Knitting Projects for Class: Fingerless Mittens and Barre Leveler

Two problems that sometimes arise in ballet class are cold hands and wobbly freestanding barres. I found these two quick and easy knitting patterns that provide simple solutions.

Fingerless Mittens

With cold weather here, I see people layering on garments: leg warmers, rip stop (“trash bag”) pants, wrap sweaters, and more. One day I saw a person wearing fingerless mittens and thought, how clever! Fingerless mittens keep your hands warm while allowing you to still feel (or in my case sometimes grip) the barre. This free pattern from Lion Brand Yarn called Highland Gauntlets is perfect. Scroll down for instructions.

If you want to cover your lower arms as well as you hands, just follow the pattern. If you want to shorten the gauntlets and just cover you hands and wrist, simply shorten the gauntlet potion of the pattern to you desired length. I altered the pattern a little to shorten the gauntlet into fingerless mittens.

knithand2 (1)

knithand1 (1)

Freestanding Barre Leveler

 

Have you ever started class only to hold the barre and realize you unfortunately picked a wobbly one? The music has begun, the teacher has handed out combinations and it is too late to changes places … so you are stuck with a barre that moves every time you touch it. This barre is no help for balance and the sound it makes with every wobble is irritating/distracting. You could solve the problem by putting a towel under one of the barre’s four feet, but you might want to use your towel. A piece of paper is usually too thin to be helpful. I’ve seen an old ballet shoe shoved under a barre, but who wants to use his or her own ballet slipper in case there isn’t an extra one lying around the studio?

I’ve encountered plenty of shaky freestanding barres and finally decided to 1) test the barre for steadiness before class begins and 2) if needed, whip out my simple knit square to put under a foot of the wobbly barre. I used this simple pattern called “Not Your Average Washcloths” by Elizabeth Prusiewicz.

knittingbarre

Of course you could use any small square pattern — think of it like a coaster for the barre. Find simple knitted square patterns here and here.
Now you’re ready for the cold weather with warm hands on steady barres!

 

Ballerina Profile: Deborah Novak

NOVAK BALLET

Deborah Novak returned to ballet over ten years ago at the age of 47 after having danced ballet professionally until the age of 23. Read her incredible story below!

When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I returned to ballet in the fall of 2003 at age 47.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

In 1960, I began to study ballet at age 5. I danced throughout my high school years with the Jebedon Ballet theatre, a local company in Huntington, West Virginia. For college, I went to NYU, where I studied with Nenette Charisse, and also at the American Ballet Theatre, with teachers such as Leon Danelion, Patricia Wilde, and Madame Swoboda. After college, I danced professionally in national touring companies, regional theatre, and summer stock, playing such roles as Maria in West Side Story. I danced until 1978 and stopped when I was 23. Funny, I saw that many of my friends quit ballet at the same time.

 Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I was at the gym one day, listening to that horrible pounding music they play, watching the stupid daytime sit-coms on the TV bank, and it suddenly hit me that I can do better than this. I was trained as an artist, and I might as well do something artistic. So I went to one of the Nautilus machines, used it as a barre, and began a slow developpe a la seconde. And then it happened: I saw that I could still do it. I let go of the “barre” and guess what . . . I balanced. Was it a perfect developpe? Far from it. But my extension was still there and my placement was still there.

Where do you take classes?

I’m currently with the Charleston Ballet in Charleston, WV, but I am cast as the “Russian Dancer” in the Huntington Dance Theatre’s 2014 Nutcracker. Here, I am working with choreographer Robert Royce, and taking his company class with numerous 16 year-olds.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

Believe it or not, I enjoy barre-work. I love to work on my body, developing fine motor-control, getting in touch with little-used muscles, and improving my technique. Barre-work is like a journey into the self. I’m constantly checking my body, and trying to discover what I need to do to get better. On another point, what I love about ballet is melding movement to music. I feel that music has been de-emphasized in much contemporary dance–indeed, many choreographers can’t even read a score. But in ballet, the music still holds a primary place. And I love moving to classical music.

