The Joy Of..Teaching Adults

 

“It gave me something to lean on when I was struggling. It made me realize that I am a strong teacher, and maybe I could enjoy the title of ‘dance teacher’ just as much as the title of ‘dancer’.”

As adults, we understand the value of time. Unlike our earlier years, we have more control over how our time is spent and what our time is delegated towards. The only catch is that there is much more to be done – work responsibilities, exercising, eating well, getting enough rest, hydrating, planning, paying bills – and there are people to take care of other than ourselves – our significant other, children, family, friends, pets. Sometimes the teeny, tiny wedge of our pie chart that we had hoped to dedicate to ourselves, ends up shrinking or maybe gets pushed out of the chart all together. This is when we start to feel the effects – fatigue, boredom, anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment, being at a loss for who we even are anymore. Whether you are in this cycle now or have been in the past, we all can relate to this as busy human beings (and works in progress). I salute each one of you in your individual struggle to embrace yourself and make time for YOU. This common human struggle is why I love teaching adults.

I started teaching in college. When I began at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, I intended to only get a performance degree. After completing the mandatory pedagogy course freshmen year though, I found that I really enjoyed teaching. And so, I switched my major to Ballet Pedagogy. I was able to perform as I intended, while also getting the added bonus of a ballet teaching degree. I knew that teaching would be essential to supporting my performance career, and, of course, I wanted to have a back-up plan for myself.

It’s a blur to me now when I even started teaching adults. What I do remember is initially being very intimidated by the task. While most adult ballet classes are labelled or defined in some way – beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc. – there’s not often a huge offering for adults. Therefore, as a teacher, you’re often presented with a huge spectrum of student abilities. As both a teacher and a people-pleaser, I want everyone to be happy, to be appropriately challenged, to enjoy themselves, and not feel overwhelmed! But finding this balance for each student was so daunting to me when I began teaching adults. (Honestly, it’s still a little daunting today too, but the love outweighs the fear LOL.)

Aside from level and ability, adults are also fully functioning humans with their own opinions. This we know. As a teacher of small humans too, there is an immense difference here. Adults, unlike children, will offer their opinions and choose how they want to spend their time. Early on before any adult class I would think to myself, “What if they don’t like me?!” This is partially my own personal problem, but it can be a thought for any teacher. Teaching younger students you may have a large number of kids but for a variety of reasons – convenient scheduling, attending class with a friend, limited number of levels within the school, or maybe the parent(s) believes your teaching methods work for their student. Adults, on the other hand, can decide for themselves what kind of class they want to attend. I know that not everyone is going to love my class, and you know what? That’s okay. Maybe they find it too hard or too easy. Maybe it’s got too much barre. Maybe they don’t like my music, or maybe I make too many weird little jokes. All those reasons are valid, and I respect that they get to make that choice.

“It is a conscious choice that they make to come to class, [to] set aside their busy lives, and to do something for themselves. I am always humbled to be a part of their time.”

After a serious injury about five years ago, I exited the company scene and decided to try my hand as a freelancer instead. With my mornings oddly free of ballet class for the first time in about nine years, I was given a Wednesday A.M. adult ballet class to teach. At first, it was a special kind of torture. Teaching class on the same floor as the company, around the same time as warm-up, made me feel like an absolute failure. I didn’t feel like myself. I would walk around and correct, offering the occasional wave at someone I knew in the hall, and think to myself, “What had I let happen to me? I’m not a dancer anymore.” Week to week though, I maintained a faithful crew of students. It was a challenging blend of students too, that I had originally thought I couldn’t conquer – a spectrum of ages, some comfortable with center work, some not, some with past professional careers, some totally beginner, one student even on pointe every week. What made it all the more enjoyable was their encouragement and the bond that we all built together. It gave me something to lean on when I was struggling. It made me realize that I am a strong teacher, and maybe I could enjoy the title of “dance teacher” just as much as the title of “dancer”. Writing about it now, I miss “my Wednesday morning crew” so much.

What means the absolute most to me about adult students, is that they choose to entrust me with their time. It is a conscious choice that they make to come to class (live, or virtual nowadays), set aside their busy lives, and to do something for themselves. I am always humbled to be a part of their time and to help them nourish the love for dance that they still have or are just now exploring. The responsibility I have to my adults is huge. Sometimes the weight of it overwhelms me, but overall it holds a special place in my heart.

I am honored to be a part of your life, and I hope to make your choice to dance all the more worthwhile.

