Dancer to Dancer
Hope Boykin (center) in Matthew Rushing's Odetta (Christopher Duggan, courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre)

You already know that taking on a new role requires lots of homework, from perfecting the steps to figuring out spacing. But while it's easy to become wrapped up in technical demands, a little extra research can make all the difference in your performance—because each piece of choreography is inspired by something, whether it's a person, a time in history or simply an abstract harmony created by a composer.

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Style Lab

Six ballerinas discuss why they love their pointe shoes.

Kajiya in Ben Stevenson's The Nutcracker (Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet)

Yuriko KajiyaPrincipal, Houston Ballet

Foot type: Wide and flat, with long toes

Shoe: Capezio Tiffany

Customizations: “I like my heels and sides to be lower than those of the stock shoes. One of the biggest things Capezio does for me is cut down my shank to almost nothing. I really like how light the shoes feel on my feet.”

Kajiya’s advice to dancers: “Pointe shoes are like Cinderella slippers—you’re always trying to find the style that’ll help you dance your best. I’d advise younger dancers not to go with shoes that are too hard in the beginning. They can cause damage to your Achilles tendons if you aren’t strong enough.”

Rausch in Ulysses Dove's Red Angels (Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)

Lesley RauschPrincipal, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Foot type: Long and narrow, with very high arches

Shoe: Freed of London “V” maker

Customizations: “I wear wing-blocked shoes and ask them to bang out the bottom

and platform so they’re really flat. Freed also three-quarters the shank and makes the vamp and sides to my specifications. A lot of shoes try to make you go over your pointe more, and that just doesn’t

work for my ankles.”

Rausch’s advice to dancers: “Talk to someone who has a foot shape similar to yours, especially if you like the way her shoes look. Find out what she wears and what her tricks are. It’s really a matter of trial and error.”

Button in Jose Martinez's Resonance (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet)

Dusty ButtonPrincipal, Boston Ballet

Foot type: Wide at the ball, narrow at the heel

Shoe: Bloch Inc. Jetstream

Customizations: “To accommodate my foot shape, Bloch makes the heel of my shoe much narrower than the base. Because my arch is closer to my heel than the middle of my foot, they remove one of the nails from the bottom so it breaks right where my arch is.”

Button’s advice to dancers: “Don’t just follow what’s trendy. I think it’s silly when people tell you not to wear a certain brand or type of shoe. Find what actually works for your foot, regardless of anyone else’s thoughts or what your favorite dancer wears.”

Erickson in La Bayadere (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre)

Julia Erickson, Principal, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Foot type: Wide and square, with bunions

Shoe: Gaynor Minden #4 box

Customizations: “I have some of the material cut down on the sides, and the back half of the upper is made with Gaynor Minden’s Luxe fabric lining, which prevents the wrinkling that can happen when you point your foot in your shoe. I also have a box liner because I’m kind of in between sizes. I wear both the hard shank and the ExtraFlex shank, depending on the role I’m dancing. These shoes are great, because they really let my metatarsals spread and alleviate the pressure on my bunions.”

Erickson’s advice to dancers: “Be patient. It takes time to find the shoe that feels like an extension of your body. Wear what makes you feel free to dance the way you want to dance.”

Angelova in Balanchine's Walpurgisnacht Ballet (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy The Suzanne Farrell Ballet)

Violeta Angelova, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

Foot type: Under-pronated with a recovering injury on the fifth metatarsal

Shoe: Sansha Etudes

Customizations: “I don’t have a special order on this particular shoe. I actually wear a few different brands of pointe shoes depending on the role that I’m dancing. These shoes are very quiet, so when I recently danced Giselle, which has so many jumps, they worked well. I do have to make sure my shoes are softened properly to avoid aggravating my fifth metatarsal.”

Angelova’s advice to dancers: “Try as many different shoes as possible. If you can, have a fitting with a shoe company and see if they can make a trial shoe especially for you.”

Scheller with Tyler Angle in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments (Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB)

Ana Sophia Scheller, Principal, New York City Ballet

Foot type: Wide

Shoe: Grishko Nova

Customizations: “My vamp and sides are slightly shorter than those of the stock shoe, and my shank is measured to break with my arch, with additional flexibility through demi-pointe. I like that these shoes last a lot longer than any others I’ve worn.”

Scheller’s advice to dancers: “You always want a pretty shoe, but make sure it’s also comfortable so it doesn’t cause injuries.”

Summer intensives are a great way to boost technique and make new friends. They’re also just what the name suggests: intense. For most dancers, summer study means leaving home for the first time, dancing many more hours a day than they’re used to and trying out different dance styles. But challenging as they are, summer programs are often the most memorable and productive periods in a dancer’s training. Check out these tips from 10 notable summer program alums on how to make the most of your experience.

On Thriving in the Classroom

Jason Luks: dancer in White Christmas on Broadway; attended the Slide tap intensive

“When you’re learning so much in every class, it’s hard to remember everything by the end of the day. Take a minute during lunch to write down combinations and corrections from the morning, and another minute to write notes after the day’s classes are over.”

Shawn Ahern: Pilobolus Dance Theater; attended American Dance Festival summer course

“Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your teachers. The connections you make at summer programs can open doors later in your career. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way!”

Lia Cirio: principal with Boston Ballet; attended Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program

“We all know competition exists at summer programs, and it’s hard to ignore. It can feel discouraging when other dancers get more attention than you or a better part than you. But if you watch carefully, you can learn from what they’re doing right—and even from what they’re not doing so perfectly.”

On Staying Happy and Healthy

Carly Anderson: commercial dancer; attended Pacific Coast Dance Fest

“Stick to your bedtime. Staying up late with friends is fun, but you don’t want to be sleepy in class the next day.”

Melody Lacayanga: commercial dancer; attended Pacific Coast Dance Fest

“Warm up properly every morning. If you know that your body needs something that isn’t in the class warm-up, take a few extra minutes to work out the kinks.”

Christiana Bennett: principal with Ballet West; attended Pacific Northwest Ballet Summer Course

“I was homesick almost every summer, and the thing that really helped me was getting involved in different activities. Go on every field trip that interests you. And don’t be afraid to call your parents and tell them how you feel. It will get easier!”

Jeanette Delgado: principal with Miami City Ballet; attended Miami City Ballet Summer Program

“Many programs have physical therapists, and it’s great to talk with them even if you don’t have a serious injury. Injuries often stem from weaknesses; the therapist can assess your weak spots and give you some preventative strengthening exercises to do.”

On Trying New Styles

Julia Erickson: principal with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre; attended Pacific Northwest Ballet Summer Course

“To grow as dancers we have to force ourselves outside our comfort zones. My dad calls it ‘repotting’: Once you move a plant to a bigger pot, it flourishes in a way it couldn’t in the smaller pot. Trying new styles at a summer program—aka the ‘bigger pot’—can be scary, but it’s also how we improve.”

James Whiteside: principal with Boston Ballet; attended Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program

“Watch your teachers very carefully and take in all the details that you can. Each of the many instructors at a summer program has her own style, and the ability to pick up different styles is valuable in today’s companies.”

Tara Dunleavy: Radio City Rockette; attended the Rockette Summer Intensive

“Don’t be discouraged if a movement feels awkward on your body at first. It takes a little while to adjust to a new way of moving.”

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