I saw this video about a brand of pointe shoes called "Gaynor Minden", which I have heard of but never tried. These shoes look fantastic, and from this video I am more than intrigued to try them.
I have these shoes in mind for students who do not have a lot of arch in their foot. Most pointe shoes can be fitted to the dancer's foot in terms of width, length, and toe shape, as well as foot strength. We choose brands based upon how the make of shoe suit the shape of the foot - Blochs are good for toes that have an even length, Salvios are good for toes that taper sharply etc.
However all of them wear out over time, and so a shoe with a shank that suits the dancer's foot strength when it is bought, will quickly soften and become too weak to support the foot properly. So to counteract this , we usually buy shoes with shanks that are too hard, knowing they will soften, and hoping that the sweet period where the shanks are worn in but not yet worn out, will last long enough for our bank accounts to catch up with affording the next pair of pointes.
This is the case with all brands. Gaynor Minden's are the exception, they last much much longer, because their shank does not soften. This means you buy the shank at the level of flexibility your foot requires, and it does not change. This is a huge advantage for a foot that lacks flexibility and will have trouble arching enough to get her toes squarely onto the ground in a regular pointe shoe. A foot like this will really struggle and be unstable in a regular pointe shoe until it is worn in. And will probably only feel like it is properly centred on the floor just as the shank begins to wear out.
Now GMs cost more, but end up cheaper because they last longer. So you might wear one pair of GMs for the same amount of time another dancer would go through 2-3 pairs. Regular pointe shoes are around $90 - $110. GMs are $160. So it is really worth it... as long as the dancer does not grow too quickly in the meantime!
A Whirlwind History from Ballet to Contemporary Dance
Throughout history, people have danced as part of religious ritual and social celebration. It is traceable through prehistoric art, Biblical documentation, Roman dance-drama, Eastern art and religion, and Celtic ritual. Court dancing has existed perhaps as long as there have been kings and queens. However the first emergence of ballet in a form we would recognise today, was the ballet du cour, which evolved in the renaissance of the 1500s in France.
Ballet rose out of the new philosophies and modes of thought which were the basis of the Enlightenment, namely, that man was the focal point of the universe and could control his existence through the arts and sciences. ‘By using music that imitated exactly the proportions of the harmony of the spheres, sixteenth century man believed he could attract planetary influences. Dance in itself was an imitation of the movement of the heavens.’ (Designing for the Dancer, Elron Press, London, 1981)
It was during the late 1500s that the court ballet came into its own as a movement art, funded entirely by the French monarchy for the purpose of extolling its own greatness. The ballets took place as a part of the magnificences, huge celebratory extravaganzas lasting several days and including all kinds of entertainment, that were basically exercises in self-exaltation by the French Court.
By the 1700s ballet had migrated from the French court to the Paris Opera, and the director Lully ‘preserved the ballet du cour’s basic concept of a composite form, in which the dance was an essential and important element.’ ibid. During this century the ballet was to develop throughout Europe, from a courtly arrangement of moving images used as part of a larger spectacle, to a performance art in its own right, the ballet d’action. This new form swept away much of the artificiality of the court dance and strove towards ‘the concept that art should aspire to imitate nature’. This ultimately resulted in costuming and choreography that was much more liberating to the dancer, and conducive to a fuller use of the expressive capacity of the body. It also opened the door to pointe-work, for this acceptance of more naturalistic costuming allowed the development of the heel-less shoe, which led to the dancer being able to make more use of the rise onto demi-pointe.
The era of Romanticism in the early 1800s, with ballets that focussed more on the emotions, the fantasy and the spiritual worlds, heralded the beginning of true pointe-work. Now, on her toes, the deified ballerina (embodied in this period by the legendary ballerina Marie Taglioni) seemed to magically skim the surface of the stage, an ethereal being never quite touching the ground. It was during this period that the ascending star of the ballerina quite eclipsed the presence of the poor male dancer, who was in many cases reduced to the status of a moving statue, present only in order to lift the ballerina. This sad state was really only redressed by the rise of the male ballet star Nijinsky, with the Ballets Russes, in the early twentieth century. Ballet as we know it had well and truly evolved by this time, with all the familiar conventions of costume, choreographic form, plot, pomp, and circumstance firmly fixed in place.
