The Ballet News Ballet Clinic

Ballet News | Ballet Clinic

ballet news logo

For some time, the Ballet News Ballet Clinic has resided in the discussion tab on the Ballet News facebook page, but as I’ve been notified by facebook that it will soon remove this tool, and because we’ve had such a wealth of useful, practical information from teachers, dance students, ballet-goers, doctors and more, I wanted to make sure the valuable information was kept safely in one place.  So, here it is. I’ve not amended the individual posts so typos etc below to their owner, but I’ve tidied up the posts and taken out an extraneous conversation not relating to the topic (mostly about problems with facebook itself). 

The Ballet News Ballet Clinic is open to all.  If there is something that you are struggling to master, please leave a comment here and be as specific as you can – include your level of training and anything else that you think might help the person answering your question. Remember, they don’t know you!

The other thing you can do, if you find that you can’t explain what you are doing or what you need help with, is to get someone to video you and then post the link here. Sometimes it’s easier to give advice when you’ve seen the person dancing and video is better than nothing if it can’t be face to face!

If you do leave a question, please remember to check back for answers/advice and let us know how you’re getting on !

I know that Ballet News has a great variety of ballet teachers around the world and I hope that they will tune in and answer whenever they feel they can. If you are answering a question I’d really appreciate it if you could briefly introduce yourself so that everyone is clear.

Ballet News accepts no liability for the advice given. Questions are asked and answers offered at that persons own discretion and risk.

I hope that this compendium of information improves with age, like a fine ballet dancer!

ballet dancerBallet Clinic

Victoria Barretti-Rhine

ballet tutuI have a question about how to improve my extension. Ive been struggling with it for a very long time. My arabesque seems to be okay, but to the front and side, I can’t seem to get my leg high enough. I think it maybe be more of a strength issue in the hips? Maybe?
Its not a flexibility problem, I can assure you that cuz my legs are very very flexible.
I have very long legs (I’m 5’8″) and sometimes I feel like I can’t muster up enough strength to get those big long things parallel to my body. I’m talking about slowly, like in an adagio. Grande battments are easy because of the force you take. Right now in an adagio I’m between 130-150 degrees. I just want that gorgeous seemingly 180 extension that svetlana zakarova has.
I take class everyday, I stretch before and after. I feel it in the hips, and I also notice my standing leg will bend a bit…
What kind of exercises can help this? And what should I be focusing and pinpointing on in my body to improve?

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Sounds like your extension is really quite good already. You do need to recognize that everyone has an individual limit based upon the actual structure of the hip joint. You don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of the supporting hip and leg – like sinking into the hip or bending the supporting leg.

That being said you can do several things. When you do grand battement – don’t allow the leg to drop – lower it – control the downward movement. Up quickly — down slowly. This will build control and strength.

Another thing – when fully warmed up place your leg on the barre and lift it from there – being sure that your hips are square and supporting side lifted and forward. You can’t sacrifice placement for height. LIft from the barre and lower (not drop) – several times. You probably won’t see improvement right away – but you will see it over time.

Visualization is important…as you developpé into the extension imagine a hand under your leg moving down the inside of your thigh, past the knee and uder the foot.

Another visualization – as you extend your foot imagine someone has a hold of your shoe ribbons and is lifting your foot into the air.

Everything you do in ballet – actually everything you do in any kind of movement is a balance between strretch and strength. Most of us have more of one than the other. The idea is too capitalize on what you have to gain what you have not.

And its also important to know that everyone EVERYONE has limits beyond which the body will protest. Respect that protest and you will dance longer and with more joy. Don’t compare your body to anyone else’s – they probably aren’t completely happy with theirs either. Your body is unlike any other. Learn its assets and its limits.

I hope something I’ve said here helps.

Anita Zwart

ballet classSomething i used to do to try and increase the height at which i could get my legs in develope, is when you get to reterie, and before you unfold, think of lifting the thigh and knee up, so you have that basis of the line you want, then your leg below the knee can simply unfold to extend that line. it is much easier than trying to lift your leg higher once extended. you might already be doing this but if not i hope it helps.
sorry for the atrocious spelling by the way, I have done ballet for 15 years but never actually got around to learning how to spell the terms i use everyday

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

That is also a good visualization as long as you don’t pull away from the supporting hip.

Victoria Barretti-Rhine

wow thanks to both of you. no ones ever explained it like that to me before. super helpful! i’m going to remember these tips in class tomorrow!

May Loong

@Anita – yes, Sylvie Guillem was the first prominent dancer to do that to an extreme (the thigh is almost on her shoulder), now everyone follows suit. This only works for developpe a la seconde though. I personally don’t like it as it looks like a dancer trying to be a gymnast but ignore me – obviously the Bolshoi, Kiev (and now the Vaganova) Academies all let their graduates do it. Agree with Sheila – as long as the supporting hip isn’t affected. Nothing worse than someone trying to do the six o’clock positions looking very misaligned. Have fun!

Anita Zwart

Of course you have to practice to make the movements flowing so its not obvious that it is what your focusing on. and so you dont look like your about to pee like a dog on a nonexistent post. I never found an easier way for front or back develope.

Victoria Barretti-Rhine

😀 so helpful, than you EVERYONE ♥

May Loong

Haha, that’s a good way to describe it. Have a great class Victoria, and keep watching good dancers carefully!

Shelia Vernick Orysiek

I personally do not like the superhigh extension in any position. I rue the day when Guillem began this trend. Ballet is not gymnastics – it is not a sport – it’s an art. A Swan with a foot by its ear not is beautiful- it is probably scratching away a flea. All the beauty of nuance and proportion is lost.

And once everyone gets that foot up there – what’s next? Go past the ear? And what is a 6 o’clock penché? It’s a crotch shot.

There is also no way for the arms to compliment the super high extension especially to the side or back.

Leanne Irwin

what a great idea!

My knees are not as straight as I would like them to be, is there any stretches that I can do without harming my knees to help it?

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

ballet dancers on pointeKnees – like everything else – are very individual. At one end of the spectrum are those knees which overstraighten and at the other end – knees which while fully engaged don’t look straight. To a large extent this is determined by the actual construction of the joint of the knee. There is some stretch which may help – but not much. Such stretches should always be done with care and under the supervision of a knowledgeable teacher.

The knee is a vulnerable joint – it is not a ball and socket but a hinge. It is also weight bearing and meant to be moved in many directions – all of which makes it vulnerable. Therefore, it has to be treated with especial care.

The support for the knee is in the muscle just above it – as long as that is engaged – pulled up – then the knee is a straight as it is going to get. However, the knee also has a habit of “lying” to us. It says it is straight when it is not. So, learn to straighten it (not push back on it) by pulling up on the thigh muscle – learning what that feels like.

Never do anything extreme to the knees – no crazy things like having someone stand on them (I’ve seen that horror done) – or any other crazy thing. Remember outside force of any kind is dangerous. Because of the knees’ vulnerability injury tends to become chronic.

If a teacher says to you that she will physically straighten your knees (as one did to me) don’t walk out of the stuido – run.

There are always upsides and downsides to any situation. A knee which doesn’t appear straight – but is fully pulled up – is a strong construction. It may not be your idea of perfect – but it will serve you well. An over straightened knee is at risk – it is a loose construction. The perfectly straight knee is ideal – having both beauty as well as support – but few amongst us are born with such perfection. And, even if we are so lucky – then something else will bother us.

Work with what you have – learn to compensate – learn to capitalize on your physical and spiritual strengths. Distract from your lesser points and emphasize your assets.

Anita Zwart

I agree with Sheila, I have screwed up knees from pushing them past straight just because that is how i naturally stand. Now they hurt when doing the strangest movements and the most random times. as long as it is strong dont fuss about how it looks

Victoria Barretti-Rhine

i’m actually hyper extended, i have the opposite problem… i can recommend stretching the hammies, like sitting in parallel and reaching for your toes. try keeping the backs of your knees on a ground but try to lift your foot up (with either your hand, or one of those resistance bands)
be very gentle, sometimes when i’m standing and i try to stretch and extend TOO HARD, i actually hurt my knee 🙁

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

If you have a hyper extended knee- never push back on it – instead pull up – engage – the muscle just above it. A hyper extended knee can be difficult to deal with not only because of its inherent vulnerability but also for things lke balance and turns. There are many degrees of hyper extension and if it is severe enough it can preclude dancing.

Another problem for knees is grand plié in any position except second.

Leanne Irwin

wow, thanks everyone, great info! ♥

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

An interesting thing to do is to take a ballet class and line the students up facing a mirror with everyone standing in their best – but not forced – first position. You will then see how different everyone’s knees look. Then do it with feet parellel – and you will see more differences. Thus – there can’t be any “one size fits all” solution to any knee problem.

Leanne Irwin

ballet pointe shoeswondering if anyone can help me?
I have a pointe solo tomorrow and I was rehearsing for two hours today, and I stupidly forgot to tape my toes, and now have a bad blister on my little toe
and its so sore that I cant have anything touching it, anyone have any tips on what to do for a miraculous recovery?! Thanks in advance 🙂

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

I suggest that you go to your local pharmacy and ask the pharmacist about an over the counter medication to put on the blister. I have never used this (didn’t get blisters) but have heard that it is good and will help with healing. You must keep it protected and clean and dry. You might try putting an ice pack on it. You can buy an ice pack which you keep in the freezer. Today – let it dry out and protect it when you go to bed so it doesn’t rub on the blankets and sheets. Don’t walk around too much today so it doesn’t rub against shoes. Then tape it well tomorrow and put a bit of lambs wool (not too much) on top of the sore part. Good luck!

Leanne Irwin

Thank so much, helped loads! adrenaline kicked in once i got on stage and i couldnt even feel anything! haha 🙂

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Yes, I know about that adrenaline thing….but I didn’t want to mention it so you wouldn’t be “waiting” for it! Glad it all worked out.

Anita Zwart

Hey guys, so i was wondering what ‘modern ballet’ is. (i might be teaching a workshop on this) ive done a bit of internet research and on youtube have found a few different versions. so far i think is seems to be like neoclassical or contemporary dance, but i also found a video of a girl doing mostly traditional ballet steps to upbeat music. does anyone have experience with ‘modern ballet’?

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

ballet dancers“Modern Ballet” is a subjective term, it even depends upon what country uses the term. In some countries the word is “contemporary.” There is no clear definition. Balanchine was once considered neo-classical (and still is) – but now looks totally classical. And then there’s Eifman ballet in which you can find dancers on pointe and barefoot on the stage at the same time – doing both classical ballet and thoroughly modern movement dancing together.

Since many modern choreographers have been creating dance works for classical ballet companies the lines have blurred even more. Once I saw someone who tried to define it by what kind of shoes the dancer had on – or no shoes at all. But, suppose you have a dancer in bare feet doing totally classical ballet steps and another dancer on pointe doing totally modern steps? That would be interesting.

