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.
Not that we can all be jumping right now, but here is today’s ballet step of the day: Entrechat Six. This wonderful battu or batterie step is for both men and women of the intermediate and above levels. This jump usually is done in both allegro and grand allegro and can be done in petit allegro for the more advanced student. Entrechat six is translated as six crossings, but sometimes we forget how we count crossings in beats. 1 cross = is an opening or a crossing.
Illustrated above are where the six crossings are counted.
There are different ways and different thoughts on how to approach an entrechat six, whether that is based on musicality and phrasing the beats on the way up, or hitting the final beat at the landing if the accent is down. Some teachers will tell you to just squeeze the buttocks and legs as tight as you can and you will hit the six, while others might say do an entrechat quatre, and close back. Different strokes for different folks… When I teach entrechat six, I really emphasize the second beat and make sure you SUPER over cross the thighs and then let the legs kind of unwind the tension to create the beats. Again, different ways for different people. But here are some things to look out for, regardless of how you are taught to phrase the beat to accomplish it:
DO NOT BEAT YOUR ANKLES…. oof it is the worst to watch and hear. If you are beating your ankles you aren’t really jumping, and most likely are using your quads. Epic fails. It is also just really poor technique.
DO NOT MOVE YOUR HIPS… another thing to look out for is to move your hips while attempting the beats. Your pelvis should be stabilized because you are turning out both hips equally, and the core is pulled up letting the tail bone pointe down and the pubic bone stays forward-facing.
DO NOT SWING YOUR LEGS… if you don’t over cross your tendus/degagé/jeté, or just keep the tendu crossed, you might have a tendency to open your legs at the diagonal when beating, this makes for small little rond de jambe like beats, which are also wrong and outer quad heavy. Plus, you will look like you are swimming/flailing and kicking instead of beating.
USE YOUR CORE. Make sure the core is engaged and not squeezed. Do not squeeze your abs but keep them pressed, or scooped back into your spine. This will ensure that you take off/jump straight up.
STAY IN PLIÉ… make sure you stay in plié as long as you can by constantly pushing down into the floor so you have the most kinetic energy built up. This allows you to spring up and create ballon.
Date Posted: April 7, 2020
Here is étoile at the Paris Opera, Hugo Marchand doing the most amazing Giselle sixes ever.
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.
Battement Tendu Relevé (battement stretched and raised) or Battement Tendu Pour le Pied (Battement stretch for the foot) or Tendu Pour le Pied (tendu for the foot):
This is one of my favorite steps to give as a teacher, it really helps develop the foot in every capacity. It works the instep, it works the actual shape of the pointed foot, it works the articulation it works just about everything, and it is a killer for the inner thighs. Don’t confuse this with double tendu because it is not the same. Well, unless you are Soviet-Vaganova trained, then it is the same thing. This step can be done to the front or back, but most commonly it is done to the side or in a la seconde, and it can also be done with dégagé. Okay, let’s just get to it and break down this step:
Starting in fifth position, the working leg will brush to second with a strong tendu position.
Then, using the instep and the inner thigh, you will lower the heel forward as far as you can by rotating from the inner thigh. The minute the heel touches you will spring the instep and the toes back to a super strong pointed foot.
You can double it up, which means you will drop the heel twice before closing fifth. Usually when closing, you will close opposite of where you started. So if you did the tendu starting with the right leg in front, it will usually finish back.
When I teach I use this step a lot because it teaches the kids to lower with their heel fully forward, and that I can see how much natural rotation a student has right away. I also like to give this step a lot in “pre-pointe” class so that students are able to work the foot and toes quite a bit. Finally, I love to give this step because it is such a nice way to really feel the inner thighs connect as you lower; maintaining the rotation on both the working and supporting leg at all times.
Things to look out for:
Don’t force the ankle forward by pushing weight into it. You are going to want to make sure that the weight stays on the supporting leg.
To the side the working hip will slightly drop while the supporting leg works double time.
If you do this step to the front and back, there might be loss of a neutral pelvis for those dancers who aren’t strong enough to rotate on two legs, so avoid giving this to young dancers.
Maintain that the weight stays over the supporting foot to make the working leg the longest and the most beautiful shape possible.
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.
I think there is a big misunderstanding among ballet teachers and other teachers when it comes to turn in and turnout. The two cannot be separated because anything that is not turned out completely is turned in. I also believe that when it comes to working on the floor or barre work, sometimes it is better to work turned in. In fact, as we know from previous videos, I think it is important to work turned in to find a dancer’s turnout.