Since the Ballets Russes began revolutionising ballet in the early 20th century, there have been continued attempts to break the mould of classical ballet. Currently the artistic scope of ballet technique (and its accompanying music, décor, and multimedia) is more all-encompassing than ever. The boundaries that classify a work of classical ballet are constantly being stretched, muddied and blurred until perhaps all that remains today are traces of technique idioms such as ’turn-out’.
It was during the explosion of new thinking and exploration in the early 20th century that dance artists began to appreciate the qualities of the individual, the necessities of ritual and religion, the primitive, the expressive and the emotional. In this atmosphere modern dance began an explosion of growth. There was suddenly a new freedom in what was considered acceptable, what was considered art, and what people wanted to create. All kinds of other things were suddenly valued as much as, or beyond, the costumes and tricks of the ballet.
Most of the early 20th century modern choreographers and dancers saw ballet in the most negative light. Isadora Duncan thought it most ugly, nothing more than meaningless gymnastics. Martha Graham saw it as European and Imperialistic, having nothing to do with the modern American people. Merce Cunningham, while using some of the foundations of the ballet technique in his teaching, approached choreography and performance from a totally radical standpoint compared to the traditional balletic format.
The twentieth century was indeed a period of breaking away from everything that ballet stood for. It was a time of unprecedented creative growth, for dancers and choreographers. It was also a time of shock, surprise and broadening of minds for the public, in terms of their definitions of what dance was. It was a revolution in the truest sense.
After the explosion of modern dance in the early 20th century, the 1960s saw the growth of post modernism. Post modernism veered towards simplicity, the beauty of small things, the beauty of untrained bodies, and unsophisticated movement. The famous ‘No’ manifesto rejecting all costumes, stories and outer trappings in favour of raw and unpolished movement was perhaps the extreme of this wave of thinking. Unfortunately lack of costumes, stories and outer trappings do not a good dance show make, and it was not long before sets, décor and shock value re-entered the vocabulary of modern choreographers.
By the 1980s dance had come full circle and modern (or, by this time, ‘contemporary’) dance was clearly still a highly technical and political vehicle for many practitioners. Existing alongside classical ballet, the two art-forms were by now living peacefully next door to one another with little of the rivalry and antipathy of previous eras. The present time sees us still in the very competitive artistic atmosphere where choreographers compete to produce the most shocking work, however, there are still glimpses of beauty to be had, and much incredible dancing in an age where dance technique has progressed further in expertise, strength and flexibility than ever before in history. Go and see some contemporary dance and you’ll see what I mean.
Hi folks, this time we are talking about Contemporary Dance. Quite a different animal from classical ballet. While ballet aims always for lightness, ease and grace, contemporary dance is a style where we are both allowed and encouraged to feel heavy and weighty. Many classes do have moments where classical lines or dynamics are mingled with contemporary dance exercises, but here I’ll focus on those more purely contemporary concepts.
1. Because of the heaviness and weightiness used in many contemporary styles, it is essential to feel ‘connected’ with the floor. Rather than spending the class ‘lifting’ and ‘pulling up’, become familiar with the floor as much as you can – get used to and happy with walking, kneeling, curling up, rolling, stretching, falling, playing, and relating to the floor in as many different ways as you can!
2. There is a connection between posture and the relationship with the floor. Work on feeling comfortable, relaxed and at ease while standing tall with your feet spread wide and relaxed on the floor. Keeping your feet wide and your body relaxed throughout the class enables a greater awareness of the floor and means you can move quickly and safely through space once the floor is your friend; then you need not be afraid of falling or losing your balance and can move with more risk and dynamic.