Anita Zwart

hmmm, so it seems to me if i end up teaching this class, I have alot of room for interpretation and can almost do what i want. Thanks


I also recommend reading Jennifer Kornenberg’s new book (Principal with Miami City Ballet) about the basics of ballet. I’ve reviewed it on Ballet News. I’ll post the link later.

Specifically, she has some advice about sore toes that you might not have considered. It’s not suitable for broken skin, so possibly not good for blisters, but use Anbusol (the gel that’s used for toothache) on your non-broken skin to soothe pain.

There are lots of other really practical tips that she has drawn from her own experiences which I recommend as my default option when asked many of the ‘ballet basics’ questions.

So you want to be a ballet dancer ? by Jennifer Kronenberg

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

ballet kidsTurnout is not a single thing, but a combination of several things: stretch, strength to maintain that stretch, how the body is constructed, what can be improved and what cannot. The first thing to do is to assess what is possible for each individual student. It’s NOT just a matter of finding exercises.

The basic premise is that turnout occurs in the hips and is reflected in the legs and ultimately in the feet. The knees must always be aligned with the toes. If the knees are more forward than the toes in any of the ballet positions, then the feet must not be turned out so much. Nothing is gained by forcing turnout, and much can be lost. If the knees cannot accommodate the turnout, then injury will occur; if not immediately then ultimately.

If the student stands in her best (unforced) first position, with the knees aligned over the toes, have the student then relevé to half pointe, and see what happens to the heels. Have they lost some turnout? If they have that means that wherever that turnout was in a flat first position is the amount of turnout that is “available” and wherever that turnout is in relevé, is what is “useable.” The object of gaining strength is to bring what is available and what is useable more closely in line.

It is just as helpful to work on turnout in plié, tendu – and every exercise at the barre – as it is to do “special” exercises. That’s where you need turnout to happen – in your ballet exercises and in the ballet pas. Begin working on it in your very first plié. Check where your heels are, see where your knees are (should always be over toes), does this stay the same as you plié

When you tendu to the front press the heel forward and when you return keep it pressed forward. Rotate the leg in tendu so you can see the full range of motion in your hip.

Are you depending upon the barre for your turnout? Try doing your barre with only one finger on it for the entire class.

There is another aspect to turnout – when you tendu to the front and then rond de jamb to the side and then to the back does your leg stayed turned out? How does this compare to when you lift the leg 45 degrees off the ground? how about 90 degrees? This is the test of strength to hold/maintain your turnout.

The frog exercise does very little for turnout when it comes to strength.

Another aspect of turnout – is how your body is constructed. The shape of the ball and socket in your hip joint an the ligaments will determine your turnout and you can’t change that. We all have our limits.

So once again….stand in first position – your best – not forced – knees over toes. Now rise to demi-pointe and see if your heels slipped back. On flat foot is your “available” turnout…in demi-pointe is your “useabile” turnout. You have to work on bringing those two aspects to match as much as possible.

Francine B Goodman

ballet pointe shoesHow does one overcome pain in the hamstrings from stretching with weights the day or two before class, in order to be able to stretch in class and move with sufficient speed? I skipped ballet class, but was able to go to the gym and perform strength and stretching exercises very slowly.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Pain is the body’s alarm system. Pain means stop. You “overcome” it by only working to the point before which it occurs. Hamstrings are vulnerable and once injured are slow to heal – this is true of most all soft tissue injuries.

Swimming is a good substitute and is a workout without weight bearing and thus usually promotes healing. It is important to remember that soft tissue injuries heal with scar tissue which is not as elastic as the original tissue – thus injury should be avoided – and repeated injuries even more so. Each time it is injured it becomes even more vulnerable.

Slow and steady is the best road to progress. Decide which is your priority – ballet class? weight training? Then you put your time and investment into that priority and the other activity is secondary.

Whatever you do always always work to warm up slowly. Warming up is not just a matter of wearing warm clothing – the idea is to warm up internally – and that happens slowly. That is why the ballet barre work is designed as it is – going from slow low movements to higher and faster components.

The thing to avoid is pain medication – you don’t want to disguise the body’s alarm system. It is a much better idea to avoid that which produces pain than to “overcome” it.

Also – soft tissue injuries are still heailng even after the pain subsides. So, while it is not possible to go too slowly – it is entirely possible to go too quickly.

Anita Zwart

Soft tissue injuries take longer to heal than broken bones. in Pre-med i was taught that pain is the thing that allows us to take care of an injured part of our body, thus preventing repeated injury, it is only when pain is unbearable that meds should be perscribed. if you have an important competition or performance where you ‘have’ to be i would sugest taking 1 ibuprofen, it will lower the pain so it does not cripple you, but will allow you to still be aware of your limits, and stretch well but gently before hand. just a word of advise from some one who ‘overcame’ a few injuries: dont abuse your body. its the only one youl ever get

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

…and you’ll want to be able to walk long after you are done dancing.


Sheila, what’s your view on GM’s ? I’ve been asked by a young dancer who is about to start pointe work about shoes. She’s heard that GM’s can make your feet lazy – do you know anything about this ? Her teacher doesn’t take students to fittings but sends them all to Bloch. I’ve advised trying everything and going to an experience fitter, ideally with a teacher, but I’m also aware that there is a giant hole in this area where young dancers are not really guided and are mostly left to their own devices – picking up shoes online or in shops etc,. Many believe that their simply is no shoe that will ever feel comfortable. Some pro dancers only find the right shoe quite late in their careers, which can be disheartening to youngsters.

Francine B Goodman

ballet classI took your advice and slowly stretched for a very long time before class and ended up feeling less sore after class and the next day. Class was very hard but not because of the pain in my hamstrings.

How much stretching is necessary for good flexibility? I have lost a lot due to age. I am stretching a couple of hours several days each week and it does not seem to be enough. I would like to devote some of the stretching time to activities that involve more cardio or more strength work, but I seem to require a great deal of stretching to have a moderate degree of flexibility.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

I have never worn nor taught anyone who used GMs. However, I, too, have heard that they do too much of the work for the foot. I am always suspicious when any teacher sends students – or advises students – about only one type of shoes. When Ii was teaching (I am retired) I used to take my beginning pointe students to the shop but the shop had several different brands/makes of shoes.

Every pair of shoes is so different – as is every foot. Here is an article I wrote on buying pointe shoes – I hope it helps.

pointe shoesBuying Pointe Shoes

The first person to ask advice is your teacher. She may very well have suggestions as to what style/make of pointe shoe would be appropriate for your feet. So talk to her. Also ask her advice as to what shop to go to. You need to find a shop with a knowledgeable “fitter.”

The next thing to remember: Don’t Sew On Any Ribbons, Elastics, or wear your shoes (except for the fitting) UNTIL YOU TAKE THE SHOES IN TO SHOW YOUR TEACHER.

If the shoes are messed up – dirty – sewn on – the shop will not take them back.

It is difficult the first few times to find shoes which are right for you since you, as a beginner to this, have little idea how the shoes should feel. That’s why you need your teacher’s advice and a good experienced fitter at the shop.

How to buy pointe shoes? First of all I would NEVER, EVER – buy them from a catalogue or online, unless I lived perhaps in the wilds of some forest tundra without a store within a 1000 miles. Would you buy any other kind of shoes without trying them on? I wouldn’t……….

I always made a habit of having the clerk bring out every pair of shoes in my size (or close to my size) and style. Every single shoe is different. I found I could eliminate 50% of them before even trying them on.

Line them up in front of you on the floor and just look at them – are the vamps (part of the shoe which covers the faces of the toes) even?

Are the platforms (where you stand when on full pointe) bumpy? The pleating should be as smooth as possible.

Do the platforms go straight across or do they angle off to one side? This will throw the foot off center.

Are the shanks (support along the inside bottom of the shoe) already weak or broken (from other dancers trying them on)? Look at the bottoms of the shoes and see if there is a line across the sole of the shoe which would indicate a break line in the shank.

Are the lasts (the entire length of the shoe) straight? I could really eliminate many just by checking that – if the last is crooked the shoes will throw your feet off center. This usually results in the feet rolling in.

How about the wings (sides)? Are they at a flattering yet supportive level height?

Is the thickness of the shank correct? Or is there too much of a “step” down between the thickness of the shank and the satin of the heel?

Is the sock (inner lining) smooth? A rough or wrinkled sock will abrade your skin.

Now take the shoes in your hands and very gently – VERY GENTLY – bend the shank and see how much resistance there is. There should be resistance. Otherwise the shank may already be weak either from the way it was manufactured or from other dancers trying them on.

When you have the shoes on – make sure you are trying them out on a non-carpeted surface. Standing on a carpet will make quite a difference.

Are the shoes soiled? That’s an indication of prior usage.

When you have them on – do they gap anywhere? Are you able to stand on pointe with the entire platform in contact with the floor with your knees straight?

Switch lefts and rights – see how that feels. Pointe shoes (slippers too) have no lefts or rights.

Check the stitching at the seams and see if it is secure (I had one pair pull apart within 15 minutes of wearing them.)

When selecting shoes remember to not only think in size of length but in size of width. Since every pair is constructed differently – sometimes changing one or the other would affect how the shoes fit.

Try to get to the shop without walking too much – especially in warm weather. If you have to walk a great deal this will make your foot swell and will affect the sizing. Wear the same tights you are going to wear to class.

It depends upon what you consider “moderate flexibility.” Many times as we work our way down the road we keep moving the goal further and further.

pointe shoesThere does come a point at which the body is no longer able to go. We can stretch muscles – but we can’t change how the skeleton fits together and how the ligaments tie it together. Ligaments and bones were not meant to stretch. Remember, stretching often means creating tiny stresses and tears in muscles and tendons. These heal with scar tissue and are vulnerable to chronic injury. Unless the tear is significant, we are not aware that these tiny tears are happening.

You have to work with the material you have. Stretching hours every day, several times a week seems like a bit much. Set reasonable goals and keep to it. Some bodies willl never – and weren’t meant to ever – attain a full split.

What is your goal? If it is dance…..well, dance is not about flexibility – it’s only a component.

You might want to invest in a couple of visits to a good physical therapist to get an assessment of what your body is capable of – and make that a reachable reasonable goal. There are other things to consider – the future. Are you putting yourself at risk for arthritis? Chronic injury and pain?

One of the problems we face – those of us in dance or otherwise physically active – is we lose sight of what is “normal.” We (and I include myself) become addicted to a warped view of “progress.” We become addicted both chemically and emotionally to this progress – to exercise – to the feeling of physical control over our bodies. But that sense of control is an illusion – the body is in control and one way or another it will win.

So, take a few minutes, sit in a quiet place by yourself, and ask yourself the question: “What is my goal? Why is this my goal?”

And let the answer come out….don’t try to shape the answer….just let it emerge.


I’d suggest reading my article on pointe shoes deconstructed.

Francine – I would also add that it’s worth visiting a Chiropractor because – is it possible that you have a mis-alignment somewhere ? This could prevent you from attaining some flexibility. A really good sports massage – and I mean a really deep tissue massage not a ‘relaxing’ massage, can also help you to know what your body is capable of without risking injury.

