When It Comes To Pointe Shoes, Be Pedantic!

Internet shopping has no doubt made our lives so much easier and given us far wider varieties of choices. There are certain things, however, one should not purchase online.

When it comes to shoes, it is very difficult indeed to know whether they are comfortable or fit well. Shoes, even different pairs of the same design, are all differently cut and sewn so that it is very difficult to know how they will feel. They might rub in the wrong places, they might not be quite the right shape.

Pointe shoes are not something one should buy without trying them on with the help of someone with proper knowledge. Pointe shoes should fit like gloves. Ones toes are not supposed to be able to move around inside but at the same time they must not be overlapping. When one stands in the first position, there should not be any space above the toes either. The back of the shoes should be properly aligned with one’s feet. Even when all these criteria appear to be met when standing flat on the soles of one’s feet, things can and do change when one goes on pointe (stands on the tip of their toes). One’s feet often slip inside when the fitting isn’t precisely right. Because different makers’ shoes change in different ways as they are broken in, one has to have danced in them before becoming certain they are the right pair indeed.

This article is not to instruct people about how to fit pointe shoes themselves. This is to raise awareness as to how important it is to have well fitted pointe shoes both for the sake of technical improvement and the health of one’s feet. If the pointe shoes do not fit well, it is not simply a case of one’s feet sliding around inside and producing blisters; there is the potential to cause structural damage to one’s feet, ankles, knees, hips, back, spine… the whole body.

It is appalling to see how many dancers can go to even the large and well-known ballet shops and come back with ill-fitted pointe shoes. The fitters employed by these shops tend to follow a given a set of instructions but if they have not themselves danced on pointe properly before, and not tried at least a few different shoes from the major makes, it is very difficult for them to make a sound judgement. Different pointe shoe makers can produce shoes with noticeably different characteristics and fits. The shops have to accept the fact that the pointe shoes they carry, no matter how good they might be for many, may not be suitable for certain feet types. They also ought to have enough knowledge in order to advise when the dancers are not quite strong enough for pointe work and recognise if they are not standing straight.

Do not plump for an “easy” option when it comes to pointe shoes. Make sure you find someone who knows, really knows pointe shoes and pointe work. Try on a few pairs from different makes. It is, after all, for your own good. Many dancers are amazed at not only how much less pain they are in when the pointe shoes fit properly but how dramatically their technique improves.

Related reading: “How to Choose Well-Fitted Poite Shoes”

https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/how-to-choose-well-fitted-pointe-shoes/

Lovely pointe work by Vaganova Academy's pupils.

Lovely pointe work by Vaganova Academy’s pupils.

Advertisements

Feet Positions in Ballet

Pierre Beauchamp

Pierre Beauchamp

The five positions of feet in classical ballet were first codified by a French choreographer and dancer Pierre Beauchamp (1631-1705) and still form the basis of the classical ballet technique.

It is very important to achieve these positions with one’s legs and body properly aligned. If they are not, the risk of injuries will increase, improvement of technique can be slowed down and muscles will develop unnecessarily in the wrong places.

There is a very good and simple exercise one can do in order to check the alignment and, at the same time, strengthen the legs. Stand with your feet in parallel* with a tennis ball between the ankles (the ball should be placed just above the ankle bones – the feet do not have to touch each other), and try to squeeze the tennis ball by standing tall and using the inner thigh muscles (particularly the gracilis). The tennis ball should be firmly held by your legs. Ask someone to try and take the ball out. If this is difficult (it is not really impossible…), you are likely to be using the correct muscles and your knees and toes are aligned. Your knees should be straight above your toes. Next, do a plié and check that the tennis ball is still firmly held. Then go up onto your tiptoes and see if the tennis ball is still strongly held. Repeat this several times. By continuing this exercise daily, you can train your legs to be aligned and strengthen the inner thigh muscles.

Make sure you do not lose the squeezing feeling while you are doing the exercise.

Make sure you do not lose the squeezing feeling while you are doing the exercise. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Using correct muscles to stand upright and straight without any twist in the legs (L), and standing with legs pushed out while the knees turning inwards and feet rolling out. This can cause injuries. (R)

Using correct muscles to stand upright and straight without any twist in the legs (L); and standing with legs pushed out while the knees are turning inwards and feet rolling out. This can cause injuries. (R) ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Once you know how to align your legs, stand with feet parallel to start with, and then lift your feet off the floor onto your heels without bending your knees at all. Pivot your legs on your heels so your toes swivel outwards to the side, without loosening your knees and keeping your body upright. Put your feet down and you are in the first position. You should always turn out your legs from the hips. Some people feel their legs are turned out when the toes are pulled to the sides, but this very often results in twists in ankles and knees, that lead to injuries and overly developed muscles in unnecessary places.