3. In contemporary, posture is not so much about ‘lifting’ the right muscles; it is a question of aligning the bones in a healthy way so that they support each other. So try working with the image of ‘stacking’ your body from the floor upward, which goes, in brief, like this:
a. FEET: Placed directly underneath your hipbones with the second toe pointing directly forwards, your feet should spread wide and relaxed on the floor. (Use a mirror. Left to guess, most of us place our feet too wide.)
b. LEGS: Suspend your knees above and towards the front of the ankles, with the kneecaps tracking forward along the line set by your second toe on each foot. Relax your leg muscles.
c. PELVIS: Keep the tailbone heavy and pointing downwards; ensure the bottom muscles (glutes) are soft, but - keep a small amount of tone in the belly to stabilise your body.
d. TORSO: Feel the spine lightly rising up from the bowl-like pelvic bone with the ribcage hanging easily like a birdcage surrounding the spine. Keep the ribs quiet; avoid the error of holding the belly in so tightly that the ribs poke out in reaction.
e. NECK: Feel the neck rising in an easy natural line; drop the chin a little and feel how doing so releases tension from the back of the neck.
f. ARMS: Relax the arms and let the fingers hang easily from the wrist.
5. It is really worthwhile making those 6 points into a short mental checklist you can memorise and call upon. It can be added to or edited to suit your own physical structure as long as you adhere to the basic principles of correct alignment.
I call my list “my body’s maintenance men”; the little minute instructions sent running to different parts of the body continually at various times throughout dance class or everyday life. Their job is to adjust and correct small points of alignment that need monitoring; most often with the command, “Relax!” - now doesn’t that sound like the sort of command you want to obey?
I adore ballet and am passionate about teaching it and refining my own expertise as a dancer, so writing tips for improving your ballet technique is a pleasure.
1. When taking a ballet class, I think it’s important to remember two things. Firstly, it was initially developed as a genteel and stately court dance, a very far cry from the coltish gymnastics we see on stage today. Students of any age should bear this in mind, and it helps to form a far more attainable ideal in one’s mind. Secondly, it is a very small minority who are ever going to dance ballet onstage, and so we should approach our ballet class with the knowledge that is an effective means towards greater strength, flexibility, grace, and control in all our other life undertakings.
2. Beginning with your barre work, remember always to breathe. Plies are wonderful for this as it is a very natural feeling to breathe out as you plie down, and breathe in as you rise back to straight legs. Breathing with your plies, and all your other exercises, will improve your posture, flexibility, and rhythm.
3. It is easy to get very tense in ballet as many of the postures are so unnatural to us. However as a Venerable ballet teacher always used to proclaim to my class, “Tension-Hinders-Movement!” and she was correct. Translation: try to find ways of arranging your bones into their correct alignment without forcing or straining muscles. Think of the weight of each bone, and mentally focus on allowing that bone to hang or extend in the correct direction. This avoids overusing muscles.
4. Remember that arm positions were always devised in relation to the period costumes – tight sleeves, low, open necklines, and puffy skirts. For men, they still had tight sleeves, and puffy skirted coats, but they had ruffed collars which emphasised a noble carriage of the head. Arms then, should just rest on the top of your imaginary skirt or coat, in demi-seconde, for instance. Arms in a second position should never extend out at 90 degrees, but should slope down gently, echoing the line of the skirt or coat-skirt. Arms in 5th should frame the face like a cameo, and arms in first should round downwards opposite the waistband.
5. In order to move quickly through space and change positions of the feet rapidly during an exercise, you will need to carry your weight forward over the balls of the feet. This is extremely unnatural and there is no way of getting around it! Those of us with a slouch, sway-back legs, or a sway back, will find this difficult. Begin, then, back at point 2 – gently arrange the bones of your torso into a more healthy alignment and then bringing your weight forward over the balls of the feet becomes easier.
Most of all, enjoy your class. Ballet can be a bit like cod liver oil, to some, but with a little persistence, it is not hard to nose out some truffles that you can truly enjoy during your class!
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