I agree with Sheila that your stretching regime sounds quite a lot for one week. Some professional dancers rely on stretching more than any other type of exercise but it’s usually because of the way they are built and they find that stretching out thoroughly helps more than anything. But it’s also more about keeping the muscles in good condition – long and lean – rather than trying to make them stretch further. I’d say that they are using what they naturally have and they stretch to maintain that, not to push the envelope.

Hope that helps. It sounds to me as though you’d really benefit from getting a sound assessment of what your body is capable of – and knowing what that feels like for yourself. It’s not easy to achieve on your own – a professional is best placed to help you in person.

Anita Zwart

hi, if i can put my 5 cents in about GMs, as they are the shoe i finally settled on after years of switching. in my city there were no ballet stores, the closest with a knowledgeable fitter were about 6-8 hours drive away, 3 hours drive and you could find a place that should shoes, but didnt know a thing about them. my teacher used to get us to trace our foot and send that to the shop in wellington, and then would be sent back mass shoes which were deemed ‘suitable’ for the foot shape. i went through many types of shoes, i wore gambas for most of the time i was dancing, these were fine except the vamp would break so fast, before the shank had softended properly. and as i was doing variations at this point, (woodland fairy and swanhildas wedding) I would continually find my toe nails black, and often falling off and all sorts. I then tried GM, my teacher was not a fan of them either, and when i was on stage they didnt have the best look, but they lasted so long, people say they make your foot lazy but i disagree. its like they almost come pre-broken in, but they wont break in anymore. I put these shoes through hell and they survived fine. though i would not suggest GMs for a dancer new to pointe. and i would say do your research. they have a code stamped in them, and each number corresponds to something to do with the shoe. like vamp length, box size, shank length etc. theyre about as custom made as they come with out actually being custom made. when i do pointe work, which is not often as uni now taked us most of my time, i still use my GMs, i had been doing pointe work for 5 years before i used GMs, my only wish is i had found them earlier. with all the problems i had with previous pointe shoes and all the pain too, (more than normal) i found myself not enjoying pointe like i did when i first started. when i used GMs i was able to concentrate more on cleaning up my footwork and posture etc, and really enjoying being out on the stage, instead of standing in the wings going this is going to hurt. i think each is a case by case thing, some people will love them, some people wont, but preconceptions shouldnt stop you from giving them a go


Would be interesting to know whether there is any science to back up this theory that GM’s could make the feet lazy though….

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Would be difficult in trying to prove a negative. However, if an experienced dancer went from wearing another type of shoe, then wore GM’s for a while, and then went back to wearing another type of shoe – and could see that the foot was not as strong….even then….one can’t rule out any variables.

Megan Hondius

ballet classDear Cheryl and Sheila, thank you so mcuh for your advice. I have tried many shoes and GMs are the ones I feel more comfortable in, but that is only during the fitting as I have not started pointe work yet. As I explained to Cheryl, my teacher sends all the girls to a local shop and tells everybody to buy Bloch shoes. My mum says it is not acceptable and feels that there are other reasons why my teacher sends everyone only there. I was eager to start pointe work and my teacher said I could perhaps start in September if my feet are OK. Nobody in the many shops I went to said anything about my feet so I kept trying and mum did some research. When I said GMs are better for me, she found out they are not appropriate for new pointe work students as they may the feet ‘lazy’ by doing most of the work and that they do not help to strengthen feet and if chaning to other shoes companies can realise that feet are not strong. As agreed with Cheryl I decided to ask my RBS ballet teacher today… the interesting part is that she asked me if it was urgent for me to start pointe work. I told her I was a bit eager to do it. She then told me that my feet are becoming really strong at the moment and that I should maybe wait a bit longer before starting pointe work. She also spoke to my mum. My RBS teacher was genuinely interested, and yes, when I will be ready I should go to all the possible shops again and try as many shoes as possible. But again, I am not sure if GMs making feet lazy is fact or just fiction. If they do most of the work, then surely they can’t be right especially as first pointe shoes. I am working very hard with my footwork, posture, elongation and everything else and I don’t want to throw all this away because of the ‘wrong’ shoes. Most importantly, my mum said that she will tell my teacher I will not be starting pointework classes in September, and that when I will be ready I will have to choose the shoes from where it would be best and not from the local shop. If anyone finds a bit more information about GMs in the meantime, please let me know. Megan x


Megan – soooo pleased you made it here. Keep tuning in – you’ll get plenty of expert advice here and I hope it will help. You are at such a crucial stage in your development as a dancer and this is where bad decisions could cost you your career ultimately so you are absolutely doing the right thing and really thinking about it.

Shelia – you may work this out but just for clarity, Megan is a JA (Royal Ballet School Junior Associate) and so takes extra ballet classes with a Royal Ballet School teacher. Megan also has classes with another teacher not part of the JA scheme (it’s a prestigious scheme in the UK and Megan has done well to get a place) – I don’t know the details there.

Anita Zwart

Megan, just out of curiosity how old are you? just a thought but the idea of the shoes doing all the work for you seems a bit absurd, you still need to releve just as well to go on pointe, and i can tell from experience if you dont engage your muscles then its just as easy to roll your foot in GMs. Just because the shoes is pre-formed doesnt affect anything that i can see that would change how much your foot needs to work. i would say try them all again in the shop, every type of shoe that they have, take your time and go with what feels best. i would try avoid GMs but if they really are the best feeling then i think as a dancer you have to go with what feels best, you are after all the one who has to dance in them. however you will also probably find youl change shoes many times in your dancing career before settling on a certain type of shoe. Im not an expert, im really just speaking from experiance-hope it helps


Thanks Anita. Really would be good to get some independent data on this from scientific research. Wouldn’t want the GM brand maligned unnecessarily.

Roopa D’Almeida

I am a few months into an Adult Ballet Programme and I think it’s time to start really understanding the terms – what’s a good place to start (preferably online)?


A reader on twitter has asked : do you know any flat footed Theraband exercises to do to improve your overall point!!??? Thanks(:

Francine B Goodman

pointe shoesDoes anyone have any opinion about the products shown on,,, or

I have been using the ballet band for a few months and like it a lot. It is great for hamstrings and other leg muscles.

I was never able to point my toe until this year, after a year of serious work stretching and strengthening. However, my idea of pointing and my teacher’s idea differ greatly. I have never used therabands. I am considering the foot stretch.

Anita Zwart

When i did pilates, we used therabands, i never noticed a distinct difference but then i was doing pilates for my posture not my feet. though i do consider myself to have strong ankles and feet but wether that is due to pilates exercises or somethinge else i couldnt say

is your teacher focusing on pointing your toe? i always considered the whole foot more important. just looking at my feet now my big toe barely curls, and i think it gives it a longer line than when it is completely curled over, it seems like alot of work for a tiny change, but that is just my opinion

So i have a question, im 19 and am about to cross the line from ballet student to ballet teacher. Ive never really taught before and im teaching a 5 week course of modern ballet (1 hr a week), which i have decided will include a mixture of both ballet and contemporary. anyone got any tips for a first time teacher? thanks

Roopa, is your teacher not teaching you the terms as you go? that is how i learnt them all

Francine b Goodman

Anita, it is my whole foot, especially the ankle.

May Loong

@Roopa D’Almeida – it’s (surprisingly) 28 years old but I used this Oxford Dictionary of Ballet when I was a student (yes, round about that time) and it is one of the best ones out there for the range of info – the ballet terms don’t change over the decades. But the entries about companies and dancers will be; pity they didn’t bring out a new edition recently.

Tabitha Norman-Clarke

I know this isn’t a problem as such but i just wanted to see if anyone else on here was going to the english national ballet adult classes that start this week? My family clubbed together for my birthday so i’m starting on tuesday but am a bit nervous about the whole thing!!!! Thanks!

Helen Day

ballet flowers@Francine Hi I am a dance podiatrist & my MSc thesis was whether footstretch devices worked. I tested ProArch and Ballet Foot Stretch over a period of two months and found in most people they made no difference and in some people they were starting to cause posterior impingement (pain in the back of the ankle). As a podiatrist I would not recommend these as your arch is what you are born with. The foot-stretching devices stretch ligaments and you do not want your ligaments stretched. Ligaments store energy in the foot and lax ligaments are not as efficient so the tendons and muscles have to work much harder. It is much better to use theraband to strengthen your feet. I have just started a foot-strengthening class at Laban in response to students wishing to make their feet stronger.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

How did I miss Victoria’s post about my backgrround two weeks ago? I’ve only just seen it now.

I’m not sure that someone should be judged on the “copiousness” of advice given – but on its merits. If the administrator of this site would like me to respond – I am happy to respond- just let me know. I don’t want to take up time and space if this is not desired. Also let me know if you would like this information privately.

As to foot stretching devices – I absolutely agree with what Helen has said above.


Sheila – I think it is useful for people who read the Ballet News Ballet clinic section to know very briefly what your qualifications are as they relate to offering the specific advice that you do, here. Helen has done so very succinctly above and that’s perfect. And please feel free to answer any of the questions in as much detail as you wish to – that’s the whole point of this clinic. I’m still not sure of Victoria’s motivation for her comments here; I have asked the question as you can see. Please let’s stay focused on the reason that the clinic exists and in so doing I hope that much advice can be sought and given. Thank you everyone!

pointe shoesSheila Vernick Orysiek has responded to the question of her qualifications for giving advice in this Ballet Clinic (and I have edited for brevity below). Sheila – I’m very happy for your answers to questions to be long; I only need a brief intro on your background, hence the edit. I sincerely hope you don’t mind; I do appreciate that 40 years of dance and counting are hard to precis. Shelia says :

I began my dance studies in 1966. Some of my teachers were: Marguerite Ellicott (a student of Alexandra Baldina – orig. Waltz girl in Les Sylphides & Theodore Koslov – both members of the orig. Ballet Russe), Eula Hoff (Cecchetti Examiner), Jacqueline Hepner (NYCB), Keith Martin (RB), Robert Rodham (NYCB-prin.), Sonia Arova (prima ballerina), Elaine Thomas (Ballet Mistress RB), Wayne Davis (Eugene Loring), Lawrence Eddington (Margaret Craske), Jillana (NYCB-prin.), Linda Yourth (NYCB), and more.

Have taught at SDSU, Chula Vista High & Middle Performing Arts Schools, Grossmont & Spring Valley School District, Grossmont College, as well as in private studios throughout the San Diego County area.

I was never a member of a company (though I took daily company class) because of family obligations. I did dance professionally as an independent soloist.

I am now retired from active teaching but I continue to coach, lecture and guest teach and write.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

ballet dancerTo Anita Zwart and her question about “crossing the line” from student to teacher. I found that you never do cross tha line because there is no line to cross. A good teacher always remains a student. Be prepared to learn from your studens.

However, – it is also an inside/out experience. You do go from thinking only of your own progress/needs to the progress and needs of others. Instead of being thrilled when you have a success – you are now thrilled through the success of your students.

