push her to live on broth and lemons.
The only reason why she is not extremely underweight is that she is bingeing out of camera and video editing or that she is carefully monitoring the exact amount so she can burn it. Her life is gym-class-rehearsals-a bit of sleep-gym-class-rehearsals. Rinse repeat.
Some time ago I wondered how many prima bars was she eating to cover the energy expenditure. I suspect that she is in an hyperactive ednos now, with secret binges and intermittent fasting.
Even in such a state, her body is hers to punish and break down to pieces. Even misguided by a malfunctioning brain and a disastrous cognitive model of life, when you are adult and corageous enough to move overseas and live in the Bolshoi/Kremlin Ballet microcosmos, the minimum is that you are respected for your daring choices.
That’s not the point, really.
The point is that now, many of her teeny groupies (she has some and a bunch are from Spain) are looking up to her and starting to create a mental model of a ballet career that is not Sylvie Guillem’s or Tamara Rojo’s fierce perfectionism and careful body-preserving choices, but Joy Womack’s posthuman/eating disorder fueled athleticism.
As I said, I am not a ballet cultured person. I know more than the average, but in no way I can offer an informed and deep opinion like yours, for example.
My concern is that a lot is going into that channel that may induce unhealthy perspectives and choices in teens.
And doctors practicing ballet hacking on youtube without telling viewers that the first issue in stem cell therapy is that you cannot predict that they declare total cancer war on you short or long term. In a medical facility you have to sign an excruciatingly long informed consent sheet.
Ballet is a demanding discipline. A little or a lot of masochism, gritty work ethics, tolerance for pain, discomfort and healthy limits shattered from time to time are part of it, but there’s so much effort invested now by directors like Tamara Rojo to eliminate eating disorders and install recovery and rehab facilities especially designed for ballet and so many dancers like Georgia Reed are having the guts to show the not so cute, not so glam reality of ballet to the newcomers that it’s disheartening that Joy’s desperate efforts to sort out her life derail them.

No supplement will ever replace healthy, balanced eating. No bodyhacking will ever replace right rest and humility to meet body limits with common sense. No social media campaign will ever replace true LOVE for ballet and narcissistic driven goals won’t keep ballet alive in a generation who wants it stardom/visibility now, no effort, no journey.
It’s sad, to say the least.
I only ask that Eleanor Womack is honest enough to state the risks of enduring these procedures Joy liberally displays like the panacea. The risks of oversupplementation is not reminded either (I’ve seen Joy happily telling us that she sometimes shoots herself three B12 vitamin injections per week when she is stressed or overworked) and now she is selling supplements.
Imagine supplements + stem cell therapy + hyperbaric,148/

Not even a tiny disclaimer has been attached to her video.

Another big hug from Spain.


The perfect (US) American Ballerina, and other things February 2, 2017

A comment from the previous post inspired this post.  The contributor was talking about how Russian dancers, viewed in person and not on video, always seem so light.

That got me thinking about U.S. dancers and what they are in general.

Comments from Russian dancers who have danced with American companies generally run like this: “the dancers are not very classical, but are very versatile.”  (This is actually based on a comment made by one currently-famous Russian ballerina who, although revered and renowned, is not known to be perfectly classical herself.)

Time will tell if the JKO school will transform ABT into a cradle of classicism.  The corps was famously messy in past decades (Natalia Makarova had to teach a late-1970’s ABT corps how to hold a turnout for the Kingdom of the Shades scene), but reviews in recent years indicate a complete turnaround.  ABT’s corps is now considered one of the most disciplined in the world.  Decades ago, no one would ever have guessed that to be possible.

We still wait to see the effect this will eventually have on the roster of principals.  Among the current principals I can find two who are verifiably completely American: Gillian Murphy and Misty Copeland.  Both are strong and athletic rather than ethereal and light.

Personally (and I think this sums up my entire attitude toward her), I didn’t care for Murphy’s Odile, which I thought was a painfully slutty and cheap portrayal, kind of like Mae West rather than Mata Hari.  But the fact is that Murphy has fans the world over who don’t see a thing wrong with her.  I guess I can’t argue with that.  I’m just not a big fan.

Then there’s Misty Copeland, who some criticize as being the product of marketing and very little else (pay attention, Joy Womack!).  I find that she’s a perfectly acceptable prima, but at this point not a great one. The fact that she was not promoted for so many years has cut into her development possibilities as well.  Then again, the Maryinsky’s workhorse, Kondourova, was promoted late and thrives in her newfound prima role.

The fact that ABT has been looking at Copeland as a prima possibility since she joined them says great things for her.  I just wish she would show more versatility (maybe she isn’t being allowed to?).

That said, she is the dancer who currently is doing the most wonders for ballet among the general public in the U.S., who are normally numb to any dance more artsy than what they see on Dancing with the Stars.  That is to say that she’s great for publicity, and that makes her valuable aside from her obvious historical impact.

Some people probably think that I should look at the New York City Ballet for the perfect American ballerina, rather than at ABT.  They’re probably right…and I would, except that NYCB seems to have about 30 principals, and they seem interchangeable.  That may be a product of the Balanchine era (he was anti-star, after all), although the funny thing is that the Balanchine era produced many, many highly individualistic stars — much to Balanchine’s chagrin.  In the 1960’s and ’70’s and somewhat into the ’80’s and ’90’s, there were NYCB ballerinas who were so unique that they were irreplaceable.  The principals they have now, by contrast, seem to be made on an assembly line and then sent through advanced quality control.

Of course I’ve never been a huge Balanchine or NYCB fan, and I’m sure I’ll catch hell for saying this.  He did, after all, create the only truly American school by drawing from his Russian background and adapting it to American dancers, much as Ninette de Valois helped create the British school by combining several European and Russian schools.  (The JKO school has developed its own curriculum in cooperation with ABT, but the full impact will not be evident for a few more years, so right now there’s really no competition for SAB’s accomplishments.)

Still, the SAB school and NYCB do not seem to be producing anything other than technically dazzling, but otherwise cookie-cutter dancers.  And what do I see in them?  Stunning musicality, tremendous athleticism, and…

I’ll think about it a while.