Month: November 2013

Trekking to Timaru

It may have been a grizzly, grey day with rain smattering the bus, but that couldn’t hide the beauty that surrounded us as we drove through Arthur’s Pass on our way to Timaru from Greymouth. No amount of rain was going to stop us from walking a mini trek to see the Devils Punchbowl Falls.
Cascading waterfall charm, despite the hand and toe numbing cold, warmed our spirits. Fresh air, exercise and beautiful scenery provided the perfect intermission in our long day of travel. I even saw my first Kea bird.

Today we perform in Timaru. Despite the fact that I have come down with a nasty cold (seems to be going round the company at the moment) , the show must go on! I’ll be sharing some behind the scenes makeup, costume and warmup preparations soon!
Tonia 🙂

Dancing in the Sunshine!

Tonia Looker :)

Tonia Looker- thanks to Alayna Ng for taking this photo 🙂

Just over a week. That is all that remains of our Tower Tutus on Tour season. Travelling through the mountainous South Island feels like being permanently in a picture perfect postcard. Everything is just so glorious. Hot sunshine and cool seawater have turned everyone into beach loving, relaxed and happy travellers. This cheerfulness has unquestionably carried through to the stage. What a seriously cool job this is! Despite constantly changing performing environments, shows have consistently gone smoothly, very occasional slips and falls aside.

As I edit my most recent photos one thought keeps jumping to the foreground. That is to say, they really speak for themselves. NZ is a beauty so unique and wonderful in itself that there is not much to say than to simply be thankful for this opportunity to see it!

We have been lucky enough to have a very obliging bus driver who goes by the nickname of Fish. Happily detouring at our request to see more of the South Island in between venues. A big thanks to Fish! Without whom we would miss out on animal farms, “the best Fish and Chips ever in Greymouth”, seaside swimming stops and walking trails. What a legend!

Next post- behind the scenes preparation for the show! Makeup, costume and warmups!!

Tonia 🙂 – for more photo fun I am a frequent instragrammer- toniaroselooker

Cruising South!

Image by Tonia Looker


Hello South Island! With the help of the Interislander a full company was reunited, both groups taking the same route from North to South on a particularly charming day for sailing.

In my 6 years with the company I have been on 3 North Island Tutus on Tours. When it comes to the South Island however, I am a complete novice.

As we head to our first stop on the South- Nelson, with camera in hand and my senses constantly drinking in my new surroundings I look forward to documenting this final leg of the tour. You can find my Secret Lives of Pointe Shoes blog post below,

Tonia 🙂

Laura and I checking out the sights!

Laura and I checking out the sights!

The Secret Lives of Pointe Shoes

The Secret Lives of Pointe shoes, or rather, the answers to many commonly asked questions and some unknown tips that keep me happily on my toes.

Pointe shoes are the main form of footwear for any classical female dancer. On average, during rehearsals I would go through one to two pairs of shoes per week. This number varies dramatically depending on the performance season we are in. For example, in an incredibly pointe shoe orientated ballet such as Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake I would commonly go through one or two pairs of shoes in just one show alone. In a more contemporary season however, I would sometimes only use 2 pairs of pointe shoes for the entire season. With a single pair of shoes costing between $60-$120 it’s easy to see that this becomes a pricey business. Luckily, the RNZB provide the dancers with shoes so this is not an expense that the dancers need to worry about.

Gone are the days when I shoved my little 9 year old feet into plastic cups stuffed with tissue and tried to imagine them as beautiful, shiny, satin pointe shoes. Back then, to own a pair would be like finding pure gold. Nowadays a little of that notion has changed but not greatly. There is still nothing quite like holding a fresh pair of shoes for the first time, the smell of the new fabric and the knowledge that your next class is going to feel fantastic!

Image by Tonia Looker

So how and why do a beautiful looking pair of shoes like the ones above end up looking like the ones pictured below?

Image by Tonia Looker

All feet come in different shapes and sizes. Therefore, even when two people may fit the same size shoe it will look and feel completely different. A pointe shoe needs to hug a dancers foot perfectly to allow them to utilize their technique to their best ability. For this reason each dancer has their own unique way of ‘breaking in’ their pointe shoes. It is dependent on where their foot naturally bends, how hard they like their shoes and where they may have sore spots such as bunions etc. My left foot is much noticeably longer than my right foot which means that I have a slightly different process preparing a shoe for my right foot than my left. You can see this difference in the picture below.

Image by Tonia Looker

So, what happens to these unmarked, shining beauties? I go through the process of shaping the shoes to my feet. Firstly I sew ribbons and elastics to my shoes. The elastics give me extra support and hold the shoe tightly to my heels so I can comfortably rise on and off my toes without the shoe slipping off. I sew ribbon, aligning it with my arch so that the shoe pulls tight at a natural bend point. I have been asked if the rumours are true. Do dancers use dental floss to sew their ribbons? In my case and that of many others in the company- yes! I learnt to use dental floss due to its strength and ease through the fabric of the shoe. I feel safe in the knowledge that my ribbons aren’t unravelling or falling off thanks to the floss strength. I must admit to being very obsessive with my ribbons. Never has a ribbon come unstuck or untucked and fingers crossed it never does.

After 45 minutes of sewing comes the fun part! Shaping my shoes. I tear 1/3 of the upper sole out of my shoe to allow it to bend comfortably with my arch. Sometimes, depending on the variants in shoe this may involve using pliers to remove a nail or two that holds the soles in place.

