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.

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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!

How to Sew Ribbons on Your Pointe Shoes – Appendix

This is an appendix to the article that was published before on How to Sew Ribbons on Your Pointe Shoes, answering a question from a reader. (https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/how-to-sew-ribbons-on-your-pointe-shoes/)

This article explains a little further on the following:

“An alternative is to sew a very short loop of elastic just long enough to reach from the heel seam of the shoes to the back of the ankle (behind the Achilles tendon) and thread the ribbon through it as you wrap it around your ankles. The heels are pulled up by the ribbons around your ankles and you do not have to risk the discomfort of having elastic around your ankle as well as the ribbons.”

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

As in the photograph on the right, sew a piece of elastic (use a fairly strong piece of elastic for this), which is twice the length from the edge of the heel of your pointe shoes to the back of your ankle, in a loop. One could either sew two ends together or sew them very closely next to each other.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Through this small loop of elastic, thread the first ribbon (always wrap the inside ribbon first. This helps keep the pointe shoes stay with your feet) and wrap it around your ankle. It is not necessary to thread the other ribbon. Just wrap the ribbons around your ankle as usual and tie them, and off you go dancing.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

I have been using this method for a while. It was nice not to have both ribbons and elastic around my ankles. After that, I found such well fitted shoes that did not need any elastic to keep the shoes on my heels. So the elastic was made redundant.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to Choose Well Fitted Pointe Shoes

When choosing pointe shoes, it is vital to choose a pair that fits you perfectly so that you can perform to your fullest capacity, stay relatively pain-free, keep your feet healthy and look great.

It has been concerning me to see that so many people end up buying a pair that is too big for them and they consequently get blisters and a whole lot of unnecessary pain and discomfort.

Here are a few pointers to help you tell whether or not shoes fit well.

Before you go to a shop to be fitted, make sure you have your usual padding if you use any, and preferably tape your toes to save some time. Wear convertible tights or tights socks. Trim your toe nails closely so they do not cause discomfort while you are trying the shoes on. Also, before you go, take your socks off and have a good look at your own feet. Are your second toes longer than the big toes? Is there a gap between your big toes and the rest of your toes?

How much padding you have is entirely up to you, but I usually advise my dancers to have the bare minimum. I find too much padding restricts the movement of the feet, and creates unnecessary and unwanted gaps. If you think that you will then get a lot of blisters without so much padding, the shoes are not very well fitted.

Gap should be filled with toe separators. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Gap should be filled with toe separators.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Silicon tow separators. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Silicon toe separators. Courtesy of Dance Evolution (http://www.danceevolution.co.uk/)
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If you have a gap between your big toe and the others, consider using a toe separator. They are made of silicon and are not as bothersome as you might think. Otherwise, your big toe will be pushed inward and you risk developing bunions.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If the second toe is longer than the big toe, you can use a cap with a little gel to cushion it, or use the same thing to pad the shorter toe a little bit. You can also cut these kinds of tubes to the desired length and use them to protect the joints.

Your pointe shoes have to be just the right size for your feet. I know this sounds a little too much like basic common sense, but surprisingly many people are sold shoes that are too large for their feet. They should be just tight enough so all the toes are fairly well packed together without overlapping each other.  The wings of the shoes should be high enough to encase the top joints of your toes. If your top joints are not properly protected, it will cause pain and present unattractive lines.

These shoes are too long and the box of the shoes are too tall for the feet. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

These shoes are too long and the box of the shoes are too tall for the feet.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

You can check if the length of the shoes are right by standing in second position and doing a demi plie. Your toes should be just touching the end of the shoes without toes being bent. Check there is no gap on the side or in the box above your toes. If you can put a finger inside any part of your shoe easily, it is likely to be too large. Drawstrings can be used, but they are just for fine tuning. You should not be able to wiggle your toes.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If you can insert your finger in the side of the shoe, it is either too long or too wide, if not both.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The box is too tall for the feet.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The next thing to check is whether the centreline of each shoe is aligned with the centre of your foot. If they are not aligned, the whole shoe is twisted on your foot.