Be prepared to go with the flow of the class. You come prepared – but you are also prepared to deviate from your prepared material to go where the class needs to go. Be flexible. If you have scheduled to teach a particular turn but you notice that a basic concept in turning is missing or needs work – set aside your schedule – and teach that basic concept.

Never lose sight of the fact that without your students you would not be a teacher. The class centers around them – not you. Always ask “Does anyone have any questions”? and then WAIT for any questions – don’t just barrel ahead. Make yourself available for questions or any other issues.

Respect is not given – it is earned. You don’t have to be “remote” to be respected – your character will earn you the respect. Teaching is not about having knowledge – but about being able to transmit that knowledge. If you don’t create an atmosphere in which communication happens – you are not teaching. If you say “that’s wrong” – you are not conveying information. But if you say “Try this – it may help” – that’s a positive conveyance of information.

Don’t be afraid of laughter in the class. A grim atmosphere is just that it doesn’t add to learning. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be fun fun fun – just positive and open. When I heard one of my young students say to a newcomer: “We laugh a lot but we work hard”…..I was so happy! I really dislike grim, overbearing, negative teaching.

I hope I’ve said something hear that helps. I also hope that you find teaching as wonderfully gratifying as I did.


Another question from a reader :

Message Body:
I’m wondering if you could ask your readers for any advice for a student who is unable to fully extend her knees? The cause is probably tight ligaments. She is already stretching the hamstrings and calves and and strengthening the quadriceps, but is there anything else she can do to aid in fully extending her knees (and stretch out the ligaments)?
Many thanks!

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

ballet shoesLigaments connect bone to bone (in a joint) and are not meant to stretch to any degree – not like tendons (which connect muscle to bone), or like muscles. A ligament receives comparatively less blook supply and once it is stretched it tends to tear and may need medical attention.

Everyone’s knees are totally individual. Some knees are hyper-extended – some are straight – and some look like they are bent when in fact they are as straight as they are going to get. In other words because a knee may look like its not straight – it may be as straight as it is going to get based on its innate construction.

If you line people up facing the mirror standing in their best (but not forced) first position you will see that some knees touch whilst the heels are still apart, some knees touch as well as the heels, and some knees are far apart whilst the heels are touching. This last is the construction in which the knees are never going to look straight – even though they are as straight as possible for that student.

You can’t remake the shape of bones or how joints fit together. At some point you have to realize what is your optimum and work with that.

It may be of some comfort to know that whilst the bowed knee is not as attractive it is a strong construction. A hyper-extended knee is a weaker construction. The truly straight knee (heels and knees touch in first position) is attractive and normatively strong.

I have heard of people (teachers, parents, students) doing horrific things to their child’s knees in order to get them to fit into the ballet mold. I would never recommend anything like that. You have to deal with the cards nature dealt you – you can only change it on the edges.

May Loong

Peter Martins teaching ABT class

Peter Martins teaching ABT class

Just to add two cents’ or pennies’ worth to the advice given on page 2 about soft tissue injuries and pain medication …… (credentials : medical degree, University of London, on General Medical Council Register if anyone wants to check). Soft tissue injuries take a long time to heal because blood supply to tendons, ligaments and cartilage is not as great as bones or muscles. If a dancer or dance student needs to continue some kind of exercise (even pilates counts as exercise, i’m afraid) while injured – and they should to maintain fitness, but gentle exercise only! – it is better (indeed, mandatory) that they go to a registered physiotherapist rather than taking painkillers (including acupuncture). The physiotherapist can help locate the extent of injury, ultrasound treatment is often beneficial (but not curative, nothing is curative except rest) and tell you which exercises you can do or continue with and what to avoid. Seek physiotherapy treatment immediately rather than waiting a few weeks on a waiting list or until “I have free space in my schedule”. Plus, as many dancers often have a high pain threshold, taking painkillers may be overdoing it. Of course, if the injury is so severe (eg muscles in spasm) that a physiotherapist and a doctor recommend painkillers, then that is advisable.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Another thing I would add specifically as concerns dancers. As May says “nothing is curative except rest” – and that should extend to the period after the pain has stopped. The injury is still healing after the pain has stopped. So, when the pain stops don’t rush out and start dancing/exercising again. The road back has to be slow and careful because it is entirely possible that a soft tissue injury can occur again. Actually, this is true of a bone break too.

Generally speaking a bone break like the 5th metatarsal of the foot (little toe) takes six weeks to heal (cast comes off – I have personal experience here ) but then its six more weeks until the new calcium is hardened. So, though you may walk on it – no rising onto half toe, no jumping, no spinning, etc. The pain stopped long long ago – but care must still be taken. How much more so with a soft tissue injury!

Anita Zwart

@ Sheila thanks for your advice, it seems i too also suffer from facebook fails as ive only just thought to check back, never received any notifications. I had my first class last monday and ended up throwing most of my lesson plan away due to the students were at different levels to expected. but i really enjoyed it. I like teaching and i would love to make a career of it.
just a thought on credentials by reading a persons advise you can tell how valuable it is anyway, and then it is reinforced by agreement of others. I personally have not found any problems with Sheila’s advise and it does speak for itself. so far all her advise (and theres alot of it) has been bang on. if i disagreed you would know (im very outspoken like that).

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Good for you, Anita. Willingness to throw your lesson plan away is an indication of your flexibility as a teacher. That is a very important component to teaching.

Sometimes, too, the lesson plan we put together on Wednesday for a Thurs class – come Thurs we are not in the mood to do. It’s also important to go with the mood of the class and yourself. Sometimes it’s a time for details, details, details, and other times its good to flow with the go (that’s not a typo). Sometimes the students are particularly tired (maybe final exams in other subjects) and other times everyone seems to be in an up curve.

Classes that occur after a holiday period have to take that into account. A class on Monday after Sunday off – has to reflect that. A class after a series of performances or taking over from another teacher – so many different components to creating a class.

It’s also important not to bore yourself. There was a time when I taught 5 classes in a row. I could have easily given the same class to each group (with minor modificcations) – but heck- that would bore me! Not good. The class rides on the teacher’s energy and a bored teacher transmits that boredom.
A lesson plan is good – but it’s just writing on a piece of paper – or an image in your mind. And remember to vary the music – always.

Lots of luck, Anita.

Anita Zwart

Any tips for teaching ballet to a class of 3-5yr olds? Currently ive got planed things like pointing and flexing feet while sitting of floor, a port-de-bra while sitting on floor, plies in 1st and second, tendus to front and side, skips, gallops, stalk walks, sautes, classical walks, and a little really simple dance at the end. Is there anything in particular you think is essential to teach at that age? Do you think its too ballet focused, and i should be doing more free creative type things? Also and tips for keeping them focused but having fun?

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

I think it is important to connect what they do to music. True ballet at this age is not important. No emphasis on turnout – body is too soft. You will find, I believe, that at this age they are still learning to connect to a group identity. Such as…when you say “everyone come over here, please,” many of them don’t see themselves as included in “everyone.” You will have to call them by name – so you can work on that connection: “we” “us” “everyone” means “me.”

Anything like skipping, running, clapping, walking to music is great. This is working to connect movemnt to music – don’t be concerned with “correct” movement. That comes later. You can work on parts of the body – they are still learning what the body consists of and how it moves. These are my toes, this is my foot, this is my heel, this is my ankle, etc.

I do think it is good to keep the movement free from much structure such as ballet. Explore the parts of the room: barre, center, corners, walking on diagonals, circles, make a square. Connect movemnt to things they know: imitate a clothes washing machine going round and round – back and forth. Explore direction – front/back/side/side. Make shapes with arms – explore head movements. Never never correct negatively – always correct positively. Class should end on a happy note. If someone is doing something wrong – don’t call them out by name – just go over and correct it without calling attention to it.

Practice falling down – so they know falling down is ok. When you compliment don’t compliment the child – compliment the action. While looking at Suzy: “I like the way you are skipping” rather than “Suzy skips so well.” If a child is missbehaving – take her/his hand in yours without saying anything and hold the hand for a while and see if that works.

Keep changing the pace of the activity – slow/quick/slow/quick. Engage all the senses: seeing/hearing/tactile. If something doesn’t work be prepared to abandon it. When they stand in line always switch who gets to stand in front. When you speak to one particular child, try to get on that child’s level – rather than towering over him/her.

If you see a picture of a fun dancer – like a clown – or dressed like an animal – or a ballerina or male dancer- make up copies and give them to the children to take home. They love to take things home to show mom and even put up in their bedroom.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes -its ok. If they see you make mistakes then they will feel better about their mistakes. At this age there really is no right and no wrong. They are just there to have a fun experience moving to music and being part of a group. If you see they need a rest – sit them down and talk for a few minutes. They usually have lots of things to say.

Hope this helps – let me know. Enjoy yourself.

May Loong

Sounds fun – wish I could join in!

dancersI started ballet too late to remember a class like this, and am not a teacher like Sheila, but I always remember that anything that was nice at that age was a teacher who was kind, easy going, had her eye on everyone in the class but was not fierce, strict or inconsistent. And for some reason – I didn’t like teachers who talked down to us/patronised us and made us out to be too “little”. Be fun, friendly and always enthusiastic, but children appreciated being taught the right thing and not being talked down to. admittedly, this occurred only when I was about 10 or 11, but our teacher had to be away for about 2 or 3 classes and hired a temporary one from England who had all the shiny qualifications, incl RAD, and everything, but she talked down to us, had a fake “fun” manner, and remarked that I was answering too many of her questions but the rest of the class didn’t, which we all didn’t take kindly to(!!) and really didn’t teach as much as our own teacher did. Not a good impression.

Most of all, enjoy it and enjoy having them there. And I agree with Sheila about praising the action “I like the way you are skipping” or “Nice skipping, Suzy” . That way all children feel they can do well in anything, and aren’t just labelled as a good skipper, good jumper or worse still, nothing.

Anita Zwart

tiny dancersThanks, youve both given me lots to think about, and some ideas for new exercises and maybe a few of my current ones should be put away for in a year or so’s time. Im quite excited but at the same time quite nervous. I had friends from school who went to one ballet lesson and really disliked the teacher or were scared of them and flat out refused to go back. I really want to make sure my kids have fun but learn something too. I like the idea of focusing on teaching them musicality, and movement to music rather than technique. How would you practice falling down?

May Loong

Yes, I agree teaching them to respond to music and to move to it is more important than technique at that age. I know so many fellow students who had the physique and could do the technical tricks but somehow left you cold when they got up and performed because they didn’t dance. They were doing steps but not dancing.

I strongly believe all children have it in them to be musical and to enjoy movement and to move well, if they have the right teaching… whether they can execute tricky steps when older is another matter. But I do think that if they’ve been given a chance to express themselves and taught how to enjoy moving, they’ll enjoy ballet in future. I liked all your ideas; I think you’ve got plenty of stuff to put together some really enjoyable classes. As for practising falling – you’ll have to ask Sheila that one! I only ever learnt how to “salvage” bad turns or jumps, haha.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Several things – let’s take them one at a time.

