If you're a dancer with a bust, you know the struggle all too well. Wear a sports bra, and ruin the elegant lines of your leotard? Or go without support, and risk tons of pain and discomfort? The sad truth is, even when dancewear has a built-in shelf bra, that's often not enough support for the full range of ladies who dance.
Professional dancer Caterina Mercante has created a bra that promises to fix all of those issues. She calls it the ONE Bra, and it's designed specifically for dancers, with all kinds of features that could prove to be life-changing:
1. Underwire to lift and separate
2. Compression mesh in multiple shades to match skin color
3. Side attachments, so no bulging hooks in the back
4. Convertible straps
5. Removable pads
6. Available in B-D cups
But don't take our word for it. Watch this video to see the ONE Bra in action.
Every ballet dancer has a pointe shoe prep process that's akin to a sacred ritual. And while some modifications are meant to make feet look prettier, the most critical tricks help those precious shoes last as long as possible—because at $60 to $100 a pop, they have to. We rounded up some of the best hacks to keep your shoes from dying prematurely.
Keep 'Em Dry
Moisture is the worst enemy of pointe shoes, and your sweaty feet start to break down those boots from the moment you put them on. Richmond Ballet artistic associate and school director Judy Jacob says taking the time to make sure your shoes dry out is the most effective and inexpensive way to make them last.
To get your shoes completely dry, try to rotate between pairs. "Students probably won't have five pairs of shoes, like professionals do," Jacob acknowledges, "but try to keep two pairs going at any given time." She recommends storing your shoes in a mesh bag, which promotes air circulation. If you only have one pair, using a blow dryer on them at the end of the day can help. Jacob has students who put cedar wood blocks in their shoes at the end of the day, too, because cedar draws out moisture. (The pleasant cedar smell is a nice bonus.)
Unless you're required to, don't pancake your shoes—the water on the pancake sponge will make your box and shank break down more quickly. And if you have to color your shoes for a role, use dye sparingly, to avoid overwetting.
Mix 'Em Up
Another cheap way to save your shoes, Jacob says, is to rotate them from one foot to the other after each wearing. That won't work for every dancer—if one of your feet is significantly larger than the other, for example, it's a no-go. But if you can swing it, rotating shoes between feet will keep you from wearing the same pressure points over and over, extending the life of the pair. Jacob recommends marking each shoe with a number or symbol, so you can easily keep track of your rotations.
Glue 'Em Good
For many years, dancers used wood shellac to harden the boxes and shanks of their shoes. And while some dancers still swear by that old standby, Jet glue has become a newer favorite. Originally created for building model airplanes, Jet glue is fast-drying and leaves shoes harder than shellac does.
But proceed with caution: Once you apply Jet glue, there's no way to remove it, and it can dramatically alter the shape of your shoe and the way it breaks in. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Marisa Grywalski, who's a big fan of Jet glue, is careful to use it only on the insides of her Freeds (castle maker)—if applied to the outside satin, it can create a slippery situation. "I put it inside the shoe at the bottom of the tip, and then around the top like I'm making a little cup in the box," she says. "Then I glue on either side of the shank, until just below the place I like my shoe to break." Grywalski reapplies glue when her shoes start to soften, which can sometimes get her through one more rehearsal or show.
Sew 'Em Up
Marisa Grywalski shows her darning method.
Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Always wearing through your box? Give darning a try. Grywalski has come to rely on darning to make her shoes last, because it keeps her from breaking down the platform and box around her big toe too quickly. (Check out her darning skills in the pic above.)
Darning is tricky at first, and it requires a bit of a time commitment, but it gets easier—and quicker—with practice. When Grywalski first started darning, it took her two hours to do both shoes; these days, she can complete a pair in 30 minutes. You can darn your shoes two ways: either by simply whip-stitching around the platform with thick thread, or by stitching your leftover drawstring cord to the crown of the platform. Grywalski likes the drawstring method, because she finds it softens less over time.
It'll take a while to figure out exactly where to position your darning stitches, so be patient. "It's just trial and error," Grywalski says. "If you don't like it at first, it might be because the darning is in a weird spot."
A version of this story appeared in the December 2016 issue of Dance Spirit.
