The Heel Deal: How to Choose the Right Character Shoe
From Chicago to Kinky Boots, heels are a necessity for musical theater dancers. But lots of factors go into choosing the right character shoes, especially when it comes to heel height. Ultimately, it's all about figuring out how to feel confident, so you can rock every step—from high kicks to leaps.
Know Your Show
The most common character shoe heel height is 2 1/2 inches, according to Kenya Gibson, a sales representative at Capezio in NYC. It's an ideal height for many dancers because it strikes a balance between elongating your line and still allowing you to relevé. When wearing a 3-inch heel, your foot is already in a high relevé position, and unless you're a strong dancer, it can be hard to relevé further.
But you should also consider the show's choreography. “If I'm doing leaps and turns I'm going to be wearing 2 1/2-inch heels, but if the choreography is just walking and a kick line, I'll wear 3 inches," says Meredith Therrien, a dancer who's worked on Oceania Cruises. Think about time period, too. “The women in Fiddler on the Roof don't need to be in 3-inch LaDucas—it wouldn't make sense for the period," says Jessi Selig, a dresser for the show on Broadway. If you're auditioning for a similar show, choose boots that have a shorter, wider heel, which is a more authentic costuming choice.
Technique Is Key
If you're working on a show where a more standard character shoe is appropriate, you may feel like going for that high 3-inch heel—the extra height can help your legs look miles long. But another half-inch isn't always a good thing. “The trend now is for higher and higher heels, but the higher the heel, the higher the chance of rolling an ankle," says Broadway veteran Michelle Bruckner. If you're going to wear those 3-inch heels, make sure you have the technique and strength necessary to stay safe.
Bruckner also tells young dancers to make sure they have several years of good ballet and jazz training before they try sky-high heels. As for getting more comfortable, Therrien has simple advice: “Keep wearing them." To break in new character shoes, she tries them out in basic dance classes and rehearses blocking in them before busting out the triple turns.
Factor In Your Height
If you're a tall dancer, you may think you need to wear shorter heels to fit into the chorus, and if you're short you may think you need a height boost from your heels. But that's not necessarily the case. Sonya Higgins, a former showgirl in Jubilee! in Las Vegas, NV, is already tall at 5' 8", but she wears 3-inch heels anyway. “It's more about line," she says. “As a tall dancer, the kinds of shows I'm going out for are things like The Producers, or Spamalot, where it's all about the legs," making higher heels a better bet. And, if you're shorter, don't feel like you have to dance in the tallest shoe possible; go with the shoe that lets you showcase your strengths. Shorter dancers tend to be powerful turners or jumpers, and lower heels will allow you to show off those skills.
Find Your Style
Most dancers choose character heels with flexible arches. Therrien loves that soft-soled character shoes allow her to point her feet easily and land jumps properly. One reason to stick with hard-soled shoes? “Support," Higgins says—which you'll definitely need if you're dancing with a heavy costume. “If you're wearing a 20-pound headpiece, you want as much support as possible from your shoes."
The Bottom Line
One word: comfort. In the end, “you want a shoe that you're not going to have to think about while dancing," Selig says. “You want to be able to focus on the choreography." Comfort fosters confidence, and that's especially important during auditions. Properly fitted, comfortable shoes will get you further than an extra half-inch ever will.
Camille A. Brown dancer Maleek Washington captivates audiences with his super-fluid, intricate contemporary moves and adept musicality. His exceptional technique and presence have also landed him gigs with artists including Sia and Rihanna. An NYC native, Washington grew up in the Bronx and trained at the Harlem School of the Arts, Broadway Dance Center, and LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. He attended The Boston Conservatory on a full scholarship before accepting a job with CityDance Ensemble in Washington, DC. He's also worked with Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion. for four seasons, and became the first African-American male to perform in Sleep No More. Most recently, Washington performed in NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar" live. Catch him dancing with the Camille A. Brown company this month at The Joyce Theater in NYC and at University of Arizona in Tucson—and read on for The Dirt!
Imagine this scenario: You get a text from a friend just as you're heading into ballet class, and have to answer as quickly as possible. Now, if you were heading into a juggling class, or water polo match, or fencing practice, you'd be able to send a quick emoji in response. But alas, you're forced to type out a full sentence. Because, to the ballet world's collective frustration, There. Is. No. Ballet. Emoji. Until now...
According to Emojipedia, the site for all things emoji-related, a ballet shoe emoji is slated to come out later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced yet) as part of Emoji Version 12.0. The proposal came from Australia-based tech company manager and ballet fan Rüdiger Landmann. Landmann proposed three separate ballet emojis: a ballerina, a male ballet dancer and a pair of pointe shoes. Only the pointe shoe emoji was approved, and we'll be honest, it doesn't look like any pointe shoe we've ever seen. It's more like a pink loafer with ribbons attached. But we're trying not to complain, as this is definitely a (wobbly, given the shape of that shoe) step in the right direction.
