French Twist Tutorial

by Cara Marie Gary

The dismissal bell rang to signal an end to a long school day. Students crammed materials into a large book bag and bustled about the halls. It was an inevitable race to leave the building in order to avoid the long traffic line in the parking lot. My ballet studio was an hour away and I didn’t have a second to spare. I took off in my swift sprint and was one of the first students to drive out of the lot. I took off my lanyard and placed it on the rearview mirror while I grabbed a hair elastic off the stick shift. One might think a cup holder held a refreshing beverage, but mine held dozens of tiny hairpins. At the first stop light, my foot pressed against the brake as I quickly maneuvered my hair into a ponytail. A flash of green light meant it was time to keep driving. Twist and pin as fast as you can was my method for my completing my bun. This definitely wasn’t the safest driving method, but it was efficient at cutting out a few minutes so I could do my splits before ballet class started.

Experimenting with different hairstyles has always been an interest of mine. I love being able to change a look completely by simply adjusting where a few strands of hair lay. It’s amazing how hot rollers, straighteners, curling irons, gels, and hairspray can transform one’s hairstyle.

A common image associated with ballerinas is a high, slicked-back bun. However, there are so many options for dancer’s hairstyles (a French braid into a low bun, center part messy bun, cinnamon roll bun, side twist into a bun, etc.). One of my favorite dancer hairstyles is a French twist.

I believe this is a unique and elegant hairstyle. I’ve developed a 10-step process to perfecting a French twist:

1) Start by brushing your hair and parting the front to the side of your preference. (I like a left part.)

Photo Credit: Mahallia Ward

2) Using both hands, collect all of the hair into the center of your head. The hair should be gathered in line with the top of your ears. Avoid going too far towards the nape of your neck or top of your head.

Photo Credit: Mahallia Ward

3) The next hairbrush I use is called my “smoothie” brush. It’s produced by Conair and has nylon tuft bristles. This brush is the best at smoothing down bumps and wisps. Keep holding the hair in your left hand while brushing your hair towards the center gathering with your right hand.

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Dancer Profile: Isabella Boylston

Isabella Boylston. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O'Connor.

Isabella Boylston. Photograph by Rosalie O’Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O’Connor.

“That’s the goal: To really have your expression manifest itself in your movement” –Isabella Boylston

Isabella Boylston began dancing at three and fell in love with ballet at eleven. At that age, her lessons featured live piano music and the opportunity to improvise with silk scarves at the end of class– both out-of-the-ordinary experiences for most ballet classes. Boylston went on to train at Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory in Florida. In 2001, she won the gold medal at the Youth America Grand Prix.

At age 17, she attended the American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive and was asked to join ABT’s studio company. However, her parents wanted her to complete her education first. Boylston said, “We got into a big fight because I wanted to come to New York and they wanted me to finish high school. Eventually we compromised and I got to come halfway through my senior year and I finished high school through correspondence.”

She found the transition from school to company a little jarring a first. In the studio company, she had to learn choreography much faster than she did in school. When she moved up to ABT’s main company, her struggle was to fit into the corps rather than stand out as an individual dancer. But, she rose to the occasion and was promoted to soloist in 2011 and principal dancer in 2014.

Boylston has danced many famous roles from the classical repertoire including Odette/Odile, but her favorite character is Giselle. She explains, “I really relate to Giselle. She’s impulsive and I feel like she’s more like my younger self than me now. I’ve experienced betrayal and it can be quite devastating, but it didn’t kill me. I think in the first act she’s really really lively and vital, experiencing life to the maximum. She opens herself up completely and that makes it all the more tragic when everything comes crashing down.” Boylston believes in ballet’s power to convey complex emotions and its relevancy. She says, “Ballet is such a unique art form. You can say things through dance that you could never express in words, and ballet has the ability to touch people on a deep, abstract level. In some ways, ballet is more valuable now than ever.”

Fun Facts:

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A Franklin Method Foot Warm-Up For Dancers

by Jan Dunn, MS

Aloha to All!

In this article, the first of a two-parter, I’d like to share a foot warm-up that comes from the Franklin Method. I learned this many years ago, from Eric Franklin, and it has been a part of my daily warm-up ever since. I have taught it to dancers (and non-dancers!) in many workshops / classes, such as for the national touring company of “A Chorus Line” – and the response has always been….”wow, I love this – thank you for teaching it to us!” I thought that since 4dancers has been highlighting feet this month, I would do an article for you describing this sequence.

This is most beneficial done before you do a class / rehearsal / performance, or even first thing in the morning when you get up. It does a lot more than just warm-up the feet, as I hope you will see as you do it along with me…

The Preparation

Before starting, take a quiet moment to “tune in” to how your body feels, especially your feet. Just stand comfortably, weight on both feet, and notice. There is no right / wrong, good / bad — it’s just a moment to see how your body is feeling overall, and your feet as well. (Think of it as a “pre-test”!)