There are few better ways to celebrate Friday than with a gorgeous, phenomenally talented ballet dude. Which is why the new trailer for Dancer—the upcoming documentary about Sergei Polunin, "the James Dean of the ballet world"—is just what you need today.
You know Sergei Polunin. He's the one who had an insanely rapid rise to fame at The Royal Ballet, where he was named the company's youngest-ever principal in 2010. He's the one who then quit the company at 21, in a fit of what seemed like self-destruction, becoming one of ballet's bad-boy rebels. He's the one who starred in that hauntingly beautiful Hozier video that exploded the internet last year. And he's the one who is now, tentatively, returning to ballet—with the support of his new girlfriend, ballerina extraordinaire Natalia Osipova.
Did we mention that he's really pretty? (via @sergeipolunin_)
Polunin is a natural documentary subject; there's a already a heck of a lot of story in his life. That makes us especially eager to see Dancer, which is produced by West End Films and directed by Oscar-nominated Steven Cantor. The film is currently slated for release sometime this summer. In the meantime, please enjoy the trailer, which has sweet (and impressive) footage of Polunin as a very young dancer, as well as some fantastic footage of his more recent performances.
Happy Friday, friends:
You probably know Sergei Polunin as the "bad boy of ballet," the guy who made the dance world raise its collective eyebrows when he peaced out of his cushy principal contract with The Royal Ballet. No? Well, you definitely know him as the gorgeous man from the Hozier video that broke the internet a few months ago.
Polunin is amazing—and fascinating. What motivates an artist who reached the highest level of the traditional ballet world, only to abandon it? Where does his restlessness come from? Where does he see himself going? He's mysterious, and that mystery captivated film producer Gabrielle Tana when she met Polunin back in 2012.
Tana, who knows a good story when she sees it (she got an Oscar nom for her work on Philomena), decided to produce a documentary about Polunin's extraordinary life. The result, Dancer, follows Polunin as he hopscotches across the U.S., Britain, Russia and his native Ukraine. And it includes clips by David LaChapelle, who also masterminded that Hozier video.
We dance fans owe this movie a lot: It was basically the defibrillator that restarted Polunin's dance career. Apparently, that Hozier video was to be his farewell to all things ballet. But "thanks to the influence of Gabby and David," he told Variety, "I realized that I loved dance. They are so cool and influential, and they love dance, so I was like: 'It might be something I should come back to.' " (The whole Variety story is definitely worth a read.)
Dancer is about to get shopped around at the Toronto Film Festival; hopefully somebody will pick it up for distribution. In the meantime, take a look at this clip, which shows Polunin flying onstage as Spartacus—and, later, sweaty and exhausted in his dressing room.
Rahardjanoto in Barbara Duffy's Soldier's Hymn (photo by Timur Civan, courtesy Claudia Rahardjanoto)
Go see a tap show in NYC, and there’s a pretty good chance Claudia Rahardjanoto will be dancing. As a top tap performer, choreographer and educator, she’s worked with countless leaders in the field—including Dianne Walker, Mable Lee, Barbara Duffy and Max Pollak. And you can’t miss her onstage: Rahardjanoto, who moved from Berlin to the U.S. in 2003, tops her crisp footwork with smooth arm motions and a calm, inviting smile, at once impressing audience members and putting them at ease. When she’s not performing, you can find Rahardjanoto leading open tap classes in Manhattan at American Tap Dance Foundation and Steps on Broadway, as well as at Broadway Dance Center during the summer. —Jenny Dalzell
First of all, I’m very proud of you. You’re doing well in every way.
Always give your best, wholeheartedly, no matter how big or small the task. You can’t go back in time, and you don’t want to regret not giving something your all. Remember that you can learn from every experience—good or bad. No experience is ever wasted as long
as you pay attention to the lessons that come with it.
You’ll soon realize it’s impossible to please everybody, and that’s OK. Focus your time and energy on trying to find your purpose in life—you’ve certainly moved closer to it by discovering tap dance. It’s going to be a wonderful journey!
Rahardjanoto (right) at 18, performing with Pascal Hulin (photo courtesy Rahardjanoto)
I know you’re nervous because you started tap dancing so late—you’re almost 15, after all. But trust that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. God’s timing is perfect. Pray and stay faithful—even if it doesn’t make any sense. Everything will happen in due time.
