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8 Ways to Make Pointe Pain-Free

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa

If you’re a professional dancer wearing pointe shoes all day long, you may experience some pain with pointe work.  However, it is possible for pointe to be pain-free, especially for the beginner.  If you have your shoes fitted correctly, and achieve the right level of strength and mobility, you shouldn’t be experiencing any real pain.  Rain Francis teamed up with renowned dance physical therapist Lisa Howell of Perfect Form Physiotherapy to bring you this list of 8 ways to make pointe pain-free.

1. Get the right shoes.

Correctly fitting pointe shoes are absolutely essential.  Once your feet have stopped growing, and have found a shoe that works for you, it may be more convenient to purchase them online, but for anyone who is still growing and developing, and especially for your first few pairs, make sure you see an experienced pointe shoe fitter, who has access to a wide range of styles.  If the shoe is fitted correctly, it will be firm around the front part of the foot but should not be squashing your toes in together too much, as this can lead to ingrown toenails.    If the box of the shoe is too wide, the foot will slide down into the box while en pointe, putting pressure on the toes, which can lead to bruised toe nails.  If the box is too short it can cut in under the joint of the big toe and may contribute to the formation of a bunion.  Always ensure that the wings of the shoe come up to the level of your big toe joint.   As everybody’s foot is different, there is no one perfect shoe that is right for all dancers, and it is essential that all students at a school have shoes that specifically fit their individual foot type, even if this means that they are in different brands.

2. Be prepared.

Every student should undergo a pre-pointe assessment with a qualified practitioner, for example a physical therapist who specializes in dance, or a private lesson with a very experienced dance teacher.  This is important to ensure that you have the required range and strength before you attempt pointe work.  Otherwise, you risk injury and developing incorrect technique, which can take a long time to correct.  Be patient – if you don’t pass your pointe assessment the first time around, listen to the advice from your assessor and work on all of the elements that are identified before your next assessment. It may only be another six weeks of sticking to your exercises before you are able to get your first pair of pointes! Refer to Lisa Howell’s The Perfect Pointe Book for some exercises that will really help with your preparation for pointe work.

3. Strengthen correctly.

Ask your teacher for a structured program to improve your strength en pointe gradually.  It is not just about being up on pointe or down on flat – it’s imperative to learn how to really articulate the foot in the shoe in every single rise and every tendu.  Working through a graduated rise and being able to control your lowering is the most essential part of pointe work and will improve your strength and technique while helping to prevent injuries.  For more information on this, check out the My Beginner Pointe program that Lisa developed with ex Australian Ballet Principal Artist Vicki Attard.

4. Use the right shoe for your level.

The shoes you wear should be appropriate for your level of pointe work.  As a beginner, while just working at the barre, a softer shoe will help you learn to articulate the foot correctly in the shoe.   When you move into doing things like multiple turns in the center, a stronger, more rigid shoe may be more appropriate.  As you progress further with your pointe work, you may find you need a few different pairs of shoes – a really supple one for barre work and softer, more Romantic solos; and a stronger, more stable one for center work, or stronger variations, which require multiple hops en pointe.

5. Look after your feet.

Foot hygiene is extremely important, yet often neglected.  If you don’t clean your feet and take care of your pointe shoes properly, you’re at risk of all sorts of nasties, such as blisters, ingrown toenails and fungal infections.  Treat your toe pads or ouch pouches like socks: Remove them from your shoes and wash them frequently.  You sweat a lot through your feet and wearing the same dirty pair of toe pads every day without letting them dry out can be a direct road to pain! If blisters do develop, make sure you deal with them hygienically and cover them up for class rather than letting the raw skin rub on the inside of your pointes.

6. Use appropriate padding.

There are many different options on the market these days, but when choosing padding for your toes, look for something that has minimal fabric underneath the toes.  Too much bulk here can interfere with the placment and working of the feet.  Any padding you use should be minimal.  The biggest issue with pain en pointe is usually due to the toes clawing in the shoe, and the knuckles rubbing on the underside of the box.  Most dancers then feel they need to put something in place to stop the rubbing.  However, it is much better to deal with the clawing in the first place, by developing the articulation of the foot and strength to the correct muscles to keep the toes long in the shoe.   Clawing indicates the incorrect use of the long toe flexor muscles which can lead to problems in the back of the ankle, such as posterior impingement.  If your toes are clawing, focus on learning how to articulate the foot better during all aspects of class.