First position. Make sure the knees are aligned above the toes. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

First position. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

A very good way to check if your knees are aligned above your toes: Whatever the position you are in, curl your toes upwards as much as you can without lifting the balls of your feet. If you can do this without any strain to your feet joints, your knees are  properly aligned above your toes. You should feel three pressure points on your feet. In the middle of your heel, one between the first and second toes and one between the fourth and fifth toes.

From the first position, slide one leg out, keeping the balance on the supporting leg and gradually stretching the moving foot (if you are at the barre, the outside foot) to the side, being careful to keep the toes on the floor, then shifting the balance gradually into the middle as you lower your heel. This is the second position. The distance between the heels should be about the length of your own foot. You can achieve a beautifully positioned second position by standing with one foot in front of the other, swivelling the back foot on the heel and then putting the foot down into second position.

How to get into second position. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to get into second position. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to check the distance between heels in second position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to check the distance between heels in second position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Third position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Third position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Stretch the outside leg, lifting from the heel, shifting the balance back onto the inside leg, slide the foot toward the supporting leg, closing it just in front, with the heel of the outside foot in front of the arch of the other foot. This is the third position. Although some teachers encourage use of this position when a dancer finds it a little difficult to close into a tight fifth position, I find this can encourage the dancers to be a little lazy when they are supposed to be in the fifth position, and therefore I do not use this very often in my classes.

To reach the fourth position from the third or fifth position, slide and stretch out the front foot forward, pushing the heel forward rather than the toes and, after completing the stretch, bring your toes back a little (turning the leg and feet out all the time) and put the foot down on the floor in a position parallel to the supporting leg. The distance between the two feet should be a little shorter than the length of your own foot. To check this, put the front foot in 90° angle to the supporting foot, heel to heel. Pivot the front foot on the ball, pushing the heel forward, and lower the heel down.

How to check the distance between feet in fourth position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to check the distance between feet in fourth position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Fourth position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Fourth position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

To reach the fourth position when coming from the second position, first stretch the outside foot without lifting the toes off the floor, shifting the balance onto the other leg. Move your outside leg from your side to front, as if to draw the arc of a quarter of a circle. Make sure you keep your leg turned out. When your working leg reaches the front, put down your heel in the way described above.

From the fourth position, stretch the foot forward and then slide it back towards the supporting leg, led by the toes, making sure your leg stays turned out, until the front foot is touching the back foot, toes to heels into the fifth position.

Closing into fifth position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Closing into fifth position ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If you are coming from the second position, you could either do the same quarter circular move as into the fourth position and then close straight into the fifth position or, after stretching the outside leg, slide back straight from the side into the fifth position.

If you do not have enough turn-out in your legs and/or flexibility yet, it is difficult to achieve a 180° turn-out in the first and second positions, or parallel lines in the third, fourth or fifth positions. I usually advise my dancers to have slightly less turn-out in order to keep the knees and toes aligned and perhaps the legs very slightly less crossed, but encourage them to keep striving to go further every day.

If you search for “feet positions in ballet” online, there is one source that says Serge Lifar (1905-1986) reintroduced two positions in the 1930’s and they are limited to Lifar’s choreography. Whereas it is likely that he reintroduced them and codified them as the sixth and the seventh positions, both positions are and have been used in many examples of choreography, including classical repertoires such as that of Marius Petipa, aside from Lifar’s own.

Sixth position en pointe ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Sixth position en pointe ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The sixth position is widely used. It is a position I discussed at the start: parallel feet. Many methods call this sixth position even if they are not down the Paris Opera line.

The seventh position is also widely used, but as far as I know, it is usually not called so. It is a position, essentially a fourth position in relevé with heels aligned. This position is usually called fourth position on (demi)pointe.

Fourth position en pointe, or the seventh position by Serge LIfar ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Fourth position en pointe, or the seventh position by Serge LIfar ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Whatever the position you stand in, do not forget to get your legs turned out from the hips, align your knees above your toes, and hold your head high; beautiful dancing is something to be proud of, after all!

