Dance Teacher Tips

How to Prepare Students and Parents for Pointe

Susannah Israel-Marchese with students at School of Ballet Hartford; photo by Frank Marchese, courtesy of SBH

At Michigan Ballet Academy, artistic director Irina Vassileni meets with a group of eager young students and their parents. She holds a shiny new pair of pointe shoes in one hand and an old, worn pair in the other. "I show them all the details, inside and out, and how working on pointe for hours will break down the shoe," says Vassileni. "I might even bring in different models and talk about how they're made. Parents need a lot of information to make them feel comfortable about their children going on pointe."


For girls studying ballet, pointe shoes are a rite of passage. It means they have gained enough strength, control and understanding of classical ballet technique to be considered for this next level of training. For parents, it can be a proud but nerve-racking event that inspires many questions. Teachers can relieve this anxiety by educating families about the investment in time, money and care necessary to support these new pointe students.

Give the Good News—Carefully

Some schools announce this exciting news during a student's annual conference or midyear evaluation. Other teachers take it one step further by distributing handwritten notes or gathering an entire class together for a special announcement. Vassileni typically starts a new group on pointe in February and schedules a time the month before to meet with the students and families, giving them a brief history of pointework and how the shoes have evolved over time. She then discusses her school's rules and expectations. "Some parents simply don't know anything about it, and they think their children will have painful, bleeding toes," she says. Vassileni will show them her own "blister- and bunion-free" feet as an example of how wearing the correct shoes and working well can prevent injury.

Susannah Israel-Marchese, director of the School of Ballet Hartford, also gives an overview to young dancers and their caregivers and discusses the risks that can be associated with dancing on pointe. "We are up front about the potential for injury, and the cost. It is an expensive venture," she says. They should know that pointe shoes can range from $80 to $130, depending on the brand, specifications and season.

Provide a Master Fitting

Students should have a professional shoe fitting to ensure a healthy and successful start. Jill Eastwood, master shoe fitter at The Dance Collection in Tacoma, Washington, appreciates when teachers communicate their preferences well in advance. "We want to make sure we're on the same page," says Eastwood. "Maybe a student has a particular issue that needs to be addressed, or the teacher has a certain preference when it comes to brand." If a girl has particularly small or large feet, or flexible arches that need unusually strong shanks, the fitter can also plan to have enough inventory on hand when the student comes to the store.

At the start of each first fitting, Eastwood gives a brief lecture about the importance of good hygiene and foot/shoe care. "Half the time, the student doesn't hear a word of what I say," says Eastwood, laughing. "She is glowing and can only think about the shoes. The parents usually ask all the questions." To make sure dancers get her message, Eastwood created a pamphlet called "Pointe Shoes 101" that goes home with every first pair of shoes. The booklet covers basic foot care, such as reminding girls to trim their toenails and avoid excessive pedicures. Fitters like Eastwood can also be good resources for sewing techniques and padding, if teachers do not have strong preferences in those areas.

Get Them Ready for Class

Once students have their coveted and well-fit shoes, teachers can organize a sewing party or use the first pointe class to demonstrate more preparation techniques. Vasselini teaches students how to use a hammer to make the box softer, where to bend the shank, and how to mold the shoe to make it feel more comfortable. "I also remind the students, and their parents, that they should not wear their shoes at home," she says. "They could easily go up with the wrong approach, roll toward the little toe and twist their ankle." This potential danger is just one more reason to have parents included, and educated, in a student's first pointe experience.

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...
Site Network
The eight 2020 Prix de Lausanne prize winners. Photo by Rodrigo Buas, courtesy of PdL

The 2020 Prix de Lausanne has officially come to a close after a thrilling week of classes, coaching sessions, competition performances and networking forums. The annual competition, which was live streamed around the world and watched over 1.1 million times, gave 77 dancers an opportunity to perform and take class in front of an international panel of judges. In addition to a classical variation, candidates had to master a contemporary solo by Mauro Bigonzetti, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Heinz Spoerli or Richard Wherlock.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox