After nearly 40 years of leading the San Francisco Ballet, Helgi Tomasson is retiring. Helgi Tomasson has made the San Francisco Ballet a world-class company, and arguably the best school in the country. For more about his career and his interview check out the Sf Chronicle Here.
Photo: Helgi Tomasson has served as artistic director and principal choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet since 1985.Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle
In America, we often forget about the last three arabesques. It is also probably why people in Europe think we don’t teach real ballet. (I imagine every teacher in America right now being like, “I’m a great teacher and I teach real ballet because I teach the fourth arabesque.” The fourth Arabesque in the Italian pedagogy Cecchetti, is often referred to as croisé arabesque in America. While in this drawing she is wrist and that left arm is rather high, this arabesque requires a good amount of flexibility in the upper back and shoulders to create the opposition needed. While this arabesque is more turnout friendly than the position’s counterpart (second arabesque), this arabesque is equally unforgiving because of the supporting leg.
Then we have the Russian fourth arabesque, while some Americans might refer to it as epaulé, and others will call it other things. Regardless, of what you call this position, it is one of the hardest positions of the arabesque because you can hide nothing. The back is fully exposed, meaning the spinal and scapula alignment must be properly aligned or it is a dead giveaway. Whether it is done de coté or effacé this position should be trained religiously because this position reinforces the ideas of opposition, and the hips being square while the upper body spirals. The demand for turnout on the supporting leg is also a lot, so if you do not have the strength yet, stick to the first arabesque, and then when you are ready, flip it.
Lastly, the Italian fifth arabesque. It might also be the crowning glory of arabesque. While third arabesque is nice and all, fifth arabesque is probably the most stunning line one’s body can make it, It is this radial pinwheel of perfection when aligned properly. It is the combination of the limbs crossing, the working leg crossing the axis, the supporting leg twisting en decors, while the supporting shoulder is rotating the opposite direction. This position is killer if one can achieve the line. Keep the energy pushing away from your axis and core, reaching to all points of the kinesphere.
People ask us all the time how arabesque works, or why do all of the Clinic girls have such clean and high arabesque lines. The answer isn’t as easy as saying, “We just work the line.” To understand arabesque is to understand body mechanics, shape/line, and body potential. Ballet, classical ballet, as much as it is defined by the body’s turnout, is really defined by arabesque. It is the position most equated with ballet, and the position that all dancers are judged on. With auditions season upon us, and the 2021 audition season roaring in like a tsunami with no relief, I thought I would write some of the thoughts down regards to arabesuqe.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions or verbal corrections passed down through the generations is, “Lean forward.” It is really, really, really misleading, especially for a child’s brain, and spatial awareness. We obviously don’t want to create pinching in the back or pressure in the spine, but leaning forwards is probably not the best way to describe the sensation that happens in the core.
To really understand the classical arabesque line, you have to really understand your own body it’s turnout capability. Lifting the leg isn’t the right set of words to achieve the line either. I always like to say, “rotate the leg off the floor,” The leg spirals ups and into the hip socket to create stability and height, without gripping the glutes. If the glutes (specifically the major) grip the leg won’t go up. If the abs are gripped and clenched it will also prohibit the leg from going up. The core has to be engaged, but engaged properly, “Belly button to the spine.” As the leg rotates up, the pubic bone releases, and the psoas and hip flexor push away, the ribs disengage and the back presses forward (specifically the same side as the working leg) to create opposition.
Placement of the arms always depends on the line and the body. While classical ballet calls for the arm to be more forward, a more open shoulder line creates a less severe look and more natural ease. Too open shortens the leg and causes the scapula to pinch, but a too forward arm creates the visual illusion of your hand being larger than your head.
Another issue when attempting an arabesque is understanding the pelvis. The pelvis can only tilt as much as the core is strong enough to sustain stability. I think kids get too excited and let the hips tip from the neutral position too fast, or optionally opening the hip to get the leg up. This creates a lot of problems, but most importantly, trying to tip the hips to get that hypermobile arabesque line can be dangerous. If you are hypermobile and your body (specifically back) does allow you to achieve a hypermobile backline, you will need to cross-train extra hard and strengthen the core and back times 10.
Here is a young student on pointe. While her body shows a tremendous amount of potential, we can see that her back is still not strong enough to stay as lifted as it should be. Being able to use the back to hold the spine (including the neck) in a straight line takes time. But the turnout and the pelvis placement is correct. The feet need to get stronger, and the so do the back of the legs, but it is age (young 12) appropriate. In another case, using Leonidas as an example, of a 13 year old boy’s arabesuqe line.
Here, you can see that on his flat arabesque he is maintaining the rotation of his supporting leg, staying lifted, and his arm is more forward. His arm is higher because of the height of his leg to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing line for his body type. In his relevé photo, his supporting leg is less turned out due to his inner thigh being weak. But, he is working on it. Ideally, his arm line is now more open s o he can have a more lifted look on relevé and a cleaner backline. But his pelvis placement is still forward, and his torso is forward while the spine is almost straight.
Hope this all helps.
Oh audition photo trick. When taking your audition photos, rotate the shoulder closest to the camera down slightly so that it creates a longer neckline, and visually places the shoulder down. Another audition photo trick: have the camera at the same level as the hips, not the face, it creates a more accurate representation of your body proportions. If you are going to have the camera any lower, it will distort the face and neck.