Why is “Entrechat Quatre” So Called?

One of the first things you will learn when you start learning batteries is entrechat quatre.

It is a jump from fifth position, and as you jump, you change your feet twice in the air – if you start with your right foot front fifth, you will beat once, in the air, with your left foot front, and land right foot front fifth position.

The word “entrechat” comes from old French, modification of Italian (capriolaintrecciata, literally, intertwined caper.

Now where does “quatre”, a number 4 come from? This question usually get my dancers thinking hard. The answer is: one has to count how many times your legs move outward and inward. Starting from the fifth position, one opens the legs (1), and then closes, having swapped front and back (2), open again (3) and then closes in fifth position with the initial foot front (4). The initial fifth position is not counted as it is movements that should be counted rather than positions.

In this manner, the same rule applies to entrechat six, entrechat huite, entrechat dix. The odd numbers of entrechat, however, are more complicated. They mean slightly different things depending on methods.

Landing position of entrechat trois and cinq (not Paris Opera version!) ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Entrechat trois, for example, usually means a jump where one takes off from fifth position squeezing legs into the fifth position in the air like soubresaut, and then changing feet and finally landing on one foot with the other in coup de pied position. However, in Paris Opera Ballet School, entrechat trois is a jump in which one takes off from the fifth position, squeezing first in fifth position as in soubresaut, and then changing feet and landing in fifth with the opposite foot front. This jump is called changement battu in RAD and ISTD, and entrechat royale in many other methods including Russian.

Entrechat cinq, usually is like an entrechat quatre but landing on one foot with the other in coup de pied position. In Paris Opera Ballet, one squeezes the legs initially in fifth, as in soubresaut, and then one does an entrechat quatre. This jump is not something that can be seen very much outside Paris Opera Ballet.

So, think of the fact that there have to be four (or whatever the number it might be) movements and show off your entrechat quatre (or six, or huite, or …)!

Prix de Lausanne 2013

On 1st and 2nd February 2013, I managed to realise one of my old dreams.

Ever since I became serious about ballet, I dreamed of going to Lausanne to take part in this prestigious competition. As you can imagine, this did not come true as I was neither a genius nor born into a very rich family. So my dream of “going to take part in Prix de Lausanne” changed into “going to see Prix de Lausanne” fairly early on.

This year, one of my dancers who is from Lausanne offered me accommodation during the weekend of Prix de Lausanne finals!

The Prix de Lausanne started back in 1973 and is a competition giving young non-professional dancers, aged between fifteen and eighteen years, the chance to win a scholarship to study at any ballet school they choose for a year. For those young dancers whose country does not have a state ballet school, this is a fantastic opportunity. There have been many wonderful dancers who won scholarships in this competition and went on to become world- leading principal dancers: Miyako Yoshida, Tetsuya Kumakawa, Carlos Acosta, Darcey Bussell, Alina Cojocaru and many more.

swissinfo.ch

swissinfo.ch

The competition takes place over six days at the Théâtre de Beaulieu and during the first four days the candidates are given opportunities to take classes by world- renowned teachers and receive coaching from leading coaches. The jury observe the course of classes and it counts towards their final scores.

These days candidates are to apply by submitting an audition DVD. Around 80 of the applicants are invited to take part in this week long event and of those approximately 20 dancers will be chosen to participate in the final.

Candidates are to dance a solo from the classical repertoire and a contemporary solo (they have to choose one each from lists of choices).

This year, there were seventy-five semi-finalists all together: thirty-five 15-16 year-olds and forty 17-18 year-olds. Out of the seventy-five, twenty made it to the final.

Prix de Lausanne

Adhonay Silva
Prix de Lausanne

There were sixteen boys and four girls, which is quite an unusual ratio. It is good to see so many strong boys. The first prize went to a boy named Adhonay Silva from Brazil. He is only fifteen years old and yet his technique is already very well established and secure. And yet I could see that he made an improvement since the semi final. He was very charming and brought smiles to my face. He also had the rare quality to make what he did look easy. He was a worthy winner and I do hope to see him one day on a world stage. He also won the audience prize. Audience members are given a ballot paper and were asked to vote whom they liked best.  I am not at all surprised he won this prize as well.

