Dancer's Diary September '16

Hello!  Welcome to the first entry in my Dancer's Diary for this academic year - there'll be a post for each month from this month - September 2016 until next May 2017.

So what's been happening in the dance world this month?  Being September, everyone's geared up for heading back to classes after the summer break.  So I have some top tips for you, whether you're a pupil or a teacher, and a catch up with the dance gossip over the last month...

In this diary entry, I look at:-

  • My favorite dance video of September
  • The dance image of the month
  • Top Tip for pupils on what to take to beginners' classes
  • Top Tip for teachers - this month it's how to answer the question "What should I wear to your class?"
  • My product of the month is the ideal leotard
  • The featured reader question
  • And finally, there's Kendall Jenner in pointe shoes.  And how I feel about that...

Video of the month

It was the Paralympics this month and a chance to see the astonishing Amy Purdy dancing again.

For those of you who don't know, Amy is a double amputee, who lost both her kidneys and her spleen along with her lower legs to bacterial sepsis, and was once given just a 2% survival chance.  However, not only is she now a champion snowboarder, but she was runner up on Dancing with The Stars.

She performed a dance at the Paralympics opening ceremony accompanied by a giant robotic arm.  Just because she can.  Here's the whole thing, from backstage to performance.

I think, next time you hear anybody say "Oh no, I don't dance, I have two left feet" just show them this.  Amy doesn't have any feet at all, as she's as graceful a dancer as I've ever seen.

Favorite dance pic this month

This month, the BBC News website asked for readers to send in their pictures on the subject of dance, and there were some absolutely brilliant shots.  My own personal favorite came from Robby Bernstein, who took this image at a street festival in Toronto, Canada: "There was music, dancing in the street and a lot of spontaneous energy" he said.  I love it.

You can see the whole gallery of pictures here.

How not to mess up your first dance class

In this regular feature, I'll be choosing one topic for pupils and one for teachers on how to get the most from your dance classes. 

Top tip for pupils

This month, it’s what I carry in my dance bag to ensure that I’m covered for every eventuality...

This is important for me - it means that I can concentrate on my class without worrying that I’m missing some vital piece of kit.  It's also always packed so I can grab it on the way out the door without having to scramble about trying to find stuff at the last minute.

So, first up, as always, the ubiquitous bottle of water.  Mine’s quite a big one, even though that makes my bag heavy.  Nothing else I carry weighs much, so it's not so bad. 
Ever since I was a little girl in my very first dance classes, I’ve been thirsty as soon as the lesson ends.  And even now I’m so much older, I do still drink a lot of plain fluid every day (water or fruit and herb teas).  So I’m just a nut for good hydration.  And the end of a class, when you’re feeling a bit hot and sweaty, is the ideal time to top up those fluid levels with plain old water.  Lots of it.  Enough so you don’t feel drawn to coffee or soda.

I also used to carry a little bit of food in my dance bag.  Personally, I don’t any more as I drink so much water it takes care of any hunger pangs.  But I used to fling in a piece of fruit, which would then languish at the bottom of my bag for much longer than good manners usually allow.  I did once find a banana at the bottom of my dance bag that I really should have donated to biological research.  And all my kit (including my ballet shoes) stank of black banana for ages.

So don’t be like me.  If you put food in your dance bag, try to remember to actually eat it.  For a boost of energy straight after your class, I recommend a small bag of unsalted nuts (almonds are great), perhaps a few dates for a major sugar hit or even a small bar of good quality dark chocolate can do the trick.

In addition to the shoes I need for my class, I also carry at least one spare pair of socks.  Depending on what type of dance you’re doing, you can wear them to prevent cold ankles while you’re warming up, or can put them on OVER your dance shoes to protect them from wear during warms ups. 
There’s also a spare t-shirt in there in case of wardrobe malfunctions – like a strap on my leotard finally letting go (see ‘Wide strap leotard’ above).  And I carry a small hand towel – one of the thin but super absorbent ones.

That's the main stuff - water, shoes, spare socks and t-shirt, and a little folded towel.  Not much really.

And finally, I have a little kit bag (it’s a make-up bag) that has

  • wet wipes
  • tissues 
  • my inhaler (I'm asthmatic)
  • plasters and blister covers
  • a miniature Swiss army knife that has a tiny blade, tweezers and scissors folded into it
  • a few safety pins in a variety of sizes
  • spray deodorant (I will have already put on my Soapwalla deodorant at home)
  • spare hair clips and bands
  • a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer (dance studios are a hot-bed of germs and grime)
  • and a little can of water face mist (I get through a lot of these; I just like the feeling of being able to spray a fine mist of cool mineral water on my face after a hot class).

If you’re anything like me, you’ll take your time getting to know exactly what you like to take to your classes - what you need and what you don't.  I don’t always use all the items above, they are just what I like to have with me - you’ll find out what makes you feel ‘complete’ for yourself.  Just don't blame me if you find a smushed-up banana in the bottom of there one day.