It is that time of year, the end of the year, but what is usually a time of reflection and growth seems to be overshadowed by the gloom, hatred, and uncertainty of 2021. Most everyone right now can’t wait for 2021, the new year bringing a sense of hope for the future, that all of the negativity is going to stay in 2020, and I hope that too… While the world of Instagram and social media is having everyone repost their highlights of the year and their top 9 (don’t get me wrong, I did it too), I actually had to take a step back and be thankful for this year. First, let me thank all of you for your continuous support, readership, and following. This year we have donated over $30,000 in scholarships/company donations/causes and have given away over $5,000 in products and gift cards to amazing brands.
This year I had a lot to be thankful for… In January I was as happy as a clam, minding my own business, teaching, hanging out, and trying to start settling down in Scottsdale. We had our Winter Intensives, and we started the choreography for our June Show. In February we did our Valentine’s Day shoot and I took kids to compete at the YAGP Semi-Final New York. In March, I went to Kansas City’s YAGP Semi-Final. By March 16th, we were at home on quarantine orders, and everything completely shifted into chaos and the new normal…
But during quarantine, I was able to focus a lot on A Ballet Education, I had so much free time since I was not in the studio or guest teaching. When things started to go sideways, I decided to make a planner that would help all of my students keep track of Zoom Codes and staying in shape. Little did I know that it was going to explode and that by May 2020, we would have shipped over 1,000 planners worldwide.
Additionally, Ashley and I were able to refocus our efforts on the Magazine and bring on Elizabeth Weldon to help create a stunning issue that would continue to grow throughout the rest of the year.
By June 2020, we were back in the studios, without masks. We were told it was safe, and things were slowing down. Little did we know that would only last two weeks before we were back to stay-at-home orders. By August, we were back in studios but were only allowed to have six kids at a time, and so we were putting in 10 hour days trying to see all of our students at least once a day. Then, by September, we were told we would be allowed to open again with masks… And so, Season two of the Ballet Clinic Resumed, our faculty had expanded from three to six, and our student population had grown from 12 to 32, and we published the beautiful September Issue.
Our season kicked off to a great start.
In October, we launched the ABE Merch Line along with our Spooky Season Stuff!
By December, we were back in the full swing of things. The magazine has grown, the ABE Merch was taking off, the planners are still going like hotcakes, and our December Issue had come out.
Another new challenge that December brought was live broadcasting our exams at The Ballet Clinic. It was a very fun new challenge, but we were able to produce amazing live streams and broadcast the exams so parents could see.
So as you can see, I have a lot to be thankful for this year. And while this year brought chaos, destroyed the world of arts, and financially broke the system, it also brought me passion, it brought creativity, it brought me the willingness to fight and keep going for everything I love so much. This year has been hell, this year has been a shit storm, but this year has also made me work even harder, and reminded me that nothing is guaranteed. This year has given me amazing collaborations with Tea Leaves and Co, NG Generation and Grishko World, Cary Conservatory, Elite Classical Coaching, winning outstanding teacher at YAGP, being listed as one of the top ballet schools in the country, being nominated for Influential Contributor and Influencer, and so much more.
As I move on to 2021, I am excited for the next year. I am excited for The Ballet Clinic Season 3. I am excited to see what the future holds for my students, and I am excited that A Ballet Education, A Ballet Magazine, A Ballet Network, The Ballet Clinic, and The Pointe Shoe Clinic are thriving.
While A Ballet Magazine’s Winter Issue features a plethora of holiday performances this season, we would be remiss not to also highlight Municipal Ballet Company’s upcoming film of River of Rosewater, their version of The Nutcracker. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and under the Directorship of Sarah Longoria (a contributor to our Summer Issue), Municipal Ballet Company has brought entertaining and affordable, if not free, performances to the city for the past nine years. This year’s filmed performance of River of Rosewater features the lovely Kathryn Morgan as Clara, and Christopher Sellars, her current boyfriend and former first soloist with Ballet West, as her prince.
The performance is set in Salt Lake City’s historic McCune Mansion and accompanied by Pixie and the Party Grass Boys, a local band, who arranged Tchaikovsky’s score. The music, setting, and elegant costumes reflect the air of the 1920s. This version is a charming rendition of the classic Nutcracker and one where Morgan and Sellars are sure to shine. There couldn’t be a more perfect pairing for this unique holiday tale.
Morgan, who has charmed followers the internet over with her resiliency and candor, continues to impress fans with her reinventions. I am delighted at the thought of seeing her timeless beauty and grace in this performance as she partners with her real life love. Sellars is not only a refined genuine gentleman but also a gifted partner. Together, they and the delightful dancers of Municipal Ballet are sure to sweep the audience off their feet!
Municipal Ballet Company is a collection of classically trained dancers who wish to continue sharing their love of dance. Sarah Longoria has created a beautiful and supportive community for adult dancers to keep dancing and have the opportunity to collaborate with local creatives.
The filming of River of Rosewater is made possible by Social Antidote, a local nonprofit organization intent on featuring local creatives. Free streaming will premiere Wednesday, (TODAY!!!) December 23rd at 7pm on Social Antidote’s Youtube Channel and will continue to be available to watch.
Only 5 more days till the deadline to become an NG Generation Girl!! These amazing products, by the original Nikolay Grishko, can be found around the world being used by top professionals and dedicated students. So excited about this partnership. I will be designing a set of stickers exclusively for Nikolay Grishko. Apply today if you use these shoes! Above is the ad featured in our Holiday Magazine featuring Sarah Savage.
With the world being full of chaos, and social media constantly perpetuating so many different feelings… we decided to focus our energies on being thankful.
Each day leading up to Thanksgiving we have made a prompt. You can either make a post of your own or comment on our post. Either way, you will be entered into our Christmas Giveaways. This is already on top of our Friday Giveaways!!! If you didn’t know, on Friday’s we like to give stuff away on Instagram live.
