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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Milner

A Dancer's Wish List 2021

Yes, it’s once again that time of year when everything feels both a *little* bit shinier, and a *little (lot)* bit more stressful. Pointe shoes are dying before you even hit the Land of the Sweets (seriously, Snow, why are you SO LONG???) and visions of foot baths are dancing in your head.

The holidays are here!

And to help you cross one thing off your to-do list, I’ve compiled my own list of favorite items for dancers. Simply share this article with your loved ones, and know that you’ll surely find something wonderful wrapped up one special winter morning.

Some of these items are must-haves for me, and some have been recommended by several of my own dancers. One way or another, they’re definitely dancer tested and dancer approved!

Let’s get going!

First up, a suggestion from a busy working dancer: a tripod for recording all those video submissions. Yes, the world has opened back up some, but I think auditions and college applications will forever be changed by the pandemic, and online submissions will always be around. A tripod with a light mount is incredibly thoughtful and easy to ship! I’ve found this one on Amazon but I’m sure there are others out there! Just make sure it’s not a desktop version, but something tall enough to stand up in a dance studio.

Continuing in the cool-but-practical vein, you know I got into Ballerina Bento Box meals, a concept my smart nutritionist friend Kristin Koskinen encourages for busy dancers looking to fuel healthily. Her examples show lots of snack-sized foods, easy for grazing between rehearsals. I love these bento boxes from Kinsho - partly because they’re great quality and partly because organized food makes me very happy. They make a few styles, all perfect for a long day at the studio!

And if your dancer’s organ doesn’t match the typical crayon color (whose really does?) consider buying them some kinesiotape and bandages that match their own skin tone. Dancers aren’t usually fans of brightly colored k-tape, since they think it screams “I’m injured!” Having skin-matching tape on hand if needed can be a big confidence booster. I love My Skin k-tape and its wide range of colors. And of course, mention it to your trainer or PT as well! There’s no one color that works for everyone.

A few dance PTs have recommended this mini stepper as a great warmup tool for small spaces. If you can’t jump rope in your apartment, this easy-to-store item is a great way to get in some easy cardio warm up before a show or your long day. Very low impact, and it stores easily under a bed or in a dressing room.

A big theme I keep hearing this year is the desire to overhaul the daily dance wardrobe a bit. Perhaps we’re tired of having been in lockdown with the same leotards for so long? Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to go beyond the standard Yumiko and AinslieWear (not that there’s anything wrong with them!), consider DellaLo' Milano or Danse de Paris for your favorite bunhead. I love the styles and my dancers swear by the comfort factor.

And on this subject - if your dancer asks for more leotards this holiday season, don’t say helpful things like “Why don’t you just wear the ones you have?” Why don’t we? Because:

  1. We wear these things for HOURS. EVERY DAY. We’ve sweated and stunk and stared at ourselves in these leotards for months or years. We need something new for our mental health.

  2. Leotards are highly personal because see: above. You find a few that are your ride-or-die leotards and the rest of the drawer is filled with leos that are a bit itchy, or the sleeves are a weird length, or you wiped out once in that leotard and will never wear it again.

Just get them new leotards.

Related to leotards, lots of my dancers are loving the warm ups from RubiaWear. I love the gorgeous and verstile Alina shawl, and the leg warmers are yummy. Developed by former Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis, so you know they’re designed for both beauty and function!

On the subject of dance-related apparel, I seriously heart the new tops by Dancers and Dogs. The puppy assisting the penché t-shirt? The kitten in the pointe shoes? I can’t even. I don’t know what it is, but we dancers love our furry and feline companions and I love this line (see also the cool books and calendars!) Also, let's just take a moment to appreciate how much our furry friends bring us joy. Emotional support animal in the dance studio? Yes please!

If you’re a parent looking for a gift for your teachers or studio owner, I have really exciting news. I’m working with Minding the Gap to offer "Raising the Barre", a workshop series for dance teachers who want to foster an atmosphere of excellence in a mentally healthy environment. Designed specifically for dance teachers, studio owners, and company directors, the workshop covers five different topics, all relating to supporting dancers’ mental health, all crafted by top professionals to give these teachers and owners actionable, concrete help in making a dance studio a safer, healthier environment for dancers. We’re covering topics like how words matter in the dance studio; how to spot possible warning flags for an eating disorder, anxiety, or depression in a dancer; ways to support a dancer through an injury; racism in the dance world; and more. You can buy a single workshop or the whole series, and a solo ticket or a ticket that covers several teachers from the same studio at once! I’m really excited about this and so glad Minding the Gap is doing this important series. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets, or DM me with questions!

Companies are getting back on stage these days, but some are still livestreaming performances as well. Top of my wish list this season is to stream Royal Ballet’s Giselle! One ticket is around twenty bucks, and you have the whole month of December to watch at your leisure. I seriously hope this aspect of the pandemic is here to stay.

If you’re looking for an easy homemade gift, I love this idea shared by one of my professional dancers: take a mesh laundry bag, and sew leftover ribbon or elastic in it as dividers. Then you can stand up three pairs of pointe shoes, all aired out and organized. Add handles and you're done! I love this way of storing your shoes!

For my neurodivergent dancers, or simply dancers struggling with anxiety, think about what would help create a “safe” space to decompress during down time. Kinetic sand? Fairy lights? Ear plugs? A lava lamp? Neurodivergent Lou put out a great gift list for autistic people and these are excellent ideas for any dancer needing a haven to recover from dance!

Last but by no means least is my book list. And this should be its own post because there are SO MANY good ones out there right now! Including:

Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguin is an unflinching memoir of a New York City Ballet dancer. Open about her experience in the company, Georgina is also a great writer who offers us a real glimpse into the life of an elite ballet dancer. From The Library Journal review: "Pazcoguin writes with astounding passion about her achievements, and her prose is enchanting as she describes finally being comfortable in her own skin. Vulnerable, raw, and full of grit, this is the story of a woman who has been broken yet clawed her way to victory. . . . A personal tale of darkness, passion, and euphoric triumph."

Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet is a collection of essays by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside. A funny, open memoir/fantasy by an astonishingly creative artist who refuses to be pigeonholed. As Misty Copeland put it, “Drifting between fantasy and real life, James’s story reads like a beautifully twisted ballet with an exquisitely raw, hilarious, and fresh perspective. Center Center shows there’s a place in the world for anyone who’s ever felt lost, misunderstood, or outrageously passionate.”

For younger readers, Tiler Peck has written two children’s books with Kyle Harris about a young hopeful dancer in New York City. Katarina Ballerina and Katarina Ballerina and the Victory Dance . Young dancers everywhere would enjoy unwrapping these tales!

I recently read the young adult book The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk, and I couldn’t put it down. A pre-professional teen must quit dancing because of an injury, and her journey to find her new identity - and a “normal” high school life - rang incredibly true for me. Beautifully and honestly written. Turk also touches on what it is like for many Asian Americans in ballet, in a way other teens can relate. "Break. Bend. Begin again."

And finally on my book list (though I could go on and on), journalist Chloe Angyal’s Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers is Saving Ballet From Itself. As Melissa Harris-Perry wrote, “Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers is Saving Ballet from Itself is a painstaking, and often painful, assessment of the troubling racialized, gendered, and classed lessons of classical ballet. Angyal’s sharp analysis invites us to wonder how ballet might expand if it did not require broken toes, torn ligaments, starving dancers, or pink tights. This is the book for all of us who loved ballet but found it did not love us back.”

Well, there you have it! Some of my favorite dance-related items for every dancer on your list. What would you add? Please share your suggestions!

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