So, while I believe dancer’s should cross train in modern, jazz and hip hop, because of the different muscles groups each one focuses on, I definitely don’t believe in overtraining muscle groups that are going to hinder ballet technique. This means that anything that is going to lock up your quads and hip flexors, I am against. One of the best ways I think that any dancer can become stronger and be more in tune with their body is to discover how the hip socket works. (Click here for some other hip stuff from earlier posts.)
Taking a look at dancing turned in, into find your turnout.
Standing in sixth position properly aligned means that foot is perfectly turned in with proper knee and hip alignment.(proper alignment being shoulders over hips, over knees, over toes.) When standing in sixth position facing the barre one leg will automatically be in perfect turn out, if you rotate your hips towards left hand at the barre… When doing this you want to make sure you are really focusing on the SUPPORTING LEG. Remember the point of barre is to get you on your supporting leg and build strength in that leg, okay and to make your feet stronger… but the main focus is to get you on your leg and to do so, one must really build the back of the legs, rotators, and core.
Okay, so now you just have to discover the rotation in your hips. So here is Lauryn Brown (Insta: @laurynlanee) demonstrating some of the turned in to turnout combinations we work on at the Ballet Clinic. By all means it is not perfect, but she is working very hard on building the strength on her supporting leg.
Remember most of these combinations are designed to work the supporting leg’s turnout.
If you do these exercises properly, you will reshape your legs and increase your turnout drastically.
Things to keep in mind, holding the spiral of your supporting leg.
Finding your crease/ booty indent every time. Where the leotard cuts around the leg should be completely folded into the hip socket, the back/side of your quad & IT band should be completely flat.
Find squareness to the supporting leg, not the working leg. This is not a normal ballet combination, so if you can’t completely open to the side yet, DON’T. It is okay to be in a semi-ecarté position.
Don’t let the supporting knee give .
Don’t roll on the supporting foot.
Don’t put weight into the working leg.
When finding Arabesque- let the hips do the work, NOT YOUR BACK.
Working on pirouettes en dedans (pirouettes to the inside) can be hard. While it seems like they are easier than en dehors turns, the problem with en dedans is the turnout factor. Whether is a pirouette or attitude turn to the inside, these can be rather difficult to master because of the mechanics. The like all turns, the focus should always be on the supporting leg, and even more so with turns to the inside. Sooooo, let’s begin. Remember if you like this post, share it.
The Preparation Position
Pirouettes to the inside… the first thing you are going to want to focus on is the prepping position. Normally, when learning this turn you start in fourth position in croisé, with the back leg straight. You want to make sure that the supporting arm is in a very placed first position, don’t over cross it. For the working arm, the big mistake is opening up too far. Makes sure it is in front of your body… meaning look over your shoulder and make sure your elbow and hand are in front of your shoulder. A lot of times, young dancers will over compensate in this position and that supporting arm will be so far back… This also has to do with your hips and making sure they are in a true croisé. Make sure you can see both hips in the mirror. Remember, you are only crossing to you “box” not the shape of the room.
The action of getting into the retiré devant can happen two ways. The first way is when the dancer shifts/ fouettés to a dégagé en face position with arms in seconde. The second way is to directly bring the leg into the turning position. While a lot of the torque for the pirouette happens from the working leg, the tension and the inertia that drives the pirouette is still in the supporting leg.
During this time the arms are either moving from third to fifth, or second to first, or second to fifth. Or really any port de bras. The reality is they can be in any position, but there has to be a hair amount of tension built up. Weak arms in a turn is a death sentence. You wouldn’t want to fly in a plane with weak wings, so don’t turn with weak arms. Don’t over twist, and don’t wind up. It is one of the worst things you can do. While most of the energy comes from the arm, it isn’t about swinging into the position, but the amount of control and tension you can build to instantly get into the position and maintaining an inside axial spiral rotation in the upper body while the lower body resists and tries to press en dehors.
The problem with an inside pirouette is that as the supporting side and arms are rotating the axis inwards on the body, the working leg is working in the opposite direction. The common mistake is for the working leg to slightly turn in to help carry the rotations of the pirouette. This is most commonly seen in younger dancers. The more advance dancer knows the keep the knee behind the shoulder, thus causing the turn to “lose” another rotation. But the position itself is quite complicated. I would say it is more complicated than an en dehors pirouette, but maybe it is just a more difficult turn for myself. Unlike an en dehors pirouette, where you place into one position and create your own g-forge from the turnout and push back of the working leg and you can increase the g-force during the turn… an en dedans pirouette is based on the energy prior to the turn (in the prep and the actions leading into the position).