Nourish and respect your relationships with your parents, family, teachers and friends. You can’t do this on your own. Growth is important; you can never know too much. Keep learning and improving—and not only in tap. Stay open, curious and humble.
Be kind, especially to yourself, and always choose a positive perspective, even when it’s easier to get caught up in the negative. Although you’re a small puzzle piece in a much larger picture, know that you matter. The picture isn’t complete without you. I love you!
Here’s to so much more...
Dana Foglia had a stressful first outing as a choreographer. As a longtime commercial dancer, she wasn’t used to being at the head of the room, and her dancer’s instinct to be “perfect” was so strong that she had trouble developing her personal style. Searching for inspiration, she began experimenting with different types of music, and eventually that tactic helped her switch from following rules to creating new vocabulary. “Understanding that no movement was ‘right’ or ‘correct’ helped me find my creative voice,” she says. Today, Foglia is the director of a successful company, Dana Foglia Dance.
Making the transition from dancer to choreographer can be daunting, especially since dancers aren’t accustomed to taking the lead in the studio. But certain skills you’ve honed from years of experience as a dancer can actually enhance your choreography—and knowing how to use the networks you already have can jump-start your choreographic career. Here are tips from a few of the pros who’ve successfully made the leap.
Jessica Lang Dance performing Lang's Lines Cubed (photo by Kazu, courtesy Jessica Lang)
What Do I Already Know?
One of the biggest advantages dancers have is that they know what it’s like to be choreographed on. You already understand what makes for a great dancer/choreographer relationship (the dancers feel involved and valued) and what makes for a not-so-great one (rehearsals that run overtime, choreographers who never thank their dancers).
Sabrina Matthews, who’s created works for companies in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, says consciously creating an engaging atmosphere in the studio makes the resulting choreography better. “I’m adamant about fostering mutual respect,” she says. “I remember how much I appreciated that when I was a dancer, and without it, the work suffers.” Jessica Lang, who danced with Twyla Tharp before starting her own company, Jessica Lang Dance, sets a similar tone in the studio: “Drawing from my own experience as a dancer, I’m determined to create an environment in which dancers feel safe and able to be themselves. When they know they’re valued, that results in the best working atmosphere.”
How Am I Supposed to Act Now that I’m in Charge?
As a newbie choreographer, your first opportunities may be workshops or school shows, which probably means making work on dancers who are also your peers—and telling your friends what to do can feel awkward. The good news is that if your friends respect you as a dancer, you’re halfway to earning their respect as a choreographer, too. Freelance choreographer Nicholas Villeneuve, who made a piece on Ballet Hispanico when he was still dancing with the company, says, “Always have a great relationship with your fellow dancers—they’re your partners one minute and your bosses the next!”
Doing adequate prep work before each rehearsal will build further trust in your leadership. Have your music ready and your thematic ideas mapped out, for example, so you can get right down to work. Just remember that there’s a fine line between being prepared and being rigid. New choreographers, afraid of looking indecisive, may shy away from creating on the spot, opting instead to create every step in advance. Matthews made her first piece that way, but says she eventually gained confidence and began creating in the moment. “Especially for pas de deux work, it’s impossible to discover all the possibilities without creating on living, breathing bodies in front of you,” she says. Striking a balance between authority and flexibility is usually the best way to go.
Sabrina Matthews (right) working with the Royal Swedish Ballet (photo by Carl Thorborg, courtesy Royal Swedish Ballet and Royal Swedish Opera)
How Can I Juggle Two Roles at Once?
Most aspiring choreographers start out while they’re still performing. Though jumping between roles can be challenging, it’s also a great opportunity to learn your new craft from the inside out. NYC-based choreographer Joey Dowling made her first piece at age 16 for her high school dance company, and kept at it throughout her dancing years. Switching between being the sculptor and being the clay was hard, but it helped develop her creative mind: “I would think to myself, ‘Why is the choreographer making that choice? Would I do that?’ I started to ask questions a dancer wouldn’t normally ask.” Dowling stresses that unpacking a choreographer’s intention will enrich your dancing, too: “Trying to understand the choreographer’s perspective will help you grow and make you a smarter performer.”
What’s the Best Way to Get My Work Out There?