Hope And Strength

“I am concerned…but I am hopeful…and I am strong.”

…We’re all thinking about it. Election 2016…So I will do my best to lightly touch on the topics of the past week. I am just here to say what is on my mind and potentially on the minds of others.

{I am concerned.} As a liberal, a woman, an artist, and a supporter and friend of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations, I worry what is next for the diversity of America. When and why did the idea arise that we need to selectively “take back” this country? America is alive and well! We all want America to be great, but why “again”? When did the greatness halt? Why is our consensual faith in America waning? There will always be laws and policies that require adjustment and adaptation, but it is impractical to expect all Americans to conform to a narrow minded set of ideals. That is not why we live in this country. Our differences are what make us so beautifully unique.

{…But I am hopeful}…my hope is scant (one week out), but without hope we will not get through this difficult time. I strongly believe that this change we are experiencing will push us to be proactive and to speak up for our beliefs and rights. Volunteer. Discuss. Be informed. Peacefully protest. The future of our democracy stands before us. The progress that has been made on behalf of many in this country, stands on the precipice of destruction. If we fade into the background post-election, we cannot hope to protect our liberties.

{And I am strong.} Hope must walk hand and hand with strength. While a hopeful outlook is crucial, it is an empty wish without strength and momentum. This will not be an easy time, but we must spark the change we wish to see and be ready to respond. We are the people. We are the popular vote. We are unique, capable, hopeful, and fierce.

Be ready. Harness your hope, find your strength.

Back To (Ballerina) School

“I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one.”

September looms before us as students, young and old, head back to school. The nights are a bit more crisp, school sales are underway, and Halloween decorations have somehow crept onto store shelves. Bear with me, because this all makes me rather nostalgic. A truth has hit me (and I accept it willingly, but need to talk it out of course): this is the first year of my life since I was five years old that I will not be “going back to school”, so to speak. Obviously, for 17 of those years, I was truly attending an academic institution of some kind. However, the past five years of my life I have started each late August with a “first day of school” as well. “Ballerina school” – five years of company life.

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Just another day at school – happy ballerina – April 2015

I know I’m not the only one that treats the first day back for the company season as the fantastic fresh start that it is. Just as a student preps with a backpack full of fresh notebooks, their coolest outfit, and the yummiest lunch, a dancer preps their shoes, their best leo, and the lunch and snack that will fuel their long day back. It’s clean slate time. Although not all mistakes may have been forgotten, the purity of summer allows even dancers a chance to unwind and be real people. The possibilities are endless now, there are new faces and old friends, spirits are high, and the road that is the next year of your life is laid out before you.

I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one. Freshness (I’m convinced I have a low grade case of OCD), new beginnings, organization, and plans, plans, plans. But this year is not like the rest. There will be no first day of school for me (for those of you who haven’t heard). It is not ideal, and, honestly, it makes me sad. But it’s what’s happening. A year ago today I took a fall (Balanchine loved dancers who fell, by the way). It was obviously a stumbling point, and it has caused me to stumble again and again, but I won’t let it be an end point.

“What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy?”

I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to be on-stage…another opportunity to pour out joy and emotion and leave it there for the taking…but I know that the skepticism I have about the road ahead is okay and it’s natural. Sometimes this is where the true magic lies–in the unexpected.

I admit I am questioning things. Because I like to know what I’m doing…I like a good plan. Not knowing what I’m meant to do next is killing me. What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy? (teaching dance makes me happy, but in an entirely different way-that’s a convo for another time…soon) What if there isn’t a replacement, a supplement for it? I’m afraid that I won’t be content with anything else…But I’m trying to figure it all out because that’s what I do. That’s me.

So to all my good friends who have started school – regular schooling or “ballerina school” – good luck. Put your best foot forward and plunge into the new.

To ballet company life – this isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.

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“the true magic lies-in the unexpected.” PC – Wendy Grande

That Oldie Feel

“How can ‘something so well practiced…start to slip out of reach after a few days away’?” 

How can I still be (fairly) young (not telling), yet feel so ancient, in terms of ballet? A mere couple days off from the ballet barre can lead to a challenge like no other. Turn out, epaulement, articulation of the most finite body parts-toes, fingers, length in the back of the neck-the list of intrinsic details is lengthy. It is phenomenal, and similarly terrifying, that something so well practiced since birth can start to slip out of reach after a few days away.