Ice skaters probably have it the easiest when it comes to rotating to the inside on the axis. While most of their jumps are to the outside, most of their spins start to the inside. The basic idea of their spins is their scratch spin. But here is what we can learn from this concept. The turn to the inside has to do with building momentum and increasing their g force by using their working leg to build the g-force. The biggest factor is the tension they build in their arms, back, and core. The coordination between their arms and working leg is crucial. We can take this same concept and apply it when folding into our pirouette. By building tension in the preparation, we are able to close the momentum on top of our axis, like figure skaters. Now to increase the rotations, the supporting side of our body has to turnout/rotate faster than our working side. Our working side is there just along for the ride, placed in a turned out position.
Increasing the rotations
When turning to the inside the quickest way to build rotations is by getting in to the position as quickly as possible but maintaining the tension. The best way I find to get into the position is letting the working arm shift into seconde, and then immediately pull into the reitré position.Don’t over rotate the second position. Then let the working side’s upper body press forward and spiraling up to the position
Option 2: Personally, I like to think of a barbershop pole, spiraling up into as many rotations as possible. Spiral up over the arch, and constantly keep growing up and out of your hips, through your chest and out through your arms.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when preparing, having your hips tilted. I don’t like the idea of “up and forward” in preparation for the en dedans. A lot of people engage this lunging position where the hips are behind the upper body because you are leaning forward. Personally, I prefer that the hips and spine are all in a neutral position right on top of the arch of the supporting side.
Another pet peeve is when turning, not using your lats. Instead of widening the back, people pinch it tight. Remember your back should be completely flat, no chicken wings, not tectonic plates pinching… just keep it completely flat.
Finally, my last pet peeve when turning to the inside is winding up. I hate it. If anything build the moment with the supporting arm, and the second it hits seconde position, pull into fifth (whether that is through first, or cutting en dedans to the fifth). Its one of the biggest mistakes people make and causes them to look extremely turned in. I see it all the time at these competitions, especially in the Paquita etoile variation. The turn in is real… like super real.
Ballet is hard. Really hard. No matter how ballet has progressed, the fundamentals of ballet have always stayed the same: turnout, pointed feet, and becoming something unattainable and unimaginable. Yes, these are the fundamentals, but the principals that ballet is based on have constantly changed throughout the decades to progress the technique. The first of these principles is plié. It is one of the first things you learn as a dancer. In the beginning, it is as simple as bending your knees and making a diamond.Then you learn to open your turnout, and finally it is the connection to the floor, the connection to tradition and the connection to a legacy that has been passed down from one generation to the next. So, the plié is not only the building block of ballet, but it also is the mental foundation of ballet.
No matter where you are in the world, no matter what time of day, no matter your socioeconomic status, if you take a ballet class, you will start pliés, unless a teacher gives you a random combination to warm-up your feet.
So, what are pliés used for?
Pliés are used to begin and end a jump, a turn, and basically every step in ballet. They are used to open the hips and facilitate turnout and to strengthen and lengthen the abductors. Pliés can be used to build strength in the hamstring, to stretch the Achilles, open the energy throughout the metatarsals, and open the body.
But more importantly, and the key to pliés,is the mindset that pliés set up for you. The plié clears your head, the outside world fades away, and ballet history starts to flow through your body. You see, pliés are a part of ballet history, and not just on the technical side of things. For generations, it has been a part of the tradition we enjoy so much. Plus, if you think about starting at barre, and the slight gesture of placing your hand at the barre, your hand is likely touching the imprint or sweat of generations before you. Think about it like this. Let’s say you go to SAB for the summer, and you are in one of the larger studios. Consider everyone who has touched that barre before you, stood where you stand, and now they are a part of ballet history. Think about the legends who grew up at Lincoln Center, or the standouts at your own studio who have moved on to accomplish great things. Sometimes, even inanimate objects have a history so inspiring that you are taken aback with awe.
Pliés for the Young Student When you are younger, you think that the plié is the easiest of the technical vocabulary to master, but in reality it is quite difficult. Young students should really focus on alignment of the body, and really master the mechanic of slight movements (port de bras, plié, cambré, etc.), while maintaining their core.