7. Keep your shoes strong enough.

If you leave any padding in your shoes after dancing, the sweat may soften the glue of the box.  This can cause the shoe to weaken and will result in your foot sinking down too far in the shoe.   Always make sure to dry out your shoes thoroughly between each use, especially if you live somewhere that gets very humid.  Having a couple of pairs that you cycle through during the week will help extend the life of the shoe, especially if you are dancing on pointe every day.  You can also use a glue, such as Hot Stuff or Jet Glue to help re-stiffen the middle of the shank to extend its life.  Also, each pointe shoe may have a few reincarnations; it may start off as a performance shoe, then become a class shoe, then a rehab/pointe exercise shoe, before finally the shank is pulled out and it becomes a demi pointe shoe for class work.  Make sure you have shoes that are each stage, so you’re not using your stronger class shoes to do the really deep articulated exercises, especially when you’re doing more than 4 or 5 hours of pointe a week.

8. Pre-weaken your pointe shoes.

Pre-weakening (sometimes called ‘breaking in’) your new shoes in the areas you want it to weaken will help to stop it from breaking in the middle of the shank.  It is important not to cut the shank, heat it or wet it; these things may have been done in the past but are simply not relevant any more.  Pre-weaken the shank in the demi pointe area a little so that you can rise through it correctly, and also soften in underneath the heel so that the shank can sit in close to the arch when you are en pointe.  You can check out a video on how to do this here.  Just using your feet to weaken the shoes can cause them to break in the middle of the shank, which will make you start sinking down and back into the shoes, meaning you’ll need to replace them more often.  The shape of everyone’s pointe is different, so measure where the breakpoint is in your foot (where the heel becomes the arch) then weaken the shank of the shoe at this point so that it sits flat against your arch.  It will feel better, look better and can also help extend the life of your shoe.

The Best Food And Drinks To 

Fight The Cold And Flu

By Allison Fox

There’s nothing fun about having a cold or the flu.  Weak muscles, headaches, a stuffy nose and feeling sick to your stomach is common. But according to the experts, just drinking water is not enough to rebound quickly from a nasty bug.

“Your body is under stress from the infection,” Zhaoping Li, director of the Center of Human Nutrition at the University of California-Los Angeles, told The Huffington Post.   “We need to repair or support [the immune system].”

Luckily, there are a handful of foods and drinks that may help bolster and replenish your body while it fights the good fight.  Check them out below: 

1. Chicken soup

There’s support behind Grandma’s remedy: The soup’s warm liquid helps speed up the movement of mucus through the nose, according to the Mayo Clinic.  The salt content of the soup’s broth helps to prevent dehydration when you have the flu, in the event that you also experience diarrhea, Li said.  And the chicken provides protein to help restore and strengthen the immune system, which needs extra support from battling off your infection, she added.

However, chicken broth bought from the store will not pack the same punch as actual chicken soup, Li said.  You’ll want actual pieces of chicken, broken down and made more easily digestible through the process of cooking to get the most protein. Here’s a good chicken soup recipe to get you started.

2. Light protein

As mentioned above, protein helps.  Try to consume foods like eggs, chicken breast or a protein shake when you have the cold or flu. Whatever you do, ditch dense foods like steak.

“Your gastric intestinal track is not in the mood for heavy lifting,” Li said.

If you’re not feeling chicken, try a mushroom omelet.  You’ll get the protein from the eggs and mushrooms are a good source of potassium and zinc, which can help support the immune system, according to Lisa Young, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and author of The Portion Teller Plan.

3. Fruit juices and smoothies

If you have little to no appetite, drink your nutrients instead of eating them.  Fresh orange juice, apple juice and blended fruit and berry smoothies pack minerals, antioxidants and vitamins that may aid your body in recovery, Li said.

Drinking water is great but it shouldn’t be your only line of defense. Why? You don’t just lose water when you sweat out a fever, you lose electrolytes, too, Li explained.  So blended fruit and juices help replenish those electrolytes, which are critical for hydration and normal body function.

Young agrees, adding that sports drinks, which usually pack added sugar, aren’t necessary either.

“V8 juice has salt and some potassium,” Young said.  “You don’t need to drink one of those Gatorades when you can get a vegetable juice.” 

4. Decaffeinated tea

Warm tea can help with decongestion in the same way that chicken soup does.  And certain teas, like green tea, have antioxidants to help with fighting your cold.  Just avoid caffeinated teas since they could make you more alert, which may interfere with naps and sleeping off the sickness, Young said.

Bonus: Research suggests that lifelong tea drinkers may be less likely to face early cognitive decline, certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.  So, if you discover a love of tea in the middle of fighting a cold, it might not be such a bad thing.

