I have a serious weakness for great swan arms. When Odette pulls off smooth ripples outwards from the center of her spine through to her tips of the fingers, it gives me chills. Because I know how crazy hard they are to do well! Swan arms can take hours of practice and many varying ways of thinking about the movement. I've even watched top ballerinas continue working on them over and over in rehearsal—even after already having performed the ballet dozens of times.

 

Which is why my mouth literally dropped open in awe watching Lil Buck perform The Dying Swan at Fall For Dance last week. (He improvises it every time, but you can catch a similar clip here.) This hip hop riff on the iconic Fokine ballet was brilliant from start to finish. But what particularly caught me were his arms. They were fantastically swan-like, but completely different from anything I've ever seen in classical ballet. Memphis Jookin (Lil Buck's style) has a very particular convergence of lightening-fast fluidity and held resistance that creates amazing visuals with the body. Sometimes the movement is so quick and quirky it almost seems like an optical illusion.

 

I'd recommend that any ballet dancer learning Swan Lake should watch Lil Buck's version, not necessarily for imitation, but definitely for inspiration.

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During one of Charlotte Nash's first few weeks with Houston Ballet II, she was thrown into a run-through of Balanchine's Theme and Variations. "I had never really understudied before and I didn't know what I was doing," she says. "I fell right away and was quickly replaced." For Nash, now a dancer with Festival Ballet Providence, the episode was a tough lesson. "I was mortified, but then I said to myself, 'Okay, I need to figure out how to learn things more quickly.'"

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Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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The Joffrey Ballet's Amanda Assucena and Greig Matthews in Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre. Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

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Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

American Ballet Theatre's fall season at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater offers a chance to see the company in shorter works and mixed-repertoire programs. This year's October 16–27 run honors principal Herman Cornejo, who's celebrating his 20th anniversary with the company. Cornejo will be featured in a special celebratory program as well as a new work by Twyla Tharp (her 17th for the company), set to Johannes Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111. The October 26 program will include Cornejo in a pas de deux with his sister, former ABT dancer Erica Cornejo.

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