Don’t worry about the kids learning something – just moving as a group is learning something. And, I know you will be a kind, caring and giving teacher.

You can practice falling down by putting both hands out in front and control the slow fall onto those hands. Remember – the little kids are much closer to the floor than you are – so its not as scarry. You can also have them squat and ease down into a sitting position. They can pretend they are a Raggedy Ann doll and go limp.If you have access to a floor mat so much the better.

I’m not sure I’d put 3 yrs old in the same class with 5 yrs old. Maybe 3-4 or 4-5. Remember when you will little how huge an older child was – even only one yr older? When I was in kindergarten I thought the first graders were huge.

ballet dancersWe compliment the action rather than the child because direct compliments make us squirmy. If someone says to you “Anita – you are so smart!” While that makes you happy it also makes you a bit uncomfortable. We think we want to stand out of the crowd but we really don’t especially when the crowd is standing right alongside of us. So, it’s better to call attention to the action. This is of course true of a criticism such as: “Tommy, it’s time to march now” rather than “”Tommy, you are running which is wrong.”

When you have a child who missbehaves try to elicit that child’s help. Maybe (depending on the circumstances) not immediately – but a bit later – ask that child to help you. Very quietly, get to the child’s level and say “I could use some help – I would like you to please check to make sure that everyone’s shoe laces arent’ loose? And if you see some that are would you please tell me?” Or – any other task you can think of. Children LOVE to help and this willl give the child a stake in the class and let the child know that you are not angry and he/she has a wonderful opportunity to re-integrate into the class.

You can use this in other ways too. I had a darling little girl who “forgot” to go to the bathroom on time and had an “accident.” She was so embarrassed she ran from the room. I told her she could watch the class from the hall door if she didn’t want to come in. After mom got her cleaned up, she stood there a while and then I quietly told her that I needed her help and offered her my hand (I didn’t ask her – I told her). Holding my hand I asked her to please count how many kids were in the room so I could write it down. She was thrilled and this gave her a chance to re-integrate into the class.

Make sure everyone gets to stand in front – everyone gets to be first. If they break into grooups or do something two by two – don’t let them chose who it is goes with them. Just the next two in line. This will keep cliques from forming.

If someoone makes a mistake and there is laughter – tell them – “we don’t laugh at other people – we try to help them – everyone needs to try. Everyone is working hard and that’s a good thing.” MOst kids like to be kind and fair.

My guess is you’ll have more problems with the moms than the kids. Which reminds me – set down rules for moms. Just having them watch distracts the kids – so set up an observation day.

Well – I did get carried away again. 🙂

Anita Zwart

Thanks so much for your insight, It really is a huge help


Hope you’ll let us know how you’re getting on, Anita. You too might have some interesting insights for others….

Anita Zwart

ballet tutusOk so the class was on Saturday morning and i think it went relatively well, but theres room for lots of improvement too. I had 8 kids, 1 wasnt really interested, I tried to get her to join in but she was very out spoken and I dont think she really wanted to learn to dance. I have a feeling i wont see her again as her dad said they wanted to try a class and see if she liked it. Some joined in for awhile and then went back to mums knee and would sometimes join in.I think they were shy but I was wondering if you had any tips for getting them more involved. I was thinking of buying some squares of material and getting them to dance with them, then take them home to decorate with sequins, beads/anything else they might like. do you think that would help them feel more involved and get them out of their shell? something i found really worked well was the exercises that involved skipping around the room or one i did that involved them running to centre and out again then holding hands in a circle in the centre and curuing in a circle. i think they liked working together like that so was wondering if anyone might have any ideas for simple steps that i could incorporate into something jumpy or moving or something similar?

Sheila you said not to let the mums watch but i decided to let them in the first class, because some seemed very timid. There is also the issue that the hall doesnt have any windows they could watch from or anywhere nearby they could sit and wait, i thought for the first class atleast they should be able to see what i am doing with their children. In your experience does removing the parents help the kids to come out of their shell?

Ironically i thought the younger ones would be the ones to misbehave but it was the older ones who were harder to keep inline. I think they had shorter attention spans.

I think thats everything, that class really showed me how much i still have to learn. Id learnt to teach older kids but teaching young kids really is a whole different kettle of fish.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Every age group presents its own problems. It does not work to have the mothers in the classroom. It just doesn’t. The kids will always focus more on mom and you or the class. They get to observe – maybe once a month for half the class.

The older kids have more ideas of what to do other than what you want them to do so they are a challenge – but then the little ones are shyer. That’s why I wouldn’t mix 5 yrs old with 3 yrs old. Those two yrs make a huge difference.

You might also teach them very simple mime as you make up a story. Children already use a lot of mime.

As for giving them a piece of cloth to decorate at home – I bet that half will lose it or forget it. Keep your equipment with you unless you don’t ever want to see it again.

Simple steps: slide on one foot forward and hop: chasé coupé. Take one foot and point to the side with the heel, then the toe and take two steps to the side. Walk around like an elephant, or a cow with horns, or be a bird – slow flaps – fast flaps. Be a windmill with the arms matching on either side of the body. Be a frog. Be a snail. Or a butterfly.

Generally speaking the class usually breaks up into thirds: one third has no interest at all, one third is sort of interested and one third likes it.

May Loong

Well done for being brave enough to pull it off! 😉

I agree with Sheila – 5 years old very different from 3 years old. It’s like trying to combine a class of 15 year olds with 9 year olds – that’s the difference in mentality between the two ages.

I think the problem with the decorating is that it will feel a lot like homework – and the mums will end up doing it, and feel a bit resentful maybe “I thought the class was supposed to be fun and stimulating for her, not create work for me”. But props like ribbons might be popular, perhaps. (I presume this is a girls’ only class?) I also agree the props need to be kept with you.

What about telling them sections of a ballet’s story, eg the Nutcracker toy soldiers’ march, ….you can mime actions and get them to march. Or Sleeping Beauty’s 16th birthday and the Flower Waltz – they could pretend to be flowers blossoming. I remember buying a book retelling the Nutcracker story appropriate to 3 – 5 year olds that came with a device that played excerpts of the score in tandem with the story (a gift to a friend’s 4 year old daughter, and she said the music was very popular with her child).

I suppose at that age you just want the class to keep going whether or not some children object or say things loudly “those steps are funny!!! Hee hee!”. Also, some kids at that age may appear not to enjoy it – not participate, complain loudly or refuse to do certain steps, but they could well be the kids who go home and talk nonstop about the class and proclaim they loved it. It has happened quite a few times in my experience!

Let us know how the next few turn out!


Well done Anita. You’ve picked such a difficult age to teach ! I’m pretty sure most teachers would agree that older children are easier to teach than youngsters.

Absolutely I agree with Sheila that the parents should be banished! I have not one single iota of experience teaching, but I do know from my research into ballet schools and how they work that the majority simply do not allow the parents in, except for maybe part of a class once in a while.

And mixing up the ages ? Whose idea was that ? I think that makes your job much harder still.

Don’t beat yourself up if some of the kids don’t come back – teaching styles are so personal and you need to be you! Remember, to teach is to touch a life !

I hope you’ll keep us posted, if only so that we can give you moral support as you learn the best way through this….

I’d also add that from a parents perspective, when looking for a ballet school I have found that the more serious ones expect not to be allowed into a class – they accept that the teachers simply will not allow it in order for the children to focus.

It’s not your problem if there isn’t room for the parents to wait – that’s not at all uncommon and it’s not the function of the ballet class to make room for parents. Again, they shouldn’t expect this and you shouldn’t worry about it.

At the end of the day it’s your reputation that you are forming, and I’d stick with the rule of keeping the parents away and my research seems to indicate that you’ll be taken more seriously. Of course, at a very young age ‘serious teaching’ is probably not what’s on their minds, but you’ll still be giving them a great grounding for what’s to come later, if they stick at it. The other teachers will thank you !!

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

ballet dancersThere are some schools which have purposely made it inconvenient for parents to stick around. Some of the mothers use the time to go out for coffee/tea.

You must not assume that if a child doesn’t come back that its your fault. Sometimes a child just doesn’t like it (doesn’t matter who the teacher is) or other circumstances change in the family.

I had a mother once come and enroll herself and three daughters for an entire semester of classes and in addition paid for all their recital costumes – all in cash. It came to several hundreds of dollars. After two classes they never returned. I knew they all loved ballet because they had all danced for several years in another city – so I assumed it was me they didn’t like. I tried to call – left a message – but they never called back. Several years later I happened to see the mother in a store and she told me they were in a terrible car accident and that was why they didn’t come back – all their time and energy went into recovering.

Another time I had a little girl who just loved ballet class suddenly not come back – turns out her parents were in a very angry divorce and the child was moved out of state.

You never know.

May Loong

All the good ballet schools I know of – including my own – never had room for parents to wait. And certainly didn’t involve parents staying, regardless of age. It’s like nursery school/pre k/kindergarten which has pupils the same age. Parents don’t get involved either – the only time they may be to come in if they are coming for a quick guided tour to see if they wish to enrol their children. The other thing, Anita, is that 8 to 10 sounds about the right number maximum if you are taking the class on your own. Only because at that age they may have little issues with things like needing to go to the toilet halfway through the class – things unique to that age – unless you have an assistant (or someone doing admin?) who can do that for you.

I am guessing that when the mums/parents are gone, the timid ones will actually come out of their shell because they are not so conscious of grown ups watching! Also, the more lively ones will behave better because they are now surrounded by their peers rather than their mums – it is that familiar scenario where a child moans, is shy, or clingy when their mums drop them off at kindergarten – the moment the door shuts behind mummy, the child runs off to join the fun and is cooperative and enthusiastic. (yes, on very rare occasions the odd one is in tears but that is usually to do with some underlying issue like being forced to attend when they don’t want to at all, or some issue which has nothing to do with the class. They usually feel happier and settle down when they are told that they can sit and watch, maybe look at a toy or a ballet book – have one or two of these in your props box!)