What is your least favorite part?

My least favorite part is what most people love: performance. I have done over 1000 productions (not just dance, but theatre, film, and television), and I’m not thrilled by putting on a tutu and a tiara. I’ve been there and done that. I do, however, enjoy rehearsing and developing a role in order to make it my own.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

About 3 years ago, I directed a PBS documentary entitled STEVEN CARAS: SEE THEM DANCE. This program, which won an Emmy, centered on Mr. Caras, a former New York City Ballet dancer who became a world famous dance photographer. In the course of doing this show, I interviewed many of the Golden Age Balanchine dancers, such as Jacques d’Amboise, Patricia McBride, Kay Mazzo, Peter Martins, among many others. These were the dancers I grew up with in the 1960s, and this group is my inspiration to this day.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

I have worked in the performing arts for many years, and I feel that I have something to say in dance. Since I know the balletic vocabulary and am a musician as well, I would like to try my hand at choreography.

Do you take any other dance classes?

No, I only take ballet classes. The so-called Modern or Contemporary vocabulary only appeals to me insofar as it is applied to a basic ballet technique. (I do, however, cross-train with yoga.)

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

I love college football. On Saturday afternoons, after morning classes, I park myself in front of the TV and switch channels from game to game. Interestingly enough, many of the girls in my company are football fans as well. When we are backstage in our pointe shoes, I get a kick out of the big burly stage hands, who can’t believe we’re talking about a quarterback’s completion percentage.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

For a person returning to ballet, I recommend going very slowly. Don’t try to do what you did at 16. Ease back into it. You will get a number of aches and pains, but nothing that can’t be overcome with a little physical therapy and TLC. If you are just starting out as an adult, you must have enormous patience with yourself. At each class, find one thing that you did very well. It might be a simple port de bras, but that’s fine. Just try to master one element and focus on what you did very well.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to encourage adults to take ballet. The rewards are great: anything from taking the fatty deposits off your thighs to working at a high level of artistic expression. Get a good teacher, who knows balletic technique, and go to class as often as you can.

Do you have a blog?

No, but since I’m 60 years old now, and still dancing on pointe, I’m considering it. Some very interesting situations have developed with the 16 year olds I dance with, and I think others might find it interesting, and perhaps, amusing.

 

Beginner Ballerina Profile: Kilee

IMG_0056Kilee started taking dance classes as a college student after in college to fill her schedule, but didn’t take ballet right away. Once she did, she fell in love with it.
When did you start doing ballet as an adult?
I started in January 2011. I was 24.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?
I took 1 year of ballet and tap but didn’t like going.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?
I needed extra hours in college to keep my status as a full-time student so I took a few dance classes. I didn’t take ballet at first because it didn’t fit my schedule. The following semester I did and I’ve loved it ever since.

DIY Barre–ballerinas can build too!

Before: giant pile of pipes and wood. After: beautiful ballet barre that matches my decor. Yippee!

 

I’m really excited for this post today because the project in it has changed my life. (A little dramatic, maybe, but you get the idea!) It has been so nice to be able to have a barre at home to practice my port de bras, tendus, pliés, etc. when I don’t really have time to go to a full class. I had been using my door frames and kitchen counter to balance previously and let me tell you- not so graceful looking! I had seen some Instagram posts of people using portable barres so I looked online to see where to buy one and was not super excited about price. I got to scouting for other solutions and found this lovely tutorial by Laughing Abi and I thought I’d give it a shot. As to not be horribly boring and repetitive, I’ll leave the step by step out and summarize the process and also include the little changes I made to my barre from the tutorial.