In total eight scholarship prizes were given and although all eight winners are given equally full scholarship to a ballet school or company of their choice, they are given in reverse order and the last one, the one to win the first scholarship prize is considered to be the best one in the competition.

Aside from Adhonay Silva, there were a few that made an impression on me.

Prix de Lausanne

Li Wentao
Prix de Lausanne

Li Wentao, a seventeen-year-old from China who won the second prize, danced the Prince’s solo from the Sleeping Beauty and I was very impressed by his musicality. It is a very musically difficult solo but he performed it very confidently and smoothly.

Prix de Lausanne

Masaya Yamamoto
Prix de Lausanne

The eighteen-year-old Masaya Yamamoto (third place) was a very light and precise dancer. His contemporary was also excellent.  I could watch him knowing that he wasn’t going to fall over.

Prix de Lausanne

Gong Zunyuan
Prix de Lausanne

Gong Zunyuan, seventeen, who did not manage to get a scholarship was very light and his fantastic jumps excited the audience. His pirouettes needed a little more control, but it would be interesting to see how he does from here. His contemporary was also very good.

Prix de Lausanne

Kaho Yanagisawa
Prix de Lausanne

One disappointment was the fact that Kaho Yanagisawa, fifteen, did not get a scholarship. She had such strong technique that she danced so effortlessly. She also had lovely presence on stage. She made an impressively huge improvement in her contemporary between the semi-final and the final. I was convinced that she would at least receive the Prix Niveau Professionnel, but I had not realised that it was abolished in 1998. This was a cash prize which used to go to the candidates who were considered to have reached the level of professional dancers. I really hope that some great opportunity will open up for her in the near future.

There are several prizes the Prix de Lausanne committee abolished over the years. The aforementioned Prix Niveau Professionnel is one. The Médaille d’Or was last awarded in 1995 and was abolished in 2001. This was a very special prize that was not given out every year and was only awarded to exceptional talent: Tetsuya Kumakawa and Carlos Acosta are both past winners. The Prix Espèces was a cash prize which used to be given if a student of a state ballet school won the competition. The Prix Espoir was the scholarship prize for under fifteens but was abolished in 2002. The Prix de la meilleure chorégraphie personnel (changed to Prix d’encouragement à la chorégraphi in 1983) was given to those who choreographed their own free variation (this was abolished in 2005 to enable the judges to assess the dancers’ abilities without being confused by various choreography).

I usually do not like competitions for ballet. I feel that ballet is an art form and yet competitions make dancers want to jump higher, lift their legs higher, and turn more times. Although I love seeing people with strong technique, I feel very strongly that in ballet technique should never be the aim of the performance. Truly wonderful dancers do use their strong technique, but make it look effortless and use it to express something more. At the Prix de Lausanne, the judges look for potential. In addition to the competitive performances, they watch classes over the first few days and  take what they see there into account. Also, for those who did not make it through to the final round, there is a chance to have a special class and talk to the directors of various companies and schools and they may be fortunate enough to be offered more chances. Most of the candidates say that they have learned so much through the course of a week and they all seem to enjoy themselves and make friends with young dancers from other countries. I admire all the people who make this event happen and hope it will remain the inspiration to young generations of dancers for a long time to come.

I have encountered one big problem after having been to see the semi-final and final of the Prix de Lausanne. Now that one dream has come true, a new one has emerged… I would so much love to go and see the course of the entire week!

For A Beautiful Ballet Bun

I started doing my own hair for ballet when I was about eight years old and I have never really wanted anyone else to do my hair for ballet. It just felt wrong when anyone else did it; it felt as though my bun would disintegrate as soon as I started dancing. So I have not let anyone touch my hair since then and instead went out of my way to learn how to make my bun secure and, at the same time, look pretty and interesting and not silly.

Here is a sure way to make a pretty ballet bun.

You will need to get hold of the following:

  • strong thick elastic (ideally a string or two rather than a band – if you are using elastic bands, choose thick ones);
  • hair net ( bun size with elastic on the outer rim rather than one that covers the whole head, and take time to find a strong thick one rather than a very fine one – the latter will tear very easily and will not help in maintaining the bun securely);
  • hair pins (strong U-shaped ones) and slides;
  • hair brush;
  • and comb.