Anita Zwart

Wow, lots of posts since i last checked.
May, i liked your story idea and the RNZB is performing Sleeping beauty here in a few months so i was thinking i could draw on that as a theme. Also its a pretty well known story as well. some kids seem to get a little tierd half way through the class (not to mention me too) to i was thinking we could sit down, take a rest while i read them the story. and then get the girls to pretend to be fairies. am trying to locate some twinkly fairy like music for this. and then i thought id use what you suggested Sheila and give them a picture of a fairy from the ballet to take home.
The 3 yr olds i have are verging on 4 in a few months and i only have 1 5 yr old, while i would love 2 split the class its just not practical at this stage.
As for the matter of the parents i feel i should tell you a bit about my experiences:
My home town is pretty isolated from other cities (3 hrs drive to nearest place big enough to have a theatre), so i dont know what was common in studio protocol outside of my city, but at my school parents were allowed to watch. I was a little ratbag and in my case my mum had to always be there, because otherwise i wouldnt listen to the teacher. i knew if mum was there and she saw me misbehaving i would hear about it later. ( I was the kid who during my first exam, pointed out the cars i could see through the window to the examiner). I dont think we ever had any problems with parents there, but i was young and so my memory isnt amazing. mum was at all my grade classes untill i got my licence at 15 and drove myself to class, but right up untill i left school (17, i left to go 2 uni) mum was always at my private classes (where i was taught my stage dances). so that is sort of where i look to to get my model of a dance studio. in saying that when i was 15 we put on a production of sleeping beauty, i was the rose fairy and each of us fairies had a hoard of ‘mini-fairies’ for 1 scene, (it was an adaptation) they were the youngest kids in the school (about 3-6ish). when we rehearsed with the littlelies some mothers were busy bodies, getting in the midst of the kids trying to direct them and tell them where to go. so having the parents there was definitely not good at that time.
Anyway, this week i am kicking the parents out. (not literally) and i shall see how that goes. I have talked to some parents about it so far and they were ok with it so heres hoping no issues with any parent determined to stay.
and Thanks for all your input guys, It really is alot of help. I think im learning more than the kids are.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

A good teacher always learns from her students.

May Loong

They always say that and it’s so true – whatever the topic, you always learn so much more when you teach!

I think your account of school life will take most of us by surprise! :-O (but not in a bad way,just unusual). I guess most of us are used to big towns where you expect to go to school with a fairly big class and not have mum about. But if you are in a small community then it is probably also not practical to do a school run where mum(or dad) drives you to school, drops you off, then drives all the way back again to pick you up. And if distances are far, I guess it is not practical to have school bus? Is it something like 20 minutes’ drive between each pupil’s home? – whereas in most countries you are talking about maybe 5 minutes’ drive or maybe 10minutes. I don’t ask to pry, but just to clarify how isolated your area is, so we just have to comprehend that having parents around is something that everyone is used to. Doesn’t sound like they interfered with you lesson though. (As long as the poor parents have somewhere nearby to sit down and have tea/coffee, if there are not near enough to drive off and do an errand!)
Yes, parents getting involved during rehearsal is definitely a no-no, they must disappear!
Just to let you know the book I bought was The Nutcracker by Helbrough and Luraschi, published by Usborne. It was very useful because you could press and play the key theme tunes after each scene. You don’t have to buy that, but just to give you an idea of what things you can cover – and that age group LOVES having stories read out to them. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a musical version of Sleeping Beauty as it is well known as a fairy tale in its own right.
Well, some nursery classes in Britain are a bit like yours – 3plus and 4 taught together, and a 5 year old or two in the same group (usually the 5 year old would get their own, more advanced lessons, but they would do crafts and playtime together). This might occur in a setting where the parent has a 3 year old and a 5 year old but can’t get both to two separate schools (they might be too far) and opt to continue educating them in the same setting… seems to work reasonably well though it is not common, so no reason why it shouldn’t work for your class too. After all, when I started ballet, my class had pupils ranging from 7 to 10 and we were all beginners.
This is a great discussion and thanks for sharing your plans, experiences and ideas. Wishing you every success, Anita!

Anita Zwart

Hi, my city is isolated in the fact that we dont get a lot of contact with other cities. For us i was a big deal and a huge trip to go 2 another city, though i know in other countries going to a different city for a day trip is no big deal. for me 2 my dance studio it was about 10 mins drive, but i was close. others travelled about 20mins, some more if they lived in rural townships or on the other side of town. its not a big city but it is spread out. with 3 rivers winding through it that had to be navigated. There arent alot of bridges. the 5 year old is actually the sister of one of the 3 years olds. When i started ballet i was 4 and there were 6 of us. everyone else in my class was 5 going on 6, but we started together so i never noticed an age difference.

May Loong

I guess 10 to 20 min is not so far. I can imagine driving all the way around a river just to get to the other side, lol…… some parts of my old hometown used to be like that, now it’s big highways and expressways – but also way too many car owners!!

Do you remember any fun aspects from your own ballet class? You could incorporate those into your own classes. Small classes for very young ages is probably ideal. I suppose unless there is a class for 5-6 year olds available, then the 5 year old is best off in her sister’s class. Although I know siblings often learn more if they are in different classes (and are better behaved! ).


Anita – just a thought. Have you asked your Mum about her feelings when she took you to all your classes ? I’m guessing that she wanted to do it – but presumably she mingled with other mums and might be able to offer you some guidance ?

I’d say 20 minutes is really nothing, travel wise. In London, for example, you could spend 20 minutes going absolutely nowhere. I’d prefer to be driving in the countryside over and around rivers where I was at least on the move all the time and knew approx what time I’d arrive. I was expecting you to say it was an hour or more from anywhere.

I still think shooooing the parents away, whether or not they have somewhere nearby to go, is the right thing to do. You can blaze a trail! It’s good to feel that moving around the city and into others is easy – I understand it might not be the norm where you are but you can be the start of that change – you’ve already travelled significantly and it’s done you nothing but favours. Surely the kids you teach now will have to travel later on to study or get jobs ? And for the parents I really don’t think 20 minutes is a big deal.

Doing something with RNZB is inspired – they are a very helpful company. Why not make contact with them and see if they have things you might be able to use, either as props or some other visual aid for your children. On the other hand, your kids are too young to know anything about the company, but one day maybe you could take them, not to a show but backstage ? Tour the fairy wings or something ? Travel + something authentic ? Just a thought.

Anita Zwart

My mum had taken my 2 sisters to ballet classes before i did, I was actually present at most of their classes as a child, copying them in the corner etc. I kept nagging mum 2 let me dance. I remember them often talking before classes maybe about a group costume someone was sewing or the upcoming competitions. but i will definately ask. the class is currently an hr long, so if a parent travels 20 mins 2 the class, 20 mins back home, theyve barely had time to sit down and have a coffee or something before they have 2 leave again. however there is a small village down the road with a supermarket and cafe and a bookshop etc, so maybe theyl kill some time there. eitherway im focussing on the kids.
my hope with the RNZB is that maybe some of the parents will take their kids. il bet most of them have never seen a ballet performance before. I think maybe theyre a bit young for backstage, wouldnt appreciate it as much, but when theyre a bit older i could consider it.

Hey guys just thought id let you know that this weeks class went much better. am definitely keeping parents out from now on

May Loong

Great to hear it’s going well! Won’t be surprised if some parents (or all!) secretly welcome the chance to sit down for a coffee, read the newspaper (or watch the rugby!!!!!!!) and some peace and quiet! Haha.

Sheila Vernick Orysiek

Good for you Anita!


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

37 Responses to The Ballet News Ballet Clinic

  1. gabs October 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    I have been doin a lot of ballet latley,
    and my knee is really starting to hurt; it happens at least twice a day.
    I have Huge hyper extensions would that have anything to do with it and should i go see a physio?

    • May October 11, 2011 at 10:51 am #

      Sensible plan – yes, do book an appointment with the physio. If you are also aged between 16 to 30 and female, I would advise you to see your GP or family doctor once to have a medical examination, just in case it turns out to be a medical condition that has just flared up coincidentally, at the same time as your ballet practice. I’d advise you to try to get an appointment with both this week(see my previous comment/post about injuries).

  2. Anita Zwart October 11, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    a physio would be a good person to see, especially if its a issue of not technically correctly engaging your muscles. always remember to pull up your knees, dont lock them. i have the same problem of hyper extension. my dance teacher used to always say you need to make your knees ‘smile’ and depending on your knee shape most people will see a little simling mouth-shape show up when your knees are pulled up, my advise, stand in front of a mirror and try using different muscles watch and when you get the right muscle your knee cap will lift up a few centimeters. one you have it let it go and try get it again, keep practicing and strengthen those muscles. then try to do it while dancing. just like learning to turn out eventually it will become second nature. if you have trouble finding the muscle or find that doesnt help or feel that you need a professional opinion or face to face time a physio would be the best person to see, they can give you exercises to strengthen the muscles etc. your dance teacher should also know a bit about this though not in the same depth as a physio. there could also be other issues behind the pain. remember to look after your body, pain is your bodys warning system. never ignore it, unless its phantom pain (very rare) its letting you know somethings not right and as a dancer you need to look after your body, regardless of if you plan to go pro or not. we all only get one body, and you cant undo damage. hope that helps

  3. Victoria Allport October 11, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    This clinic is wonderful, I love the advise on teaching the little ones and am happy to see my methods of teaching are much the same as the other teachers giving advise, it is about movement, grouping , spacial awareness and a sense of musicality at the age of 3-4 and most definitly keep parents out, they are a massive distraction, telling the children we are practising for the day mum comes to watch really helps too !
    on GM shoes I my self tried a pair on put felt no support and don’t believe this shoe does all the work for you but rather you need to have a really strong foot and preferably years of training en pointe already,as I hadn’t danced en pointe I found my foot was weak and we not feeling secure in the shoe, my daughter bought some before her Advanced exam and her feet looked beautiful ….in a degage, as the shoe is already sort of broken in, but as she had been away some years from dancing en pointe her feet were not as strong as they should have been and she felt the same, she ended up wearing my Sansha’s for the exam as she felt more support. To dance in GM’s you need to be able to control your foot have the strength throughout, then I agree you have a shoe that will last quite some time !
    Congrats on a super article and I will be referring to it from now on !!

  4. May October 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Gabs – didn’t get a chance to answer your other query earlier. You say you have hyper-extensions; yes, that is associated with more aches and pains around joints and ligaments than people who are less flexible. But because it is only in one knee and the pain is happening often, it is important to be certain it is not an injury or a medical condition. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what it’s most likely to be without seeing you in person! – but a physio and a family doctor/general practitioner will help solve the mystery. Do let us know how you get on – more for our reassurance! Hope it gets better soon; don’t delay getting professional treatment.

    • gabs October 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

      thanks heaps that was really helpful,
      my mums booking a physio appointment for this week
      ill tell you how it goes

  5. gabs October 12, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Hi i have been told to have my feet touching the ground by the end of this year,
    but have not been told stertches to point my feet that weel what can i do?

  6. May October 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Hello Gabs, glad to hear you are getting some professional medical attention. I am a bit confused by today’s post….what do you mean? You might have to describe what position you are sitting or standing in and where the feet are, with regards to what your teacher has asked you to do.

    I also need to ask (since you have mentioned your mum -which I’m glad you did) – are you aged under 15? (please don’t put your exact age here, just say yes or no). Only because a dance teacher (I am not one; I only studied ballet for many years) and doctor would have different advice for a child, a preteen, a teen and an adult over 20. If you are under 15 and you have pain in one knee, I would strongly advise that you see a paediatrician and not only just a physio – if you live in Britain and Australasia (no need to tell us where you live) you can get a referral via your GP – or ask to see a GP who has treated lots of children in the practice. If you live in the USA I believe you can book an appointment with a paediatrician directly (ie a parent can). Only because pain in a young person’s knee could be a whole list of other conditions that an adult would not have.