Feel to join in at anytime!! #abe26daysofthanks
Just some of the awesome things we are giving away!!!
Every time I am about to start a blog post, the world we live in drastically changes, thus causing me to reevaluate what I post. In the latest post, I was going to be writing about Ballet West returning to the stage but this morning Utah put a limit to no more than 10 on social gatherings. So, I am assuming this is going to affect Ballet West’s return to the stage.
Meanwhile, across the world YAGP has successfully hosted the international heats, while the American heats are up in the air and this overwhelming case of uncertainty gives me anxiety.
Like most schools and companies across the US, this pandemic has ravaged business, destroyed dreams, and plagued students.
The efforts of mask wearing is exhausting, but in my experience works extremely well. But, not everyone in the dance world wants to follow suit, which is totally fine. Everyone is entitled to run their business how they see fit, this isn’t a political post.
But for me personally, the pandemic has taken its toll on my soul. The art and world that I love so dearly is crumbling. The uncertainty of ballet companies being able to hire over the next three years is grim. The possibility that every pre-professional school will be flooding their programs for dollars, when it’s time to re-open is very high. And ballet companies seem to not want to reinvent themselves during this time, leaving them institutions of the past.
Dancers have this way of living in the past, reminiscing about “the good days,” and have this inherent love for nostalgia. Remembering the Balanchine Era or the Ballet Russes era, the power houses of that brought down the house of the 80’s, the technicians and tricksters of the 90’s, and the primas of the early 00’s. Each of these times seem to be revisited, talked about, and glorified. But it’s time to move on and look forward if we want to save the art and world we live in.
So, what is next?
Ballet and being relatable. There are dancers of this generation making ballet accessible and relatable- but it seems their employers don’t want to recognize or finance their efforts. In today’s world of Instagram and Social Media influencers, there is an affiliates program. Programs that you make money off of when you are responsible for a lead or sale. While I see these dancers attempting to help their organizations, most aren’t being compensated for it. And yes, it is a team effort to save these organizations that we all love so much, but dancers should be compensated for the work that they are doing.
Crowdfunding and sourcing is a big part of today’s world, and it would be more effective for ballet companies if companies were more accessible but the reality is that these companies aren’t accessible, the dancers are.
Then you have influencers who are not affiliated with companies that are doing exceptional things, and they should be compensated as well. There are individual artist platforms like Patreon that help individual artists thrive to create digital media content. But, collectively, being conscious that the world we love so much isn’t progressing because of executive directors, but because individual people, dancers, and influencers keep creating content that is relevant.
These individuals on Instagram are literally the mouthpiece and physical representation of these organizations. What would ABT or PNB be without their star-studded rosters? And these social media superstars are the driving force behind asking for donations. I see all these dancers advertising their digital seasons, asking for donations, and even seeing the links in their profiles. They should have affiliate links, so companies can track who is bringing in what. It’s not that hard to create individually tracked links. But, if their world is out of touch with how social media works… well they can call me 🙂
Lastly, in this ever-changing world, a thought that has been constantly on my mind is…. Are unions like AGMA and the theatre union helping or hindering ballet?
As ballet evolves through this time of COVID, some institutions and individuals have evolved as innovators, while others have slipped into an even more archaic and dated state. New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck has leapt ahead of the industry.
In addition to consistently teaching an open class on her Instagram Live feed during Quarantine, Peck teamed up with LA-based CLI Studios to produce a new digital performance. For those unfamiliar, CLI Studios is a digital dance streaming service that is popular among competitive studios and dancers for its access to competitive choreographer content.
“A New Stage” was created by Peck as a front-row experience presented by world-class dancers and some of the most highly profiled collaborators. The $20 streamed performance includes names like Lil Buck, Sierra Boggess, Brooklyn Mack, and the Syncopated Ladies.
The broadcast is introduced by Peck and then moves into Unusual Way by the award-winning Christopher Wheeldon. Of course the ballet world knows who he is, but for the commercial world, it presented a tremendous introductory effort. This piece entailed a pointe solo by Peck accompanied by vocals sung by Broadway star Sierra Boggess. The slow and romantic movement showcased Peck in a softer presence than her typical portrayal with City Ballet. The piece was delicate and approachable, and definitely created a diverse audience-friendly contemporary ballet that felt welcoming to everyone.
The tap ensemble Syncopated Ladies, then presented its spectacular offering, Amplified. This piece was vibrant, clear, and a true reflection of our times. It transcended the obvious use of popular music, and truly offered something we don’t see often enough in the world of concert dance: high caliber, technical, and clean tap. It wasn’t a part of a Broadway show, it wasn’t a part of a competition showcase, and it wasn’t trying to be a ground breaking percussive performance. Instead, this performance was purely about the tapping, and the people performing. There were multiple body types, ethnicities, and individual artists amongst these delightfully talented women. In today’s world, where ballet struggles between elitism and accessibility, the Syncopated Ladies’ performance truly was a punch of power, hope and progress for the world of dance.
Finally, the evening concluded with the big performance: Petrushka Reimagined. Petrushka originally premiered in 1911 with the Ballet Russes. It was choreographed by Fokine to Stravinsky, who had in 1910, just premiered his score to the ballet, Firebird. Originally, this ballet was supposed to be Rite of Spring for Diaghilev, but Stravinsky wasn’t feeling it at the time and composed the score around a puppet.
As this ballet is really intended for a more sophisticated ballet audience, each version that was subsequently created was condensed, and the score cut down and simplified by Stravinsky himself.