Photo courtesy of Dance Evolution (http://www.danceevolution.co.uk/)

Put one foot across the other and push down. If the shoes fit, the sole of the uppermost shoe should run along the bottom of your feet with the sole bending to follow the shape of your instep. There should not be any gap between the sole and the foot.

The box is twisted and does not continue the lines of the foot. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The box is twisted and does not continue the lines of the foot.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Step up onto pointe (make sure you are holding onto something!) and check the lines. The box should look as though it is a part of your foot without any kink or change of direction in the lines. The soles of the shoes still should stay with the soles of your feet. Gently take some steps up and down and see if your feet are well supported. If the shoes are too wide and/or too long, you will feel your feet sinking each time you put weight on your feet.

It is not a good fit if the sole of the shoe is twisted away from the foot.  ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

It is not a good fit if the sole of the shoe is twisted away from the foot.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

It is not always possible to find your dream pair, but be patient. They are out there somewhere. Also, as you get stronger, your feet will change, so make sure you keep checking that your shoes still fit well.

Sometimes you may have to compromise a little and get the best out of what is available. You can adjust slight discrepancies by using gel tubes, making a cat’s cradle (see toward the end of my another entry on  https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/how-to-sew-ribbons-on-your-pointe-shoes/ ) and there are size changers these days that can change shoe sizes by up to a quarter of a size.

Last of all, if the fitter tries to sell you a pair that you are not quite convinced about, do not be afraid to ask questions and ask to try different sizes. It is wise to try a size down from what you may think is a good fit, just to check that it the best size. Do not be pressured into buying shoes. If they do not seem to know what they are doing, just ask to be fitted by someone else, or go away and ask your teacher to come with you. Most of the fitters should have learned how to fit shoes, but it is undeniable that, unfortunately, you may still come across some who do not seem to know or care about how to fit pointe shoes perfectly. It is your feet and your health you are putting on the line. Choose well!

How to Sew Ribbons on Your Pointe Shoes

There is more than one way to do it, and many have their own personal way, but here is one very good way to prepare your pointe shoes.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

First, fold the heel (the part of the upper that runs behind the heel) of the pointe shoe inwards, aligning the back seam and the sole. As you hold the heel down against the inner sole, take a pen and draw a line from the centre of the heel toward the side of the shoes. The best way to do this is to push the tip of the pen against the inside of the folded part and pull it outward.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

When you buy ribbon for pointe shoes, the ribbon usually comes in one piece. Cut this into two pieces (no, not four!) and place the centre of the ribbon on the inside sole and align the ribbons with the lines you have drawn on the inside of your shoe. Make sure that the ribbon is aligned to the front of the lines, i.e. the whole width of the ribbon should be placed on the toe-side of the line drawn.

Sew the ribbon using a doubled-up thread. You cannot sew the part of the ribbon that is in the middle (as it is on the hard inner sole) and you will just have to leave it as it is. However, be careful to ensure that the middle part of the ribbon does not become shorter than the inside width of the shoe. This might seem obvious, but if the ribbon is pulling the sides of the shoes together it not only prevents the shoes from fitting against your feet closely but can also lead to them becoming twisted. It will also increase the chances of some of the stitching coming undone while dancing.  The ribbon on either side of the sole should be sewn all the way around its edges, i.e. there should be a rectangle of stitching from the top edge of the shoe to just above the inner sole.  Some people sew only the top of the ribbon by the rim, but this is not necessarily secure, and does not necessarily keep the shoes properly on your feet.

Some dancers use only elastic with their shoes, but this is not advisable. Elastic has too much give and the pointe shoes should be fitted firmly to your feet.

DSC04482

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

However, using some elastic for added security is a good idea. Sew a piece of elastic, long enough to go around your ankle, onto the shoes. The best place is just on either side of the seam that runs along the heel. An alternative is to sew a very short loop of elastic just long enough to reach from the heel seam of the shoes to the back of the ankle (behind the achilles tendon) and thread the ribbon through it as you wrap it around your ankles. The heels are pulled up by the ribbons around your ankles and you do not have to risk the discomfort of having elastic around your ankle as well as the ribbons. (Appendix: https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/how-to-sew-ribbons-on-your-pointe-shoes-appendix/)

Whether you use elastic or not, it is a good idea to either rub your heels in resin or put a little water on your heels to stop the heels of your pointe shoes slipping off.

