Monday, May 27, 2013

Ballet gets to grips with its inner sole

Date     May 15, 2013   Jenna Clarke Jenna Clarke Entertainment and lifestyle reporter

- If the shoe fits: Dr Gordon Waddington with 16-year-old ballet student Emily Clout. Photo: Melissa Adams

An Australian researcher is undertaking the first major redesign of ballet slippers since the 1600s.
The University of Canberra's professor of physiotherapy Gordon Waddington and Assistant Professor Jeremy Witchalls are working to give dancers extra "grip" and more control over their movements to prevent lower leg injuries.
"My research week sees me working with ballet dancers at one end and dealing with big rugby league footballers at the other," said Dr Waddington, who works across a number of sport disciplines.
"All of these people are quite similar, believe it or not, as they rely on having a very good perception of surface and the ground they are moving over. They rely on having very good movement control to do the things they need to do safely."
Dr Waddington has developed an insole made from textured PVC which has a lined pattern so it locks into the skin - similar to a doormat but on a smaller scale.
It slips into the ballet shoe for barre work only, in the testing environment. Should it prove to increase surface perception and thus decrease ankle and lower limb injuries, the insole would be worn during all practice sessions, rehearsals and performances.
Classical kinetic educator at the Australian Ballet School, Janet Karin, a long-time fan of Dr Waddington's work, has enlisted her students for an 11-week trial using a PVC shoe insert.
"I came across Gordon's work and the research he was doing into the movement of footballers and geriatrics more than 10 years ago, but the technology wasn't available back then. These changes could be revolutionary, not just for dancing but for all movement-based sports and activities," Ms Karin said.
"We are four weeks into the trial and are just using the insert … for barre work at the moment. Some have said they don't notice it, while others have said they find it 'interesting'.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013


Many businesses create a Marketing Plan which is written 12 months ahead.  That way a budget can be developed specifically for this area of business operations.  The Marketing Plan can be applied to Dance Studios with great effect.  Start by identifying your target customers – those who have a need, can afford classes and are willing to pay for it. Once you have done the list you need to decide the way in which your message will be conveyed to your target audience. You will need to think about your studio’s Mission Statement and the image you want to express to the general public.  Sometimes image is referred to as Brand.  If you develop and consistently communicate the positive characteristics of your studio you will find customers will start to identify and relate to your name.  A Marketing Plan should encompass Goals, Objectives and Strategies.  The Goal is the overall target that supports the purpose of the dance studio.  The Objectives are the major ways the goal will be reached.  The Strategies are the how-tos for achieving the objectives. 

A Marketing Plan will include:
  • Your business purpose
  • Your target customer
  • Details of your marketing strategies
  • A budget
  • An Action Plan
  • Opportunities for long-term market development
Happy planning!


Thursday, April 25, 2013


Sometimes nerves get the better of our students or sometimes a hiccup occurs which is beyond our or our student’s control.  Whatever the cause it’s best to try to minimise the damage so that the performance does not become a nightmare.  Here is some advice you can give your students to help them through their performance no matter what happens.

If a dancer forgets what they are doing onstage
Remind them that the audience does not know their dance so they need to keep moving and chances are the audience won’t know the difference.  Have an emergency step in mind and do that while taking a deep breath and trying to get back on track.  They will need to look around if they are dancing in a group to pick up which step the other dancers are doing. 

The music skips or stops during the performance
Keep going!  The audience are usually very impressed if a dancer or dancers are able to keep going when the music stops mid dance.  If dancing in a group your students will need to be very aware of each other in order to keep in time with each other.

A student falls of drops a prop
If the prop isn’t necessary just leave it on the stage.  But if they need to use it again in the performance they will have to find a way to pick it up and make it look planned.  If someone falls then get up as quickly as possible.  Do what you need to do to keep going. It’s good for the students to look at the stage for imperfections and slippery spots before the performance but sometimes this is just not possible.  I did once see a dancer dislocate her knee on stage (not a pretty sight).  The other members of the group kept going while, clearly, the injured dancer could not continue so she pulled herself off stage.

One member is injured just before the performance
The student’s health is more important than a performance so they need to take care of their body first.  However, this makes it difficult for the rest of the group to keep logical formations, canon etc   Formations will need to be fixed in the dressing room/warm up room and the dancers need to keep their wits about themselves.  There is no easy way of getting around this.  In the past I have practised alternate formations in class but we do not always have time to do this.

Someone forgets their costume
If a parent going home and coming back in time isn’t an option then I suggest that all members of the group change their costume around so that each person has an individual look.  The other students share their accessories so that the uncostumed dancer has some things that the rest of the group have.  The student could also ask around the dressing room – you never know what other dancers might have.  Even a class leotard/uniform might help.

