There are two MAJOR positions/shapes for ballet dancers. Positions that are based on the negative space the body creates and the idea of intersecting lines and shapes. They are: Developpés en croix: two straight perpendicular lines dissecting at an axis point (like arabesque…. developpé a la seconde, etc etc etc. And then there is Attitude en croix: a curved line. Of the two… attitude is a harder position. It is harder to cheat, harder to clean up, and definitely harder on the body if done correctly…. Unfortunately or fortunately, different pedagogies teach different approaches and lines. It is like the difference between at a Matisse and a Rembrandt. Same tools, same technique different outcome. These are some of my notes on the different styles of Attitude Derriere aka attitude back. I am going to be using attitude back because I don’t like having to switch keyboards back and forth. And sorry for skipping around on techniques. (I am skipping around on techniques based on how well I can draw the positions lol.)
So, for me in my opinion, and from experiencing the wonderfully painful world of ballet, there are five different approaches to attitude back. The five styles are: Cecchetti/French, Balanchine, Russian, Royal Ballet, and for those who are lucky enough to be hypermobile. Each of these are technically correct, but based on two things- how the lines curve and intersect, how your center is placed and weighted, and the tipping of your pelvic cradle.
a. Cecchetti (Italian) and French styles: the two are closely related, as Catherine Medici of Florence brought ballet to the French court. So of course, the two are related and similar. I actually think this probably the most classical position relating to the origins of ballet existing in today’s world… Because attitude back even 80 years ago was kind of a joke…. Ideally, both the standing and working leg are turned out, but the working leg (the leg going into attitude) will shift within the hip joint. The femur head basically roles forward towards the front flipping the passé horizontally and back. Ideally, there is no tipping in the pelvis, and tension is created by the working knee pressing up, while the lower leg’s turnout rotates downward. The lower portion of the leg is slightly opened to give a curved spiraling line. The height of the attitude comes from how far you can rotate the femur head forward to achieve the line. As the femural head rocks forward the passé then flips and shifts directed by the knee and supported by the sartorius and moves behind the spinal cord. The foot gradually opens from the passé position into the coupé position and length. Ironically, no one teaches attitude from sur le coup de pied when that is basically the shape and length. The only attitude that is truly a flipped passe is the Balanchine line. which brings us to the Balanchine line.
b. Balanchine – when in doubt… turn it out. The Balanchine attitude is basically, “How much turn out do I have, and how strong are the backs of my legs. I have had numerous different Balanchine teachers and they all have their own take on the attitude back… Like how crossed is too crossed… But one teacher made it pretty clear: You take your passé, flip it and push your knee behind your spine. Don’t every open the lower portion of your leg, and support from the hamstring, not the sartorius. If you basically take your passé, flip it, and shove it over. Your foot no matter what will be over crossed to the other side… Unless you have a short tibia or a wider torso. The position is extremely hard on the back because ideally the same concept of letting the femoral head roll forward and outwardly rotating the femur behind you. This creates a perfect perpendicular shape from the side but creates the elongated spiral through your back. If you are hypermobile you can separate the hips easily from your spinal chord, but for most, this position has to be cheated with the tipping of the pelvic cradle.
c. Now the Russian/Hypermobile line is modified because the center line is now based on your back in correlation to the front of your standing leg. The Russian line is extremely open, unlike the Balanchine line closing it from passe. Russian attitudes, the height is measured by the working foot. This allows the pelvis to tilt forward, the knee to slightly turn in and the attitude leg to go much higher. Unfortunately, you have to have a very flexible lower back, or else the line and center of gravity get distorted.There is this saying in ballet saying that when you do extensions to the back you move up and forward… and then you end up in these random superman positions, or crunchy necklines… It is just ugly. The idea of up and forward is based that your upper back remains completely straight up without compromising the ribcage or neck and shoulder line. You move your back line to be slightly in front of the standing leg line to counterbalance within the pelvis. Once the pelvis is centered, your body weight is now half and a half… And depending how flexible your back is, you can tilt as far as you want to get into a hypermobile attitude back… In Russia…. it seems every girl and boy at Vaganova Academy has a hypermobile back which gives us the elusive hypermobile attitude back…. The further your hips tilt or pour over, you have to create more space in between the pelvis and ribcage to allow your center of gravity to be balanced without straining your knee or ankle. Additionally these lines have the knee crossing behind the working sides shoulder blades.
d. Royal Ballet, not RAD, uses the hip tilting to the full advantage. Royal ballet students tip their hips completely forward to the back. This allows for two major things, the first is that when you hip your hips you aren’t concentrated on the femur head rotating forward… and for a lot of people that is a hard sensation to feel. Once your hips are tilted forward, your working legs has a ton of freedom. The problem is… that if you aren’t hypermobile and are given perfect turn out… this line causes the upper body to be wonky. Even at 90 degrees it’s pretty hard. The second pro to this line, is it makes your legs look incredibly long. As the pelvis tipping forward adds a good 6-10 inches to your leg line. It basically creates the leg line from the natural waist to the end of the foot versus other attitudes going from the hip joint to the toe. Sarah Lamb is probably the master of this line… Additionally, once the hips are tilted forward at 90 degrees, the leg is free to hit or maximize the penche line in arabesque. Again though, you have to have a gifted body to achieve this line or you get superman flying through the sky, or your get wrinkly neck rolls, or lumpy shoulders.. Royal ballet also places the knee behind the shoulder creating less tension within the lower back and creating a more open curve natural curve from the standing sides shoulder spiraling through to the working foot.
I have said it before, but you really do have to find the right line for you. This is really important for every dance to experience because finding the right line on your body could be the difference between a company contract… and ending up working at a Taco Shop. #justsayin