A Ballet Vision
Among all the other disruptions the global pandemic has created, it has also caused what seems to be a world-wide tap shoe shortage! Our ACADEMY dancers now mostly have their shoes and uniforms, but it has taken a while.
Uniforms are the outfit and footwear that students wear to class each week. You might be wondering, why can't they just wear yoga pants and easy-to-move-in tops? Indeed, students in our ABCs of Dance program (ages 1.5 years to six years) and ATRIUM Aerial (ages eight and up) currently wear exactly that. Once they graduate into the ACADEMY Dance program however, uniforms become more important for several reasons. Uniforms:
During the pandemic, we took a break from uniforms and just did whatever we could do to keep students moving. Now that we are back to in-studio classes for most students (some still Zoom in, which is great!), we have returned to having uniforms as well.
The difference in how the students approach their dancing when wearing uniforms (and tap shoes!) is really quite remarkable. Seeing students progress and achieve is my jam, so I'm pretty happy these days. I hope all is well with you, and maybe we'll see you at the studio.
First Costume Prototype
It’s always a bit of an effort to get back into sewing when I’ve had some time away. I’m relearning how to lay out the fabric and patterns most efficiently, and remembering exactly how the parts go together. (Sometimes I don’t remember exactly, resulting in lots of ripping out stitches.) This time I also had a cool new tool to try out which helps me apply elastic to leg holes. I’m still waiting for two gadgets that may help me gather tulle for tutus more easily, but meanwhile, my serger does an ok job.
The bodysuit went together without much problem, once I figured out how to use the elastic attachment. I built the tutu to be reversible, so that either the pink or the blue could be the outside layer. It was a little tricky to figure out the waistband, but I think I found a solution.
It’s such a darling little costume. Add a hairpiece, tights and ballet slippers, and repeat the whole process a dozen more times or so, and we’re set!
My process for choosing music:
If the song has a specific context that I know about or came across through research, that gets considered as well. I may also watch the video.
So many songs with a great groove that would be fun to dance to get disqualified because they are either overly suggestive, or demeaning towards women.
I try to find a workable balance across all those criteria. Once I’ve made my choices, I purchase the music, then cut or remix it as necessary.
Creating a dance is a little like cooking. You need ingredients to combine in order to have something to eat by supper time. Students have been working on technique since September, learning steps and combinations (the ingredients), and how to perform them with dynamics and style. Last week we really got rolling on creating dance pieces for the show, which involves taking those ingredients (steps and combinations) and combining them into a delicious dish (choreography).
Unlike baking, where the recipe is very clear about what goes into the cake and in what proportions, there are no set recipes for creating a dance piece. Depending on the theme of the piece and the music or soundscape chosen, a choreographer might choose to come up with movement and structure first, and then set it to music, or look to the music to guide their movement ideas.
In this show, many of the songs we use have a verse-chorus, verse-chorus, bridge, chorus structure. By mirroring the song structure for some of our choreography, it limits the amount of material a student has to learn and perfect for performance, and also provides emphasis through repetition, allowing the audience to take in more of the message of the dance piece. Another benefit is that students learn about music by experiencing the structure of the song through their movements.
Once I’ve found the music for a piece (a journey in itself!) I spend time with pen and paper, listening to the music on repeat and mapping out the shape of the music and adding choreographic ideas. In the studio, we’ll try those ideas out, and adjust, add and subtract where necessary.
In other situations, I’ll come into the studio with some movement ideas to try with students. This can be a slow process, full of trial and error, but there can be a richness to the movement that is developed through this more collaborative process.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been working with each class to craft their movement vocabulary (ingredients) into phrases associated with particular musical cues. The rough outline is starting to form for each piece, and students are getting an idea of what the overall feel of the dance will be. Once they understand the current material, we’ll mix it up to create a more complex and interesting piece. It’s a sometimes labourious, occasionally boring, and overall exciting process.
For the month of January, our dining room was covered with swatches of shiny material in vibrant hues. I was looking for colours and patterns that suit the music and style of each dance, fabrics that would be exciting and fun to wear, and looks that are unique that help each class feel special. Estimating how much material to buy is always nerve-wracking! I ordered my first batch of fabric in February, and am now making prototypes of each costume. If they work out (they had better), then I can get to sewing! I don’t have my intrepid assistant this year, as she’s away on exchange, so I’m facing this task alone. Wish me luck!
Behind the curtain
A year-end performance is the highlight of any dance studio’s year. The lights, the costumes, the audience, all make for a memorable event for students and audience alike. Over the last four years, we have been gaining knowledge and experience through our in-studio concerts, and now we are ready to take the leap to a new venue: the spectacular Meaford Hall! Our show is set for June 5, 2020.
I thought it would be interesting to document the process of show creation, both to help me keep track of what I’m doing, and also to share the process with our dance families!
Some of what I’ve done so far:
Time spent so far: 91.39 hours
On the first Saturday of December, our studio did a “downtown takeover”, turning several shop windows in downtown Meaford into tiny stages. We had been preparing for months, practicing at the studio and at home, getting costumes sorted and fitted, and organizing dancers into duos, trios and quartets, and in one case, a solo.
When the day finally came, each group of students stood on their own inside a shop window, looking out at the audience of friends and family assembled on the street. Music played inside and out, and the first team performed their dance, then exited the stage while the other team performed theirs. Over the period of each hour, each team performed their tap, ballet or contemporary dance several times. A quick switch over brought a new group of dancers to each window for another hour's worth of dancing.
It was a transformative experience. The very first performance was full of jitters and nerves, and dancers were relieved when it was over. Just as quickly, it was their turn to perform again, so up they went! Each time they returned to the stage, they performed with more assertiveness and confidence. By the end of the hour, students were demonstrating a “star quality” that seemed inborn, but is actually only achievable through this kind of concentrated work.
How to care for ballet slippers
Receiving ballet slippers is a rite of passage for many young dancers. They are rightly excited to get to dance in their new slippers!
For the most part, students can look after their own slippers, but they do need a bit of help from you when they bring them home for the first time:
This is how your student will wear their slippers in class. These elastic ties stay done up from now on; no need to undo them to get the shoe on and off.
After class, students have been instructed to gently set their slippers in the top of their dance bag for transport. When they get home, they can remove socks and uniform items that need cleaning. Then they can either set their ballet slippers on their dresser to air out, or pop their shoes back in the bag and then hang their bag on their bedroom door knob until next dance class. Ballet slippers cannot be washed, so students are to wear their slippers only in dance class, or on a clean, hard floor at home if they want to do some practicing.
I have reminded dancers that it is their personal responsibility to make sure their dance bag contains their slippers, clean socks and uniform, hair ties and bobby pins, and their water bottle, and to bring their bag with them to class every time. Bags and water bottles come into the studio with the dancers for easy access during class.