  7. Anita Zwart October 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Gabs, if your talking about legs straight out, pointing your feet and having your toes touching the ground, i have to wonder about the credibility of your teacher if shes demanding you do such a thing. firstly i dont know anyone who can do that. secondly i imaginge you would have to be a contortionist to do that it. while she may want you to point your feet more, thats is a muscluar thing. in your foot are many small bones and ligaments, and a few small muscles. you dont stretch your feet, if your try, all you will do is stretch ligaments and damage them irreparably. if you are looking to improve your point i recomend getting a theraband and putting it over the ball of your foot and holding it in your hands. then point your foot slowly thinking of going through every metatarsal. say 10-20 reps a day on each foot and you will improve your foot strength, but remember you are using the resistance of the theraband to work your muscles you are not stretching them. note the discussion above about everybody being different with different limits etc. if your teacher is demanding you do something impossible for your body, by a certain date or you are kicked out, i recommend finding a new teacher.

  8. gabs October 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    when i said touching my feet on the ground i ment streching my legs out on the floor,
    sitting up straight and pointing my feet they have to touch the ground

  9. Ballet News October 12, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    Gabs – would you mind telling me who this teacher is please ? you can send me a comment which I won’t publish, so as to keep your location private, but I would appreciate it if you could let me know their name, the school and location. Otherwise you can use the ‘contact me’ button at the top and send the info that way. Thank you.

  10. Sheila Vernick Orysiek October 13, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    That sounds much too contorted. Actually – bizarre, if I’m understanding you correctly.

  11. Anita Zwart October 13, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Gabs, you mean like this? at about 1min 30
    note how the girl in this video says shes never met anyone else who can do that. she seems to naturally have a pretty flexible body.
    im my opinion that is the wrong place to put emphasis. normaly as far as i have seen in people i know and myself is toes about an inch off the ground. demanding you do this is wrong. apparently its possible to do, i did not know that. personally i dont like the look of it, and getting your feet to point that much helps in no way, especially when you get onto pointe work it will push you too far over your box. i think you need to seriously question whether your teacher is worth paying to teach you. if my daughter came home saying what you are saying i would change dance schools. you dont have to change but i think you need to stand up to your teacher and tell her you will work on strengthening your feet but that they are fine how they are. I danced in intensive programs and the New Zealand School of Dance over 7 years, and never knew anyone who could do that, no teacher ever told anyone i knew that they should be able to do that.

  12. Anita Zwart October 13, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    ok wel i had a huge long comment that seems to have disappeared, probably because of my flakey internet
    but if your mean like this at about 1:30
    if my (theoratical) daughter came home saying that her teacher said she had to do that by a certain date i would change dance schools. its an odd place to put emphasis and i really dont think it looks very nice at all. i did Intensive workshops at New Zealand School of Dance fro 7 years and i never heard of anyone being able to do that or being told to do that. note the girl in the video is naturally flexible like that. i think that pushing to get there will be damaging. i think you need to stand up to your teacher and say that you will continue to strengthen your feet but that you will not push your feet past their natural limits. if she kicks up a fuss about it i would seriously consider changing schools. there are so many other areas you could focus on improving that would have a greater aesthetic change on your dancing.

  13. Sheila Vernick Orysiek October 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Anything that is extreme should be avoided. Ballet is not about huge pointed feet, huge flexibility, legs extended by the ear, perfect splits, multiple rotations, endless balances, etc.

    It’s about dancing.

  14. May October 15, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    Gabs – I do recommend that you see a doctor in that case. Your GP or family doctor as a first port of call would be a good idea. And make sure that he or she is told you are studying ballet.

    I suspected that was what you meant when you described your feet touching the floor. It sounds like bad advice. It’s one thing to ask you to point your toes towards the floor, another thing to ask you to try to touch the floor with your toes. Even though I’m not a professional ballet teacher, I don’t know (from reading and my own experience of being coached and having masterclasses) what asking someone to achieve that circus trick would achieve and it certainly isn’t a safe goal for your joints. The safest exercises to improve your arches are repeated battements, pure and simple, especially at a young age. Repeated a lot but with attention to executing them – both slowly and quickly.

    Not all female principal dancers have over arched feet either – the eminent Maria Alexandrova (Bolshoi) and Miyako Yoshida (Royal) for starters, and I don’t think anyone ever got promoted on the sole basis of their foot arches or insteps. At a young age, it’s more crucial that you develop control and finesse in the execution of your steps rather than trying to make your body freakishly over extended or feet overarched. With time, even in your teens, flexibility and arches can increase but if they don’t that doesn’t make you a less accomplished dancer. Unlike gymnasts, you also have to jump and turn on the balls of your feet as well as on pointe – and feet that have been only trained to arch and aren’t strong enough isn’t going to be helpful to you either. I’m sure the trained dance teachers will be along to offer the definitive advice on arches and so on, but just from a health point of view I wanted to say that the overemphasis nowadays on freakishly over extended legs (splits wider than 180 degrees and so on) and over arched insteps and feet aren’t creating better technique – just more injury-prone ballet dancers.

  15. May October 15, 2011 at 3:50 am #

    Oops – typo: (line 5 from the bottom)….I meant to say – turn on the balls of your feet, turn en pointe, and little jumps on pointe.

  16. May October 15, 2011 at 4:11 am #

    (I agree with Anita Zwart’s post on 13 Oct 4.28am). PS I’d never discourage a dancer with naturally flexible and extendable feet and joints to stop what they are doing – physiologically and medically one could say they are actually body abnormalities (or perhaps anomalies, to put it kindly) that have been exploited by ballet to look desirable. But students who are hyperflexible have to work extra hard on their strength and prevent injury, as well as early arthritis, not always with success.

    If your feet are under-arched, that’s a different matter….I’d say (from personal experience of improving my own feet) go back to the battement tendus, especially in a la seconde (to the side) and focus on stretching your feet into point fully when you do them – make sure you’re balanced properly, well enough to lift the working foot off the floor a little (am trying to describe it without knowing how extended or arched your feet are in the first place!) I would steer clear of any teacher who asks a novice to try gymnastic or circus tricks with their feet. Even with coaches from Paris Opera Ballet or ABT who came to give guest classes, they were always more concerned about the way a step was danced rather than one’s physical gifts or anomalies. And if you look at dancers who are hyperextended and hyper arched- Svetlana Zakharova, Sylvie Guillem, Agnes Letestu – they didn’t get acclaim for their anomalies, but only when they started being able to perform with artistry and to execute the steps as well-polished performances, not isolated poses. (Granted, they achieved it sooner than many would, which is why they are stars. But they are not stars because of their arches and splits.)

  17. Anita Zwart October 16, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Just a thought on Gabs sore knees, i had really sore knees at about 13-15 and everybody, my teacher, doc and mum put it down 2 growing pains. i was given voltaren and sent on my way. it wasnt untill i was at a chiopactor and she said i had the weirdest spine shed ever seen (it was perfectly straight 4 a few vertebae in 3 places), and she asked if id ever jarred my body badly, that i realised my sore knees were probably due to an injury id received around 11-12yrs old. id quit competitive swimming one summer and i didnt go 2 the pools again untill the next summer, and in that 10 months id had a bit of a growth spurt. i jumped in expecting the pool 2 be deeper and failed to bend my knees 2 absorb the impact, thus it was absorbed only by the cartilage and tissues between my joints, and radiated all the way up my spine. anyway, the point of the story is think back, could you have done anything 2 injure it? even if it was a few years ago? my knees still give me problems and im getting pretty close 2 starting my 3rd decade. it may have been something you did and thought youd healed from and then something your doing in class is irritating it, or your increased dance load is bringing it out (my pain showed up once i started pointe work and extra classes etc) if you can think of anything take that 2 ur doc and physio, it will help them 2 help you.

  18. Ballet News October 16, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Regular readers will know that I always recommend a Chiropractor. If you can find one who treats the extremities (hands and feet) and who has gained other medical qualifications in related subjects, for example, nutrition; then you are well on your way to a healthy, strong body. I have found that the right Chiropractor can diagnose a wealth of problems that my GP would have struggled to, and negating the need for a barrage of lengthy tests is another bonus. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find the right Chiropractor ( just like finding the right GP). If you have a job where you rely on good posture and the right balance of strength and flexibility then a Chiropractor can help. Hand in hand, if you’ve had an injury you’d be well advised to seek deep tissue massage regularly in case the scar tissue is affecting your range of movement.

  19. Anita Zwart October 21, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    Hey guys
    I thought id update you with my class. my 4 week ‘introduction’ as i called it is now over. so im on to my Uni exams home for summer and then it all starts again this year. On the last class we had an observation day where the parents came and watched for the second half of class. that seemed to work pretty well. The kids were already involved before the parents came in so there was less distraction. i was careful not to call attention to the parents being there either. Ive learnt a few things too. I now make sure 2 ask all parents to ensure their child goes to the toilet before class. I discovered if they dont, one child needs to go, and the rest follow. Its rather time consuming to take 8 kids to the toilet. anyway im sorting classes for next year. ive had a few enquiries for next year. im going 2 split the classes by age yay! because now i have the numbers available to do 2 classes. Im wondering what you think is the maximum number of students for a class. space is not an issue, the hall I use is huge, but i dont want things to get out of hand. thoughts?

  20. Sheila Vernick Orysiek October 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    With very young children and without an aide to help you, I would say that 8 is ideal.

    You mentioned that the space you are using is huge. You might want to put “borders” on that space. Give the space a shape. I can remember having to take class (professional level) in a huge gym hall the size of two basketball courts. It was difficult because there were no borders – no walls to orient to – no diagonal of reasonable length. While your space might not be that large – it may be too large for small children to relate to. One of the things they need to learn is the difference between front/back/sides/diagonal/circle shapes and how they fit into those shapes.

    What kind of footwear and dress code do you have? I found both to be important. I do recall the mother who insisted that her child’s floppy bedroom slippers were as good as ballet slippers – while watching the child trip over the bedroom slippers. Or the mother who insisted that the child could dance just as well in a tight dress.

    I made ballet slippers mandatory – and properly fitted – like a hand to a glove – no “room at the toes” hanging over to grow into and trip over. Neat socks and clothes they could move in. No extra little ballerina tiaras, or jewelry, etc.

