Book: The Ballet Companion


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Ask a Teacher > Previously Asked Questions


This column is intended to provide you with some helpful suggestions and information. Due to the heavy volume, not all questions are able to be answered. Please note that only dance-specific questions will be addressed.

Answers provided by "Ask A Teacher" to questions submitted to Gaynor Minden are intended for informational purposes only, and do not in any way constitute therapy or professional services. Please refer issues related to diagnosis and treatment of a specific problem to a qualified health care professional in your local area. Questions submitted to this column become the property of Gaynor Minden, Inc.

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I am 13 years old and about to start pointe. I know I will have to get turns down on pointe, except I am not very good at pirouettes from fifth! How can I work on this, besides practicing which I do anyway?

- A dancer about on pointe, 13, California

Dear Thirteen-Year-Old,

No need to panic! Any work you are doing now on your technique will help your future pointe work.

If you are having trouble with turns from fifth on half-toe, let's examine a few things -

  • Do you have a strong relevé on half-toe?
  • Are you "on your leg" (establishing a strong balance axis from toe to head)?
  • Are you coordinating your arms when turning? And spotting?

Also, remember, a good teacher will not start you off with turns on pointe! For a few weeks to months (depending how many times a week you do pointe work), you will be working on steps using 2 legs...then one leg balances and piqués...perhaps months down the road, turns will be started. Skills cannot be rushed; it takes time for the body to build strength. Patience!

Kathryn Sullivan

Dance has been my life for the last 9 years and I was just wondering when is the best time to start pointe?? I have been in ballet for 6 years and I really wanna do pointe. But, I am not on the comp team or in an advanced ballet class. But, it look so beautiful the way that they do it. It makes me want to do it even more!! Please help!

- Lauren

Dear Lauren,

Pointe work looks effortless, yet it takes a lot of hard work and effort. The norm is for young females to start pointe about 11 years of age, after having at least 2 years of good training, and for the dancer to have sufficient enough arch to allow them to stand on the tips of the toes. Ask her (or him!) often, a teacher waits until the technique, especially placement, of the dancer is strong enough.

Kathryn Sullivan

My name is Elisha and I have taken dance for at least 4 years now. I am 16 years old and hope to become a professional dancer in the near future. I have been in and out of dance schools for a few years now. I have been gaining some weight since I have been out of practice. But I love dance so much, more than anything. How are some ways I can make myself a better dancer...The best.

- Elisha

Dear Elisha,

You are 16 - and probably have just gone through a major body change due to puberty and hormonal changes. Curves have replaced lines and usually young women experience some temporary weight gain until the hormones settle down. Never feel embarrassed to get back in class. Find a class with teenagers or women. Start a weekly routine of dance classes 3 to 4 times a week and the weight will be off in no time. Focus on your long term goal, your energy and commitment will get you through and I believe you have it - just get back on track!

Kathryn Sullivan

My name is Meghan and I am almost ten. I was wondering when I will go on pointe? I used to go to an excellent dance school when I was three. Then I left for six years to go somwhere else. Now, I am back at that excellent school again, but everyone who was in my class in 1992 is on pointe and they are my age and have been dancing for the same amount of years. I am very upset!

- Meghan

Dear Meghan,

|A good teacher will let you know when it's time. Usually it is 11 years old, having 2 - 3 years of good training, and your placement must be strong. Teachers also must check that the arch of the foot is sufficient and that the weight of the dancer is proportionate to height (slim!).

Trust that your teacher has your best interest in mind. Waiting until you are older and stronger will make pointe work easier for you in the long run.

Kathryn Sullivan

I'm thirteen and I'm going to take ballet soon. I would probably like to take up the Cecchetti Method, but since Italians are notorious for the muscular look, does ballet through the Cecchetti Method necessarily give you that "bunched up" muscle look?

- Ashley

Dear Ashley,

There is good teaching and poor teaching in all methods of ballet. If you are concerned about the "bunched up" look - visit the school you intend to join and look at the dancers. If they look as though their muscles have a long lean extended look, it would seem that the teaching is good. Concern yourself with the quality of teaching, not the method. All methods intend to produce good dancers - it all depends on the teachers.

Mignon Furman

My dance teacher tells me I don't pull myself out of my shoes enough. Is there anything I can do about it?

- Brooke P.

Dear Brooke P.,

It sounds like you are "sinking" in your shoes. This can happen for a number of reasons.