In order to keep the pointe shoes neatly hugging your feet, you can use thick cotton thread to make a “cat’s cradle”. You do this between the sides of the U or V shape at the upper front part of your shoes. You start with one side, about half way along the arch of your foot, pick a point on the other side of the shoe close to the point of the U or V, and then pick a point on the initial side a little closer to the front of the shoe than your initial point, followed by another pick on the other side a little further back from the middle of the U/V and so on. You will end up with a slightly higher than original line on the front of your feet in a slight V shape, which provides extra support and prevents your shoes from pulling out too much. This should be done with your feet in the shoes so you know how tight you should pull the thread (be careful!).

 ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Starting point ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Pick close to the centre on the other side ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Pick a little closer to centre from the inital side ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Pick a little further away from centre on the second side ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Half way ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

It creates a slightly higher box and the thread keeps the shoes nicely snug ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to Break Your Pointe Shoes In

There are so many different ways dancers prepare their pointe shoes.

Ultimately, you will have to find the best way that works for you. Here are, however, a few tips that work very well for most. These tips are for conventionally made pointe shoes.

First of all, try the shoes on and figure out where you would like them to be softer on the box so that you can use your demi pointe. Hold your shoes in your hands and put your palms over the wings of the shoes (where your little toe and big toe’s joints would touch) and very gently push down on the box. You will feel the box move but make sure you do not push too hard. The warmth of your hands will soften the glue and make it easier to soften and break in.  (Do you know what is inside your pointe shoes? See another entry https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/what-is-at-the-end-of-pointe-shoes/ ) As the glue warms, you will start feeling the box of your shoes moving slightly under pressure.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Next, hold just under the middle of the rim (if your shoes have drawstrings, just under where they come out) with your thumb inside and place the side of your forefinger across the top on the outside, as if to make a T shape. Your thumb should be aligned with the shoe’s length. Gently, using your forefinger as an axis, lift the centre of the shoe, where you would like to bend when on demi pointe. Do this several times but just a little bit at a time until it is a little softer.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Put one hand inside a shoe, palm down, and put the heel of the other hand against the sole of the shoe where the ball of your feet would be (about a third of the way in from the toe).  Rest the top of the box of the shoe down on the floor and push it towards the floor with the heel of your hand while the hand inside the shoe is pushing away from the floor. Do this gently and gradually until you know how the shoes react. When you get used to it, you should be able to do this with just one or two pushes.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Hold the shoes about a third in from the heel (around where the round bit of your heel ends) with your fingers and gently bend both ways. If you use shoes without stitches, you could dislodge the glue and get the inner sole (only about a third of it) away from the base and in this case you will often see the shank. Even with stitched shoes, bending the sole in this way will enable the back of the shoes to move along with the feet better.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Next, hold the middle of the shoe, where your arches are highest, and gently bend it both ways.

All the while you are breaking your pointe shoes in, do it gradually and gently. Try your shoes on often to see how they feel. You do not want to bend them in the wrong places or too much. You will get used to it very soon and you will be able to go through this process very quickly and efficiently, but until then, play it safe.

There are several other things you could do. You can score the sole lightly with a knife to stop the shoes slipping too much or you can darn the tip of your shoes. I never felt the need for either of those things, but often the satin on the tip of the shoes will start lifting when you have used your shoes for a bit, and when this happens I would cut off the satin from the tip and quickly darn the edges to prevent the remainder from lifting.

These are just a few guidelines to start with and you should find your own way to make your pointe shoes as comfortable as possible.

If you are a complete beginner for pointe work, you should not try to break your shoes in before you have showed them to your teacher and got their opinion as to whether it is all right to break them in a little. Often it is best to learn to break them just through normal use at the beginning, even though it takes quite a bit of time.

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

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©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

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©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

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©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!