Coming home from my summer intensive was such a letdown. How can I carry my summer inspiration into the fall? —Hailey
I remember the feeling, too. After weeks of intense dancing, exciting master teachers and new friends, it can be hard to go back home. You have to channel that inspired energy back into your regular routine. I found it helpful to write down as much as I could remember in a notebook. Give each teacher his or her own page. Include corrections, combinations or exercises that you found particularly helpful, as well as any of their catch phrases or metaphors that brought on an “aha" moment. I even drew stick-person diagrams of one teacher's turnout and arabesque exercises, illustrating all the steps. Refer back to your notebook, applying what you learned over the summer to your fall classes, and make a list of achievable goals that you'd like to reach by December. (By the way, I still have my notebook!)
If your studio is closed during the month of August, ask your teachers if it's possible to arrange some maintenance classes, or ask for permission to come in and work on your own. If there's a studio in a nearby city offering open classes, plan a few day trips to continue challenging yourself. Yoga or Pilates can help you maintain strength and flexibility.
Keep in touch with your summer intensive friends so you can continue to motivate each other. Most importantly, talk to your teachers at your home studio! Tell them what you learned over the last six weeks, what corrections you received and what you found exciting about the program. Chances are, they want to help you keep the momentum going, too.
When I'm on pointe, the spot where my shank breaks in demi-pointe “bubbles" and pulls me off my box. Help! —Abigail
It's hard to know what's wrong without actually seeing your feet, so I consulted with Mary Carpenter, a professional fitter whose popular YouTube channel, DancewithmaryNYC, offers advice on common pointe shoe problems. Carpenter notes that shoes often bubble or bow back simply due to too much wear. But if the bubbling happens when your shoe is relatively new, evaluate whether the shank and/or vamp is supportive enough.
“Shanks usually break too low when they are not breaking in at the correct spot," Carpenter says. “Then the pressure goes to the wrong area, usually under the metatarsals." You can try looking for shoes with a stronger shank and three-quartering them to help distribute your weight more evenly. You may also want to schedule an appointment with a professional fitter to make sure you're wearing the appropriate shoe to begin with.
I have stress fractures in my sesamoid bones and need to be off my feet for four weeks. What are the best non–weight-bearing exercises I can do to stay in ballet shape? —Lindsay
Your sesamoid bones (two tiny, pea-shaped bones under the ball of the foot that act as a pulley for the big toe tendons) are a point of contact with the floor, so it's important to avoid bearing weight on the front of the foot while they heal. But that doesn't mean you can't continue conditioning your body. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to work on core strengthening.
According to Emily Sandow, PT, DPT, OCS, at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center, floor barre is an excellent way to stay in shape. “It's basically taking what you do in class and putting it on the floor," says Sandow. If you've seen A Ballerina's Tale, you'll recall that floor barre classes with Marjorie Liebert were a huge part of Misty Copeland's recovery from shin fractures. If you need guidance, there are plenty of floor barre classes available on DVD and YouTube—look for ones taught by Liebert, Zena Rommett and Stéphane Dalle.
Supplementary somatics can help, too. When I was sidelined with a stress fracture in my ankle, I stayed conditioned with Pilates mat and reformer classes. Gyrotonic is another great option for dancers. As for cardiovascular exercise? “Swimming is fantastic because you're able to do big motions without worrying about load bearing," says Sandow. The stationary bicycle is another option, but use your mid-foot or heel to pedal.
“Let pain be your guide," says Sandow. “If it hurts, stop." Once you're able to start taking barre, pace yourself. Stress fractures are overuse injuries, often aggravated by a high-pressure lifestyle, poor diet and irregular menstruation. Use this time off not only to heal, but also to check in with your work and eating habits.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt—she might answer it in an upcoming issue!