  • Shoes too big - there is extra room so your toes are collapsing. Try 1/2 size smaller.
  • Not enough support of abdominal and back muscles, so weight is sinking - "pull up" and support weight
  • Weak feet - toes are bending - to strengthen fee do slow relevés from half toe to full pointe.

Pointe work takes time and training; have patience and perseverance! The beauty of pointe work is to have it look light and effortless!

Kathryn Sullivan

I am the mother of a soon to be 10 year-old girl. She has been taking ballet for only 2.5 years about 3 times a week. Her instructor has told her for the last two months that she needs to get pointe shoes. Almost all of the other children (ages 10 through 16) are already on pointe. She has even called me at home to tell me that she should get her shoes for her 10th birthday. I am very concerned about putting her on pointe so early. It seems that this teacher puts almost anyone on pointe when they turn 10. Are there any guidelines for this? I am sure there is more to it than age.

- Christina C.

Dear Christina,

As a teacher, I am very wary of putting young dancers on pointe too early. Ten years old seems young - however, she may be strong enough to try. At this tender age, pointe work should only be done holding onto the barre and on two feet. The criteria that I look for before starting a child on pointe is that the ankle must be strong and stable on demipointe. The weight of the body must be held with a good stance and well pulled up. The muscles behind the knee should be strong and the knees straight. There is no harm to a dancer's training to wait a little loner before starting, so that the strength required for pointe work can be established.

Mignon Furman

I am 14 years old and very self-conscious of my weight. I really want to learn to dance - even to become a better dancer. There aren't any schools that I'm aware of in my area that do teen beginner classes and the last time I took ballet was when I was 10. I've gained a ton of weight since then and would be embarrassed to wear a leotard. What should I do? I dream of at least going on pointe, but I don't know what to do! Please help me.

- Nissa

Dear Nissa,

What about adult beginner classes? They are easier to find. Yes, your body is probably very different than when you were 10 years old! Do not confuse a young woman's body with body fat. You may also have lost a lot of muscle tone as well.

If you are self-conscious about your body, wear some layers, a tied top or a ballet skirt. Your teacher should still be able to see enough of your body in order to correct your placement.

Before you consider going on pointe, have your ballet technique strong enough. Take one challenge at a time, set your goals and go for it!

Kathryn Sullivan

I have been on pointe for over two years now and I was wondering how you can make your foot in regular shoes point better? I have tried everything and nothing works.

- Heather

Dear Heather,

On can never change the shape of the foot you were born with - but work can improve the pointe to a certain extent. Many battement tendu with good floor pressure strengthen the foot and working with the bands (like those sold by Gaynor Minden) can help. Stretching the foot (pointing) in the correct way will improve the look of the foot.

Mignon Furman

I am thirteen years old and hope to audition for a professional school such as SAB within the next year. I am wondering how do I put together an audition package which would really stand out and compliment my performance come audition time? I know that a school such as SAB is the only way that I can get the rigorous training that is necessary for becoming a professional.

- Ebony

Dear Ebony,

You really don't need to package or sell yourself at a ballet audition the way you would for an acting or musical theatre audition. The best way to present yourself is "professionally". That is, to dress simply, to have neat and secure hair, and to be a serious student, responsive and eager to take corrections.

There are many schools with professional track training - Joffrey, Alvin Ailey, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Ballet Hispanico, Steps, 92nd St. Y, and Ballet Academy East. SAB (School of American Ballet) requires a very specific body type and much natural ballet facility; it is an excellent school but not for everybody. Also remember, as a student, you must share the responsibility of the "rigorous training" by always working to your best ability. Best of luck to you in pursuing your dream!

Kathryn Sullivan

My 10-year-old, 48" and 51 lbs., was just told that she can go on pointe in the fall in Division 3. Her teachers are wonderful and recently retired from NYC Ballet. However, I don't have a dance background and have heard that going on pointe too early can cause long-term problems. What questions should I ask and how can I be sure that she is physically ready for this? I'm thinking of taking her to an orthopedist for a pre-ballet check-up, but I haven't found anyone who specializes in dance in our area.

- Ellen

Dear Ellen,

Ask whether your daughter is holding her body stance correctly; whether her knees are straight and whether her ankles are strong and stable on demipointe. How long will she be on pointe for each class? 10 to 15 minutes is sufficient for a young child starting pointe work, but this should be done several times a week to get good results.

