The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Them new-fangled pointe shoes September 4, 2017

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 5:41 pm
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Didn’t want to put “GMs” in the title, but anyway, the subject has come up a few times in the comments.

Mind you I have only personally used the old-fashioned paste shoes, and that was decades ago.  I’ve never even seen a GM up close, and the informational video I posted on this blog was taken down from YouTube.  It did show an interesting few frames of someone bending a GM in their hand, and it was startling — it was like bending a bedroom slipper.  But yet it is said that GMs offer superior support.  I don’t get it; I guess I’d have to try GMs on to understand it, but doesn’t look like they make anything easier.

I do know that some schools still won’t permit students to wear them, and at least as of a few years ago, the NYCB forbid their dancers to use them.  This may or may not still be true.

In one of her videos, Womack warned student dancers not to use them — “they are for professionals” — yet in a later video she advised students to wear them.  I have heard that they make everything harder at first, so the “cheater” thing may be just a fit of pique at something new, just as ballerinas scoffed at Anna Pavlova’s stiffened toe boxes and flat platforms back when she invented them.  Yes, she did invent the modern pointe shoe!

Many of the ballerinas who do wear GMs still alter them.  But GM is supposedly working to customize the shoes for professionals so they can be worn out of the box (a very few dancers actually do that with traditional shoes as well).  Most of the GM alterations I see that are done by users involve that awful, ugly practice of darning the tips, which I continue to believe offers more psychological help than anything else.  Decades ago when I was dancing en pointe, almost no one darned their shoes; it was considered a thing of the past.  But it has caught on again in the past few decades and a lot of pro’s swear by it, so who am I to say much..except that unless the shoes are very carefully maintained, it makes them look unkempt and sometimes downright filthy.

I used to think that the issue of adding a huge piece of elastic to the top of the shoe was one only faced by dancers with exceptional feet that tend to spill over the top of the vamp, but then I noticed Yulia Stepanova does this and her feet are just okay.  It may also make the dancer feel more secure in some way; I don’t know.  But Alessandra Ferri definitely needed the extra elastic, and used it.  On the other hand, I don’t remember seeing extra elastic on Svetlana Zakharova’s shoes (I believe she uses GMs).

I understand the objection NYCB had/has to GMs is purely aesthetic.  The shoes do tend to hide the shape of the foot.  If a dancer has average feet, these shoes can make them look subpar, and true banana feet can look average in them, and so forth.  Once you get used to the sight of GMs it’s said you can actually spot them from the back of the theater, lol.  But for the average ballet audience, I don’t see this as much of a problem.

Apparently studies have shown that dancers who wear GMs are less prone to injury*.  Plus, the shoes last up to three times as long as paste shoes, which can break down in a matter of minutes.  Having had a pair of ill-considered Gambas break down in one beginner class decades ago (why I had purchased such a light pair of shoes, I don’t know), I can see where that is a huge problem for an actual ballerina faced with dancing the Rose Adagio.

I have also heard, however, that dancers who wear GMs are more prone to bruising and losing toenails, etc.  Can’t verify that either.

Personally I have seen dancers who had problems with pirouettes suddenly become able to turn more than competently after switching to GMs.  Womack was one of them, and the other I can think of offhand is Oxana Skorik.

I’ve also heard that GMs are quieter than paste shoes, but personally I haven’t noticed this.  All pointe shoes are noisy.

As for the Russian soloists’ objections to GMs…I don’t trust it.  A Russian newspaper once ran an article speaking out against GMs, claiming that because they are plastic (basically), they are bad for dancers’ health, and Russian shoes (made of paste) are so much healthier, and blah, blah, blah (yeah, having to strengthen your boxes with shellac is SO healthy!).

Apparently there’s been a little campaign there against GMs, which are an American shoe, yet many of the top dancers in big companies still use them.  There seems to be an issue here of whining in the face of reality, which tells me that the actual problem may be political in nature and have nothing to do with the shoes.  Expect it to intensify in the coming months if that is so.

Freed keeps bringing up the issue that GMs are not recyclable and their own shoes are…but plastics recycling is a big business, so I don’t get that either.  I haven’t heard much about ballet companies recycling shoes, to be honest.  I think the Royal Ballet does?  But I’m not sure.