Once you’ve decided to become a choreographer, creating dances is only half the battle. Getting your work seen is a full-time job of its own. Luckily, you already have a broad base of contacts in the business, and there are lots of ways to network.
An online presence is critical, both through social media and a personal website. Dowling recommends setting up a YouTube channel where people can see your work. Villeneuve has a website promoting his choreography, and after updating it he’ll sometimes forward the link to his former directors.
Most dancers aren’t used to being assertive, but Dowling cautions against shyness when it comes to networking. “Especially at first, don’t be afraid to take on the tiny jobs and to ask your friends to dance for free,” she says. “It’s difficult, but when someone says, ‘We’re not accepting work,’ send your reel anyway.” Artistic vision and voice are important, but when it comes to launching a career, persistence is one of the best qualities a choreographer can have.
Kelsie competing (courtesy Hall of Fame Dance Challenge)
I was 10 when I first knew something was wrong. I was dancing at a dress rehearsal, and suddenly, without warning, I couldn’t breathe. It was terrifying. My teacher called an ambulance, and I was rushed to the emergency room. My throat had swollen shut and my lips were big and puffy, so the doctors assumed I’d had an allergic reaction. They diagnosed me with allergies to ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as exercise-induced asthma, and sent me home.
After that, similar attacks happened every few months or so—and my allergy medications were doing nothing to help. I could tell an attack was starting because I’d get tired and dehydrated, and then my body would start to tingle. But I was baffled as to what was triggering them because I wasn’t taking the medications I was supposedly allergic to and attacks didn’t always happen during physical activity. There was no pattern. Sometimes I’d even be sleeping and the swelling would wake me up.
I found refuge in dance class. I was on the competition team at Nouveau Dance Company in Plainfield, IL, and I loved being able to walk into the studio and forget about everything else. But every time I got an attack, I’d have to take time off, which made it harder to keep up with my teammates.
By my freshman year in high school, my attacks had increased in frequency and involved swelling in my lips, cheeks, nasal passages, hands and neck. I also started having chronic abdominal pain, and my stomach would go from flat to extremely distended within minutes. It was painful, and I was embarrassed to go out in public. Eventually, I was having some sort of swelling or difficulty at least once a day. Still, no one could tell me what was wrong.
Kelsie giving herself an infusion poolside
Finally, in November 2011, doctors landed on a diagnosis: hereditary angioedema (HAE). HAE is a very rare disorder, so my doctor had to send me to a specialist. The disease causes my internal tissues to swell unpredictably. There’s nothing I did to cause it, and, as of right now, there is no cure. There’s also no known trigger, so I couldn’t eliminate anything from my day to cut back on attacks. I just had to treat the symptoms as they came with two medications, both injections. One had to be administered by a nurse, and the other I could do on my own.
In terms of school and dance, my doctors told me I could do whatever I was able to, which wasn’t much. It became difficult to last a full day at school, so I had to have tutors come in the evening—which meant no dance classes. Even when I could make it to the studio, the pain and swelling made it hard for me to dance full-out. Within three months of my diagnosis, I was taking all my courses at home online. Worst of all, I had to forfeit the rest of the competition season. I remember my first time walking into the studio after announcing I wasn’t going to continue. Every dancer was crying, and they gave me the biggest hugs.
That summer, some friends introduced me to the Shorewood HUGS foundation, home of Huggables, a dance program for kids with Down syndrome. I started teaching six dancers ages 8 to 12 every Sunday for 45 minutes. These kids became like little sisters to me. We began with basic positions and stretching, and this year, I introduced tap. In January, my high school put on a benefit for HAE awareness, and my students were able to perform. I was so proud.
Kelsie (center) with the Huggables
The Huggables are the perfect way for me to keep my love of dance alive, and teaching is a nice distraction from the fact that my attacks are getting worse. Now they last for three or four days, even with treatment. Then I have only a few days to recoup before the next one starts up. In February, I had to stop dancing completely. I stay as involved as possible with my studio, doing hair and makeup for the dancers, supporting the company at competitions and helping my teacher make costumes. Not being able to dance is devastating, but I’m still a part of the team.
People always say, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” I took things for granted, and I regret that now. All I want to do is step back into the studio and work hard and sweat and give everything I have, but I can’t.