Mignon Furman

I am fifteen and have started serious ballet technique a year ago, with a jazz background. I love dancing and want to make it my life. Is it worth hoping for a career even if I started so late?

- (Anonymous)

Dear Anonymous,

Without seeing you in class, it is difficult to asset whether a professional performing career is realistic - (certainly most men start dance later and do have careers!). With a lot of natural ability and strong drive, it could be possible!

If it is not "in your stars", you can still make dance always a part of your life. Dance careers are various, from dance teachers, dance educators in public schools, dance therapists, and critics. If you truly love it (and you sound like you do), you will find a way!

Kathryn Sullivan

I am 26 years old and my dream as a child was to become a professional dancer. Unfortunately throughout my life I had to deal with other issues that caused my dreams to be ignored. So, my history is that I have no dance experience or training. I am going to college to obtain a BFA this August and my major is dance. I am finally able to achieve my dream until I research and discover that professional dancers start in childhood. Have my dreams been shot down? What next?...please be honest with me.

- (Anonymous)

Dear Anonymous,

Honestly... a professional career in ABT or NYC Ballet is unrealistic! But working as a professional in some dance capacity is realistic especially with a BFA from college.

It is difficult for me to assess whether a performing career is possible without more details about you, such as talent, training, job opportunities in your city, etc.

What next? Intensely focus on training for the next 4 years at college, then pursue your dream.

Kathryn Sullivan

I have been dancing (tap, ballet and jazz ) since I was in first grade and I am going into ninth grade this fall. I was wondering if that has been long enough to dance on pointe and can I dance on pointe if I am a bit overweight? I have no problem with my weight in my other dancing other than I don't leap quite as high as some girls.

- Girl that loves to dance

Dear Girl that loves to dance, The number of years that one has been studying is not the only factor that determines whether you are ready to dance on pointe. It depends on how good your training is and how strong you are. You are old enough to be on pointe at the age of 12 years if your technique is strong enough to support your body on pointe. You must possess enough strength to pull your body weight up off your feet so your weight does not sit down on your feet and you need strong feet to support your weight in your shoes so that you do not rely upon the shoes to hold you up on pointe. You also need enough strength to keep you back straight, your hips placed correctly on top of your feet directly under your shoulders and the ability to keep the knees pulled up straight. you must be able to do all the steps and movements you will execute on pointe very well with proper placement and control in your soft ballet slippers before attempting pointe work. As far as being a bit overweight goes, it is not ideal, but possible. It is always easier to dance at a slender weight because you will feel lighter and less effort is needed to move and sustain posture.

Jan Miller

I am 12 years old and I am a good dancer the only problem is....... I can not do the splits. I've tried but can you give me some different stretches that will help me more efficiently?

- Dancer

Dear Dancer,

In order to do "the splits", you must be extremely flexible. Some people are born with flexibility, others have to work on it. On the positive side of being tight, it means that you possess a natural strength and compactness. (Flexible dancers have to work on gaining strength.)

You are young enough to stretch and gain this flexibility that you desire. Gently stretch before class, then when you're really warm (after barre or class), do your serious stretching. Do your splits - stay there for at least 1 1/2 minutes. Muscles need that much time to release. Be persistent and consistent. Stretch daily if possible. Have faith.

Kathryn Sullivan

I have two problems. I have a really big problem with keeping my shoulders up. Do you know how I can fix it? My second problem is my legs. I have bony knees and they don't straighten all the way. I do many stretches that involve putting your legs out in front of you and I have gotten a lot better at that, but I still can't straighten them all the way. Could you please help me?

- Krissy

Dear Krissy, I'm not sure what you mean by "keeping my shoulders up", because we want to keep the shoulders down at all times. I'm guessing that you mean your shoulders are forward of your hips and you want to align them over the hips in a straight vertical line. If this is the case, you need to straighten and strengthen the back so your shoulders would then automatically fall over the center of your hips if you look at yourself sideways in the mirror. You might also need to stretch the chest and the front of the shoulders open to create the necessary flexibility. A good stretch for opening the front of the body is to stand sideways to a wall and place your hand on the wall at shoulder level with the fingers facing backwards and then turn your body away from the wall and rotate the shoulder open bringing the rib cage on the same side around in opposition to the shoulder. A good way to strengthen the back is to lie down on your stomach on the floor and put your arms in fifth position over your head. Keep the feel and legs together and keep your head down and arch the back up off the floor and hold for a slow count of eight (move the arms slightly forward of your head when you arch your back) and then lower back down to the floor slowly. Repeat four times. Rest and then four more sets. Be careful not to move your head and arms back as you arch because you want to only work the back muscles and not have help from another part of the body. The answer to the second part of your question is that depending on one's individual genetic structure, it may never be possible to straighten your knees all the way. You can only improve the straightening of the knees to a certain degree depending upon how your knee structure is formed at birth. Yes, stretching the hamstrings and calves to open the back of the knees is good, but also make sure that when you are trying to straighten your legs during class, that you pull up your front thigh muscles thoroughly so that the kneecap lifts up on order to create the straightest line possible.