Stop! Hammer time. I have custom altered my pointe shoes to better fit my feet. Like the majority of females in the company I wear Bloch shoes in Heritage. Made an inch higher in the vamp (top front of the shoe) to properly support my arches. This causes a slight problem when it comes to bunions though. Yes, nasty bunions that get squished inside a shoe. That’s where my trusty hammer comes to the rescue. I bash the top of my shoe (as pictured below) until it’s nice and mushy and can mould around my foot with ease. This also stops any nasty bunion pain! I always have to be careful not to get too carried away and ruin the shoe by hitting too close to the top. It’s vital that stays solid to balance on my toes.

Lastly, I bend my shoes lightly, allowing me to rely on the strength of my feet to roll through every part of my foot from flat standing to pointe and back again. Voila! That is my pointe shoe method.

I would love to answer any questions that anyone may have! There is so much to cover on the topic that I could end up boring everyone with a mini novel. However, anything I haven’t covered, please ask!

Alpha Mail!

A mixture of incense, fresh hot chips, coffee and dewy grass accents the smell of the fresh, morning air. Dogs can be spotted, like a ‘Where’s Wally’, one after the other, camouflaged in plain sight around caravans and stalls. Everyone’s smiling, calm and ready to take on the day. Can you guess from the descriptions where we might be?

If you guessed, at a Gypsy Fair in Whakatane then you would be correct. What better way to kick off our bus trip to Taupo than in the company of travelling gypsies?

Usually dancers need rest and recovery time between shows. Resting, to us means doing as many outdoor activities as possible in a day off before being inside the theatre again. Thus the gypsy fair enticed us to its field of fun and games for the morning. We found the most adorable puppy I have laid eyes on and it was so difficult not to take him as a stowaway on the bus as we moved from the fair to a strawberry farm a little way down the road.

So now a gypsy fair and a visit to Julians Berry Farm & Café had been ticked off our checklist. Happy tummies full of fresh berry smoothies we then made the final leg of the trip to Taupo stopping at Huka Falls along the way.

Destination reached, maybe it’s time to put our feet up and rest a little? Well yes, but not without involving the alpha company and crew in a barbeque followed by creating our own firework display after sunset on the waterfront.

As we near the middle of our tour, a full day off in Taupo has been greatly welcomed. The sun has shined endlessly throughout the day and our thirst for physio has been quenched with the arrival of Inge, our personal life saver.

Thank you to all those responses to The Secret Life of Pointe Shoes blog concept! I will be posting more on that soon.

Tonia 🙂

A day in tour life

THE ROLLING, GREEN HILLS. Winding through farm land and passing along the ocean shore in our Tutus on Tour bus that has rapidly become our home away from home! A passing nod from farm animals we go by along our route from venue to venue. This characteristic of Tutus on Tour turns into a routine.

Waking at 9:30 am on a standard morning on tour my feet find the floor and I totter over to the kettle. Coffee brewing, I have a moment to dress for the day and repack my suitcase, making sure nothing is left behind. Savouring the first sips of strong, hot coffee I have just enough time to enjoy a little breakfast before hopping on the bus at 10:00 am.

Decisions are made. Where would we like to stop for lunch before arriving at the new venue? For how long would we like to stop, etc. It is a perfect picture of calm before we prepare for the evenings show. Sleeping dancers, heads bobbing with the motion of the bus, Ipod headphones creating the soundtrack of their trip. Others read or sew new pointe shoes readying themselves for the next show.

Stopping at around 1:30 pm for lunch we find what always turns out to be, a cute little country café, providing hungry dancers with good food, great service and a chance for us to explore the area we have arrived in.

Back on the bus at 2:30 pm we head to our new venue for the evening. With ballet class on stage at 4:00 pm, we commence our individual warm-ups for the days dancing.

As class ends, we have just a little time to rehearse and place each piece for the evenings show. We now reach my favourite routine of the day! The final touches before a performance. Make-up, hair and costume time!

After the show we quickly pack up our belongings and hop back on the bus on a post show buzz, leaving our wonderful technical crew packing out the theatre until late into the evening. Once back at the hotel/motel it’s time to unwind from the evening performance. A cup of peppermint tea and a light supper, a shower and a bit of a post show stretch to keep my muscles healthy. Goodnight, sleep tight and in the morning, the same happens over again. It’s a wonderful, adventure filled life meeting wonderful people in every town we stop by. Below are just a few photos of those wonderful people. Next stop Tauranga!

Tonia 🙂

Amongst the Crowd

Sometimes an idea can come to you in the most unlikely moments.

Last night we performed in Thames. With different casts performing I got the rare opportunity to watch Peter and the Wolf from the audience. Sitting on the shiny, wooden floor ahead of the front row amidst a sea of animated, excited children, I must say, their excitement was infectious. The dancers had their own little mosh pit of theatre goers, keen to absorb our every move and it felt so humbling to be able to create such an atmosphere.

Image by Tonia Looker

Back to how my idea came about and what it is. I was able to speak with a few of the aspiring, young ballerinas from the audience after the show. There is one topic I noted that conversation centered around. Pointe shoes. From mothers with dancing daughters, young dancers in training and interested viewers, pointe shoes were the talk of the town. How many shoes do we go through a week? What do we do to our shoes to make our arches bend? How can I strengthen my feet? What do you use to sew ribbons? All of these questions and more, I believe, deserve an answer. So now, my idea. The Secret Life of Pointe Shoes. Not a take on our fabulous TV3 program but instead, a series of pictures and descriptions detailing what different dancers do to their shoes. Let me know if this is an idea worth posting about!

For daily pictures check out my instagram- toniaroselooker

Thanks so much for reading!!

Tonia 🙂