Top tip for teachers

Exactly what instruction should you give to adult beginners about what to wear to your classes?
I’m writing this as I vividly remember an exchange with a frustrated teacher that went a bit like this:-

TEACHER: “Ugh, another adult beginners class, and yet again, half of them turned up with totally unsuitable kit.”
ME: “Like what?”
T: “Pink satin slippers that’ll wear out, elastic sewn on wrong, yards of ribbons hanging off them, you name it.”
ME: “What do you tell them to wear?”
T: “You know, just the usual stuff.”
ME: “So you actually give them a printed sheet, or there’s a page on your website, or it’s on the flyers and posters for your class – you actually tell them exactly what to wear and they go out and buy all this stuff they’re not supposed to?”
T: “No, I don’t have anything I give them, but it’s just common sense, isn’t it?  I have to spend the first part of every new class pointing out all the wrong things people are wearing and that’s a waste of their time too, isn’t it?”
I haven’t exaggerated this – it was an actual conversation I had with a teacher.

So I have some suggestions on how to avoid this scenario which, in case you haven’t worked out, is so much worse for the pupil than the teacher.
Let me start off by suggesting what you SHOULDN’T say… 
When a brand new pupil (who is perhaps a bit nervous and almost certainly can’t read your mind) says “What should I wear to your class?”, or you sit down to write a bit on your website or studio literature about what to wear in your class, please don’t say “Whatever you feel comfortable in”.

You may feel that you’re being kind – encouraging the pupil to just be themselves.  You may think that you’re being supportive – by not insisting that new pupils buy a truck-load of brand new kit before they’ve even done a single class.  Or you may just assume that pupils instinctively know what they should wear.

However, what this answer actually does is cause confusion.  People don’t know what you mean by ‘comfortable’. Turning up in pjs would be bad, right?  So what level of comfort are you talking about?

Give examples of suitable comfortable clothing - are jogging pants OK or do you need to see the shape of the leg?  If so, make sure people know that leggings or tights are preferable to loose-fitting pants. 

Make sure you are also clear on what they don’t need to do. For example, there are many people who think that they have to bring ballet shoes to a ballet class.  Excited by the thought of finally turning into a real ballerina, they will buy what you consider to be inappropriate pink satin slippers (and will probably sew the ribbons or elastic on wrong, too).  But without any clear direction from you, left to their own devices they think they are simply being helpful and keen. 

Don’t break their heart and embarrass them by declaring their slippers ‘wrong’ in the first few minutes of their first class.  That makes both you and them feel bad.

If you’re not bothered what they wear on their feet, tell them they can wear anything at all and specifically mention slippers, socks or bare feet. 
However, if you have specific requirements, make very sure you communicate these clearly - the types, material and color of shoes, whether they need to be broken in or adjusted before class and so on.  Don't assume the pupil knows anything at all about dancewear.

New pupils really can get swept up in the excitement of doing their first dance class and it’s your job to gently yet firmly steer them to what they need to know without dampening that initial joy and enthusiasm.  And don’t worry at all about appearing patronizing – they really do want basic guidance at this stage and are happy to follow your lead.

So that’s my number one tip for teachers of adult beginners when talking about what to wear to class: Just be very clear and give specifics.

Featured product of the month: The ideal leotard

One of my favorite dancewear pieces for the adult dancer has to be a wide straps leotard.  Why? 

Because most leotards have very narrow elastic straps.  Firstly, these can dig in and quickly become uncomfortable.  Secondly, they can also come loose from where they meet the body of the leotard – I’ve spent many a night reattaching a strap to the back of my leotard that’s been holding on by a thread.  Literally.

But the key point that makes wide straps a winner ladies, is when we address what you’re wearing underneath. 

Long gone are the days when I didn’t need a bra under my leotard – you might well be the same.  A lot of adult leotards (like this one) claim to have a 'bra shelf' sewn into them.  But in reality, that just means a lining of stretchy fabric, and you'd have to be egg-cup-sized for that to keep everything forward-facing, if you get what I mean.  Trouble is, wearing any kind of bra always shows under a narrow strap. 

The wide straps of this leotard allow you to wear almost any type of bra – including some sports bras – without the straps peering out.  Now, the sight of a bra strap doesn’t reduce people to a dead faint – it’s not 1940.  However, when you’re dancing, you want your lines to look clean and uncluttered – doesn’t matter whether it’s belly dance, tap dance, ballet, modern, or any kind of dance.  That goes not just for the lines of your body, but the lines of your clothes, too.  So this wide strap means you have less clutter on show around your shoulders, neck and face, and that just makes for a more elegant line.  (Yes, my bra shows a bit at the back, but that's far less important to me than the line of my shoulders.) Plus, they’re just really comfortable – they don’t dig in or need to be hauled around every five minutes and that comfort and security means less time worrying about my wardrobe and more time concentrating on my dancing.  This one is an all-round win for me.

But don't forget...

... if you're thinking about buying this or any leotard, or any dancwear; read all the comments / feedback for each item to get an idea of how the item is sized. 