The Exercise

1 – Massage: take just one Franklin Ball (I will discuss the balls at the end of this article), and put one foot on it. Gently roll your foot back and forth on the ball, giving the sole of your foot a nice massage. How much pressure you put on the ball is up to you, and how long you do it is also individual — your body will tell you “OK, that’s enough”.  It should feel good — no pain or discomfort, please!

massage 2

2 – Forefoot Rotation – Put your forefoot on the ball, heel braced on the ground (heel stays on the ground throughout) – inwardly then outwardly rotate your foot, reaching first the little toe / then the big toe down towards the ground. Your knee / hip will move with the foot — only go as far as comfortable in each direction. I usually do about 5-6 on each side. With this movement, you are getting lots of movement going in the various joints in the foot (all 33 of them!), as well as the ankle / knee / hip.
toes down2toes down 1

3 – Vary the inward / outward foot rolling so that now the toes are coming up and away  from the floor – I like to imagine that the floor is hot, and I have to reach my big toe / little toe up to the ceiling to get away from it. So it’s still an inward / outward rotation, but is different from the toes down version.

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Dancer Profile: Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O'Connor.

Misty Copeland. Photograph by Rosalie O’Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O’Connor.

“I have never set limits for myself” – Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland actually laughed the first time her teacher told her she had the talent to become a professional dancer. At the time, the teenaged Copeland didn’t even know what it meant to be a “professional dancer”. Yet, from the start, she proved to be a prodigy. Beginning ballet at the late age of 13, she became strong enough to do pointe after only three months of training. Five months later, she was cast as Clara in The Nutcracker. At age 15, she received a full scholarship to attend San Francisco Ballet School’s summer intensive program. By age 19, she joined the corps of American Ballet Theatre.

But her career did not have smooth start. She soon fractured a vertebra in her lower back during rehearsal- an injury that took a year to fully recover from. Furthermore, doctors were concerned that her bones weren’t as strong as they should be because she hadn’t gone through puberty yet. They put her on medication to start the process. As a result, Copeland quickly developed a figure that was not considered ideal for ballet. When ABT management told her that she needed to “lengthen” (code for “lose weight”), she was devastated and fell into disordered eating. But, eventually, and with the encouragement and mentoring of a former ABT dancer, Copeland began to embrace her new body. She said, “My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one.”

In 2007 Copeland was promoted to soloist, the first African-American in two decades to achieve this rank at ABT. She hopes to go on to become the first female African-American principal in the history of ABT. Copeland has made it one of her goals to promote greater diversity within the ballet community. She says, “I’d like to continue to inspire dancers, especially dancers of color, in this art form. And I’d like to be remembered for changing the minds of people that may have been closed off to what they expect to see in the ballet world.” Copeland’s advice to everyone is to “accept everything about you that makes you different.”

Fun Facts:

  • She enjoys listening to music before a performance- just not classical music.
  • When she performed in Swan Lake as a corps member, she would quietly sing to herself to get through the second act. She said, “it’s agony, so you have to go someplace else in your mind.”
  • Her favorite step is grand jeté. Her least favorite is fouetté.



Follow Misty On:

Her Website: http://www.mistycopeland.com/home.html
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mistyonpointe
Instagram: http://instagram.com/mistyonpointe
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mistycopeland

Photos of Young Copeland Dancing:

In Class

Pas De Deux


Copeland Dancing at Age 15:


Copeland Dancing at Age 18:


 Copeland Dancing Today:





The New Yorker Profile: An Unlikely Ballerina

Copeland’s Journey in Dance, Race in Ballet

Teen Vogue: Ballet Star Misty Copeland Talks Overcoming Racism and Body Shaming on Her Way to the Top

Excerpt from Copeland’s Memoir “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”

Misty Copeland: On Clean Eating And The Eyebrow Pencil She Can’t Live Without

Copeland Talks About Her Diet and Favorite Cosmetics

You Asked–Misty Answered

Q&A with Copeland

Cupcakes & Conversation with Misty Copeland, Soloist, American Ballet Theatre

Ballet News Interviews Copeland

NYC Dance Project: Misty Copeland

Photographs and Interview with NYC Dance Project


Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

Copeland’s Memoir


Copeland’s Children’s Book


Ballerina Ashley Ellis Talks Pointe Shoes

Photo by Ashley Ellis

Photo by Ashley Ellis

by Ashley Ellis

You may have heard of dancers referring to their body as their instrument. It is so true, and we must constantly take care of our instrument so that we are able to ‘play our music’ to the best of our ability.

With this said, for a ballerina there is a whole other very important factor that comes into play. Pointe Shoes. Keeping with the same analogy, I’d say that pointe shoes are like the bow to our violin. They go together to create the ‘music’ of a ballet dancer. How she feels in her shoes can greatly affect her dancing experience.

There are a number of pointe shoe brands out there, and a dancer will usually try many different makes and models before settling on one. My very first pair of pointe shoes were Contempora by Capezio (they were pink and very small, hehe). After that I spent a few years in pointe shoes made by Sansha before settling on FREED Studios Professional, which is what I wear to this day.