It may be useful to give your students some strategies for focussing on the performance just before they go onstage.  Breathing, creative visualisation, warm up, team building exercises all help performances to go smoothly.

Monday, April 22, 2013


As the occurrence of dance teachers being sued increases, it is important for us to remember that all organisations have a duty of care to ensure that employees and students remain safe at all times.   It is a studio owner’s moral, legal and financial obligation to do a checklist of possible hazards and safety issues around the studio and to remedy any problems.

Prevent any slips, trips or falls
Any liquid should be removed from the floor surface immediately.  Loose thread in carpeted areas should be snipped. Broken tiles or uneven floor surfaces should be fixed as soon as possible with a sign put over the offending area until that happens.  Minimise clutter and remove anything that can be tripped over.

Hanging objects and lighting
Low hanging light fixtures, signs and other features that come within a few feet of the height of an average person are a no-no.  Make sure that hanging pictures and mirrors are securely fixed to the wall. 

Traffic areas
Pick up/drop off areas outside the studio can be quite dangerous.  Some studio owner’s create separate pick up and drop off areas for this reason.  It also may be necessary to install security cameras outside the studio as well as in foyer/reception areas to monitor any unwanted visitors. 

Provide a clean studio
This may sound like a very basic requirement but it necessitates a lot more attention to detail than one would think.  Ballet barres, floors and toilets should be cleaned daily to minimise the spread of germs.  Don’t forget to restock toilet paper and soap too.  The domestic ‘hands free’ soap dispensers which are available in supermarkets are a great idea. 

Emergency Action Plan
Create an evacuation plan and post a diagram of it in every room of your studio.  Have a practice drill every now and then and make sure it is done on different days so all your staff will be confident to participate.  Make sure exit signs are clearly marked and prepare for all reasons you may have to evacuate (fire, gas leaks, natural disasters etc).  It is good to have at least a couple (if not all) staff members with first aid certificates. 

Educate your staff and students
You should have a section on safety in your Staff Handbook.  Safety procedures should be visible to all staff on duty also.  If you have student handbooks or newsletters, safety should feature in these every now and then so that parents and students are aware of requirements and procedures.

If everyone is working toward a safe environment for your studio hopefully it will be a happy one too.  Bye for now,


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Some useful vocabulary for you to use is:

Boom: a vertical pipe used to hang lighting instruments, often at the side of the stage in the middle of heavily-travelled wings
Borders:  overhead masking piece of fabric above the stage that hides the lighting rig and flown scenery
Cyc:  a curved or straight (usually) white backdrop at the rear of the stage
Followspot:  these are moveable lights that are usually used to highlight a soloist or important performer
Fresnel lights:  to wash light over an area of the stage.  The resulting beam of light is wide and soft-edged, creating soft shadows, and is commonly used for back light, top light, and side light.
Gel:  a sheet of plastic or glass used to colour stage lights
Gobo:  a cutout pattern inserted into the light beam to create a lit pattern on the stage or backdrop
Intelligent lights (or Moving lights):  as the name implies these are lights that are not fixed in their illumination.  They give quite a modern look to the lighting design and can have chases and other functions programmed
LEDS:  LED lights are used in stage lighting and they have been revolutionary in that they use less power and they can change colour without climbing up a ladder to change the gel
Legs:  long, narrow curtains hung at the sides of the stage to mask the offstage space and frame the audience’s view
Par Can lights:  are used when a substantial amount of flat lighting is required for a scene
Performance Space:  space in which the dancing happens (ie the stage area)
State (Lighting state):  one configuration of lights to be used during a section of a production.  So a show is made up of many lighting states and each one is assigned a cue.
Wing Space:  amount of offstage room needed for exits and entrances (and for holding props and performers)

Some things to keep in mind:
·         Do not illuminate your dancers in the same colour light as their costumes as they tend to ‘disappear’ into the background
·         The use of a hazer or smoke machine greatly enhances the look of the lighting design
·         Some pieces of equipment that are useful for making dance concerts look interesting are strobe machines, UV lights, molefays (blinders), moving lights with their ability to change position, colour, gobos, aperture and focus, mirror balls, ripple machines, lasers, projected images, pyrotechnics (pyrotechnics require a certified operator)
·         Don’t forget about lighting the cyc.  There’s nothing worse than a cyc that is only lit with ugly ‘bounce off’ light from the stage surface.
·         Don’t forget to use your front of house lights that are located on the lighting bars in front of the proscenium.  These will give some light to your dancer’s faces.
·         I always use a higher intensity of light on younger dance students as some of them are afraid of low light and their parents are less interested in how great the lighting is and more interested in just being able to see their son or daughter. 
·         Actually I would say you have to be highly creative to make your lighting stand out at a dance concert for this reason.  When it comes to concerts all parents are just interested in seeing their child.