So anyway, there in a nutshell is what I know about GMs.  Lots of questions, very few answers.

*I don’t have any links to studies, but I’m sure the GM website does.

 

 

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Excellent pointe shoe video March 11, 2017

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,pointe shoes,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 3:10 am
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Because I ripped into a little kid for making a truly horrible pointe shoe video, I feel the need to show you a video from a professional dancer who knows what she is talking about:

Kathryn Morgan

 

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

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

 

Another strike from Fashion-land September 25, 2016

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 8:25 pm
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Parody of Kendall Jenner

Yep, Fashion-land has struck again.  The last time I was aware of an atrocity like this was when Free People posted their bogus ballet video, trying to tout their extremely expensive pretend ballet clothes.

I read some of the comments below the actual video, which was posted by some fan-TV show site.  Comments ran from “Kendall Jenner is my favorite ballerina!” to “I think that lady (from the Joffrey Ballet School in New York) was on Dance Moms.”  Goes to show you the depth of understanding of what ballet actually is.

Not that anyone reading this blog is going to benefit from this, but I’ll state the obvious: pointe shoes are not toys.  They are potentially dangerous.  It takes 2-3 years of intense training to be able to use them properly.  You do not just put them on and pretend to be a ballerina.  It’s a little like putting a football helmet on a male model and calling him a quarterback (although that would be quite a bit safer for the model).

As the lady from the Joffrey school said, pointe shoes are a badge of honor and a tool of the trade.  They are not a fashion item.  This photo shoot was a Bad.Idea.  Don’t let it happen again.

P.S. I’m not even sure what Kendall Jenner is supposed to be.

 

While We’re On Our Pointe Shoe Tear… January 10, 2013

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 6:35 am
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I went over to my old haunt YouTube tonight and this was on my “Suggestions” page:

Funny how that happens.

This video is 10 years old, but it does explain a bit about how Gaynor Minden came to be and some of the objections to the shoes (I had heard about Merrill Ashley’s outspoken comments previously; here they are on video for all to see).

As a reader commented on a previous post, Mindens do not flatter less-than-curvy feet and they can even make spectacular feet look plain.  That is a huge drawback for some ballet aficionados.  I know I had to look several times at the feet of one of my favorites, Obraztsova, before deciding if they were one of her many strengths  (she is a GM wearer).

It seems odd that as pliable as GMs are, they don’t quite follow the lines of the foot or enhance them in any way.  I could never get away with them with my feet, which have what may be politely called a “shallow profile.”  However, this doesn’t matter to someone like me.  If I ever make it back on pointe I’ll be happy with my Sansha Recitals, which are very conventional pointe shoes (mine didn’t even come with that removable plastic shank Sansha is known for)…and very inexpensive as well.

I leave this argument to serious students and to professionals.  It does seem that more and more professionals are taking the stage in the GMs.  I’m starting to be able to pick them out from a distance without too much of a problem.

Certainly this represents some financial relief to their companies, and probably also some physical relief to the dancers as it may free them from suffering an excessive number of pointe-related injuries.  That’s the positive side.

On the negative side, some people just hate looking at them.

A reader mentioned in a comment that over the years — especially in the last few decades — the ideal ballet foot has changed.  Honestly, you didn’t used to be required to have banana feet; all that was required was that you got over the box and didn’t wobble.  Have you ever seen Margot Fonteyn’s feet?  Sheesh.

The other day I happened upon an ABT program from the early 1980’s, just before Baryshnikov took over as Artistic Director.  This was my generation of dancers.  All of the principals and soloists were photographed in dance poses; the corps kids were photographed in small groups.  You got to look at and compare a lot of feet.  My verdict: very few of these dancers would be allowed into ABT these days.  Not only is the training better now, but back in the day your average pointe shoe was prettier than your average ballet foot.  Nowadays, apparently one is not permitted to have less than curvy feet.