Jan Miller

I am a 13 year old dancer that is almost on pointe. I feel like my teachers are not putting me on pointe because I have big feet. I wear a size 10! I know that my feet are strong. Is it bad to go on pointe if you have big feet?

- (Anonymous)

Dear Anonymous,

Pointe shoes come in all sizes. For a size 10, you would probably need to special order a shoe, which can be expensive. Other factors may come into play here - How tall are you? How much do you weigh? Do you have flat feet or insufficient arches?

Your teacher may be gently trying to discourage you from pursuing a ballet career for any of those reasons.

Pointe work is not for everyone. Just enjoy your dancing!

Kathryn Sullivan

I want a career as a professional ballet dancer. Do I need to go to an arts college to get into a big company?

- Raeanne

Dear Raeanne,

No. Most professional ballet dancers who are on the level to join a big company do it at the age of 18. These big companies want you at that age so they can mold you the way the want you to look and dance to fit in with their dancers. All that matters is that you are training in a good ballet school with good teachers and then you should be ready to go and audition for a big company as soon as you are out of high school. There is absolutely no guarantee that having a degree or going to an arts college would secure you a job and the window of time you would be spending there is the same time you need to already be in a major company working on your career.

Jan Miller

I have friend who is on pointe; she is getting hammer toes. How can I prevent this from happening to me?

- Hammer toe hater

Dear Hammer Toe Hater,

Hammer toes can be a predisposed inherited condition or it can caused when toes are cramped in shoes. It is not necessarily caused by pointe work but by incorrectly fitted shoes.

Make sure you go to a reliable shop to fit your shoes in order not to damage your feet. Also, you must be the correct age (10 - 11 years old) for your bones to be strong enough. And not overweight!

Pointe work should not be harmful or painful - just graceful and fun!

Kathryn Sullivan

People have told me that you will never go on pointe if you have low arches. Is this true?

- Rachel

Dear Rachel,

This is not necessarily true. If the ankle joint is flexible enough to allow the foot to stretch out from the leg in a straight line, then pointe is possible. Low arch does not mean no arch. One thing that helps a low arched foot on pointe is to wear half shanks. It allows the foot to get up on the toe easier than a full shank. However, you will need a strong foot and strong pull up to deal with a half shank. Also, make sure your vamps are not too high, as this will tend to push you back off pointe.

Jan Miller

I am a 13 year old dancer who has been dancing all the way back to 5. I am totally devoted to my dance work and I practice everyday. Yet for a certain teacher it feels like I can never live up to her standards. I do my best in dance. My mom says that she treats me like that because she knows that I am not doing my best, but I am. This really hurts me and I have her again for pointe this year. How can I enjoy dance without always feeling like I am the worst and that she hates me?

- On My Toes

Dear On My Toes,

Perhaps what your Mom means is that your teacher sees you have a lot of unrealized potential instead of that you're not doing your best. Every teacher has his or her own approach. Some work more through correcting, others through affirmations. It's great when it's a balance of both, but what you need to remember is that you will have many more teachers in your dance life. Try to keep in mind the approval you receive from your other teachers and do the best you can in this class. Sometimes we must work with people where our personalities seem to clash. This is a good opportunity for you to concentrate on what you are trying to achieve and to not worry so much about what others are thinking or saying. All dancers must learn this. Good luck with that class this year and work on putting things in perspective.

Maria Calegari

I am 11 years old and haven't been in ballet since I was 9. I am afraid that if I go back I will get embarrassed for my lack of skill from the past two years (we are grouped by age). Should I take private classes? Or go back to learn with my past team?

- Nini

Dear Nini,

I think it is a good idea to take a few private classes before re-joining your group. You can brush up on the ballet terminology and the objective of each barre exercise. Also, your teacher can clue you in on areas where you may have fallen behind your teammates. You can get caught up!

