In America, we use the vocabulary term “port de bras” too much. We overuse the term quite a bit… Then again, in the English language, we have a tendency to group ideas together under one word, limiting our vocabularies sometimes. So, I would like to talk about, how in America we use “port de bras” for everything that isn’t necessary. The Vaganova school has numbered their port de bras 1-6, which is kind of nice- but somehow it didn’t catch on in America? Maybe some teachers here use it… but I have never really come across it. And I’m sure one of you will have some smart a$s comment that your teacher used the Russian numbers, but honestly… in all the years I have danced, and all the elite schools I have gone to… haven’t come across it. So, port de bras is the carriage of the arms, and really has nothing to do with back movement or spinal flexion.
Technically speaking “port de bras back” should be referred to as cambré, circular port de bras should be grand port de corps, port de bras forward… well that is still up for debate… Some say you should use port de corps, and some say that it is port de bras… Cambré really does only refer to as arched. Soooo… Where does this leave us? I actually don’t really care, but with that being said, whatever the term is for the movement… Let’s talk about how difficult it is. I know I sound like a broken record that ballet is hard, but it really is. Truthfully, I don’t know why anyone would want to do it… I mean sure, once you are older and smarter, you understand the art and the finesse, but seriously… why would any 13-year-old put themselves to through the stress of ballet?
So, usually during pliés we are given these wonderful movements to warm up our spines and stretch out our bodies. And yes, I know I haven’t written about pliés, but my illustrations still are subpar for the pliés.
a. As you have warmed up in plié you are about to embark on a mission… The mission being… port de bras forward. The first thing you need to do before taking the dive forward, well you shouldn’t be diving at all, but you have to separate as many spinal disks from your pelvic cradle and make as much space as you can from your hips and ribcage. So lift. Press your belly button to your spine, and use your muscles to pull your body apart.
b. When going forward don’t rock back into your legs. You have to go up and forward using your abs and core like crazy. Your abs, ribs, pectorals and such should be pressing back into your spine. Now, the trick in moving forward is to separate each spinal disk and lift them one at a time from the base of your skull down. You actually don’t move down. You move up and forward and then start to trace a semi-circle. Note: adjust your arm at the bar. You are moving forward so the arm has to move forward, or else it distorts the line, connection, and alignment.
c. As you hit the bottom, the top of your head should be reaching through your legs… A lot of students have a tendency to not release their necks, and therefore, shortening the space and range of motion between the vertebrae in the neck.
Again, don’t rock back into your hamstrings because that locks up your ankles, puts stress on the knees, and makes the quads grip and get thicker.
You get to the bottom and then what?
There are two trains of thought on how to get up from this position… Flat back and rolling up. Both actually have the same principal of opening the spine and keeping the space between the vertebrae. I decided to illustrate the flat back because more people are prone to messing this up.
d-f. The most important part, is that from the bottom of the bend, you separate the lower spinal disks from the pelvic cradle. If you are going to “flat back” it up, you then reach accordingly and keep the distance between the vertebrae. That brings you back to a taller, more compact core position.
If you are going to roll up, you want to focus on stacking each vertebra slowly on top of each other from the tailbone up.
Currently, I am looking to create my own technical handbook filled with the illustrations and elaborations on ballet technique, ballet attire, ballet everything… Click here to learn more. And totally not the cover or the name of the book, just a mock up.