Please welcome Brenda Neville, head of the US Retail Department & NYC Boutique for Freed of London. Ms. Neville is here to talk with us today about her career as a Professional Pointe Shoe Fitter…
What is your background in dance?
I received my early dance training at the Milwaukee Ballet School and went on to graduate from Butler University in Indianapolis with a B.A. in Dance Pedegogy. After graduation, I moved to New York and then spent the next 15 years performing and touring internationally with a variety of companies, choreographer’s, and musical theatre productions in styles ranging from ballet to flamenco to Irish Step dance.
What are you doing now?
Aside from my work at Freed’s, I am the founder and Artistic Director of Neville Dance Theatre, a contemporary ballet company based in New York with annual performance seasons, and teach ballet classes and world dance workshops at The Ailey School, Steps on Broadway, and Covenant Ballet School of Brooklyn, to name a few.
How did you become a Professional Fitter?
When I wasn’t performing or touring, I supplemented my time and income in New York working with pointe shoe manufacturers as a fitter, manager and product tester. It’s now been over 15 years that I’ve been in the business.
What organizations have you worked with in terms of fitting pointe shoes?
I have extensive experience working with a variety of pointe shoe manufacturers, in particular Freed of London, Gaynor Minden, and Chacott. I work closely year round with students from School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre/JKO School, Boston Ballet School, and schools across the country providing pointe shoe and fitting advice, and travelling to schools and summer programs giving fittings and lectures.
How can getting a professional fitting benefit a dancer?
A fitter with extensive and diverse fitting experience (and possibly even first hand experience in dance themselves) is extremely knowledgeable with the many different brands and styles out in today’s market and knows which ones work best for differing foot types, shapes, strengths, and the myriad of other variables that go into finding the perfect match between foot and shoe.
Professional fitters also tend to have a working relationship with local teachers, choreographers and schools and can further help the dancer choose the shoe that will work best for them in these regards to, as well as. An experienced fitter also is able to quickly deal with common issues such as twisting shanks, sinking, durability, strength requirements, overall look and performance, which can be confusing and costly for a dancer to try and figure out on their own.
Who should consider getting a professional fitting?
Dancers going for their first pair of pointe shoes absolutely need to see an experienced fitter with a wide stock selection. I also recommend anyone looking to switch to a new brand / style do the same with a fitter/store that has specific knowledge and a wide stock selection of the specific brand / style you are interested in.
Lastly, any dancer experiencing issues such as blackened toe nails, tendonitis, bruising or corns between the toes or bones, or other persistent or ongoing physical issues should see a professional fitter for a shoe/fitting evaluation in addition to speaking with a physical therapist or health care professional.
What are some typical mistakes people make when trying to find the right pair of pointe shoes?
Going with a particular style/size/model because it looks great or works/worked for a friend, teacher or other dance professional. Everyone is unique, and what works best for someone else may not be what will work best for you. Be open to trying many different brands and styles until you find what works best for you individually, and an experienced fitter can be of great assistance in offering you advice.
Also, sometimes stock availability plays a part in pointe shoe selection mistakes. Make sure when selecting or purchasing shoes you get the style, brand and size you are looking for. If you are sure of what you need and a retailer or manufacturer does not have it available, ask if they can order it for you or try to find it somewhere else.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A dancer’s job is to dance, and as a performer, it can be exceptionally frustrating if your focus is instead on your shoes. It’s very rewarding for me to be able to help dancers find the shoe that is right for them, one in which they can perform with freedom and comfort and ultimately, just dance!
BIO: For over two decades, Brenda R. Neville has performed and choreographed in over 18 different countries including Argentina, China, Hungary, Japan, Romania and Spain with companies such as the Milwaukee Ballet, Indianapolis Dance Company, AllNations Dance Company, Marc DeGarmo & Dancers and Covenant Ballet Theatre of Brooklyn. An extremely versatile singer and actress as well, she trained at the Lee Strasburg Actor’s Studio in NYC and has performed lead roles in numerous musical productions such as “Footloose”, “My Fair Lady”, “La Cage aux Folles”, “Crazy for You” and in several film and commercial roles. She has trained and performed with some of the top talents in dance today, including Juan Carlos Copes, Antonio Cervila Jr., Jose Molina, Soledad Barrio, Magdalena, Sean Curran, Elizabeth Parkinson, Niall O’Leary, Marjorie Mussman, Graciela Kozak and Diana Cartier and at schools including The Ailey School, American Ballet Theatre, the Milwaukee Ballet School and Peridance.
An active dance teacher, Brenda teaches Junior Division ballet at The Ailey School, Advanced Ballet and Ethnic Dance at Covenant Ballet Theatre of Brooklyn, open Flamenco and Argentine Tango classes at Steps on Broadway, and guest teaches at various studios and schools around the country. Her students have been accepted into some of the most sought after and reputable dance programs, colleges and companies in the country, including American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, LaGuardia Performing Arts High School, The Ailey School and Point Park College and on Broadway.
An expert ballet pointe shoe fitter, Brenda heads the US Retail Department & NYC Boutique for Freed of London and has aided in the development and promotion of the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe. She is a graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana where she received a B.A. in Dance Pedagogy, cum laude, and is an original co-founder of World Dance Theatre. And now, Brenda is an ABT Certified Teacher, who has successfully completed the ABT Teacher Training Intensive in Primary – Level 3 of the ABT National Training Curriculum.
Thank you to Christopher Duggan for the photography in our Freed posts:
Contributor Christopher Duggan is the founder and principal photographer of Christopher Duggan Photography, a New York City-based wedding and dance photography studio. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York-based dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene.
He has created studio shots of Gallim Dance, Skybetter + Associates and Zvidance, among others, and in 2011 alone, he has photographed WestFest at Cunningham Studios, Dance From the Heart for Dancers Responding to Aids, The Gotham Dance Festival at The Joyce Theater, and assisted Nel Shelby Productions in filming Vail International Dance Festival.
Duggan often teams up with his talented wife and Pillow videographer Nel Shelby (http://nelshelby.com). A New York City-based husband and wife dance documentation team, they are equipped to document performances, create and edit marketing videos and choreography reels, and much more.
Christopher Duggan Photography also covers Manhattan’s finest wedding venues, the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, and frequently travels to destination weddings. The company’s mission is straightforward and heartfelt – create timeless, memorable images of brides, grooms, their families and friends, and capture special moments of shared love, laughter and joy.
His photographs appear in The New York Times, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, Munaluchi Bridal, and Bride & Bloom, among other esteemed publications and popular wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s celebrated photography collection in 2010. His company has been selected for inclusion in “The Listings” in New York Weddings magazine.