Pliés for the Pre-Pro/Professional Student For students who are in a higher program, the focus of a plié is to open your hips and start moving your joints. You should have warmed up prior to class, but if you aren’t there yet, then you really do use pliés as a warm-up. But, what you should focus on is the ability to gather and sustain energy from the body.
Pliés for the Professional Once you are at a certain point in your career, pliés become the habit of life and just feel good. It is probably the only combination at barre that is easy and becomes second nature to you. But for you kids reading this, every professional uses pliés to warm-up the body and set the tone for their dance day. They will also pace themselves at barre, and work on the quality of their plié.
Pliés for the Mature Dancer If you are on the mature side of dance, remember to thoroughly warm-up the body prior to taking class. The older we get, the more we have to preserve the body to prevent injury and to sustain dancing. Proper alignment really does become crucial for older dancers, especially where the knee is going in the plié. I always use my second toe as the guide of where my knee should be extending. With my demi plié, I also really try to make sure my knee goes slightly further than the length of my feet to get a really good stretch out of my Achilles.
Teaching Pliés: The David Way Teaching how to properly plié is actually quite difficult. You can’t just say, “Bend Your Knees!” because some kid is going to bend their knees and out goes their rear, their ribs splay, and it becomes a hot mess. Truthfully, I actually don’t teach kids to plié in first position until age 8 or 9, when they can actually comprehend the fundamentals of the technique. With young students, I really try to maintain the integrity of the plié without messing up alignment by having them go under the barre and against the wall.
This only works if your barres are built into the wall and you have enough space for a dancer to go through. I am lucky to have the barres about 18 inches out from the wall but drilled into the floor- designed for stretching purposes and little kids. I have them do first position, backs against the wall, and as they plié I try to have them press their knees to touch the back of the wall. Honestly, I think I have only seen 4 kids do this naturally, otherwise it is like impossible — unless you have more than 180 turnout. But, by having them use this technique, and pressing the low back and full spinal cord into the wall, they are starting to learn how to build tension in the core, and feel the power of a plié coming from the hip. I also don’t really teach grand plié until they are 10 or 11 years old.
When they are older, they use one hand at the barre, (by now they have mastered grand plié facing the barre), but this time the focus isn’t just rotation and alignment, but coordination of the arm. I despise when people do grand plié and at the bottom of the grand plié their hands is in front of their crotch region; I think it’s ugly. So, I have my students delay the arm until they reach demi plié on the way back up.
Finally, when teaching pliés, there are various universal corrections to keep in mind: Lateral Alignment through the spine, ribs, and hips.
The alignment of the movement, knees over toes.
Feet should be flat on the floor, toes spread, but arches must be lifted.
When doing the second part of a plié, coming back up, the top of your thighs should touch first and then like an upside down zipper come together, one tooth at a time.
Spiral the inner back of your thigh forward.
Don’t rush the music.
Don’t sit at the bottom of grand plié.
Pliés should never stop moving.
Second Position is usually noted as the easiest position of the five as it has the least amount of pressure on the hips and knees, but lately I have been finding that second position might be even more difficult than first if done properly. Let’s break it down…
The idea of Second position takes Davinci’s Vitruvian man and then shortens the arms to elongate the legs. This is done by the curving of the port de bras. Then if you wanted to elongate the legs even more you would go on relevé, and even further go en pointe.
When standing in second position, not only are you making sure that your hips are equally between to feet, you are also lining up the hips to make sure they are not behind or in front of your feet. A common mistake in grand plié, is to allow your hips to shift back… but that is wrong, it also increases the amount of stress on the inside of your knee.
Second position allows you to really feel the turnout from the backs of your legs because your legs aren’t touching, so you have to really visualize the spiral coming from the back and opening your hips. If done properly, it will allow you to plié with exact alignment of the knees over the second toe and not putting pressure anywhere else.
In second position it is easy to let your arches drop or let your feet pronate or supinate because there is not checks and balances. Where in first your heels and knees are touching, and fifth you are toe to heel, heel to toe. So, in second it is important to remember to keep your arches lifted, five toes spread on the floor, and the feeling of all five metatarsals evenly touching the floor. You should also feel your weight in the pads of your feet and support by the lower arch.
Remember, and this is pretty standard… don’t lift your heels in second position… which is truly the test of second position which makes it extremely difficult. Because the pelvis is free, it allows the Achilles to be free. Meaning, you can fully stretch your achilles out.
This is when people like to agree to disagree on how wide a second position should be.