This is, by no means, a complete guide to lighting but just a quick start to concert lighting.  If you have any tips in this area feel free to comment. Have fun with your next concert and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Until next time,

Monday, April 15, 2013


If you have the budget to be able to hire a lighting designer then you will find that the experience will be a rewarding one especially when you see the way it will enhance your performance.  However, for the rest of us the lighting design is left up to individual teachers or the principal of the dance school.  This then has to be conveyed to the lighting operator who usually sits in a control room or technical area.  There are a few other alternatives such as approaching students or graduates from the colleges/institutions that run technical courses or through networking (a parent perhaps who has experience in this area or a professional recommended by other teachers).  Either way you’re going to have to convey your ideas and requirements in a clear and concise manner.

If you are having a designer work for you then you will need to communicate the mood, concepts and themes for each dance piece to the person.  Usually this is accompanied by a breakdown of the show and sometimes a video of the dancers in rehearsal.  The lighting designer would normally be expected to attend at least one rehearsal before the technical rehearsal.  You will need to share important information about each dance including the type of movements, where the dancers move in the performance space and information about music cues that you would like to coincide with lighting cues.  The lighting designer will also need technical information (lighting inventory and specs) about the theatre you will be hiring (if they are not already familiar with it).  But the most important information they will need is your budget.  If you are dreaming of special effects and advanced lighting, chances are you will have to hire these things into the theatre or at least pay an extra fee for the use of them if the theatre has them already on hand.  The person who operates the lights during the actual performance is not usually the designer but a lighting operator.  It’s a good idea to keep this in mind.

If you are designing the lighting yourself then the system I usually use is to write your lighting states onto a running sheet of your concert. Everyone works a little differently but usually the lights are then plotted in during the rehearsal in the theatre.  You can either number each cue as they are plotted or do it later.  Having worked as a stage manager and a dance teacher I have found writing the cues in as you go either during the rehearsal or even before (if you’re feeling confident) will save time.  Once your cues are all recorded it is usually up to the stage manager to call them during the show.  If your budget doesn’t extend to include a stage manager, a friend or teacher will call the cues over the comms (headphones) or sometimes even the lighting operator himself will have to read the cues himself as he goes.

I hope this has been helpful.  In the next post I will discuss lighting further. 
Until then,

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


It is very important to make sure the fitting of a student’s first pointe shoes is done correctly. There are two ways you can go: a hard shoe for support or a softer shoe that will help develop the supporting ankle and leg muscles. Make sure you let your students know which one is your preference. If the softer shoes are your preference make sure you start the student with very simple strengthening exercises at the barre to avoid injury. Having a good relationship with staff at the local dance store will help lessen the chance of having a badly fitted pointe shoe. Some dance schools like to have a staff member from one of the local stores come in to do multiple fittings on the one night. This way the teacher can keep an eye on the fit and suitability of the shoe. They will, of course, only do this if it is worth their while in a monetary sense.

The manner in which each dancer breaks in their pointe shoes is entirely up to the individual but you could discuss a few ideas with the student who is a newbie. Some people use the heel of their hand to flatten the box a little and then give the shank a little bend to loosen it up at the instep area. Others use water to slightly soften the box at the points where bunions commonly develop. Some use a spray bottle of water while students gently work the shoe. This is a nice way of making them conform to the dancer’s foot. However, the danger is that shoes may become too soft and therefore become unsafe for the novice pointe dancer.

The sewing of the ribbons obviously help to keep the shoe on but also offer support for the dancer’s ankles. The most common instruction for the location of the ribbons is to fold down the heel of the shoe towards the front. The ribbons should then be sewn on the sides of the shoe in line with where the heel section has reached. Some dancers also sew in an elastic loop from the centre back seam (the heel) that goes around the ankle. This offers extra support and stops the heel of the shoe slipping off especially when on demi pointe. Make sure the thread is sufficiently strong because the ribbons will be under a lot of pressure.

Protecting the toes and feet from blisters, bunions and skin being torn away is again a personal choice. Some of the more traditional methods are: wrapping lambs-wool around the toe area for protection; taping the toes with masking and other types of tape; spacers between the toes to stabilize the foot in the shoe; and some people used to apply methylated spirits to their toes at home to ‘toughen up’ the skin on the toes. Yikes! It seems now that there is no shortage of hi tech toe pads available on the market – some of the foam type and some are special gel ones. Suitability is going to differ from dancer to dancer so it may be a case of experimenting to see which works the best for each dancer.

I could discuss this area for a lot longer but I have tried to summarise most points (no pun intended!). Pointe work can be a little painful at first, but with a little care and gradual development it should be one of the most inspiring parts of learning to dance.