Still, I haven’t given up hope. My dance teacher is determined to get me onstage, and I have doctors in Chicago, L.A. and Boston on my team, working hard to get me back into school and the studio on a regular basis. My dream is to go to University of California, Los Angeles, and then medical school. Eventually, I want to help others with HAE. And there’s no way I’m giving up on dance. I’m going to go back, whether it’s next season or in college. It’s going to happen.
Nicole Carol Schuman
She wasn’t the star of her studio, but that didn’t keep Nicole Carol Schuman from having an amazing professional dance career:
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a professional dancer. Sure, what I actually wanted to be was an astronaut-marine-model-princess-ballerina-lawyer-writer, but dance has always been a part of my career plan.
When I was 7, my parents enrolled me at Juliana’s Academy of Dance in Clinton Township, MI—this tiny storefront tucked inside a suburban shopping center next to a Weight Watchers. I started with a tap/ballet combo class once a week, then advanced to an hour each of jazz, tap and ballet. A couple years later, I started competing.
When I was 10, Juliana, the owner of the studio, gave me a solo. It was a lyrical number to “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand. Afterward, she said she saw potential in me, and asked me to switch to her bigger studio an hour away in Troy, MI. It was an exciting but terrifying prospect, because in my mind, that studio was in the big leagues. It was where the “good” dancers went. I was so impressed with some of the girls there that I still remember their names to this day. They were rock stars.
With a great deal of pleading, I convinced my mom to start taking me to the new studio a couple days a week. Boy, was that a whole new world. I thought going there would be all sunshine and puppies, but instead, in a heartbeat, I went from doing no wrong to doing nothing right.
Not quite at Rockette height yet: 8-year-old Schuman (center) in a number called “Rockin’ Around the Clock”
I thought at least I was good at lyrical (I’d just done a solo to Barbra Streisand!), but then, in lyrical class, I was told I looked as if I had rigor mortis. I was mortified. There were times I wanted to run back to my old studio and hide. But I also wanted to be good. I wanted to be the girl whose name other girls remembered years later. There was no way I was going back
Not getting the parts I wanted in performances and competitions was hard, to say the least. My mother was never a stereotypical stage mom, but she was honest. She’d say, “You know, that other girl is better at that part than you are.” I knew I was surrounded by fabulous dancers, but getting constantly stuck in the back meant I had almost no confidence, and I always felt badly about myself.
Don’t get me wrong: I had a few glorious fouetté solos (I was always a turner). But the combination of adrenaline and a bad swayback usually meant something wonky happened onstage. More frequently, I was hidden in the back corner without explanation. At the time, that felt like the end of the world.
Schuman (far left) in costume for a small group lyrical number
A turning point for me was when Dee Caspary came in from L.A. to guest teach. We’d competed against his studio before, and their numbers were phenomenal. It was his first time teaching for us, and we were terrified. His movement was foreign and uncomfortable. We were doing an across-the-floor combination, and at one point, he pulled me out and made me do the combination over again by myself. He saw something special in me. When I did the combo again, it felt awful, but he had successfully given me the confidence I’d been lacking.
I didn’t suddenly go from being a back-row dancer to being the star of the studio, but that was the moment I realized how big and diverse the dance world really was. There were many parts I wasn’t right for, but there also had to be parts I was right for. And I was willing to put in the work to find them.
I realized I had two options: I could either resent my talented classmates or try to learn from them. And I could learn a lot more dancing in the back, able to see the talent I was surrounded by, than I ever could up in front where I could only see myself. I began to realize how insignificant my placement in the blocking of a routine was in comparison to the great training I was receiving. Every time I wasn’t chosen for a part I wanted, it was just more fuel for my fire.
Schuman (Left) In the “Let Christmas Shine” number
I auditioned for the Radio City Rockettes during my senior year of high school, and I was offered the job that summer. The offer surprised me, but it also helped me understand that not always being in the front had made me the dancer I’d become. I’m so grateful I was given the chance to work my butt off for every opportunity instead of having things handed to me.
I’ve now danced with the Rockettes for 11 years, and our motto is “Together we’re better.” Being a part of this company is about making these beautiful pictures no dancer could create by herself. It’s not about who’s the best, because we’re all the best.
Today I frequently judge dance competitions, and let me tell you: If you’re in the back row, that’s no reason to blow it off. I’m watching you!
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