Classical Ballet really calls for a refined second position. Meaning 1 or 1 and a half times your foot length in the gap. This is included for pointe work. Where, updated technique allows for a wider or “healthier” second position.
Classical Second Position:
Pros: It is cleaner and forces the dancer to focus on turnout and alignment more, stretches the Achilles more.
Cons: It can create a shallower demi-plié, it is harder to achieve a nice grand plié and it is harder to master.
Updated Second Position:
Pros: easier on the body, allows for a bigger hamstring stretch
Cons: More can go wrong in grand plié and can put more pressure on the knees.
When doing an updated second position, I think the aesthetic is nicer when the arm is higher and less curved and more about length. Whichever one you choose, make sure it looks right on your body. For example, I have really long arms, so when I do the more classical second position, I have ot curve and place my arm a little more than I would usually to keep my body in a nice proportion.
Things to remember in Second Position:
Go long. Reach each scapula away from eachother to create the widest back.
Longest neck line
Really open those hips, thing of opening French doors to allow you to turn out more
Keep the weight even, don’t sit back or push forward, don’t favor one leg over the other.
Fifth position: home base. This position can be the best feeling in the world, or it can be your worst enemy. It is painfully beautiful, gives you the longest leg line, and most of all it is the ultimate measure of turnout, placement and technique. The ideal fifth position is taking the feet in first position and overlapping them to create two parallel lines giving your legs two diagonal lines. As most teachers would say, “toe to heel, heel to toe.” This position creates a narrow hip line, and brings your body into the longest standing position of the body. But, it isn’t easy achieving this position.
Not only do you have to understand how the upper body works, and how the core lifts, but most importantly you have to understand how to use the backs of your legs (click to learn more) or you will get a distorted– heavy position; opposed to a long and light position.
You should never grip your quads in fifth. Truthfully, you should just never grip your quads. The inside of your thighs should lay extremely flat, and your knees should be facing opposite walls and pulled back. A good fifth position will have the knees crossing but not touching. This would be perfect 180 degree turnout and then some.
5 THINGS YOU SHOULD JUST NEVER DO IN FIFTH…
1.One of the biggest mistakes most students make in fifth position… is when crossing into fifth they relax their core and causes the pelvis to tip forward. Students think it is a way you relieve pressure or cheat your turnout… You actually want to do the complete opposite. You should be so pulled up in the front of your hips that your fifth closes seamlessly. Additionally, you should be rotating from the backs of your legs to keep your pelvis supported, and lifting through your core to keep the pelvis stable.
2.Another pet peeve in fifth position is a relaxed front knee. It is this pseudo Miss America position that grosses me out. Not to mention, if you are relaxing your knee, you are probably using your quad in everything else and you are just going to get big thighs.
3.You should also never pronate forward or back. You should never force a fifth position, you are asking for knee problems. There is nothing wrong with having 150 degrees of turn out. The ideal is always going to be 180, but if you can’t achieve 180 with your hips rotation, knee rotation, ankle rotation without compromising alignment; then just stay where you are at. But keep cross training and stretching to eventually be strong enough to get to 180.
4.Don’t ever do open fifth. Always cross your fifth. This whole open fifth is awkward… Not to mention open fifth in pointe shoes is ridiculously ugly. Ideally, you shouldn’t see your back foot, but if your hips aren’t flexible enough to hold the position, keep working hard.
5.Fifth position should never ever be forced. Turnout can be stretched, but you work on turnout in pilates, gyro and yoga… You use barre and fifth to strengthen and lengthen the position. Forcing turnout causes numerous problems on the hips, ankles, knees, pelvis and lower back. So, again, just do it.
In the great debate of hands and hand placement, I realized, hands might most be the most intimate part of ballet. The hands finish the line, the hands direct the audience, the hands create the most intricate negative space on the body. The hands glide into a woman’s waistline, a man offer his hand and a female delicately places her hand into his and a story is created. They might be one of the most beautiful parts of ballet.
The problem? Not everyone has the most graceful or refined hands… Some of you might have hamburger hands, some of you might have claws, some have oven mitts, extreme pointing up fingers, wiggly fingers or just really awkward stiff hands… A large problem with this is how we approach fine motor skills in ballet. A lot of teachers focus on the larger movements of ballet and forget the subtle refinement of breath in different parts of the lung, eye line, fingers, wrist articulation and scapula rotation; all things that can distinguish a dancer from being a technician and an artist.
So, how do you refine these skills? Just like ballet skill sets, you cross train them. Since my tremor has developed, my hands have become something I have been extremely focused on, and the PT to restrengthen them. Which is what brought along this post.
