A student shows up to pointe class in shoes that are so hard, she might as well be dancing on steel plates. The drawstrings are tied in dolly-dinkle bows, the ribbons are sewn too close to the box and the shanks skew away from her arch every time she relevés. Your heart sinks because you know she has just wasted $80.

Whether beginning or advanced, every student needs guidance when it comes to pointe shoes. From footcare to proper fit to shoe maintenance, there’s a lot to learn. Holding a pointe-shoe clinic is a great way to get the message out to all of your students at once. Be sure to invite parents—especially those of first-year pointe dancers—to dispel such purchasing no-no’s as “If I buy my daughter one size too big, then she’ll grow into the shoes and I’ll save money.”

Set aside a full day for the clinic, with different rooms in your school set up for different classes. (If you have only one room, section off corners for each class.) Ask other faculty members and advanced dancers to help lead the sessions, and build time into the schedule for questions and answers.
Consider making your clinic an annual mandatory start-of-school event. Even advanced dancers need to be refit every year as their feet develop.

“Students are constantly buying shoes from the internet,” says Sharon Story, dean of the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. “They don’t realize that as you progress, your feet change. As you get stronger, go for a lighter shoe.” At the Centre, Story often brings in representatives from pointe-shoe manufacturers for professional fittings, as well as podiatrists to talk with dancers about footcare.

Here are some ideas to get started.

1. Welcome

Begin your clinic with a welcome speech and introduce the panel of experts who will be assisting you throughout the day. Serve light refreshments and pass out a schedule and handbook for note-taking. The handbook should include summaries of each session, written beforehand by the presenter, along with a brief guide on proper pointe-shoe fit. This is also a good place to include your experts’ contact info.

2. Beginning
Student Orientation

First-year pointe dancers should have their own class. Start by explaining that dancing on pointe is a rite of passage. Warn them that at first, they won’t be able to do everything they can do on demi-pointe, but with patience and diligence, they will improve over the upcoming year. Invite an advanced dancer to demonstrate how to stand on pointe, as well as a few strengthening exercises: ankle rolls with a Thera-Band, picking up marbles with each toe and 16 relevés in first and second positions, in cou-de-pied and in arabesque. Remind them to set aside a few minutes after every pointe class to stretch their calves.

3. Fitting Tips

Set up a separate space where each student can have a professional fitting. Enlist a local retailer to bring a variety of brands, models and sizes. If the retailer is also a fitting expert, then you can trust him or her to put your dancers in the best shoes. You may even arrange for a student discount for any on-the-spot purchases. Otherwise, you or another qualified teacher will need to fit each student.
It may be necessary to convince dancers that some pointe-shoe brands are not “cooler” than others. Often, dancers make their purchase decisions based on what is trendy, rather than what fits them best. “Just like a carpenter has to have the right tools to do his job, dancers have to have the right pointe shoes to do their job,” says fitting guru Judy Rice, who has held pointe-shoe clinics at Joffrey Midwest for more than a decade. She overcomes resistance by “selling” a well-fitting shoe. “I say, ‘Look in the mirror, that looks amazing!’” she explains. “I also have other people in the room agree with me.”

Make sure that seasoned students keep an open mind about trying new brands and models, too. Story urges teachers to check them once a year to make sure they’re still wearing the right shoe, adding that if a dancer repeatedly gets bruised toenails, it’s often a sign that she needs a different model.

4. Shoe Prep

This session should cover how to sew and tie ribbons and elastics and how to mold shoes. For new pointe dancers, Rice marks the satin where ribbons and elastics should be sewn for functionality and aesthetics.

The next step is to show dancers how to make their shoes class-ready—by doing what Rice calls “smashing and koonking.” “It’s not a Nike—you can’t just take it out of the box and go,” she explains. “The box is made higher than and not wide like your foot. Smashing it down to be flatter and wider will make it easier on toe joints.” Koonking involves bending the shanks slightly higher than the dancer’s arch to give heel support. You can do this by removing the nail and bending the shank with your bare hands. You can also use a surface, such as a table edge. But be cautious—start high and then go lower as needed. If you “koonk” too low, the shoe will be ruined.

Pass along any other tips you have for prepping shoes, such as painting the edges of ribbons with clear nail polish to prevent fraying or darning the platforms to prevent slipping. Some teachers, for instance, remove the shank nail closest to the heel. Others smash the boxes in doorjambs or with hammers. Demonstrate exactly how this should be done to prevent dancers from destroying their shoes prematurely.

5. Maintenance

Pointe shoes are expensive, but this doesn’t mean dancers should wear them until they’re as soft as Jell-O. That’s dangerous, especially for students who don’t have a lot of ankle strength. Still, there are ways to extend the life of a pointe shoe. Back in the day, a common method was to shellac and bake shoes in the oven. Now, a more popular choice is using Jet Glue, an industrial-strength instant epoxy. Younger students should use it only under supervision, since accidents can be serious.

In addition, instruct students not to store sweaty shoes in their dance bags. This will cause the shoes to weaken faster (not to mention smell!). Instead, they can air-dry them in mesh bags tied to the outside of their dance bags.

6. Footcare & Injuries

In this session, ask a local podiatrist to chat with dancers about footcare. It’s essential to bring in someone familiar with ballet dancers’ needs. If no one in your community fits the bill, call the nearest professional ballet company for a recommendation. If that person is still too far to attend your session in person, inquire if he or she would be willing to give a video-conference lecture over the internet.

The podiatrist should discuss blisters, corns, nail bruises, bunions, ingrown toenails, warts, calluses and repetitive-use injuries, as well as the dos and don’ts of footcare. Ask the doctor to recommend products that alleviate typical pointe problems. You can even assemble kits beforehand to sell to students. (See “The Goody Bag,” on page 127.)

7. Pamper

Invite a reflexologist to give foot rubs to students and parents at a discounted rate. Have attendees sign up for a time slot beforehand to avoid overwhelming the massage therapist with clients. DT

Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox