Summer dance intensives help to develop, increase and strengthen a dancer’s level of artistry, technique and self-confidence.
Vicky Lambert, a former principal dancer for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and owner of Activity Pointe in Torrance, CA, uses the summer dance intensive season as an opportunity to promote the dancewear and core-strengthening tools she has in stock, and to showcase her expertise.
“Every [dance retailer] will have tights and leotards and equipment, but the information I give and how I choose the products is what makes me distinct. It’s from a dancer’s point of view,” explains Lambert.
“[Young dancers] might come in and want a shoe because their favorite dancer wears it. But it might not be best for them. I’m able to educate the dancer in a deeper way.”
A Special Place for Ballet Dancers
After she left Ailey in 1998, Lambert transitioned into working in television and film—landing coveted roles in the movie musicals Chicago and Nine, and choreographing for “So You Think You Can Dance Canada.” But disenchanted with auditioning, she opened Activity Pointe in fall 2016.
“[Opening a store] was something I had thought about seven or eight years ago when I was redefining who I was as an artist. I was going to dance auditions, and the dancers looked [as young as] my daughter,” she says. “I was at a crossroads. I wanted to do something I was still connected to, but not dependent on someone giving me a job.”
Although Activity Pointe sells a wide range of dancewear, the 1,100-square-foot boutique’s pale pink, cream and floral decor is decidedly feminine and ballet-forward. “I have jazz, tap and character shoes. You have options for everything you need,” she says. “But the store is geared toward ballet because it’s my background, and I believe ballet is the foundation for proper alignment and strong technique for the dancer.”
Behind the cash wrap on the right-hand side of the store, Lambert showcases a pointe shoe wall that holds all of the store’s shoes in three large shelving units. Lambert also streams ballet footage of greats like Misty Copeland and Mikhail Baryshnikov on a television monitor. “I wanted my store to be different than ‘come in and grab a pair of tights.’ Dance is a place of imagination and creativity, and I wanted the store to reflect that,” she says. “The streaming [videos] bring energy to the store and inspiration to the dancers. I have people come into the store, look at the pointe shoe wall and start crying.”
Jessica Simmons, a display coordinator for Anthropologie, helped bring Lambert’s vision for the space to life. “I put a lot of effort into the design of the store. I wanted to make the environment feel special for dancers,” Lambert says. “[Often] we aren’t valued. We work the hardest and are paid the least on every project. I wanted dancers to feel important.”
Lambert says there aren’t many dance retail stores in the South Bay, Los Angeles, area, which has worked in her favor connecting with local studios. Another business strength is that Lambert is a certified pointe shoe fitter, and thus an authority to outfit ballet summer intensives.
To assess her competition and to gain hands-on experience, Lambert went undercover and visited other dance retailers to try on different shoes.
“My motivation is care, experience and expertise. I wanted to be in the dancer’s shoes, to get a feel for everything. Now when I sell something, I have product knowledge and confidence,” she says. “For pointe shoes, you have to know what you are doing, because you could harm a dancer’s career.”
Summer Intensive Checklist
To promote her carefully crafted summer intensive checklist, Lambert takes an old-school approach and personally distributes the checklist, which includes leotards, tights, ballet flats and pointe shoes, to local dance studios. “That’s really effective—to go on foot and connect with studio owners,” she says.
Lambert also promotes the checklist in e-mail newsletters via MailChimp and on social media (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube). And when dancers and dance moms visit the store, copies of the list are available so they can check off items as they shop. Checklist items were also beautifully displayed in an ornate basket near the cash wrap right before summer intensive season.
“My goal is always to prepare [dancers] physically, mentally and emotionally. Behind the scenes I discover the top summer intensive programs in the country, look at curriculum and dress codes, and that informs my inventory,” says Lambert.
For leotards, Lambert says every summer dance intensive student should pack a classic black leotard, particularly for intensives with strict dress codes.
“[Choose one] that washes well, shows off your lines and is flattering for your body type,” she says. “It’s also nice to have that leotard you can use for rehearsal that’s funkier or edgier, that has more detail and you feel confident in.”
Tights are also must-haves for female dancers. “I sat under a light with a dance mom to figure out the right pink—the peach pink or the light pink, seams or no seams,” she says. Lambert is pleased that more brands make tights in an array of shades for different complexions. “Now they are doing cocoa and coffee and cappuccino and tan. It’s great to have those options for my brown girls,” she says.
Ballet flats are third on the checklist. “It’s tempting to wear your old shoes because they feel great, and a lot of dancers like to wear them until they are bent. Get that new fresh pair. It gives you a fresh start, and presentation is important,” says Lambert.
She recommends that her customers invest in both canvas and leather ballet flats. “The split-sole canvas slipper is more flexible. It is supportive, but not as supportive as leather. Leather is harder to work through, but it forces you to use your muscles in a different way and to articulate your feet. It will break down over time and mold to your foot.”
Fourth on the checklist are pointe shoes, and Lambert advises every summer intensive dance student to bring three pairs—a pair a week, depending on the length of the intensive. “The shape of the pointe shoe mirrors the shape of the foot. Go to a certified fitter. The right shoe is everything to the dancer. The wrong shoe (too soft or too hard) can bring about injury and frustration and can hold back the acceleration of your technique.”
A technique tool Lambert considers “nice to have” is a balance board, which engages the core muscles and lower-leg muscles, and enables you to do multiple turns. She also likes stress balls, to stretch out tension underneath the feet before or after class. Other checklist items include character and jazz shoes and apparel, toe pads and hair accessories.
Seasonal Special Events and Master Classes
Events also help stores draw traffic in slower summer weeks. Last summer, Activity Pointe hosted a Garden Party Q&A with Boston Ballet star Ashley Ellis, who was launching her unique dancewear line, RubiaWear (rubiawear.com). There was live music, dessert and giveaways.
This year, Lambert plans to offer more special events, including master classes with industry experts like Disney choreographer Paul Becker, who will talk about audition etiquette, getting an agent and things the more commercial dancer needs to know. While the party with Ellis was free, Lambert will charge a fee for future master class sessions, keeping the store lively in the slower summer weeks—and revenues flowing.
Tracy E. Hopkins is a Brooklyn, NY–based writer and frequent contributor to Dance Retailer News. Her work has also appeared in Essence and Woman’s Day.
Photo courtesy of Activity Pointe