An updated Petrushka was previously premiered in 2009 by the Scottish Ballet, and in 2012 a small company in Florida also premiered a Petrushka interpretation with hip-hop, but used a full cast instead of limiting the piece to 3 dancers. This version was definitely more audience friendly, and probably suited the wider commercial audience it was created to entertain. The dancing was great, however the choreography held this piece back from realizing its full potential. With such a capable cast, it was disappointing to find it not as complex or developed as it should have been.
This presentation was based on the later version featuring Nureyev, which only requires 3 dancers. Lil Buck was featured as Petrushka (the puppet), Tiler Peck as the ballerina, and Brooklyn Mack as the Moore. The performance drew from hip hop, pop-locking, vogueing, classical ballet, and contemporary ballet. While I appreciated the choreographer, Jennifer Weber’s, take of Petrushka, the actual sadness, darkness, and complexity of the original ballet is missing, and the focus is not on Petrushka but on Peck’s ballerina doll and a love triangle that is portrayed through elaborate commercial dance.
Overall, the entire evening was beautifully filmed and crafted and is a great exposure opportunity for younger audiences. Older audiences could appreciate Weber’s Petrushka as one of the only ballets where the male characters are more developed and portray a wider range of emotions. As a commercial introduction to the world of concert dance, this performance checked all of the right boxes: diversity, technique, modernity, and entertainment…but, the $20 was worth it for Syncopated Ladies alone! Check out the performance here.
CLI’s next performance will include a world premiere by William Forsythe and Tiler Peck. Stay tuned for more.
Seven super cute costume ideas that you probably already have around the house.
This year, instead of illustrating the week of Spooky Season, I asked my students to recreate my illustrations. They definitely went all-in on it, and here they are, just in time for the spooky holiday.
Dear Friends, Colleagues, Readers and Ballet Lovers…
Ballet is facing a very scary time right now. Companies are running out of money very quickly, and we need, I need your help. There are companies out there now facing the potential of folding… I am asking for your help to donate. And yes, it’s very hard to know which company to help support since every company out there is asking for help. We have started using some of our scholarship money and donating it to companies because if these companies close, we will have nowhere to send our kids. There will be no jobs for them in 3-5 years. I am asking you to look at the bigger picture because it isn’t just the season that is affected, it is going to be a 3-5 or even longer downturn for companies. On October 1, we will announce what companies we will be able to help out and the amounts we are able to help. This is very serious, and it scares me that in 3-5 years there might not be opportunities for any student if we can not keep these companies alive.
And yes, there is the argument that some companies have been mismanaged, or have been racially selective, we want to donate to companies who do thrive on diversity and inclusion. These are the companies that need our help the most. So, if you have a few extra dollars to spare, please feel inclined to donate. It really does scare me what the future of ballet will look like if we don’t have companies to feed.
And for those of you who aren’t looking for anything like that. Here is a free coloring page. Have your student(s) design their own tutus and have fun coloring in and learning about The Sleeping Beauty.
And for those of you who have been asking. STICKER PACK 2 will be coming out mid July featuring the following stickers: Jodi, Sleeping Beauty Pas De Deux, Lilac Fairy, Bluebird, Flames of Paris, Kitri ACT I, Don Q Pas de deux, Kitri’s Friends and our Anniversary Sticker!!
Today hit harder than most days. A wave of devastation came across hundreds of young talented dancers as some of the most prestigious ballet schools announced they are canceling their summer intensives. Earlier in the month Houston Ballet already made some tough but responsible choices regarding their summer course, but today Royal Ballet and San Francisco also announced their program cuts. While this is devastating to hundreds, it is the socially responsible thing to do. But how does an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old cope and deal with understanding the larger picture, a picture that not only includes ballet but the entire world?
As a school director, today devastated my students as our entire school was committed either San Francisco Ballet School or Royal Ballet. While our YAGP winners were already devastated earlier this month from the canceling of finals, today was another hard, but expected blow. We had already proposed a stay at home summer course for our students, but it doesn’t compare to the opportunities that were going to lie ahead of them. Most of the winners of YAGP have already committed to international courses across the world, and now they are left with nothing. A year’s worth of hard work gone to the wayside, thousands of dollars in competitive fees, tutus and pointe shoes are now wasted. While these are only short term goals, it is still devastating.
For a lot of young dancers, who are now 17-19, they are realizing that their dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer might not ever happen as companies are announcing their budget cuts and financial strains. Professionals are now questioning their job security and what the future is going to hold for them. And while this economy has tanked, the economic and social trends of ballet and the world have been sped up tenfold.
So what does this all mean?
Ballet for the Masses: Companies are finally realizing what I have been saying for a long time… BROADCAST your performances for a fee. People will pay! So if you are in Los Angeles you now can watch New York City Ballet and so on and so forth. City Ballet will be broadcasting Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Wendy Whelan Lecturing and teaching movement classes. But this now just exponentially opened up your ticket sales. The world can now watch ballet from anywhere at any given time, and while it doesn’t replace the magic of live theatre, it does increase ticket sales by demographically… billions… So if you are an ED or AD out there, I hope you listen and take advantage of what is about it come.
Big Names & Big Talent: With everyone now on social media, and social media numbers being driven up 300% on Instagram and TikTok becoming the fastest growing platform, social media is now more important than ever. Star-studded live classes with principal dancers are selling, but now, taking alongside start-studded students is a BIG thing. Those who are on social media and these kids are becoming more and more circulated and more and more recognized, meaning these are the names that will be driving ticket sales in 3-5 years if not sooner. So, don’t miss the bandwagon. If there is anything that COVID-19 has taught us is that the “influence” you have on social media really does matter. The bigger the name, the more likely a company will be reaching out to you to “collaborate” or “virtually teach” or “virtually take class with”.
VIRTUAL BALLET: While Virtual Ballet is now becoming more and more of reality, and that people are now realizing they can train just about anywhere, or take private lessons from many principal dancers and top coaches, ballet is becoming even more elite and even conservative. Ballet Schools are now recruiting left and right as they can now virtually see thousands of dancers in a week and recruit into their schools.
The rise of the Powerhouse Schools: Ballet schools around the world have always been categorized into three categories. Whether or not we like to admit this or not, it is truth. The categories have always been: A Professional School (A school with a pre-professional program attached to a professional company) Competitive Commercial School (Intensive comp schools that are industry-based driven and placing commercial and contemporary dancers into broadway jobs or agencies) And recreational, or as a lot of elite snobs like to call them: the dolly-dinkle schools.
But here is the problem that COVID has made. Professional schools are now going to be falling to the waste side as the quality is going to go down. Trainee and pre-pro programs are going to be flooded with kids to make up for the financial shortcomings of social distancing. It already happened in 2008, and a lot of these schools are still trying to “recover” their training reputations. But, because of this pandemic, we are now looking at an even bigger flood of trainee programs. It is already hard enough to see a once prestigious ballet school with a company that has a historical name in Chicago had over 30 Trainees this season, with maybe 4 job openings. 30+ kids paying 17-30k a year is a lot of dollars… and so this model of flooding trainee programs will now be the standard to make up for the financial losses in ballet.
This means that schools like Ellison, Elite Classical Coaching, Southland Academy, ICSB, Cary, Sarasota Cuban Ballet, Master Ballet Academy, The Ballet Clinic, Central New Jersey, Golden State, Skyra, and others are going to rise to the top as the most sought after training grounds. Programs with exclusivity and pristine training are going to take even more prominence than before, as they continuously produce strong dancers. While these schools are already powerhouse players at the YAGP, and powerhouses on social media, these schools are just continually going to rise to the top.
So at the end of all of this, who is going to have a job in ballet? Over the next 3-5 years the ones who will be getting jobs are going to be grouped into three categories:
Good bodies for the corps de ballet.
Social Media stars who will sell seats, who are technically gifted and that will have the chance to continue to build a name for themselves and become household names. We originally saw this trend 2011/2012 with the documentary “First Position” and the start of the rise of YAGP and Social Media. Now they are soloists and doctors. Now that we don’t need documentaries because we can follow social media stories, it is going to push this trend even faster.
So, while we try to comfort our dancers and tell them everything is going to be okay, we also need to be honest with them, and constantly remind them that this can not crush them into an oblivion and that you must continue to work harder, push harder, and be even more dedicated so that when all of this is over, and the dust starts to settle they will be one of the ones who will be considered for a job. It is now more than ever, that the focus and rigor of ballet can not fade out, it can not take a backseat, and it can not go to the waste. It is time to realize that you either want this 100 percent and you are going to kill yourself to even have the slightest chance at a job, or you are just going to go to college, or that maybe you don’t want this professionally. Regardless, it is only going to get harder to find a job, so you all need to work 10 times harder, and 20 times smarter.
Our daily ballet vocabulary lesson with A Ballet Education: April 3, 2020
Temps de Poisson or Pas De Poisson or Sissone Soubresaut, or Temps Collé are all names for this difficult step. While back in the day it was a step of reserved for men, we are now progressive feminists and don’t discriminate steps via gender. Temps de poisson means time of the fish, whlie pas de poisson means step of the fish. While we can debate what school of thought (pedagogy) names what steps, it is more important to talk about the technique behind the step.
This step commonly shares a lot of the ideas and facings with sissone faille. For example, the step starts in croisé, but the position in the air would be effacé, while landing in a fourth croisé. The difference is going to be what the legs actually do in the air. While sissone faille (a very common step in ballet class), focuses on the legs splitting apart, temps de poisson focuses on to keep the legs glued together (like a soubresaut, hence the name) in a tight fifth position in effacé. Now stylistically, people get fancy and focus on the lean back or really shaping the arch of the position, or even the shape of the arms.
THINGS TO FOCUS ON: DO NOT BEND YOUR KNEES IN THE POSITION! If you bend your knees or a single knee, it is a different step.
I like to encourage staying in the plié before take off for as long as possible so you can really push into the position.
Like an airplane take off, make sure you are on taking off moving forwards, and never backwards or arching too soon.
Keep the arms relaxed so you don’t look snazzy.
Grab a temps de poisson fat panda sticker for $5 – Click the image below.
These days we can’t scroll on any form of social media or even have a conversation without somehow involving the novel Corona Virus (COVID-19). The fear and panic of this new outbreak are causing the ballet world to shift slightly. This week, some of you probably got off the waitlist to summer courses, others might have withdrawn from summer intensive, and it seems that all plans are halting.
While major competitions like YAGP FINALS and ADC IBC sent emails out saying they plan on continuing with the competition, the news is saying otherwise. The fear has taken over countries, and is crippling economies, but what does this mean for ballet?
Friday night, the city of San Francisco closed the San Francisco Ballet’s run of Midsummers. This is just on the heels of SFB having to pull their Liam Scarlett program. This means the ballet company is going to be losing out on a ton of money and will make it harder to employ more dancers for the upcoming season. https://www.sfballet.org/a-message-regarding-the-covid-19-virus/
A lot of major schools are now facing students from abroad withdrawing from a summer course, and it isn’t just foreigners. A lot of dance families across the US are now questioning whether or not they should be attending a summer course. So, students are pulling out, this will create more of a financial toll on these schools, especially those affiliated with companies.