Now I’ve already previously emphasized the importance of taking class. But when you’re caught within the grasp of paying bills and indulging in all the delights of summertime, time in the studio can become an irregular occurrence. I cannot even begin to explain the guilt trip that weighs on me as my time away from the studio increases. And there’s the fear that mounts with the knowledge that my next class will be a difficult one…I’m definitely in “summer-mode”, but I have entered the studio at least weekly thank goodness. There’s nothing like the fresh and casual feel of summer class—new faces mixed with old friends, and a shared appreciation of the importance of taking class that can only be felt amongst a small and random mixed age class, lined up at the barre in the early evening of a summer night.

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Sky a la “summer-mode” (PC – Me)

“There’s one key thing you should do when you start feeling ‘ancient, in terms of ballet…’ “

My saving grace when I am “off-season [and] off kilter”, is and always will be some good ol’ fashioned stretching. Again, although I preach this, sometimes it is a task that slips away from me. I must give a shout out to my amazing mother, who makes a point of completing her ballet stretches (your traditional butterfly, front to back splits, middle/straddle splits, frog) at the beginning and end of each day. The value that comes from this is priceless.

Although I know of this great value, it can be so hard to embrace the habit of consistent daily stretching, especially at this time of year. I do reverently recognize that as I grow older in age as a dancer, the process of stretching will not only help to preserve me physically, but also help me to maintain myself as a ballet dancer. It’s really very simple when you think about it. It’s just like getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and following a healthy diet-it’s for you. You can do it, or you can break the routine, but I guarantee you’re going to feel amazing if you just take care of yourself.

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Stretch…stretch….and stretch some more (PCs – Elizabeth Grande, Stephanie Hammer, & Victor Smith, respectively)

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The One-Year Anniversary of The J.O.D. Blog – ‘Don’t Put Me In A Box’

One year. Blogging. Teaching. Injury. Love. Lessons. Struggle. Recovery. CHANGE. Where I’m at this year, feels like completely different territory than where I was last year. I’m sure I am stronger {in some way…both physically and mentally}, but I also feel that I have succumbed to negative feelings many a time – doubt, fear, uncertainty, jealousy. If anything, one of the most important lessons I have learned in the past 365 days, is that joy should be taken in dance. It is a true gift. A privilege. Along the way I have found it difficult to brush aside my emotions, my unnecessary concern with what others think of me, and my natural instinct to protect my body from further harm. But while dragging all these feelings around, I have forgotten to practice what I preach. Joy. Self-respect. Gratitude. Yes, I have been damaged, but that doesn’t have to define me.

And with that, I give you “Don’t Put Me In A Box”…

Happy One Year Anniversary to my baby, “The J.O.D. Blog”. May you all bring joy to your dancing and remember that “You Are Enough.

Bunhead. Tall. Not a jumper. Cute. Corps. Injured. – All labels that pop up in the dance world. Sometimes they have to do with our looks, sometimes they have to do with our personalities, sometimes they actually relate to our performance capabilities (go figure, this is the only legitimate reason any sort of label should exist). Now this might not seem like an issue if you’re just being described as who you truly are, but sometimes those labels begin to adhere too strongly. It’s called type-casting, and once it starts it never ends. Someone who knows their qualities and strengths and has a job which is well-suited and specific to them, has no problem. Dancers and artists, however, are constantly battling for jobs and parts. It’s all very competitive in nature. So we have to be diverse.

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Love what you do.

We can’t be good at everything. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and impossible as artists. It will never happen. You can be flawlessly “on your leg” one day, and then the next you feel like you’re brand new to pointe. Despite the technical facts, I wish that we were all given the chance to shine, personal labels aside. A glimmer of potential can go a long way. Yes, this is a business that can’t waste even an ounce of time-you either have it or you don’t. But don’t waste your own time caught up in the labels you’ve been stuck with or the labels of others. The princess and the villain of the ballet don’t always have to be the same individuals. They’re both probably dying to sink their teeth into the opposite role that the other possesses. It all gets monotonous! It’s simple and comfortable to address an individual as an artist and think you have them all figured out. But in doing so, you are limiting your perception of others.

The desire to branch outside of our comfort zone will not always be nourished…and that’s okay. But as an audience member, a teacher, a director, or even as yourself, try to stop the labeling. The superlatives you are bestowing…—it might be time to give them up. It could be disastrous or it could be wonderful, but if you never stir the pot you’ll never know. Personally, I want to rip my label off, and I want out of my box. I am not defined by anyone but myself, but I understand now that I must resist the temptation to self-label as well……I am ready to shed any labels that I bear, whether others have bestowed them or I have bestowed them upon myself. So don’t put me in a box. Because I refuse to stay inside.