Your strength will come back in no time! (I assume you're as energetic as most 11-year-olds!)

I'm sure your dance team will be happy to see you and to have you aboard again! Go back with good energy, a positive attitude and great team spirit. Bring your talents to your team!

Kathryn Sullivan

I am a 13 year old about to go en pointe in the fall. I was going to be in level 4, but the teacher says that the girls are young in that class and that I should take the 5,6,7 combined class instead because I can handle it. I have never taken pointe before. Is it good that I am skipping beginning pointe? HELP!

- Cindy

Dear Cindy,

If your teacher thinks that you are advanced enough to start pointe on a higher level, you must trust his or her opinion. After all, you wouldn't be studying from them in the first place if you didn't think they were good. It is possible for one to skip the beginning levels of pointe and go directly into a higher level if the technique of the dancer is strong enough to support pointe work. Pointe work is merely an extension of your regular technique. There are only a couple of things to learn that are slightly different on pointe than in soft ballet shoes. The rest is just practicing in pointe shoes what you practice in soft shoes.

Jan Miller

In our city we do not have any good community schools that teach really good ballet! We have an upcoming audition for the preparatory program at the North Carolina School of the Arts and have less than one month to prepare. My daughter has a lot of flexibility but I am not sure it will be enough! I would like to know what stretches do you think they will have her to do? What type of coordination things do you think they will also ask her to perform?

- Alec

Dear Alec,

An audition can be a tense time for a young dancer, but it doesn't have to be. usually the point of the audition is for the teachers to evaluate the future ability of a student they will be training. The thing to remember is that an audition will usually be very basic. If it's a ballet audition, the standard barre and center will be given. Perhaps they will check foot and leg flexibility. I would say your daughter should do the basic stretches, pliés and tendus and trust that the teachers will be able to see her potential.

Maria Calegari

I am 15 years old and I have been taking serious ballet lessons for 4 years now and I am interested in pointe. My teacher is reluctant and claims I'm not ready but I feel I am. I have been practicing on my own and I don't wish to do this anymore because I don't want to practice wrong and hurt myself. How can I convince my instructor that I can handle it?

- Michelle

Dear Michelle,

Do better work in your ballet classes. If your teacher thinks that you are not ready for pointe, then you are not ready for pointe. A teachers has YEARS of experience and knowledge over a 15-year-old teenager. The fact that you state "you do not wish to practice on your own anymore because you do not want to practice wrong and hurt yourself", says that you do not know enough and are not on a high enough level to do pointe work. Otherwise you would not be worried about hurting yourself. A dancer who is advanced enough to do pointe work knows how to work the body correctly in class and is aware of what is right and what is wrong.

Jan Miller

I have been dancing for almost 11 years, and have had the same teacher for all of those years up until last year due to graduating high school. In my years with the company, I was never really taught how to improve my inner thigh muscles so that I can hold my turnout. I have really good turnout when my friends turnout my legs, but I don't have the muscles to hold that turnout. Is there anything that I can do to strengthen and improve my turnout?

My feet sometimes tend to sickle. Is there an exercise to make my bad sickling stop?

I am concerned about my weight and my body type; I have a very mature curvy body for a dancer. Do you think that my body type will be judged badly if I want to continue dancing? My ballet teacher loved the diversity of body types, but I am afraid that other dance company and studios might decline me.

I also tend to "sink" in my standing leg. My teacher has told me to pull up from my legs and thighs, but she never really helped me understand what to do. What should I do to help prevent this "sinking" in?

- Mandy M.

Dear Mandy M.,

"How to hold your turn-out" is a common question many of my students ask. Stand in 1st, then tendu front, slowly turn-in, turn-out. The muscles that you control to do this simple task are the same muscles that are used to maintain rotation (turn-out). For further tips, read my previous response to T.R.K.'s question re: turn-out.

Sickling usually means an imbalance of strength - that you are working the outside of your feet more than the inside. Ideally you must work both strongly. Set up in a parallel (6th) position - and slowly flex and point, keeping both sides of the feet working evenly. Try doing this exercise with added resistance using a Pilates theraband or your own towel to create resistance. Also, try standing with your toes on the edge of a stair; slowly relevé and lower to strengthen ankle.

Body type and weight are two separate issues. A slim, womanly body is appropriate for dance - an overweight untrim body is not! The manner in which you work can determine the look of your body. Always lengthen your muscles when working; do not grab muscles. You want a lean, long look. Eat sensibly to keep a trim figure and lengthen muscles to attain good body lines.