First, you will have to make a very good ponytail. This could take a little while to get used to. Brush your hair back well. I used to make sure not to wash my hair the night before my big show because freshly washed hair can be a little too slippery. You can use hair gel or mousse, but I always found a little bit of water quite useful. Dab your hands in water and push your hair back before brushing it into a ponytail. Once you have your hair in a ponytail position in your hand, run a comb under water and comb all your hair nicely and straight towards the ponytail, taking care to make sure the bit below the ponytail (hair from the nape up towards the ponytail) is not sagging. This can easily be achieved by bending forward when combing to get a little help from gravity. Ignore any of the hair that is too short to reach the ponytail; you can sort it out later.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

Once you have all your hair in your hand, use a string of strong elastic to tie up the ponytail. Using an elastic band works too, but it sometimes is not quite the right size; this can mean that the base of your ponytail is a little too lose to make it perfectly secure or it can cause the hair under the base to be a bit slack. If you are using an elastic band, put it over one hand and use that hand to squeeze the base of the ponytail so that the hair is pulled against the skull and then, keeping hold of your hair, use the free hand to pull the band over the ponytail, twist it and run the loop back over the ponytail and repeat the procedure until there is no elastic left. If the elastic is not tight enough, or your hair is rather thick, use another band to wind tightly around over the first elastic band.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

If you have thick hair, like I do, tie the top half of your hair (from ear-line above) into a ponytail and tie it, and then gather the bottom half up and tie it over the top half’s ponytail.

Once the base of the ponytail is secure, comb the hair towards the base to create a smooth effect. If there are little bumps, just comb them as close as you can towards the base which will be covered by the bun anyway. You can use water again, or hair gel, mousse or spray here to make your hair smooth and silky looking.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

Now, get the bun-size hair net ready, and twist your ponytail lightly with one hand and then wind the hair around the tied base of your ponytail. Do not pile it up but wind it outwards so the bun does not stick out from the skull too much. Then without putting any hair pins in, put on the bun-size hair net and let go of the hair. Your hair will spring back and fill the net. Give it a little shake and twiddle it until the net is filled evenly.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

 

Using a U-shaped pin, catch some hair in the bun near (but not quite on) the edge, about a centimetre in, and push the pin straight towards the scalp, scoop a little hair that is already flatly squeezed against the skull and then twist the pin by 90 degrees towards the elastic and push through into the elastic that is tying your ponytail.  Repeat several times. It’s easier to shape the bun prettily if you push the pins from four sides in sequence, i.e. one from right, the second from left, third from top, fourth from bottom and then fill in the gaps as much as necessary. Check that the bun is not too soft (it won’t be very secure if it is too soft) and that the shape is even and fairly flat. I used to have a silly ritual and had to pat it twice every time I did my bun!

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

Using hair slides, pin up any stray hair nicely and neatly. If it is for a show, use a liberal amount of hair spray to make sure your hair won’t start fraying as you dance.

Thus far this is the very basic ballet bun.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

You can accessorize a bun with U-shaped pins with little flowers or beads at the end, pin a silk/fabric flower on the side (the kind with an elastic band is quite useful as it is so easy to put on and make very secure) or ribbons.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

DSC01816 - Copy

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

DSC01815 - Copy

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like something a little different, the following are a few things you could try:

1. Once you have made a ponytail, take a part of your hair (preferably the longest bit) and braid it. Make the rest of your hair into a bun leaving the thin braid out (at top or side if you are using ribbons or flowers, etc., bottom if using no other accessories) and then wind the braid around your bun and pin it down – you will need fairly long hair for this.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

2. Before putting your hair into a ponytail, use something pointy and thin – some combs, especially ones the hair dressers use,  have this at the end of the handle – and separate the hair from the top of your head down to the level of your ears into two parts and braid each part. You can either then put the two braids into your ponytail and make the bun or, after having made a bun with the unbraided part of the hair, wind the braids across and up around the top of the bun and pin them down.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

3. Separate your hair into two in the middle and put them into two ponytails just above the ears. Braid them neatly and then pull them across over the head a little like an Alice band, and pin them down using slides. You can put little ribbons at the base above the ears or use some decorated pins. This is (or at least was until fairly recently) the hairstyle for the younger students at the White Lodge (Royal Ballet Junior School).