ADC IBC plans to continue their competition in March, as they sent out a release saying that the facilities are constantly going to be cleaned, and they are providing larger warm-up spaces so that the dancers won’t be around each other. The competition now has a live updates page: https://www.adcibc.com/get-updated
While Costco and Amazon and all of these other companies are under fire, and people are going into full-blown panic mode, we have to wonder what is going to be happening with Ballet?
It seems that this outbreak is now a part of our lives, and as it continues to progress throughout the world, we now have to think about our priorities. While I think it is important to continue on with our daily lives, we do need to be more cautious when it comes to physically correcting students; making sure we enforce if your child seems sick (Corona or not) you will want to stay home; making sure we wipe down the barres constantly with Clorox wipes, etc etc etc. Now we need to weigh in on the pros and cons of travel. Right now, with all of these containment zones being sanctioned, we ask ourselves, “If we were to travel, will we get stuck?”
Myself included, I was supposed to see Boston Ballet perform their Carmen and Serenade program, but now I find myself questioning whether or not I will make it home. Airlines are already canceling and refunding trips to Europe (personal experience), and when booking flights, they now have warnings that these flights aren’t guaranteed to happen.
For me, my biggest concern is how this is going to affect the economy and the luxury that is ballet. With now having to avoid crowds, ticket sales will probably start to tank, and the luxury of watching live ballet is now a risk. With people withdrawing from summer course and companies having to shut down programs, the financial strains are going to grow, which means there might not be jobs over the next year or so for young dancers coming up. This means as a teacher, trying to find work for my kids, or whether or not there is even money out there for them, is concerning, especially since they pay a lot to train.
So, for now, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, avoid large crowds, and if you are feeling sick with even the cold, stay home so that you don’t compromise your immune system even more. And for those of you extra cautious, make sure you are keeping up with your supplements and probiotics. If you are wondering whether or not you should compete, or that you have already paid and you want to withdraw, these are all huge concerns are ballet is a financial strain. Most likely, in the event of cancellation they will credit your money to next year, just because most major institutions in the arts right now can’t afford a financial loss.
If you are just waking up this Sunday morning, and just catching up with social media, here are some things you missed. I hate to be the one to keep talking about the Corona Virus (COVID-19), but this virus is now taking on the ballet world.
The City of San Francisco has shut down the Opera House till March 20. This meant that opening night was also the closing night of San Francisco Ballet’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. What does this mean? Besides losing out on ticket sales, San Francisco Ballet already had to redo a program because of the Liam Scarlett scandal, so it probably means the SFB will need a major financial restructuring for the upcoming season. SFB’s Press Release: https://www.sfballet.org/a-message-regarding-the-covid-19-virus/
We lost a ballet superstar, Danny Tidwell. A lot of people know him from SYTYCD, season 3 or Travis Wall’s older brother. But, Danny was a ballet star in his own right. Danny finished second at the Shanghai IBC, as well as the Silver Medal at the USA IBC Jackson Competition. After his win, he joined ABT Studio Company, and then signed his corps de ballet contract in 2003. In 2010 he signed as a soloist for Norwegian National Ballet. Danny passed away from a car accident and survived by his husband, his mom and family; he was only 35. Read his tribute here: https://www.eonline.com/news/1129135/danny-tidwell-s-husband-shares-a-touching-tribute-after-dancer-s-tragic-death
ABT’s “Of Love and Rage” premiered at Segerstrom Center this week. Like most of their ballets, they premiere on the West Coast before it opens at the Met. Here they usually test upcoming dancers, like when Misty Copeland debuted in the Firebird. This premiere included the young stars Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell. The ballet is based on a 2000 year old story, from an early novel called “Callirhoe.”
Holidays always bring the panic and stress of what to get a dancer or dance teacher. This year, we scoped out some great gifts for you! Whether it is for a young dancer or your favorite dance teacher here are 10 great things for everyone in ballet!
Petit Pas NYC is a super cute brand that takes pointe shoes and recycles them into jewelry and other gifts. These gifts range between $30-$60, and are super adorable.
2. For all of those stressed-out teachers, and parents, and for the students that enjoy tea, TEALEAVES has created an entire Nutcracker Tea Collection including a black tea called the Nutcracker, Organic Sugar Plum Fairy (Rooibos), and it comes in so many cute gift sets. The prices range from $6-$68.
3. Lolita Nutcracker Faced handpainted wine glasses from Hallmark. These cute wine glasses make a great gift for teachers. $60
4. This Nutcracker China Mug is part of a super beautiful Christmas Dinner set. I mean if you really like your teacher you could get an entire table setting for $500. This set was made by Prouna and can be purchased here.
5. A Rhinestone Ballerina Keychain from Z Gallerie $14.00 or a ballerina snow globe for $17. These are great little additions to any gift.
6. Another great gift is this Nutcracker Ballet Tote Back by Andrea Lauren Design. Available on Society 6 for $25.00
7. Any set of Legwarmers from Rubiawear! This brand has become the standard leg warmer for almost everyone in ballet. Shop it in soft cobble to match A Ballet Education’s the Ballet Clinic or get it in super cute colors and prints.
8. Any gift from Cloud and Victory would be welcomed. This super punny- trendy brand is known for their memes and hilarious content.
9. For those of you who want to spend a little more, “Clara and the Nutcracker” Musical Egg is 22 K gold scroll-work and has 100 gems in a Faberge style musical box. Created by the Bradford Exchange, this gift runs about $70.
10. And finally, there are tons of cute gifts from Ballet Papier. But you might have to pay for rush shipping for this brand.