I will admit though, that I am currently testing out the waters with a new pointe shoe, FREED Classic. They aren’t far from what I am using now but as any ballerina can tell you, once you find your shoe it can be a real challenge to switch brands. The reason for this is that after spending so much time in your chosen pointe shoes they become a part of your foot so to speak; you learn how to articulate and “use” your feet in these shoes.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

The biggest difference between what I have been wearing, the ‘studios’, and the new (to me) ‘classics’ is that the studios are what we call a stock shoe and the classics are handmade. The truth is that I could go on and on about the differences between the two, but well, for your sake I won’t bore you with ALL of the details!

Because the FREED classics are handmade they can be custom ordered for the personal needs of individual dancers. This means that they will not only fit better by shaping them around a dancer’s foot, but can also accentuate strengths and give more support or pliability where it’s needed. In fact, the alterations that can be made to these shoes are seemingly endless–it’s really quite remarkable.

Despite all of the wonderful aspects of having a shoe made just for you, it takes time to get it just right, and when it comes down to it you must feel at home in them. As for me, I am still at home in my stock shoes.

It seems that the general thought that comes to mind when thinking of pointe shoes is, “ouch!”. I don’t know how many people have asked me if the box is made of wood (no, not wood, just many layers of fabric and glue). It’s funny because once you reach a certain point in your professional career you wear them so many hours throughout each day that it really isn’t all that painful. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t walking on clouds, but your feet become strong, and do toughen up over time.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

That said, most dancers will still create some sort of little barrier between the toes and the actual box of the shoe for protection, some of which include: various kinds of sports tape, masking tape, duct tape, toe pads made of foam, wool, rubber—even gel-filled ones. I wear a simple toe pad made from a thin layer of lamb’s wool. I actually didn’t wear anything in my shoes until about two years ago. My teacher didn’t let us when I started out on pointe so that we would really have to feel the floor and articulate our feet better.

One of the most important things to know is learning how to break-in your pointe shoes. They are not the kind of shoes that you can just slide on your foot and wear. If you do—well—they will feel like wood and cause much more pain than they should. This ritual is yet another aspect of wearing pointe shoes that is individual to each dancer.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

How I prepare my shoes:

  • Cut the shank.
  • Add glue to the middle of the shank where I need the most support.
  • Sew the insole back down so it doesn’t roll up under my arch.
  • Step on the box, then work it a bit to soften the upper box area.
  • Wear them a bit to break them a little more and form them more to my feet.
  • Bang them really hard on cement so they are quiet as well as easier to move in.
  • Glue the inside upper portion of the box.
  • Sew on elastic and ribbons.

Even though there are those days when I get to that 6th hour of rehearsal and my feet are simply swollen and ready to be soaked in a big bucket of ICE, I do truly love dancing on pointe; with the movement qualities that it allows, and illusions that it can create.

Boston Ballet presents Lady of the Camellias, running from February 26th through March 8th. Tickets are available here. See Ashley perform the lead role of Marguerite at the Saturday matinee.

Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis

Contributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.

She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.

Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s  La  Bayadère;  Marius  Petipa’s  Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel  Fokine’s  Les  Sylphides;  Rudolf  Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s  Serenade,  Coppélia,  Symphony  in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.


Ribbons, Ice, Everything Painful and Nice: A Pro Dancer Talks Pointe Shoes

Alabama Ballet company member Nadine Barton on pointe shoes and foot care.

Nadine Pointe 1

1. What brand and model of pointe shoe do you wear?

Capezio Aria.

2. How long have you worn this model?

For about five years.

3. Why does this model work best for your feet?

I like the way the model shapes to my feet as well as provides support in the right ways. I never liked having space from the floor when I am up on pointe, and, with these, I can always feel the floor.

4. Does anything about the structure of your feet create challenges for pointe work?

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Pointe Shoes: Tools Of The Trade

IMG_0442 (1)

Cara Marie Gary, “Esmeralda”, USA IBC 2010, Photo by: Richard Finkelstein

by Cara Marie Gary

I began taking pointe classes when I was eight years old. I still have my first pair of Leo’s pointe shoes. They’re so small and narrow I don’t think I could fit my first toe and bunion inside them now! One of my ballet instructors, Anita Pacylowski-Justo, helped me transition to the shoe she wore as a dancer. Every since trying on her Bloch Serenade, my foot “fell in love” with this shoe.

Big pile of pointe shoes

My pointe shoes. Photo by Mahallia Ward.

I’ve tried to experiment with other brands like Chacott, Russian Pointe, Gaynor Minden, Sansha, Freed, and Capezio, but I always keep coming back to Bloch Serenade (Style: SO131L Width:D Size:2). I like this shoe because it has a wide, square platform which is good for my peasant foot (meaning that my toes are similar in length). I also like that the shank is strong enough to prevent my foot from going too far over pointe.

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