  21. Anita Zwart October 22, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    Thanks i was reading on the internet and some said 8, some said 12, one school even said 15. though i dont know if they had aides or not. i was just checking out the class size part.
    My policy is leotards and flat ballet shoes. however for new students who are just starting there is leniency and they may wear ‘form fitting moveable clothes and bare feet’. by the end of the 4 classes there was only 1 child still in bare feet, and they were all wearing leotards or those little ‘tutu’ costumes which are really just leotards and skirts. I have written out a page with details on what to buy where to get it, what is expected of parents and the students, class times etc, which i give out to new students. it is written on there that they are expected to obtain the correct gear in due course. I havent found jewelry a problem so far. the only ones ive seen are those silver ones that get put on when their babies and often dont get taken off, i had a few teenage friends with them and they couldnt come off cause theyd grown around them (i cant remember what theyre called and if you actually understood what i meant then wow).
    i found it was easier to write it all out and that way i didnt forget to tell parents anything, and they didnt forget it in amongst the information overload.
    the space is about the size of one basket ball court, so not quite that big. but i have been thinking about trying 2 define boundaries better. when we were in a line across the front of the room, they were dancing on the audiences laps. (this was on the observation day.) im thinking maybe a thin rope or something i can lay out on the ground to make the ‘stage’ boundaries

  22. gabs October 25, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    i think i must disagree with you most about it being bad as i have seen many dancers in major companys (on pointe) that have feet like the girl in the video (anita zwarts link) and i do go to the best ballet school in australia and i have very well trained proffesional teachers that have been in the paris operah bellet the russian ballet french ballet company etc… and i pay 7,000 dollars a year to go to this school and have been in ballets with the Australian Ballet (nutcracker 2010, and silver rose 2010.) and have fabulous training by fabulous teachers i understand your point of view and how it can be dangerous and your most likley right but i disagree on my teachers being bad because my parents sacrafice a lot for me to go here.
    I appreciate your help on this one but maybe your right in ways and wrong in others

    still thankyou very much for your answers xx

  23. gabs October 25, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    P.S I have been using a thera band to use my feet well and have managed to get alot of improvmet in my feet but still not touching the floor 🙁 either way i am happy in my improvmet 🙂 im sorry for being harsh in my last comment and i hope you did not take it the wrong way please keep commenting to my reports as i would love more of your help in the futre because previous help has been wonderful (like my knees)

    New problem i have been told that one of my shoulders is higher than the other would this be a problem or do i just need excersizes to even them up if so what would the problem be or what excersizes should i use thankyou all for your help

    xx gabs

  24. gabs October 25, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    i feel really supid for posting my comment a minute ago because the post i was talking about did not load on the website properly so diregard first half of first paragraph so sorry gabs xx

  25. gabs October 25, 2011 at 11:03 am #


  26. May October 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Haven’t been here for a bit but I first I have to recover after reading about the bedroom slippers……….Sheila, really???!! Then again, it’s so strange it must be true. I’ve never come across this before – in fact, it’s more the opposite, by the time the parents (mothers?) decide to commit to classes, it’s usually more of a job asking them to hold back on the tutu skirt, pink hairband, glittery princess crowns, and I thought they (or the child) all want pink ballet slippers with shiny satin ribbons. Or rather, they bring the child and wonder if they’ll be kitted out in the tutu and ballet slippers when they’ve finished the first class.

    (disclaimer : this comment should absolutely not be saved in website archives!!)

  27. May October 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Anita – lots of good things happening for your class! Well done on getting enough numbers to split the classes by age. I was just thinking about a mat rather than rope (sort of like the equivalent of using a red carpet!) Perhaps you could have a big mat/carpet/ removable rubbing flooring – you put the mat where the audience sits, and that’s your boundary, basically the children aren’t allowed to dance on the mat. Or if you find a really good piece of mat which is like a rubbery flooring that dance companies use on tour, the pupils could dance on that instead, and you can tell them not to step out of the mat. Visually and mentally might be better than rope on the floor, which someone could trip and fall on.

  28. May October 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Gabs – hello, how is your knee? Has it got better?

    Regarding arches and pointes – I think the issue is a bit of a grey area. Clearly there are dancers with very pronounced arches. For most, they are actually born with the ability to do it; I believe that’s what the girl in the youtube clip said – she hadn’t done ballet or gymnastics, they just turned out like that (I only caught snippets of it while doing chores so correct me if I missed it). But the fact is that it’s something you’re born with. The correct “party line” that teachers and doctors will tell you is not to force something you are not born with. Of course, the grey area is how do you tell if you’ve developed it anyway while doing normal stretches and exercises or whether you’ve forced it? Well, if you could do it, you will succeed at having those arches. In fact, for most dancers, it is actually a by-product of years of training – they don’t sit there and say “I’ll do an exercise every day that makes my feet end up like that” – they just end up being able to touch the floor because of the training they’ve done for barre, jumps, turns and pointe, etc.

    Of course all dancers nowadays want incredible arches like Guillem, Rojo and Zakharova – who won’t? It’s a natural thing to want. But you have to keep your body safe. Break the instrument through misuse, and you won’t even get to dance again (it’s happened to a few contemporaries of mine and in the theatre), let alone dance like Guillem and co.

    What are the possible injuries you could do by overstretching? -For starters: fractures, dislocations. Not always obvious at first, because the bones of your feet are small. But gradually – between 6 months to 3 years, you may notice that certain steps give you some pain. Or how you can’t do certain jumps as easily as you used to. Or multiple pirouettes are impossible without excruciating pain. Or why you appear to fall off certain turns or poses that your classmates don’t. And several years after that – walking with a limp, going onto pointe or an arabesque balance is excruciating, and the doctors and surgeons can’t do anything about it. Hyperflexible dancers are more likely to need several joint replacement surgeries in their professional lifetime too. In the past, dancers were supposed to smile and not complain, but nowadays dancers like Zakharova and Bussell are more open – both have admitted how their daily life while performing is racked with pain: Bussell admitted she couldn’t even pick up her own baby.

    If you are hyperflexible, the arches will come – but you need to work on your strength, especially in centre work. There was a 15 year old who joined my class when I was about 17, who had a brilliant physique – thin, elongated, hyperextended,with the exact arched feet that you’re looking for : when doing barre work, you could take photos of her that could go on the cover of Dance Magazine. But away from the barre, she was extremely weak – turns were difficult (couldn’t land on the spot), jumps were a problem, placement and epaulement all over the place. You’ve heard the comparison with colts – young horses with 4 long legs everywhere but no control over them, and it’s true. Ultimately, the girl with low arches but strong technique will get the contract and the promotion, the colt with hyperextended arches and weak technique will get left behind. So, we’re not saying you mustn’t aim for feet like that, just don’t force something that your body isn’t ready for and hasn’t had time to develop, or maybe even will never develop.

    It’s hard to guide you on exercises without seeing someone or being able to demonstrate – if your teachers aren’t explaining what they mean (ask after class, perhaps?) you could always go to a masterclass put on by the national ballet company to see if you can get some advice from a professional dancer on the actual exercises they use? (I know a few but it’s not easy to explain it online!) I think I know where you’re based – they should tour to a venue near you even if you’re not living near their home base.

    For what it’s worth, I think ballet is one of the most complete forms of exercise and training out there compared to other sports like tennis, diving, football, etc where you have to do separate exercises to get you trained to an elite level for the sport. But doing the standard barre and centre work in most syllabuses – whether it’s RAD, Cecchetti, Vaganova, etc etc – will pretty much give you quite a complete all round training that develops all facilities from flexibility to elevation to speed. And many famous dancers, eg ABT’s star principal ballerina of many years, Cynthia Gregory, will echo this. Of course, there are therabands and all sorts of equipment around nowadays that people use for a slight edge. But they aren’t essential in order to develop into a very good dancer, more like icing on the cake – as long as it’s with a knowledgeable and safe trainer.

    Uneven shoulders are actually more common than people realise – most people are not exactly symmetrical left vs right. Just a question – have you ever carried a heavy school bag or backpack a lot on one side? That can often contribute to it. Switch to the other shoulder if you do. In a small number, scoliosis – even mild scoliosis – could be a cause. Ask your doctor to check for this (you may need an xray) when you next see your doctor. Ballet – wise, there is not much you can do to change it: just check your alignment carefully in the mirror when doing ports de bras, standing up in the centre in first or second position (that’s the most telling – not when you’re in fifth or fourth, where the shoulder of the leg in front will move correspondingly so you’re not actually “centred”, even though your positioning and balanced may be centred, so to speak.)

    Hope that helps. Best of luck in your training and classes!

    • gabs October 26, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      that was brilliant advice and very wisley said i thank your comments

  29. Sheila Vernick Orysiek October 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    There’s usually one mother or two who feels that anything goes – like trying to substitute bedroom slippers for ballet slippers or fish net tights for ballet tights. And then there are those on the other end who want the child to be allowed to wear a puffy net tutu and tiara. Yes, that does happen. I found the most difficult thing about teaching was the parents.

    As for making boundaries – usually when you are using a space which is meant for another activity such as a basketball court, you have to go with what’s available and carrying around a mat might not work if one is not already there. I don’t think I would use a rope – it’s too difficult to see while moving. I have used chair backs (because they were available) or even the dance bags belonging to the students if nothing else was readily to hand. There’s as limit as to how much toting around the teacher can do with equipment. And even what’s allowed to be placed on the wooden floor. You just have to go with what’s possible.

  30. May October 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Don’t really want to do this topic to the death about arches, but here’s another thing: everyone has different feet, and appearances can be deceiving. If you have very long toes compared to the rest of your feet (the tarsus and metatarsal parts), it is quite easy to point them and look as though your feet can touch the floor. A girl ( I say girl because male dancers aren’t usually concerned about this!) If your toes are short and the rest of your foot long, you may have a beautiful pronounced arch and even high instep but your toes will never touch the floor – it’s an anatomical and mathematical impossibility. Same with dancers with small feet. If you line up lots of different dancers with their feet bare and ask to point their feet, it’ll demonstrate what I mean. So beware of trying to achieve things that may be anatomically impossible too. And of course it’s much easier to do with bare feet and soft shoes than new, hard pointe shoes. If you have a nice arch and instep, it will be apparent in your dancing. Again, hard to tell without looking at someone’s actual foot.

  31. Ballet News October 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    @gabs – re your shoulders. Look square in the mirror (put your hair up if it’s long). Do your ears look level to you ? Next, lie down, and ask someone else to see whether your feet are level. If you can’t tell or aren’t sure, or if they aren’t level either, go to a Chiropractor. Your sacrum may not be level – a very key area of your lower back which could, if out of alignment, cause you all manner of problems and not just the obvious ones re hips etc,. A good Chiropractor will take one look at you and decide whether or not your ears, shoulders and hips are level, and this could be backed up by an x-ray if you need one.

  32. May October 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    You’re welcome, Gabs. Sounds like you’re in a good school -it’s always worth asking another teacher for advice if you feel you can’t approach the teacher who gave you instructions. But most teachers will usually want to help you even if it means extra questions and extra time for them, even the most strict ones.

  33. Sheila Vernick Orysiek October 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Teaching is not just about imparting information – it’s about communicating with the student and that means listening to and answering questions. Any teacher who is difficult to approach is not really teaching. I know there are many ballet teachers like this, and I’ve never understood why that should be except for ballet’s history being associated with the aristocracy.

    Ask your teacher if you can speak to her/him at a mutually convenient time and if she/he is not forthcoming – it’s time to find someone else. Remember, you are the customer – you are paying this person for information.

Leave a Reply