For most people in ballet, you might already know the difference between a grand jeté and a saut de chat, but if you don’t know it. Here it is: A saut de chat leads with a développé where a grand jeté is usually done with a grand battement. The next point of difference to talk about is whether to call it a saut de chat or a grand pas de chat. Many Russians will refer to the step as a grand pas de chat, well most of Europe refers to it as that. Saut de Chat is more commonly used in America for this step.
To break it down by translation, Saut de Chat means jump of the cat, where Grand Pas de Chat is translated as big step of the cat. Either way, the step is the same and the mechanics are the same. The idea is to push off into the air from one leg, hitting a full split or a 180° degree or more line, transferring the weight in the air, and landing on the opposite leg you pushed off of.
So, let’s get into it and start breaking down this iconic grand allegro step.
a. I think the most important part of a saut de chat is to make sure that the preparation is aligned and placed properly. Make sure that the support leg (leg pushing off), is aligned hip, knees, toes, pelvis in neutral core forward. You want the energy to be pushing down into the ball of the foot, as that is the energy building up that will set the height and distance of the jump.
b. The next step the energy starts to uncoil from the ballet of the foot, up the leg. Still focusing on pushing down through the leg and the beginning of shaping the back leg. Making sure as we push the ankle and toes really rotate and the femur starts to rotate up and back. Here our working leg will start to move away from our center and start to extend, making sure the knee is being thrust forward and up.
c. In the next part of the jump, things start to usually go wonky. You want to make sure as the leg disengages from the floor that is lengthens right away and pulls away from the body in a clean line. You want to make sure it is fully rotated and positioned properly. Here is where a lot of young dancers will start to pitch backwards, rather than keep the core scooped and moving the shoulders and head in front of the hip line. By now you should be gaged so that you are almost at a full take off.
d. Right before you are at the height of the jump, meaning your hips are the furthest from the ground possible, you will open the développé and fully extend the back leg to arabesque at the same rate, and ascending into the full split at the height of the jump.
e. Nowadays it isn’t uncommon to be expected to hit an overspilt in the air. A lot of things usually go wrong trying to get into the oversplit. Things like, stressing out the hips, or being too arched, or the fact that the pelvis is tipped forward so much that the front leg can’t get up. For me as a ballet teacher, I like to tell the kids the start of the overspilt should be at the apex of the jump, but the extreme overspilt is on the descent of the jump. Meaning, your legs are strong enough to stay up and they keep extending, while your hips relax and start to descend. Your pelvis in neutral is key here. If they are swayed, the front leg won’t overspilt and you become more of a diagonal line, and if your hips are tucked, the front leg will go up, but the back legs strains in the socket.
f. Making sure you aren’t arched is super crucial, so that none of the impact of the jump goes into your back, especially your lower back. You want to make sure the weight is forward, and as you descend you are bringing your front leg in quickly while the back leg maintains the integrity of an arabesque. Bringing your foot in, and relaxing the knee is important. Keep your sight or eye-line up so that the audience still feels you are in the air for longer than you are. But bring the foot in slightly so that when you land (your hips will catch up to the distance of your foot), you are aligned.
g. Make sure your hips are up, and you are lifted creates the important task of rolling through. Making sure you are aligned hips over arch is important, and make sure your knee is in the same plane is CRUCIAL. By landing this way, you are able to properly roll down, hips in neutral and placed accordingly.
So, all of these things sound easy, but the major problem is figuring out how to accomplish all of this in a matter of a second or less. I think the most important thing to focus is on alignment and placement. A lot of young dancers have two major tendencies that can cause major injuries in the knees and back. The first one is that the alignment of the back is compromised by arching back super hard, or swaying back super hard. This creates a severe S curve, and strains the hip tendons and ligaments in the back leg. Once they are swayed and the core disengages, the arms usually end up too far back and the body is splayed like a bird. Additionally, when they land their weight is either in their heel or knee, and the descent is rough to watch. The second issue among young dancers is I find that they have a hard time jumping in a single plane. The common one I see the most is opening and twisting the back hip open so that the back leg can come up, and they look turned out, even though they are in an a la sebesque or secabesque position, or they can’t keep their working leg/throwing leg in front of their belly button/axis and they somehow open up outside of their shoulder line. This not only stresses the hips out, but it also visually shortens the line.
Saut de chats can be done with every port de bras (arms) possible. The most common is to hit the third elongated position or third arabesque line. The issue again is that most dancers don’t know that their wrists should be slightly crossed visually from the top.
So what are some things we do at The Ballet Clinic to help improve the jump? There is a lot of one footed jumps to strengthen and practice pushing down into the floor to push off. We also work an quicker and stronger développés combined with grand battements to help hold the turnout and work on the line. We also focus a lot of descending through the legs properly.
Haha, did you click to read this because you were wondering if your ballet school was on the list? This post isn’t the Top 10 Toxic Ballet Schools, but it is going to talk about whether or not you are in a toxic environment and what contributes to it. This is conversation is already happening behind closed doors and amongst moms, but it is time to talk about it out in the open.
All schools are not created equally. There are different schools for different purposes, different schools have different resources. Resources can include everything from financial aid to connections to community programs to performing opportunities. These schools around the world are sometimes overwhelming to navigate or there is a very large amount of pressure to make it into one of these schools. But not everything about these schools are great and glamourous. Sure, the allure of the opera house, the excitement of going away, the inspiration of being around other dancers and seeing company members, even the possibility of potentially joining the company makes it worth while. But behind the beautiful Marley, the floor to ceiling mirrors, the historic halls and the tradition and passion that stood at the very same barres, behind all of that there is the ugly side of ballet schools.