Life Is In The Little Things Too

“…you have to consider your happiness. It is absolutely necessary to nurture yourself as a human being…”

The smart and snappy clicking of keys on your keyboard. A compliment you receive. A smile you share with a stranger. A warm cup of coffee. A hug that you desperately needed. All of these are small sounds and gestures. They’re simple. But your reaction to these simple things speaks volumes about your personality and your life (and how you been livin’ it!-time to preach…).

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For capturing the little things…

Late December of this past year I made a trip to Barnes & Noble with my family (my annual hunt for a post-Christmas discounted calendar and planner for the new year). I found a cute little black and white, hipster planner and abandoned my hunt for a calendar. Instead, I visited the journal section. I knew what I was looking for, and I was committed to purchasing it – it’s called The Happiness Project: One Sentence Journal, A Five-Year Record by Gretchen Rubin. Now, could I have just pulled out an old notebook and jotted down something that made me happy every day for the next five years? – yes, absolutely. But instead, trend follower that I am, I forked over the money, bought the cute little bright blue book and felt inspired by it. I felt committed to the concept.

“…it can seem like we’re not allowed time to enjoy little things and consider what makes us truly happy…consider if we’re even happy at all.”

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A little love & kindness…

Tonight I found my “happiness journal” in my bag of everything and realized I had a few days of catching up to do. {I’m trying.} I’m certain the point of the journal is not to sit down and backtrack through your week and think of happy thoughts, but even my procrastinator version helps me in its own way. Sometimes if I miss a few days, I’m not able to think of anything at all that distinguishes a day from the rest (which usually means it was a pretty bad day). But quite frequently I find that something jumps out at me as a great memory of the day, or just a simple enjoyable detail that may have even turned the whole thing around.

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& someone to hold your hand…

Just because I have a “happiness journal”, doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed more happiness than the average person…or that I’m so depressed and messed up to begin with that I need it (but aren’t we all really?). What is important, is what the journal requires me to do on a routine basis, and that is SLOW DOWN. Even if I disrupt the routine and miss five days of writing down happy thoughts on paper, when I return to my book I am forced to stop and put things in perspective. ‘Forced’ sounds negative, but I use the term because it reflects how we treat the process of self-exploration in society sometimes. It’s such a “dog eat dog” world out there that it can seem like we’re not allowed time to enjoy little things and consider what makes us truly happy…consider if we’re even happy at all. But you have to consider your happiness. It is absolutely necessary to nurture yourself as a human being, despite the demands and the expectations you place on yourself. When you stop to take a look, you’ll realize that things are not as bad as they seem sometimes. It’s an eye-opener. Enjoy the compliments, the smiles, the hugs. Because life is in the little things too. Find them and appreciate them for what they are.

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Good Morning, sunshines. Go get ’em.

*My Many Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for her inspiring material. I subscribed to your monthly newsletter tonight, LOVE LOVE LOVE my Happiness Journal, & look forward to reading The Happiness Project and Better Than Before in the near future! 🙂

To All The Little Ballerinas…

“…To every little girl who has ever put on a beautiful tutu, was lost in the music, and felt like a princess…”

If you ever want an emotional pick me up, I’ll tell you what you have to do. Put on a tutu, a tiara, and some ballet slippers, sit amongst an admiring group of three to five year olds and teach them how to dance. Let them share their thoughts with you, ask questions, hold your hand-they will love you purely and admirably. They will compliment you, try to impress you, and will call you “Ballerina”, as if it were your first name. Every time I teach the youngest of the young dancers (and especially in a birthday party setting like today), I am transported back to a time when I was young, and had the inkling of an idea that I wanted to be a ballerina. And look at me now…regardless of the many ups and downs, I’m here. I AM a ballerina.

“Dancing is for you and no one else. It is a gift that no one can ever take away and a gift that you control and harness the power of.”

So to every little girl who has ever put on a beautiful tutu, was lost in the music, and felt like a princess, some thoughts:

1. HAVE FUN: Never stop enjoying yourself. If dance is what makes you happy, remember that and hold that truth close to your heart. Never let anyone tell you you’re too girly or that you are not strong or not an athlete. Ballerinas are the ultimate champions of strength, beauty, and poise, and if someone disagrees, let them try on some pointe shoes and report back…

2. BE BOLD: March to the beat of your own drum (quite literally). Don’t worry about feeling silly or looking different, or not reaching a milestone at the same time as a peer. Focus on yourself. Everyone is different and beautiful in their own way. The world is not looking for identical, personality-devoid ballerinas, they are waiting for you, regardless of your flaws. No one is perfect, and you deserve the same chance as any other fresh, young dancer.

3. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF: Dancing is for you and no one else. It is a gift that no one can ever take away and a gift that you control and harness the power of. But always be wary. The minute you lose the joy and inspiration that got you to this moment, take a step back. Remember who you are and why you love to dance. You will face a million and one roadblocks trying to excel, but the stories and experiences along the way will last a lifetime. Your talent will set you apart from the crowd. Your passion will fuel your journey. You can overcome anything that gets in your way.

4. REMEMBER-YOU ARE LOVED: You are amazing. Ballet is an impossible feat, a form of dance that imposes great demands on the body. But do not stress. You are never alone. Fellow dancers, friends, family, and community will be there every step of the way. Take pride in who you are and what you do. You are loved…and so, don’t forget to love yourself.

Ode To A Feeling…

“…a feeling…familiar and simple-It’s you in your element…comfortable and whole.”

How do you know what you’re meant to do in life? There’s never going to be anyone to validate your dreams and choose a path for you…no one except for you. It’s impossible to be certain when you’re doing the right thing, but there’s also that nagging sense of intuition from time to time. As cheesy as it sounds, we don’t choose our dreams, they choose us. And contrary to shiny, Cinderella-like tales of dreams coming true, just because you’ve found your calling it doesn’t mean there’s a path of rainbows and butterflies and magnificently clear arrows laid out before you. If you know what you want in life, most likely, you’re gonna struggle and hurt for it.

Sometimes we are born with a dream. We know from a young age what we are meant to do. Although we change immensely throughout childhood and young adulthood as well, sometimes the knowledge we have as young children, as to our plans and dreams, is exactly what our soul strongly desires-a need we have that sticks with us as we grow. And if we are lucky, we are nurtured and encouraged to chase that dream…to adapt and ultimately meet its challenges.

Sometimes your dream is voluntarily or involuntarily pushed along, refreshed, or even temporarily set aside. Sometimes the path we’re on becomes clouded by doubt. Upon examination, we completely forget how much we have done to get here. We worry if it was all even worth it.

Sometimes though, we are reminded why we love our dream and why it is a part of us. You experience a feeling. It’s familiar and simple-It’s you in your element. It’s a feeling that makes you comfortable and whole. And it is a reminder that you’re doing the right thing. This is why you’ve come this far. So keep going, for yourself, and enjoy this feeling as long as you can. For now, this is where you’re meant to be.

Embrace The Chaos

“…Embrace the chaos now. It might not be everything you thought it would be…but be proud of where you are and what you’re doing.”

How often in our lives do we become burdened by the fact that we’re so busy? The #1 conversation rapport always seems to be, “How are you?” — “I’m good…so busy right now though”, sometimes followed by a sigh and a smile of faux positivity. We crave time to relax and be at leisure, without the nagging worries of adulthood. As dancers/artists and as human beings in general though, I don’t believe that to be our true nature. However, allowing ourselves free time is key to our success.

The largest contributing factor to stress nowadays stems from the fact that as a society we never stop to breathe and enjoy life. Even when at rest, we are plugged into social media in some way and are constantly and painstakingly aware of what others are doing. The overload of knowledge and the stress of comparing our lives to one another can be exhausting. The more artists I encounter along my path, the more I realize just how unique of a brand we are. The understanding that every second counts is not lost on us. From the gym to the studio to teaching to second jobs, dancers are always on the move. Since there is such a lack of funding for the arts, we are driven to provide for ourselves and our art form. Survival in the arts requires that you never slow down. There is no room for fatigue, hesitancy, or frustration. So we’ll just think about our stresses and our less than practical workloads tomorrow (as Scarlett O’Hara would say).

Although I am a huge proponent of hyperactivity (I always have to be going or I feel like I’m doing something wrong), it can lead to some pretty deteriorating stress and anxiety-not exactly the ideal state of mind for artistry. The older I get the more I am able to understand and witness the reality that the body, holistically, is essential to success in dance. I’ve thought many times before that I could get away with overloading myself – maxing myself out with cross training, going above and beyond in the studio, teaching for hours on end, and attending to a second and third job. But giving 110% to every task doesn’t guarantee me instantaneous success. It doesn’t hurt to have work ethic and drive, but too much can lead to pulled muscles, fatigue, stress, and a lack of passion and self-purpose. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking care of your whole self. Your ENTIRE body and mind is key to your success as a dancer. That’s right I said entire. So just because you have on a happy face and are taking the world by storm one ballet class at a time, that doesn’t mean you’re well. Take the time to nourish the other aspects of your self. Take a yoga class, cook yourself a nice meal, meditate, read a book, do whatever you need to embrace the fact that you are a human being with needs, not just a balletic robot in a leotard.