Earlier ballerinas not only didn’t have banana feet, but they didn’t even get over the box, nor did they stand particularly straight (again, this has already been pointed out by a reader).  A good example is the following video of Yekaterina Geltzer from 1913.  She was the ballerina who kept the ballet fires burning at the Bolshoi after the revolution; prior to that, she had been considered a powerhouse pointe technician.  Take a look at this video — most particularly at her pointe technique — and you’ll see what we’re talking about here:

The conclusion I’m drawing is that times change.  The eye changes.  And certainly, money talks.  If these shoes prove to save ballet companies lots of money and dancers lots of injuries, they may be the future of pointe shoes regardless of how they look.

 

On Pointe (Shoes) January 6, 2013

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 2:18 am
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While writing a reply to a post earlier I started to think about all the misconceptions about pointe shoes that I’ve encountered over the years.  Since I can’t find all of these addressed anywhere else, I thought I’d attack some of them here.

First of all, pointe shoes do not make it “easy” to dance on pointe.  If pointe were so easy, we’d all be doing it.  The reality is that it’s tough, requiring strength born of careful training.  All the shoes do is make it harder to break a bone or strain any other support structure in the foot.  They also make it easier to balance by providing a level platform. Without pointe shoes, we would not have ballets where the dancers spend almost the entire performance on pointe.  It would be impossible.

But no…pointe shoes do not do the work for you.  Try on a pair of pointe shoes and try to haul yourself up on tiptoe, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  It takes tremendous strength to get all the way over the box, even more-so to stay there, let alone hold a balance or even move.

Come to think of it…please DON’T try to haul yourself up on pointe.  The chance that your feet and ankles are naturally right for it — that is, they can bend correctly and are strong enough — is pretty slim.  And if your ankle wobbles, you’ll end up in the E.R. for sure.  Let’s just say that the chance of you getting hurt is pretty high.

Even with proper training, the shoes don’t make it impossible to do damage to oneself.  And the shoes themselves can do damage: calluses are normal, nails can be lost, blisters are almost impossible to avoid.  Bunions are harder to predict.  Certainly all dancers do not have bunions; I heard one doctor say that you have to be born with an abnormality that leads to bunions or else you won’t develop them.  However, Balanchine loved the “creative bunion” look and some dancers do have them.

No, the shoes are not made of metal.  There was briefly a pointe shoe that featured a metal platform and/or a metal shank (I think it was just the shank).  This was back in the 1930’s or so.  It didn’t last.  The only metal in the shoes now is in the nails in the sole.  (Sansha may or may not still make a pointe tap shoe; this would be the sole exception.)

No, the shoes are not made out of wood.  (EDIT: there are sometimes wood byproducts in the sole/shank.)  Long ago I heard some young know-it-all state this to his little girlfriend and nearly snorted my soda out of my nose.  Pure wood would be a disaster in pointe shoes.

By the way, they are not called “toe shoes.”

Most pointe shoe boxes are made of layers of fabric and paste.  Most of the soles are made of layered leather, fiberboard, or cardboard.  A few companies use plastics and polymers in the toe boxes and shanks.  There is one company that is famous for its elastomeric shoes; some ballerinas swear by these shoes.  Others say they look awful and refuse to wear them (they do look different; there seems to be slightly less definition of the shape of the dancer’s foot).  However, the shoes last longer — a huge plus, as conventional pointe shoes in professional settings are notorious for lasting only a matter of hours —  and there is some evidence that their wearers are less prone to injury.  Also, they are said to be quieter than most pointe shoes (generally speaking, pointe shoes are NOISY!).  All in all, elastomerics may be the way of the future, although right now it seems that one company has a lock on the process of creating them.

Yes, dancers do awful things to their pointe shoes.  The manufacturer of elastomeric shoes claims that this is not necessary with their shoes, but it is with all other brands.  Some of these techniques, such as applying shellac, are potentially harmful to the dancer.  But most of what dancers do to the shoes is necessary.  If the boxes are not crushed before wear, a bulbous appearance may result.  If the shanks are not bent or partially removed, the shoes will not conform to the dancer’s feet.  Some dancers darn the tips of their shoes for added traction and stability.  Many others trim away the fabric and burn the frayed ends of the satin with a cigarette lighter.  A lot of dancers use hammers to make the pointe shoes quieter and softer, although one wonders how effective this really is in terms of noise.