"Sinking" in the standing leg can occur for a number of reasons. To prevent it, go over this checklist:
• Make sure you are "on your leg", that is, have your toes, hip and head all lined up from top-to-bottom.

• Focus on stretching the space between them. I often describe it as a totem pole (toe-hip-head) with a lot of glue in between!
• Always use abdominal muscles; pull in and up as well to support your torso.

Remember to work patiently on these issues - it takes time to correct and strengthen these things.

Kathryn Sullivan

I have been dancing for nine years, but I just took a couple of years off because it was interfering with my school work. I am now almost eighteen and under the impression that I shouldn't start pointe. I began pointe when I was younger, but the pain was so excruciating that my mother and I agreed it was better that I did not continue. I have always yearned to do pointe. Now, with all the reading that I have done, I think that I could do it without the harsh pain. Do you think that I can? Am I too old?

- Mimi

Dear Mimi,

I can certainly understand your desire to go on pointe. No, I don't think your age is a problem but there are a few things to think about first. If you've had time off from taking regular classes this is where you need to begin. I would think you would need at least six months work of at least two classes a week before attempting pointe work. Also strengthening exercises with theraband (like those in the Dancer's Dozen) will help a great deal. Remember it will be a gradual process, but if you have the desire there's no reason for you not to go for it!

Maria Calegari

I'm a 15 year old girl that has been taking gymnastics for 5 years on and off. I was wondering, is it okay if I take dance just to become limber?

- MF

Dear MF,

Dance class alone does not make a tight and stiff body limber. A body that is not naturally flexible and stretched needs a lot of time outside of a dance class spent in stretching exercises. There are many books published on stretching that you can buy in a book store to find useful stretches for yourself. However, studying ballet will help you be stronger and more graceful in your movements and therefore more pleasing to look at.

Jan Miller

My ballet teacher is always telling me to turnout more and I don't know how I can help it. Do you have any answers? My teacher also spots me rolling my feet in. Do you know what to do about that?

- T.R.K.

Dear T.R.K,

Yes, ballet requires turn-out; it is extremely important for stability, range of motion, and to build strength. Everyone is born with some ability to turn-out. It can be gradually increased with time and effort (the younger, the easier it is!). Turn-out must come from the hip - the head or the femur bone rotates in the hip socket. Think of turn-out as the "action" of rotating the thighs.

Some tips:
• Hold the pelvis in an upright position by supporting with the abdominals.
• Do not "grab" the buttocks; they will automatically be engaged by rotating the thighs.
• Strengthen the rotator muscles (located in the back of the thighs) in order to hold turn-out in positions and while moving.
• Work on flexibility to increase the range of the hip ligaments.

Rolling your feet in indicates that you may be forcing turn-out from the knee or foot, which can be very dangerous. Always make sure that your knees are directly over your toes when you plié.

Summary - stretch, strengthen, don't rush or force turnout. Turn-out is a verb (or movement), not a noun (or position).

Kathryn Sullivan

I danced for 2 years starting at age 8, but then quit because the school moved away. I just started again (I'm 14 now) and I want to pursue a career in dance. I know it takes time to improve, but is there any way I can move up a little faster? Are there any exercises I can do at home every day to improve? How many ballet classes a week should I be taking right now? I'm only taking 1 ballet class per week and a middle eastern class. Should I let go of the middle eastern and take 2 ballet?

- April

Dear April,

The more hours you spend a day studying dance, whether it be in actual class or practicing on your own, the faster one will improve - provided one is working intelligently and correctly. However, you are right - it still is going to take time because the body can only be pushed so much. You say you want to pursue a career in dance, but you don't specify what kind of dance. If it is ballet, most 14-year-olds are in a ballet class every day six days a week. Ballet is very intense an demanding, so if it is a ballet career you want, give up the middle eastern class and concentrate solely on ballet. Since you just started back to dance you might want to increase your class load gradually to build up to every day. However, if it is a dance career in some other form of dance that you seek, then you don't need so many ballet classes. Probably two to three a week would give your body a good foundation so you would have time to add other forms of dance. There are always exercises you can do at home to improve your strength. Find out from your teacher what your weaknesses are and ask for some supplemental exercises to focus on those weak areas. If the teacher cannot help you, you need to write in your questions on specific areas that need strengthening and I will be happy to answer.

