Ballet teachers have the difficult job of demonstrating proper foot articulation, leg placement and body alignment for hours a day—so finding the best shoes and outfits to get them through those many classes is a must. We spoke with three former professional ballerinas about their preferred teaching apparel for all seasons.
Artistic Director at the Ballet Institute
of San Diego
DRN: How do you decide what
to wear in the classroom?
ES: After 25 years of training and performing, I was tired of the standard ballet attire, but a teacher needs to look appropriate for class and set a good example for young students. I make sure that I’m not wearing clothing from my elbow down, so I can properly demonstrate port de bras, and not from my knee down to the ankle, so students can see my feet. To show alignment, I have an open chest and neck, and I need a cinched waistline, so students can see no arching and that hips and abdominals are flat in the front.
DRN: Do you avoid any particular clothes or shoes when teaching?
ES: I only wear athletic sneakers for ballet conditioning—otherwise, I’m in a jazz shoe. My arch is very large, so the Bloch Pulse shoe works very well for me. In the summer, I switch to the Capezio Freeform Split Sole jazz shoe because of the thin and light leather. I also try to avoid wearing all black, but I do stick to solid colors that are not too bright and distracting.
DRN: What would you suggest dance stores provide more of for teachers?
ES: I have wonderful skirts and dresses from Europe that are hard to find in America. These are cotton fabric and tight around the hips, but wide at the bottom, like a flamenco skirt. I also love to wear silk because of how light and breathable it is. And many stores only carry one type of jazz shoe, so more variety would be helpful.
Instructor at the Ballet Institute
DRN: What footwear do you prefer for long days of teaching?
FN: We have gray marley in the studio, so we have to wear light-soled shoes. I usually wear a flexible, black tennis shoe that is thin at the bottom, so it allows me to still articulate my feet. When I teach a contemporary class, I usually wear men’s black crew socks that are very thin and come up to mid-calf. My studio shoes have lasted me almost two years now, and I rotate about 15 to 20 pairs of socks.
DRN: Do you have a typical teaching ensemble?
FN: I am a huge legging person, and I look for durable fabrics that will last me as long as possible. The 7/8-length leggings, which hit right above my ankle, are my favorite, and I buy stretchy Lycra fabrics rather than cotton. I have a few patterned leggings, but I usually wear black. On the top, I’m either wearing a tank top or a little T-shirt in a fun color or floral pattern, and an athletic jacket over that. In the winter, I wear jackets with a half or three-quarter zip, as well as a black puffy vest.
DRN: What clothing do you have difficulty finding?
FN: I’m always searching for professional athletic wear—something that works in both the office and the classroom. For example, tailored athletic jackets are fantastic but usually hard to find and very expensive. I also want tops that look cute and girly while still being stretchy and flowing with my movement.
Director of the Colorado Ballet
DRN: What is your go-to outfit for teaching?
EF: You can usually find me in a stretchy, solid-colored athletic dress, layered with a little cotton sweater and paired with black cotton leggings—full-length in the winter and capri in the summer. I do a lot of administrative work where I attend board meetings or meet with future students or teachers, and then I have to go right into the classroom to teach, so I want outfits that only require me to change my shoes. I do occasionally wear racer-back athletic tank tops with wide-leg parachute pants that you can cinch at the bottom.
DRN: What shoes do you wear in the classroom?
EF: Because I still take class three to four times a week, I prefer to wear ballet flats when I teach. The wider V-cut of Grishkos is both flattering and comfortable. I really don’t want to wear shoes that are binding or tight, and even for my students, shoes that come with presewn elastics are usually too tight and can cause tendinitis.
DRN: What else do you need throughout the year?
EF: In the winter, I throw on legwarmers over my leggings. My favorites are full-length and are repurposed out of old sweaters, so they are a fun multicolor. My calf-length legwarmers are gray with silver sparkle thread. I also keep a small ball under my desk to roll out my feet.
Amy Smith is a dance teacher and writer based in Greensboro, NC.
Photo by Wilder Smith, courtesy of Nixon