Dancewear sizes are all over the place.  It's possible to be a 'small' with one manufacturer and need an 'extra large' from another.  This particular leotard (the one in the picture from Capezio) comes up small for me and I always order at least one size up for a good fit.  But once I've got the right size, those wide straps are worth it, and super-comfortable.

Question of the month

My key question from this month comes from Linn, who asks “Where can I buy a barre like the one in your photos?”

Linn, I'll do my best to advise you, and have found one that I think will do the trick. 

But for anybody who is unsure about whether they need a barre or not, I have to say that, when you’re just starting off, the answer is no, you don't.  The back of a chair is perfectly adequate – just something that you can gently rest your hand on to steady you slightly. 

NOTE:  the purpose of a ballet barre is to mimic the hand of a dance partner.  You wouldn’t cling onto them for dear life, cutting off the blood supply to their hand, would you?  So you shouldn’t ever need to have a vice-like grip on the barre; you REST your hand on it.  When you’re at home, the back of a chair is all you need.

However, if your dancing is progressing, or if you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated space for dancing in your home, then why not splash out on a portable barre, as Linn is planning to.

This is a good one I found on Amazon - decent reviews, adult height, sturdy and a reasonable price.  Click on the image to see the details.

The key things you’re looking for in a portable barre are that it's easy to move about, and yet, once it’s in place, is stable and sturdy – you don’t want to be distracted mid-step by a barre that's wobbling all over the place.  Also, make sure you can adjust the height so you get it exactly where it’s supposed to be – you can follow our ballet barre guide for all the tips you need.

And finally...

In case you missed it (or don’t pay attention to such things) the internet got its knickers in a twist this month as Kendall Jenner was photographed for Spanish Vogue in a ballet studio.

OK, so not much to get upset about there – we all love ballet-inspired clothes and everyday wear that reminds us of the grace of the dancer.

However, what got a lot of people all itchy-faced was the fact that she was photographed wearing pointe shoes and attempting to stand en pointe (and failing.  Badly).

Take a look…

Instagram:@kendalljenner Pic for Spanish Vogue by:@miguelreveriego

I confess this hurts my heart a little.  Standing en pointe is not a matter of strapping on the right shoes and hoping they’ll do the work for you.

Doing so also diminishes the extraordinary amount of work and dedication that people who genuinely train properly before they are allowed to dance en pointe do – in most cases it’s years of demanding classes.  And anybody who just flings on the shoes before they are properly trained to also risks their health – it puts unimaginable strain on your joints; the bones of the feet, ankles, knees, hips and the disks in the small of your back.  You need all this stuff in peak condition – you shouldn't ever do anything that will actively strain these precious bits and pieces.

I know that a lot of the comments were around “She’s modelling, and models are put in all sorts of poses without having to have any knowledge of their surroundings at all, so where’s the harm?”, and I understand this – up to a point (‘scuse the pun).  Yes, models pose with super-fast cars perhaps with having absolutely no ability to drive them.  I get that.
And I have no problem with the rest of the photo shoot in which Kendall was just standing or sitting in the ballet studio.

But that one picture of her trying to stand en pointe just really saddens me.  She doesn’t know what she’s doing (and neither does the photographer or the director of the shoot, or the stylist or anybody in room) and is standing so badly that it just makes the pose look crappy.  And it’s a shame, because the dress is so pretty.  But those feet make the whole thing look a bit ugly to me.  She would have looked so much more elegant if she’d just been standing (in the pointe shoes) with her feet flat on the floor.  That’s my view, anyway.

Coming up...

Next month my top tip for pupils will be the one key question you should always ask a dance teacher if you’re thinking of signing up to their classes – it’ll tell you a lot about what kind of teacher they are and whether their teaching style will suit you.
For teachers my top tip will be how you can make the first five minutes of your adult beginner's dance class so magical you’ll enchant your pupils.  It’s probably not what you think.

There will be the usual gossip and news from the dance world.

I’ll also be giving you a guide to the best movies that feature a bit of dance and are perfect to snuggle down with this Fall.

And I’ve got a juicy discount for diary readers on top of our special offers, so if you’re thinking about buying any of our DVDs, this is for you.

Until then, happy dancing

Just so you know...

On some of my diary pages, there will be featured items that you can buy.  I do a lot of research into items to recommend - I don't just fling any old crap at my readers.  The things I recommend are things I genuinely use, or can see that have been well-received by their target audience via reviews and feedback.  When I post links to products, I generally try to find the product on Amazon for you, so you know you're dealing with a reputable supplier and that their customer service policies will cover you in case anything goes wrong, or you're unhappy for any reason.

If you follow a link that I've posted to products and do go on to buy something, Amazon pays me a tiny percentage of the profit of that sale.  It helps to keep DanceClass.com free and keep me researching and writing about dance for adult beginners in a way that I hope you find useful and insightful.  I think that's fair and hope you do too.


Dancer's diary › September 2016