Jan Miller

My daughter's toenails turn black when she dances on pointe. Is there any way to prevent this? This has happened twice. She wraps them in lambs wool, and uses foam toe pads. She's twelve years old, and dances on pointe about three hours a week.

- Brenda

Dear Brenda,

There are several areas for you to look into concerning your daughter's problem. First, check to see that her toenails are cut properly. Too short or too long can cause problems in the nail bed. Perhaps you look into a local podiatrist who would advise you with the problem also. Most importantly, are your daughter's toe shoes fit correctly? They may not be broken in enough putting pressure on her toes. Also with regards to padding the toes. Small pieces of padding put in between the toes can take pressure off of the problem area. Simply putting a large piece of lambswool in the shoe will not do it. I often experienced this same problem when by toes weren't quite ready for the amount of work I was doing. Perhaps your daughter still needs less time on her toes per week and session.

Maria Calegari

How I could go about being a dance teacher; what licenses or certifications do you need?

- Wanberg

Dear Wanberg,

In order to become a dance teacher, there are several formulas to follow.

Many teachers are former professionals who have "retired" from performing to share their expertise with the next generation of young dancers.

Some teachers were dancers who, at an early age, knew they wanted to teach and not perform on stage themselves. These people will most likely attend a college that has a strong dance or dance education department (such as NYU, Columbia, Univ. of Utah, Butler (Indiana)).

You do not need a license or certification, but it is better that you do. National dance organizations such as Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators require that their member teachers have earned a certification. They are tested on ballet, tap and jazz syllabuses.

On an international level, ballet organizations such as the Royal Academy of Dance and the Cecchetti Society offer certification that has proven you've studied and passed rigorous testing in their method.

For more information, refer to the back of the monthly Dance Magazine or look at the annual Stern's Performing Arts Directory.

Good luck! Most importantly, besides "knowing your stuff", one must possess an intense love of the art of dance, enormous patience and a sincere enjoyment of helping students improve.

Kathryn Sullivan

I am currently taking one ballet class a week, (the class is an hour and a half long if that helps). I am 16 years old, I don't want to become professional, I would just someday like to dance on pointe. Is a class a week enough? If not, how many classes should I be taking? I have asked my mom about taking 2 classes a week , and so far her answer is no. I don't know what to do.

- Jane Doe

Dear Jane Doe,

One class a week is not sufficient to make the body strong enough to handle pointe work. Even though you say you do not want to become a professional dancer, it still takes a lot of work to train the body sufficiently to gain the proper strength to support yourself on pointe in order to not get injured and be able to execute the steps. For those reasons a good teacher would not allow a dancer on pointe who studies so infrequently. It is not just the number of classes you take that qualifies you for pointe, it also depends on how strong and knowledgeable the body is to be able to handle the demands of pointe work. Find out why your mother says "no" to more than one class a week and then take it from there to find a solution to your problem.

Jan Miller

I'm thirteen and I'm going to take ballet soon. I would probably like to take up the Cecchetti Method, but since Italians are notorious for the muscular look, does ballet through the Cecchetti Method necessarily give you that "bunched up" muscle look?

- Ashley

Dear Ashley,

There is good teaching and poor teaching in all methods of ballet. If you are concerned about the "bunched up" look - visit the school you intend to join and look at the dancers. If they look as though their muscles have a long lean extended look, it would seem that the teaching is good. Concern yourself with the quality of teaching, not the method. All methods intend to produce good dancers - it all depends on the teachers.

Mignon Furman

I'm 15 and just started basic ballet about 6 months ago. I only take one class per week. When will I be able to start pointe and is there anything I can do to speed up the process? I am willing to work extremely hard.

Dear C.A.,

It is difficult to give an exact period of time to your question because starting on pointe is determined by several factors. First, do you have the body structure that will allow you to eventually go on pointe? Your foot needs a decent arch so there is no strain on the leg muscles (especially the Achilles tendon and calves). The more classes you take per week, the faster the body gains strength and the sooner you will be able to accomplish going on pointe. The average number of years of serious study is about four or five years, three to four or more classes per week before the body has trained long enough to gain the appropriate strength. You must correctly master a certain vocabulary on demi-pointe before going onto pointe and that takes time. Your training must be with a good teacher so that you are taught proper placement. This will allow you to develop at the speediest rate. Last, but not least, how much time are you willing to dedicate to training and how hard are you willing to work? This is not easy and takes a lot of sacrifice and real commitment.

Jan Miller

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