Here’s what you’ll need to replicate my barre:

  • Six 1 1/4 inch PVC cross joints
  • Four 1 1/4 inch PVC elbow joints
  •  Two  30 inch long 1 1/4 inch PVC  pipes (I made my barre at 43 inches because I’m tall. In order to change the height of the top barre, adjust the lengths of PVC that are 30 inches.)
  • Two 6 inch long 1 1/4 inch PVC pipes
  • Four 12 inch long 1 1/4 inch PVC pipes
  • Two closet rods or wooden dowels between 1 1/8 inches and 1 1/4 inches in diameter… these should be around 6 feet long in the store.
  • 8 screws
  • Spray paint (I used Valspar Perfect Finish Gloss in “Tropical Oasis”)
  • PVC glue (I used Christy’s Red Hot Blue Glue)

What you’ll want to do is assemble the 2 of the 12 inch pieces together with a cross in the center and an elbow on each end. Repeat for the other side. I glued all of those joints together for extra sturdiness. It’s optional but if you choose to do it, make sure you work fast because that glue dries in a heartbeat! From there stick the long pieces (mine were 30 inches) into the cross you just attached the 12 inch pieces to. You’ll then add a cross to the end of that. Repeat for the other side. Now you can slide in your first barre! Now insert the 6 inch pieces into the top cross joints. Add the final cross joints to the tops of those and now slide in your first barre. This is where I took mine apart again to paint it. After the paint was dry I put the barres back in where I wanted them and instead of using foam as suggested on the tutorial, I screwed through the cross joints into the wooden barre. This was my dad’s suggestion to help the whole thing from wobbling side to side. I did a screw on each side of the cross joints (8 total). I then carefully sprayed those teal as well. That’s more or less it! It was simple, sorta fun, and fast. I think I managed to finish the entire project in under two hours which isn’t bad for something I get so much use out of.

In progress.

 

Overall, I’m pretty pleased. It made practicing at home a lot easier. It also has come in handy for stretching! I must say, because of how lightweight it is it isn’t super sturdy. This means that you can’t really put much weight on it, it’s really only good for adding some balance to what you are doing. In the end, that’s really what a barre is for anyway so it is helpful not only to help you keep balanced but also to remind you not to use the barre to hold you up. Make that supporting leg do some work! 🙂 I also added a big piece of cardboard left over from when we had some bark delivered for our landscaping in order to keep my shoes from getting scuffed on the flooring. It also comes in handy for practicing in the bedroom, where we have carpet. The combo has become my own little studio that all tucks behind my dresser when I’m not using it which is perfect for how small our place is.

Using my barre for pliés and stretching in my kitchen which is right across from a full length mirror.

So there you have it! An easy, affordable, and portable ballet barre that you can make yourself. I honestly am glad that I made it. If you decide to give it a whirl, let me know how it works out! Do you have any other suggestions for ballet at home?

-Caysie

Floor Barre (and why can’t I take ballet in a swimming pool?)

dance-academy-heatwave-cart-c19In a post on my old blog (around the time I first injured my ankle/leg), I posted about how I wished I could do ballet in a pool. I’ve always really enjoyed swimming (I was a lifeguard full-time for four summers and part-time for two summers). I first got the idea from an episode of Dance Academy entitled Heatwave where the academy holds their barre class in the pool because it’s too hot and the air conditioning in the studio is broken.

While I have messed around with barre exercises a little in the pool, I don’t really have a place where I can put this into practice as my school only has lap swimming at odd times. So I’ve been looking into floor barre, or doing exercises normally done at the barre while sitting or lying on the floor, as an alternative.

This Dance Advantage article entitled “How Low Can You Go?”  lists several benefits of floor barre, including it being good for injuries, developing strength, and helping to improve with movement execution (including realizing what you might be doing wrong with bad habits).

While there are no floor barre classes in Philadelphia (that I could find) you can find a list of instructors of the method developed by Zena Rommet here. Another book I’ll be looking into checking out at the library is Maria Fay’s Floor Barre.

Would you ever consider doing floor barre or taking a floor barre class?

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