4. Plait your hair into a French plait and make a bun at the nape.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

DSC01826 - Copy

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

5. Separate your hair in the middle and make two French plaits and cross the hair across to the other side, push the end under the plaits and secure with pins. You can use small flowers and jeweled pins all over to make it glamorous. I used this hair style when I danced a fairy of spring with lots of small flowers all over and left some little curls around my forehead. It worked really well.

There is also a special hair style typical for Romantic Ballet, but this will be for another entry…

Hair style for ballet classes should be neat buns. This is not just because it looks nicer, but because you do not want your hair to get in the way when you are turning or jumping.  Make sure your hair is neat and pretty so that you feel pretty! It is very important you feel beautiful!! You are creating beauty through ballet!

How Many Kinds of Arabesques Are There?

The answer in short? Almost infinite!

However, in Russian school, four major kinds are recognised.

The first and the second arabesques are universal.

The first arabesque is when a dancer stands sideways to the audience with his/her side to the audience, stand on the leg away from the audience with the other leg extended behind, with his/her supporting leg-side arm stretched in front and his/her other arm on his/her side pushed slightly backwards so it is not just on the side, both hands with their palms facing downwards. Both the dancer’s arm position and the leg position are open towards the audience. 

The second arabesque is with the same leg position as the first arabesque, but with the audience side arm stretched in front with the right arm on his/her side, again pushed slightly backwards.

The third arabesque is when a dancer stands on his/her audience side leg, facing corner 2 or facing the audience side corner, to the audience’s left. The position of the arms are open again, i.e. his/her right hand towards the corner he/she is facing with his/her left arm stretched to his/her side pushed slightly backwards.

If you have heard of the third arabesque as something different, it might have been what Russian’s call Cechetti’s third.  Cichetti’s third position usually refers to an arm position where both arms are extended forward in parallel but one arm (usually the arm towards the back of the stage) is held higher than the other.

The fourth arabesque is also with a dancer’s legs in crossed position as in the third arabesque but the audience side leg extended forward. In the fourth arabesque, a dancer’s shoulders are pulled across a lot further than in any other arabesques. This arabesque is half turned away from the audience, the head is turned towards the audience, emphasising its direction by the glance. This is no doubt the most difficult arabesque.

Apart from those arabesques, there are many variations of them with different arms.  Even the first arabesque can be very different from role to role. For example, the first arabesque of the White Swan is very different from that of the Black Swan, which is again very different from that of Giselle depending on the angle of the arms and the inclination of the head.

    

In short, if a dancer is standing on one leg with the other extended behind, is it an arabesque! See just how many arabesques you can discover!

     

What is at the end of Pointe Shoes?

Do you know how pointe shoes are made hard enough for ballet dancers to stand right on the end of their toes?

Incidentally, I am asked occasionally which part of their feet dancers actually stand on while they are on pointe. Ballert dancers stretch their feet and do stand literally on the tips of their toes. Their ankles, feet and toes have to be extremely strong to sustain the weight of the whole body (no matter how slight they might be!) while dancing.

Now to the main point of this entry: What is at the end of a pointe shoe?

I was asked by several non-dancers whether there is any wood block at the end, or very thin lead inserted. It is nothing like that. The shoes have to be strong enough to sustain the weight of dancers bodies, but at the same time, pliable enough to move with the dancers’ feet so as to avoid injuries.

Traditional pointe shoes are hardened in the area around the toes – the “box” – by layers of fabric, hessian, sometimes paper/cardboard and specially formulated glue. These days there are synthetic materials that lasts longer as well.

Pointe shoes are, when they are hand made, constructed inside out and turned right way out towards the end. The special construction is not confined to the box. There is usually an outer sole, an inner sole and, between them, a reinforcing shank to keep the back of the shoes strong yet supple.

Pointe shoes are all made slightly differently from manufacturer to manufacturer. Brand new pointe shoes all smell different depending on the make; this must be due to the different formulation of the glue that is used, and it is said the recipes for the glues are very heavily guarded!

One type of pointe shoe I used to use very obviously had a piece of cardboard in the box. Another make had four inner soles stacked together. One had tiny nails that I needed to pull out in order to get them to the softness of my liking. One had stitches all around the outer sole instead of nails.

It is very difficult to find the perfect pair of pointe shoes. But when you find them, they will be comfortable, will give a beautiful line to your feet, and provide stability. As one gets technically stronger, one’s feet change as well, so it is important to make sure that the shoes still fit!

The history of pointe shoes will be for another entry!