5. Sweet potatoes

Eat a microwaved or roasted sweet potato if you have the appetite when you’re feeling under the weather.  Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene.  The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A after consumption, which is a necessary nutrient for a strong immune system, according to the National Institute of Health.

And then take it easy.  You’ll be on your way to better health in no time. 

Meet Your Feet, Part 1

By Lauren Warnecke

The human body contains 208 bones, and 52 of them are in your feet.

Your foot is arguably one of the most complex structures in the body, especially when you consider the purpose it serves for us dancers: support, balance, and propulsion.

Much like the musician and his instrument, for us dancers it is crucial that we keep our feet in good working order.

Foot maintenance:

Dancers are notorious for their… um… not-so-attractive feet. “Pedicure” is not in our vocabularies! Here are some considerations for ways to prevent and treat minor injuries, and general care for your feet:

1. Cut your toenails short, and straight across.  The nail should be straight across and not curved because curved nails or nails that are too long can lead to ingrown toenails.   The length of the nail should be *just* where the white part begins, with a very small amount of white showing.  Use clippers as opposed to scissors to get a clean, straight cut.

2. Don’t wear toenail polish.  Polish prevents you from being able to see under the nail, so you can’t see if you’re developing a problem such as a bruised or ingrown nail.  That doesn’t mean you can NEVER wear polish… go ahead and wear it for special events and then take it off before your next class, or, wear a clear polish that allows you to see the nail.

3. Learn to love calluses. Dancers should keep their calluses trimmed if they are overly thick and causing pain (forexample, if it feels bumpy in your shoe or against the floor), but generally calluses are a really good thing. They help protect against blisters and abrasions, so avoid the urge to file them off!

4. If you develop a blister: Blisters are par for the course in pointe work, especially as you break in new shoes.  They can also result from rubbing in soft shoes or jazz shoes, or from harder tap or character shoes.  Blisters can occur anywhere on your foot, but generally tend to pop up on the surface of the toes, inside or outside border of the metatarsals, or on the heel.  Blisters can be painful – even the littlest ones! Below is some advice on how to treat the two main types of blisters:

  • If you develop a clear colored blister, and the skin hasn’t broken, use a sterilized needle to pop the blister and drain out the liquid.  Do not remove the loose skin; cover with a bandaid and strip of athletic tape. If the skin has begun to tear, use a small pair of scissors to remove any loose skin and cover with a band aid and strip of athletic tape.
  • If you develop a red colored blister, do not pop it.  Blood blisters should be left to heal on their own; cover with a band aid and strip of athletic tape.
  • For painful blisters you can also cut the center out of a small piece of moleskin to form a donut shape.  This prevents the surface of your shoe from rubbing on the blister until it heals.  Cut a square or circle that’s bigger than your blister.  Fold in half and make a slit.   Putting the scissors through the slit, cut an inner circle the size of the blister. 
  •  Remove the paper covering and stick the moleskin pad to surround the blister.
  • Finally, check the fit of your shoe.  Blisters are normal with new shoes, but if you are developing them on a regular basis you may want to see about a different style that better molds to your foot.

Take Inventory on Your Dance Bag:

Making sure you have everything you need is critical to foot maintenance, especially if you’re a pointe shoe dancer.  Here’s a list of supplies I recommend keeping in your dance bag:

  • Nail clippers
  • Band aids
  • Athletic tape
  • Mole skin
  • Extra lamb’s wool or toe pads
  • Needle and thread
  • Extra elastic
  • Small pair of scissors
  • Tennis ball or foot roller

While these are the essentials, the list of what can appear in a dancer’s bag goes on and on.

Pointe Magazine does a feature called “Show and Tell”, featuring various professional dancers and diving inside their bags (sometimes including really obscure things like Kit-Kat bars, good luck charms, and Vaseline).

Over time, as you get to know your feet better, you’ll discover what you really need (and what you should include for rainy day emergencies).

11 ways to help your kid build self-esteem

BY RANDI CHAPNIK MYERS

FAMILY PARENTING

(PHOTO BY BRAND NEW IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

11 ways to help your kid build self-esteem

Simply praising your child can actually do more harm than good. Here's a comprehensive guide to building self-esteem in children.

Last week, my son Aaron made the school soccer team.  Boy, was I proud.  And I couldn’t stop saying so.  “Good job, buddy! You’re the best!” I beamed, he beamed, and all seemed right with the world.

It’s not the first time my kids have heard me shout their praises.  I’m the resident cheering section, their biggest fan, a back-patter extraordinaire.  These days, you can find me handing out compliments as if they’re sticks of gum—when my kids practice guitar, score a goal, help with dishes.  The mom logic goes like this: The kid does good (or good enough for me), so I make him feel great about himself. It’s called boosting self-esteem.  Or so I thought.

1. Step back

As it turns out, there are better ways to build self-esteem than heaping on praise for everything kids do—starting with helping them become competent in the world, says Jim Taylor, author of the book Your Kids Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You. To do so, though, you have to learn to step back and let your child take risks, make choices, solve problems and stick with what they start.

2. Over-praising kids does more harm than good

Self-esteem comes from feeling loved and secure, and from developing competence, Taylor says, and although parents often shower their kids with the first two ingredients, competence—becoming good at things—takes time and effort.  “As much as we may want to, we can’t praise our kids into competence,” he says.

In fact, by over-praising kids, we’re doing more harm than good. “We’re lowering the bar for them,” Taylor says.  “If you keep telling your child she is already doing a fantastic job, you’re saying she no longer needs to push herself.  But confidence comes from doing, from trying and failing and trying again—from practice.”

Samantha MacLeod, who has four boys, ages one to nine, believes constant complimenting can actually erode self-esteem.  Either kids start thinking they’re perfect or they try to be perfect all the time—an impossible standard.  And inaccurate praise confuses them, she says. “If my son can’t spell and I tell him he’s doing terrific, he learns not to trust his own instincts.  He also learns that praise is just flat-out lying.”

Plus, Taylor adds, telling your child he’s the best, the smartest or the most talented is setting him up for some very bad news down the road.  You’re creating an egomaniac who thinks his scribbles are Rothkos but, sooner or later, he’ll discover he’s not all that after all.

3. Let your child take healthy risks

Start by forcing yourself to stand back while your child takes healthy risks, says Victoria Sopik, CEO of Kids & Company, a corporate childcare service in Toronto, and a mother of eight.  “To build confidence in the world, kids have to take chances, make choices and take responsibility for them,” Sopik says.  She sees too many parents trying to rescue their kids from failure all the time.

Sopik remembers staring from across the room as her two-year-old son, Fraser, lifted a huge jug of orange pop at a fancy party.  “He was about to pour it into a glass, and I just stood there, holding my breath,” Sopik recalls.  Rather than trying to save her son before he had a chance to try, Sopik watched as Fraser spilled the pop all over the floor.

Then came the best part: Fraser found a waitress, asked for a paper towel and cleaned up his own mess.  “He solved his own problem—just like we do as successful adults,” Sopik says.

4. Let kids make their own choices

When kids make their own age-appropriate choices, they feel more powerful, says Sopik, pointing out that kids as young as two can start considering the consequences of their decisions.  Sopik always let her kids decide on their own whether to wear a coat, hat and mittens in winter.  “Once they knew the difference between warm and cold, it was up to them.  They should have control over their bodies and take responsibility for their choices,” she says.

5. Let them help around the house

In building self-esteem, kids also need opportunities to demonstrate their competence and feel that their contribution is valuable, says Taylor.  At home, that means asking them, even when they’re toddlers, to help with cooking, setting the table and making beds.

6. Encourage them to pursue their interests (fully)

Another surefire way to boost confidence in kids is to encourage them to take on tasks they show interest in, then make sure they follow through to completion. It doesn’t matter what the task—it could be anything from swimming laps to beating levels in video games.  The point is for them to stick with what they start, so they feel that hit of accomplishment at the end.

7. What to do when children struggle or fail

What if your child’s self-esteem plummets when she gets cut from the gymnastics team or can’t memorize multiplication tables?

8. Don’t lose sleep over it

“So many parents have it backward,” Taylor says. “They think struggles and failure will hurt their kids’ self-esteem, but it’s actually a golden opportunity to help build it.”

9. Make clear that your love is unconditional

Let your child know you love her even when she fails or makes bad decisions. If all you talk about is performance, Sopik points out, she will think you only love her for her report card or the lead she got in the play.

10. Make sure your child’s goals are within reach, at a level appropriate for his ability

That may mean suggesting he join house league, where he can feel like a star rather than being the last one picked on the AA team. MacLeod learned this lesson when her son, Alex, was in grade two. Feeling like a failure at reading, Alex was ready to give up when MacLeod brought home some Magic Tree House books, which were slightly below Alex’s level.  “He read one every two days and was so proud of himself that he went on to read the Goosebumps series, no problem,” she recalls.  Afterward, mother and son talked about how Alex’s choice to practice paid off, and she praised his perseverance.