From manipulation, to pressure, to sex scandals — ballet schools are infamously known for their toxic environments. Movies have portrayed these hidden truths, and probably exaggerated them to extremes, but regardless there is some truth to the toxicity of ballet schools. From over involved stage moms, to gossiping, to favors, bribing teachers for roles and solos, the list goes on and on. So let’s take a look at some of these things. How do you know if you are in a toxic environment? What can you do about it?
I think one of the biggest issues in a lot of ballet schools is the influence of a director or head teacher on a child’s life. Obviously, they know a lot about ballet, but they are not the parent. I think one of the biggest things is making sure the parent is making decisions in a child’s life, and not the director dictating the life of the child/family. These choices can range from encouraging or discouraging a summer intensive, or pushing/holding back a child for financial gain. To be honest, no director wants their student to leave their school, that is money walking out of the door. So there is that factor. I think that there has to be a healthy balance, and healthy trust with a director. But, one of the biggest things that is needed is transparency.
Another thing that is toxic are the students. Don’t get me wrong, every environment can be toxic, but in ballet schools and dance studios, a lot of the times just one bad apple spoils the bunch. One student gossiping out of jealousy or insecurities can quickly turn a school’s environment into a negative spiral, especially if the director continues to show a lot of support of the toxic student and rewards his or her behavior, or doesn’t believe it, or wants to ignore it and doesn’t want to get involved at all.
Finally, another big thing that contributes to an environment going bad is parents. A lot of schools have banned parents from sitting in the lobby anymore because of the gossip. Parents tend to get over involved, over calculated, and overly ambitious. Parents gossiping about other kids is the worst, because they are grown adults attacking small children. One of these problems is parents not having a realistic sense of whether their own child is strong or weak. I am not saying all kids out there are terrible, but you do have to have a sense of reality when it comes to dance, and specifically ballet.
As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer to fix the problem. But, I think one of the biggest things is not realizing if you are in a toxic environment or being unaware if you are contributing to a bad environment.
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are probably in a toxic environment or contributing to it:
Is your child miserable either before or after dance class? Does you director or teacher ignore your kid in class, meaning no corrections? Do you talk about other kids, and follow their career trajectories? Do you start sentences with, “Don’t repeat this, but…” Does the director punish or reward students with parts? Do families who donate money or volunteer more get better parts? Is your child unhappy with their current dancing abilities? Does your coach constantly yell? Has a director ever yelled at a parent? Have you expressed concern for your child, and you were brushed off?
These are just some of the questions that we have to ask ourselves, because the problems are real. Toxic environments are real, and unfortunately, very few things are done to correct the behavior. I remember working at one school and the director opened the beginning of the year talk with, “You shouldn’t question me, because I know what I am doing. I care about your kids.”
This was followed by a long talk about trust, loyalty and commitment — all things that I agree are needed in ballet. The amount of work that it takes to be a dancer truly is quite a burden. These opening lines were delivered in sincerity and conviction, but the problem is that the director didn’t live up to those things. Ignoring kids, encouraging kids to not go away, telling kids that they weren’t talented when in reality they are very talented, punishing kids with their level placement, judging kids by height and weight and the list went on and on. These things are all just examples of issues in toxic environments. And these problems aren’t just at elite schools or small schools. It is everywhere.
Finally, one of the biggest concerns I have about toxic environments, is that the right environment for a ballet student can make all the difference. A student in the right environment will soar and progress quickly, while a student who isn’t at the right school might be ignored or get injured. Someone who doesn’t have a pliable body obviously needs extra attention so they don’t get injured, and someone with an overly flexible body will need attention in strengthening and supplementing with pilates. All of these things, including a supportive, mentally healthy environment are contributing factors to finding the right environment for your student.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer
What does that mean? It means that if your school’s environment is not for you, leave. I know there is the financial obligation or even the friendships, or even the convenience factor. But the reality is, if the environment isn’t right for the student, remove the student. Even at the Ballet Clinic, we do not accept everyone because we also care about the environment. Someone who has anxiety might not be the best fit at my school as the pressure is quite high. Someone who doesn’t want to pursue ballet as a career wouldn’t be the right fit either. Sure, I could flood the classes with 20+ kids in the room, but I believe that 8-12 kids in a class is enough, as each kid needs individual corrections so they can excel. I am not saying this is the right model, or the only model, I am saying what works for me. We also eliminated the jealousy factor as we do not emphasis competition. If the student/family wants to compete that’s on them. We will coach and prepare you, but we could care less about competing or winning. What matters for us is that you get into a top professional school on a scholarship. Remember, I don’t accept kids over the age of 16.
Toxicity in dance and the arts is really a big thing, and we do not put enough emphasis on correcting the behavior and eliminating bad apples.
Come Train with Me!!! If you didn’t know, I bought a building in Arizona and opening my own school! The school itself can only accommodate 36 dancers. The building is great, completely remodeled with two beautiful full size studios. If you haven’t comitted to a year-round program yet, and you are looking for a place to train, feel free to apply here: CLICK HERE
The Ballet Clinic is a place for serious dancers to come in, get their work done, and get out. Our schedule for advanced dancers is Tuesday-Friday, and optional classes on Saturday. Classes on weekdays start at 5:00 PM. For those who are homeschooled and want extra classes, we offer morning class twice a week.
We are still looking to fill 2 advanced/pre-pro boy spots and 2 girl spots (preferably ages 14+ who are looking to go away to a full-time professional school next fall). In our beginning group, we still have 6 spots left. Our faculty includes: Ashley Baker (ballet), Eric Hipolito Jr (mens, boys,pas de deux), Terin Christopher (contemporary) and myself.