Manufacturers are starting to do some of the more common alterations for dancers, but I think dancers will always alter the shoes somewhat before they wear them.

No, I don’t know how ribbons were selected to hold the shoes on the dancers’ feet, but I suspect this happened before elastics were widely used and has continued simply because ribbon looks good and is flexible and strong.

Pointe shoes as they are today did not exist in the 1800’s, when pointe was born as a part of ballet technique.  Back then, pointe shoes were really nothing more than altered ballet slippers.  Pointe was incredibly difficult and most dancers did not attempt it — it was prima ballerina territory.  This began to change in the 1880’s – 1890’s, when primas started spending entire ballets on pointe and even corps dancers were expected to dance on pointe frequently.  But the biggest change in pointe shoes came slightly later, when Anna Pavlova bolstered her pointe slippers with strengthened shanks and broader platforms to support her weak (but lovely) feet.  She was at first blasted for “cheating,” but quickly, other dancers started “cheating” as well.

Current dancers wearing elastomeric shoes are also sometimes criticized for cheating.  Some schools will not allow students to wear the newfangled pointe shoes, insisting instead on the conventional kind.  I suspect this will not happen anymore as the new shoes become more commonplace.

Back when I was a student, we were told that men didn’t dance on pointe because their hips and feet are wrong for it.  That’s nonsense, of course.  Men do dance on pointe and they always have.  I think the reason it’s not often seen is that women in ballet are viewed as being more ethereal than men; this goes back to the Romantic age in ballet (mid-1800’s) and is a hangover that’s been hard to shake.  Nowadays ballerinas are no longer teeny tiny things; some of them are very tall; so to hang onto the “ethereal” part, some of them have become almost skeletal.  Time goes by; things change, but some things never seem to change.  The day of men dancing routinely on pointe is still well in the future.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few things, but this article answers most of the crazy things I’ve heard said about pointe shoes and pointe in general.  If you can think of anything else, please comment.

 

Back to ballet…maybe December 14, 2012

Filed under: ballet class — theworstat @ 6:14 am
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I’ve been working out a bit at home, with an eye toward going back to ballet class after a 30 year break.  Really, though, it’s not 30 years…I did have one class about 8 years ago, a private lesson.  The instructor didn’t like my feet (they’ve never been what you’d call pretty; they’re sort of in the Margot Fonteyn category if you consider that her feet were the only drawback she had), but other than that she was pretty darn happy with me.  But the lessons would have been expensive — she wanted to teach me privately — and so I never went back.

I’m expecting no such deference this time.  But I am working harder.  I’m balking at stretching, but am doing all the plies and releves and all that good stuff.  I have a few ballet-class videos and am trying to follow them…and suffering the same old brain farts I had 30 years ago.  Some things never change.

In the last few days, just for fun, I’ve tried those Sansha Recitals on.  I admit this is mainly to protect my sensitive right foot (Morton’s neuroma, what joy).  But of course I couldn’t resist rising onto pointe, carefully, hanging onto a chair and keeping both feet on the floor.  I did a few exercises that are supposed to help strengthen the ankles, because my ankles have always been incredibly wobbly.

I’ll stop here and report that while this particular Sansha model is not terribly pretty (the sides are way high up on the foot), it is amazingly comfortable.  My big toe stays the way it wants to be…completely straight and not pushed into any sort of weird angle.  And the platform is wide enough to give a feeling of confidence.  Overall, while one would never mistake it for a bedroom slipper while up on pointe, at least it isn’t a torture chamber like my pointe shoes of yesteryear were.

Anyway, after that, for yucks I took a few tiny steps away from the chair.  That lasted approximately one foot of travel space before I crashed, lol.  But I DID get all the way up over my boxes.  It just took such tremendous strength to stay there that it was too much at this point — especially as I have been ill lately.

Anyway, if anyone ever tries to tell you that being up on tippy-toes is easy and the pointe shoes do it all for you…send ’em to me.  They’ll be sorry they ever said anything so stupid.