“…I am a huge proponent of hyperactivity, [but] it can lead to some pretty deteriorating stress and anxiety-not exactly the ideal state of mind for artistry.”

Contrary to everything I’ve just said, it is an amazing feeling to be busy and to feel successful and accomplished. If I could take back many (but not all) of the days that I spent complaining about everything I had to do, when they were all perfectly good things, I would. Be grateful to be productive and thriving. Be grateful that you are able to be busy. Because some are not. There are so many worse things in the world that you could be experiencing and dealing with, but instead you are here, living this life that you chose. You can always take a different path in the future, but that requires you to embrace the chaos now. It might not be everything you thought it would be, and it’s human to have complaints, but be proud of where you are and what you’re doing. It is your here and now; do not resent it and let it pass you by.

“Do You Do Toe?…” – The Biggest Misconceptions About Pointe Work

“…For the love of the art, we find a way. We make it work, and develop a thick skin…By no means should worst-case scenarios deter young dancers…from taking the next step in their growth as artists.”

This year I have the pleasure of preparing four of my dance students for pointe work. Every Monday, we gather for 45 minutes to practice the “bread and butter” of pre-pointe – Theraband exercises. Now that we are nearing the halfway point(e) of our dance year, tensions and questions have mounted regarding pointe and its intricacies. So, let me take this opportunity to clarify some of the classic tall tales of pointe work.

Da boots.
Da boots.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me “do you do toe?”, I would be a wealthier chick for sure. No disrespect at all, but I would like to clarify for any non-ballet readers, that “doing toe” is not a phrase that is ever used in the dance world. I do understand the confusion, since the toes are most definitely involved in the process, but when discussing the matter with dancers stick to the word pointe. While on topic, please also note the ‘e’ at the end of the word.

Aside from the name confusion though, the art of dancing en pointe has gained a gory reputation in the general media. Nearly every classic ballet film portrays the turmoil of pointe work. Center Stage, for example – Jody Sawyer takes it upon herself to have a late night private studio session in the dark, furiously practicing bourrées back and forth across the studio (“Flutter Jody! Flutter!!”). Upon removing her shoes, she reveals her feet – bloody, with a blister on practically every digit. Then, of course, there’s the more current ballet horror film, Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s hopelessly innocent character, Nina, decides to practice fouettés in her bedroom (Of course. Who doesn’t do that?) before auditioning the following morning for the role of the black swan. A few turns in, a grotesque crack is heard, and she falls to the floor in a heap. Upon further examination, she realizes she has completely split her big toenail in half – lovely. Even in the current melodrama Flesh and Bone, courtesy of the Starz network, Sarah Hay’s character, Claire, reveals a similarly tragic broken toenail. She bites her tongue at the pain, lets a few small tears surface, and boldly packages her toe back up in her pointe shoe, proceeding through her major company audition.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me ‘do you do toe?’, I would be a wealthier chick for sure.”

Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse
Toe defense. Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse

I’ve had many a blister or toenail disaster of my own, but by no means is this kind of thing happening every time a pointe shoe is laced up. These challenges present themselves frequently, yes, but the tricks of the trade are abundant nowadays, and the injuries of pointe work don’t quite plague us as much as they used to. Even when they do, for the love of the art, we find a way. We make it work, and develop a thick skin (quite literally – calluses). By no means should worst-case scenarios deter young dancers (and their parents) from taking the next step in their growth as artists.

Although pointe work is a serious undertaking, it should not be avoided in fear of a bounty of foot issues. Yes, it is hard on the body, but the strength that is gained can be extremely valuable. A dancer who has done a significant amount of pointe work not only has strong feet, but also strength and awareness throughout the entire body. In the most advanced stages of the art form, the dancer should feel as though they don’t even have pointe shoes on, but, rather, that the shoes are a natural extension of the foot. With this unique form of movement and bodily awareness available, the resulting choreographic options are many. Not only does pointe create an additional challenge for the ballerina, but it also adds an effect of beauty that is unlike anything else that meets the eye.