11. Offer appropriate praise

Although praise is often misused, when it’s specific and earned, it is a valuable self-esteem builder, Taylor says.

Lorna Crosse, a former music teacher, remembers asking her choir students to keep a “brag file” full of praise they earned.  Any time they saw their names in a program or newspaper article or received a complimentary note, they were to put it inside.  “When the kids had a bad day, they would take out those words of praise and read all the neat things they had done, and it would make them feel better about themselves.”

The brag file works because it shows kids specific ways they’re special and teaches them that practice reaps rewards, Taylor says.  And it’s the practice—the effort—that should be the focus of praise, Sopik says. “Don’t just say ‘great play’.  Tell him it was awesome how he passed the ball to his teammate.”

And keep in mind that a little indirect praise, such as stars on a chore chart, can work wonders.  Mom Nancy Botelho gets even more inventive. She makes sure her kids “overhear” a little boasting.  “I’ll tell my friends how the teacher said Margaret is so kind, or how I saw Bridget working so hard at tying her shoes.  The kids just shine.  Since they were spying, they know I mean it and I’m not just trying to make them feel good.”

Your self-esteem checklist

Here are some of the things that the Canadian Mental Health Association says you can do to help raise confident—not coddled—kids:

Feel special.  It’s important for you to help your children discover their own unique talents and qualities, and to value their own strengths. But also teach them that feeling special doesn’t mean feeling better than others.

Set goals.  Teach your kids to work towards a goal and to have pride in their accomplishments.  Provide them with opportunities for success.

Try, try again.  Encourage your children to try things their own way, face challenges and take risks.

HOW TO CHOOSE BALLET SHOES

by Bethany 

Ballet shoes, or technique shoes, are the basic, light-weight shoes worn by all ballet dancers.  Proper technique shoes are essential to your performance and safety.  Popular brands include Capezio, Bloch, and Grishko.  By following these guidelines, you can find the best pair for your feet.

1. Know what are NOT ballet shoes.  Ballet shoes are not shiny polyester bedroom slippers.  They are not pointe shoes; they don’t allow you to stand on the tips of your toes.  They do not have ribbons.  Contrary to fashion trends, “ballet flats” are chic street shoes, and not actual dance wear.

2. Get professionally fitted.  If it’s your first time buying technique shoes you should always get fitted by a qualified professional at a dance store.  If it isn’t your first time and you want to try a different pair, you still need to be fitted since not every product is the same. Trying a new brand or style will require an adjustment. Improper fitting of shoes can lead to injury.   You will be asked to stand on a platform or another flat surface as they measure your feet.  Since you might be wearing your technique shoes with tights, they will give you disposable foot socks to wear as you try on the shoes.  If the shoes fit properly, it should feel snug but not too tight.  Walk around briefly.  If your big toe feels bent or crushed, you may need a larger size.  You will then be instructed on how to sew elastic onto the shoes so they stay on your feet.  Some shoes will already have elastic partially sewn on them.  A pair of technique shoes are typically $20-30.  Tip: Keep track of the brand and model of your shoes. You can always order online from a wholesale vendor i.e. Discount Dance.

3. Canvas vs. Leather Technique shoes come in two materials: canvas and leather.  Both are acceptable. Children traditionally wear leather.  Older dancers tend to prefer canvas because it absorbs moisture and molds to their foot.  They claim they can “feel the floor” better. Others prefer leather because it’s durable and offers more traction.

4. Full-sole vs. Split-Sole The sole of the shoe is very important. It provides a protective layer of cushioning, helping to reduce the risk of plantar fasciitis.  The most popular preference is split-sole because it allows the dancer to better articulate their feet.  They find it is easier to arch their foot and point their toes.  Children almost always wear full-sole because it helps them with balance and stability, where adults appreciate it for the same reasons.

5. Just dance.  Once you choose a pair, you just have to dance in them to see if they’re right for you.  You should be able to comfortably rise to the balls of your feet and point your toes without any excessive pinching, and the shoe should definitely not come off your foot.  Tip: If the floor is slippery, wet a paper towel or washrag and step on it.  The moisture will promote traction.  Just make sure you don’t use too much water and make a mess, or worse, make the floor more slippery! This is a basic guide to choosing the pair of technique shoes that’s best for you.  You may find the perfect pair on your first try, or it might take some trial and error.  Be careful to wear your shoes only in the classroom.  Wearing them outside, or in other parts of the house may cause unnecessary defects.  If you want to clean them, toss them in the washing machine! Be good to your technique shoes and they will give you the foundation you need.

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(Feature) image credit: M.A. Cabrera Luengo Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/