Dear Katie

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Dear Katie,

This is my first year wearing pointe shoes, and I’m finding it difficult to jump—or even walk—without making loud noises. What do I need to do to dance without sound effects? —Jennah

Dear Jennah,

I completely understand what you’re dealing with! At NYCB, we would get a “talking to” if our shoes were too loud—or they would tell us we sounded like a herd of elephants.

To combat noise, I like to bang my shoes against the wall. I’m serious! Find either a brick wall or a piece of wood and (gently) beat the shoe against it—right on the underside of the box, where the pleats are. Make sure you’re hitting the back part of the shoe, which touches the floor when you’re dancing, and not the front of the shoe. It doesn’t take much—5 to 10 hits should do it—and it helps the sound like you would not believe. You can also achieve a similar effect using a hammer.

Dear Katie,

I’m 16, and I feel like everyone I dance with is moving past me technically. I want to dance professionally, but I don’t want to get my heart broken in a few years if that’s not realistic.

Is there a point at which you can tell whether you’ll make it as a professional? —Samantha

Dear Samantha,

Feeling like you’re behind can be so hard. The first thing I’d suggest is to talk to your teacher. Have him or her give an honest assessment of where you stand relative to your classmates. Sometimes, we feel far worse about our abilities than we need to; your teacher can see the situation more clearly. And if you’re genuinely behind, he or she can let you know exactly what you need to do to catch up and give you specific exercises to work on. Another suggestion would be to try cross-training. Pilates, yoga and cardio workouts can really give your dancing a boost—you’ll feel stronger almost immediately.

Remember that every dancer struggles. Some of today’s biggest stars had serious slumps or periods of self-doubt. If you really love to dance, keep training and pushing yourself. You’ll never know how far you’ll get unless you try. And if, a year or two down the road, you’re still feeling stuck, consider a college with a strong dance program. Many dancers have gone that route, grown immensely while in school and joined professional companies in their 20s. Just because you’re not ready to go pro at the end of high school doesn’t mean you’ll never have a dance career. There are many different paths to the job of your dreams!

Dear Katie,

I’m completely flat-footed. What can I do to make my feet look better? Is there any hope of me becoming a professional dancer? —Katelyn

Dear Katelyn,

I’m sorry you’ve been struggling with your feet—but not to worry. There are many ways to make them look better. First and foremost, be sure your shoes fit properly. A shoe that is too small will make your foot look sickled, while one that is too big will end up swallowing your foot instead of accentuating your arch. Head to a dance store where you can try out different brands of shoes. While you’re there, have a professional fitter help you. An objective eye can really help you figure out which styles are most flattering to your feet.

It’s also important to make sure your arches are nice and loose so your feet are limber enough to point fully. Get a little ball (one from a pet store, for example) and roll out your feet every day before class. It’s a trick I swear by.

Finally, to show your feet to their best advantage, you need to have a thorough understanding of how they look from all angles. Spend some time figuring out how to create a nice line from your leg through your ankle and toes in various positions. A slight wing can improve the look of the foot in croisé, for example.

I definitely think you can still be a professional. Not every ballerina has feet like Alessandra Ferri. Don’t give up!

Bonus video! Having trouble getting your eyeliner “wings” just right? Click here to watch Katie’s liquid eyeliner tutorial.

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