It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.
With 19 programs across the U.S. (plus additional international programs) Joffrey Ballet School offers options for all types of dancers with all types of goals. Whatever you may be working toward this summer, there's a program that will help you get that much closer. We put together a guide to help you find the right one, based on your dream job:
Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers at Atlanta Ballet, says one of the most common questions she's asked is, "What should I do if I think my friend has an eating disorder?" Research shows that, compared to the general population, dancers are three times more likely to suffer from eating disorders. Experts agree that early detection and treatment is crucial. Unfortunately, while adults—like teachers and studio directors—should be keeping an eye out for warning signs, the people most likely to first notice a dancer's issues with food are her friends at the barre.
So what do you do if you suspect a friend is suffering? You don't want to be accusatory, but you know eating disorders are cause for great concern. At the very least, Kaslow advises you to trust your instincts and do something, whether it's confronting your friend directly or speaking to an adult. "If you're worried about someone, you should take it seriously," she says. "You can't be a bystander—the longer somebody waits to get an eating disorder under control, the harder it is."
What inspires you most as a dancer? What keeps you going on the days when the motivation just isn't there, and makes you feel like all the hard work, rejection and sacrifice is worth it for the pursuit of your dream? What makes you want to run into an empty studio and create something new?
Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over four decades of experience, often hangs posters with dance-related quotes on the walls of her studio, on everything from creativity to the hustle to the importance of teamwork. Sometimes the right words from dancers who have been there are just the push you need to spark your imagination and remind yourself why you love what you do.
In that spirit, here are 10 inspiring quotes from dancers on what their art form means to them, and why it's worth fighting through the hard parts:
Even for natural turners, pirouettes from fifth can be a challenge. You need to take off from a small crossed position and stay straight over your supporting leg, from start to finish. "It's the hardest place to turn from, because you can't access your plié as much as you can from fourth," says Jennie Somogyi, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and director of Jennie Somogyi Ballet Academy in Easton, PA. "I'm always telling my students to plié more!"
If you're struggling with pirouettes from fifth position or want to refine your approach, try these pro tips.
At the tender age of 9, Destiny Wimpye moved cross-country with her mom so she could train at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. The leap of faith paid off: Destiny's spent summers training at the School of American Ballet, the Ailey School, and Pacific Northwest Ballet; performed for Michelle Obama at the White House; and danced beside Mariah Carey in a TV special for Disney. Now she's a full-time student at the Colburn Dance Academy under the direction of former New York City Ballet principals Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette, and it seems fated that Destiny will one day dance her dream role, Dewdrop in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. "I'm a jumper and a turner," Destiny says, "so I think it fits me pretty well."
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Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.
Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!
We're just going to say it: Center Stage is the best dance movie of all time.
Seriously, though, is there anything better than this oh-so-quotable classic? Not only does it star some brilliant dancers, but it's also chock-full of wisdom. If you're a die-hard Center Stage fan (which, like, c'mon, we know you are), you'll be familiar with these 8 life lessons straight from the movie.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I've been battling Achilles tendinitis for months—it never seems to get better. How can I deal with it? Could there be an issue with my technique that's causing the problem?
Ever since starting her professional career, Broadway dancer Amber Ardolino has cupped. Using the holistic wellness practice to improve performance and take care of her body, Ardolino cupped before it was cool—even beating the 2016 Rio Olympics' purple polka-dotted athletes to the punch. But Ardolino's only one dancer who has put this therapy to regular use. Dance Spirit asked Carrie Gaerte, PT, DPT, ATC, and performance rehab specialist with St. Vincent Sports Performance who works with Indianapolis' Dance Kaleidoscope; and Thomas Droge, Chinese-medicine doctor and founder of Pathfinder Institute in NYC, to explain the ins and outs of cupping therapy.
Amber Ardolino in "Hamilton" (courtesy Ardolino)
Let's be real: Auditions can be rough. No matter how prepared you are, a lot of variables go into every audition—which means even the best of us mess up sometimes! Here are 7 audition fails every dancer has experienced at one point or another.
Oh, baby I'm a wreck (wreck) after watching Kinjaz's new music video.
Set to Post Malone's "Sunflower," the lead single from the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack, the vid features the dance crew's ever-fabulous men—who appear to have Spidey senses, because seriously, how else do they stay down-to-the-fingertips in sync?—performing Vinh Nguyen's super-tight choreography, with an overlay of comic-book-esque graphics by editor Jonathan Shih.
Chloe Misseldine has every reason to be nervous as she and her partner run through the challenging wedding pas de deux from Don Quixote. Their performance is just days away and the two American Ballet Theatre Studio Company dancers have only had a week to prepare. Add to that the fact that ABT principal Gillian Murphy, one of the world's most famous ballerinas, is at the front of the studio taking notes.