Hop to It!
Photo of New York City Ballet's Lauren King demonstrating hopping on pointe. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
You’re at a performance of Giselle, watching the ballerina hop on pointe during her Act I variation like it’s the most natural thing in the world. But when you get into class the next day and try it yourself, reality hits: You feel heavy and awkward, your ankles buckle and your toes hurt.
Mastering hops on pointe is no easy task. Nearly all students feel insecure when they start working on this scary-looking part of classical technique. And odds are, if you haven’t tried them yet, you’ll have to soon, because they show up just about everywhere—Kitri’s Act III solo in Don Quixote, the pas de trois in Swan Lake, the fairy variations in Sleeping Beauty. But don’t worry: With some practice and a few basic tricks, you’ll soon be on your way to happy hopping.
Getting the Basics
When you hop on pointe, your feet and ankles should make a “hook.” To find the right shape, Barbara Sandonato, director of the Sandonato School of Ballet and former dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet, suggests facing the barre in sous-sus on pointe. Then plié without pushing over your arches. “Your feet look funny,” she says, “but that’s the correct position.”
Once you know how to hook your feet, face the barre again in sous-sus with your right foot in front and plié into the hooked position. Do three small hops and straighten up while holding on to the barre. Repeat the sequence with the left foot in front. When you’re ready, try it with changements.
After you feel secure hopping from two feet to two feet, try one leg at a time. Sandonato recommends beginning with hops in a low arabesque (but check with your teacher, who may prefer a different position). Step away from the barre and extend your right leg to the front, then piqué onto pointe, from a pointed foot directly onto a hooked foot. Holding on to the barre, plié deep into the right leg to feel the total transfer of weight. Try a few hops in this position and then switch sides.
To supplement these technique-based exercises, do strengthening exercises that work your metatarsals, ankles and core (see above). Once you feel strong hopping at the barre, move to the center—but start slowly. Again, master hopping on two feet before graduating to one-footed hops.
Most dancers have one leg that’s stronger than the other. “My right leg is a little bit weaker because my left is always my main supporting leg,” says Vanessa Zahorian, a principal with San Francisco Ballet. When hopping on her right leg, Zahorian concentrates on holding her core and seat muscles and aligning her shoulders over her knees and toes, which keeps her stable.
Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet has also found that thinking about the whole body, rather than just the supporting foot, makes hopping easier. “Everything must be activated and held,” she says. “The second you bear down on your foot, that’s when tension really shows.” Absorb some of the weight in your thighs by lifting through your back and pulling up out of your shoes. A soft, pliant plié will also keep you from looking brittle or weak.
If your hops are supposed to travel, be careful not to go too far too quickly. Zahorian says it’s easiest to lose control and fall over when you’re trying to cover too much space, because your upper body gets ahead of your feet. Take it slow.
After you’ve mastered the basics of hopping on pointe, think about creating elegance in your upper body. If you’re wearing a long skirt, play with it; if you’re dancing Kitri’s variation, work your fan. Kathleen Breene Combes, a principal at Boston Ballet, is a strong believer in distraction. “If your upper body looks beautiful, you get away with more,” she says. “Polish your port de bras, and make sure your face doesn’t show any stress.” Think of the hops as a part of the dance instead of an isolated scary step. If you look like you’re having fun, the audience will have fun too.
Try these exercises to improve your hops on pointe.
• Use a latex exercise band to work your metatarsals and ankles. Sit with one leg extended in front of you, stretch the band around the ball of your foot and your toes and use your hands to pull the ends of the band back toward you. Slowly point and flex your foot, using the resistance of the band to work through your metatarsals. Then wing and sickle your foot against the band to develop stronger, more stable ankles.
• Try “doming” to strengthen your arches. Put your bare foot flat on the floor, and then pull up under your metatarsals, keeping your toes in contact with the floor. Be sure that your toes remain straight, rather than crunching.
• Strengthen your core by doing sit-ups or Pilates. Having a strong center will help take the pressure off your toes.
Quick tip: If you’re going to be doing a lot of hopping on pointe, try hardening the tips of your shoes—either by darning them (sewing a circle of thick thread around the tip of each shoe) or by applying Jet Glue to the inside of the box. Even if you usually like dancing in soft shoes, you’ll be grateful for the extra support.
Julie Diana is a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. She holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and writes for various dance publications.
There are dancers and then there are DANCERS! Whitney Jensen, soloist at Norwegian National Ballet, is the latter. The former Boston Ballet principal can do it all. From contemporary to the classics this prima has the technical talent most bunheads dream about. Need proof? Look no further.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's dance inducing hit, "Despacito," is so catchy it should probably come with a disclaimer that warns people of an uncontrollable itch to tap your feet or bob your head. Some might even feel inclined to go all out and break it down. Niana Guerrero is a prime example of "Despacito's" uncanny ability to unleash the red dressed emoji dancer within. 💃🏽 💃🏽
Guys, we all knew this was coming—"World of Dance" was eventually going to eliminate someone. But man, is it brutal to watch these talented dancers give their all, only to be sent home. It's the name of the game, though, and after last night's episode, only two dancers per division remain. (At least Misty Copeland guest-judging was a silver lining!) Here's what went down last night:
They've impressed the judges, now it's time for the Top 100 dancers to enroll at The Academy—and to impress the All-Stars. Welcome to So You Think You Can Dance Academy!
The 100 dancers who made it through auditions in NYC or L.A. are now at The Academy, which is basically a beautiful building with floor-to-ceiling windows. The show opens with that Mandy Moore-choreographed Academy routine which, even after watching it 12 times and trying to learn all the choreography at home, is still delightful.
This Nationals season, Dance Spirit followed four talented dancers from The Dance Awards, NYCDA, Showstopper, and Starpower for an inside look at everything that goes into the biggest competitions of the year. First up: Isabella Torres from Mid-Atlantic Center for the Performing Arts in Baltimore, MD, who competed at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals for the first time this year. (All photos courtesy Shannon Torres.)
Merritt Moore is a ballerina who just so happens to be graduating from Oxford University with a PhD in quantum physics. Is she even human? The jury is still out on that - but the 29-year-old, who earned her undergrad degree from Harvard, has actually found dance to be a powerful tool that assists her in her studies.
Happy #WorldEmojiDay, dance friends! 🎉 👯 🎉 👯
Because it's just the cutest, we thought we'd share the emoji challenge the Royal Opera House is currently hosting on Twitter. They've retold a series of ballets (and operas, for that crowd) in emoji form. If you correctly guess the name of a ballet, you'll be entered for a chance to win two tickets to a ROH production.