-If you hold tension in your hands or wrist, refocus the tension into your core.
-Make sure you stretch out your fingers and wrists, and warm them up before class. They are just as important.
-Do exercises like touching each finger to the thumb at different speeds and at different orders.
-Reshape the hand by feeling the energy and shape just in the hand while standing in line waiting for things.
-Shake out your hands constantly and keep the blood moving through the hand.
–Flamenco really helps figure out the articulation of the wrist and fingers, if your studio doesn’t offer flamenco, try to take a class outside of your studio. Look at ballroom studios if they offer it as a supplemental class.
Another issue is whether or not to break, relax, flex or elongate the wrist.
The standard is to always keep the line as long as possible, but nowadays we are seeing much more stylize port de bras and hands. If you even look at videos from the top ballet companies in the world, the wrists are becoming more and more broken (i would post pics but don’t own the rights, so just google on your own) and the lines are becoming more and more extreme. I always say the hands and wrist articulation will vary on the role, and I actually don’t believe there is a right way or wrong way to find what looks best on your body. For example, my wrists have extremely ulna ends, making it look like my wrist is always broken. So trying to do the “classical” hand and line looks funky on me. But, when I relax my wrist and I let it break slightly, it is more natural looking and I have more articulation and range. But the shape of my hand can vary depending on the role and choreography.
Effacé, effacée [eh-fa-SAY/]. Shaded. One of the directions of épaulement (body directions to classify the arms, head, shoulders, legs in relation to the audience) in which the dancer stands at an slight angle to the audience so that a part of the body is taken back and almost hidden from the audience’s view. This direction is classically termed “ouvert” in the French Method. Effacé, most popularly is used to qualify a pose in which the legs are open (not crossed to the audience). This pose may be done devant (front) or derrière (back), either à terre (on the ground) or en l’air (in the air). Origin of the word is French, like all of the ballet vocabulary. The etymology behind the word takes “e-“ and “face” to create “effacer”, in the 15th century the “r” was dropped.
Effacé is one of the most beautiful positions in ballet. Between the simplicity of the placement and the control of the body, this position is often overlooked. While the first body position at center we learn is en face, efface usually follows once the dancer understands stage direction, body alignment, and understanding. Effacé is one of the body positions we learn on the angle as a part of epaulment. This positioning makes up half of the lateral positions. The other being croisé.
In ballet, this position is used all the time. Effacé is the easiest and probably most used position, and this position revolves around steps moving down the diagonal of the room, “from the corner”, or “across the floor” exercises. Usually starting in B plus, this position is often used to transfer weight and travel. Which is why we often overlook this position. It is so important to always control your turnout, foot articulation and weight change through this position/step (tombé)…
We often forget that positions in ballet, are never really just a position. The movement or energy needed causes the position to grow, change, and expand. Based on artistic freedom you play with the timing, breath, and coordination of the position.
What makes effacé so great and so versatile is the stylized versions of effacé. Usually is actually changing the epaulment but holding the position of the legs, this position becomes so beautiful. Different ballets cause for different stylized versions. For example, in Giselle, the effacé position in Act I will be more peasant stylized, and the body is forward and the head is slightly cocked. Then in Act II, the position is extremely forward, and the eye line is very low.
Regardless of the style, effacé must be turned out at all times to show the cleanest line of the body. If your body doesn’t have a ton of rotation you can cheat the line but winging your working foot. If you still can’t get that clean position, you can cheat the hips in effacé devant. I don’t recommend this at all, but it is important to have a clean line in this position. To cheat it, slightly shift your weight into your standing leg. Slightly release your piriformis and shift your hips to allow the line to shift. This will allow you to change the line of your leg so you can really get the supporting hip heel up towards the ceiling. Don’t forget to pull your toes back to create/finish the line!
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It is that time of year again. For some, you are already back in the studios working, and for others, tomorrow will start the first day of ballet for the 2017-2018 season. Either way, we are getting back into the routine of things. For some, you are starting a new school, a big school, a premiere school. You have left home, moved into the dorms and are ready to start the rest of your life. You think to yourself, “I am one or two steps away from becoming a professional dancer” It is hard adjusting to new environments, this year, I’m doing the same thing. There is a huge period of adjustment. You have to find your groove/routine, decipher how different teachers work, what they want, and how well you respond to them. You have to figure out your rhythm with your new roommate. Things like that.
It’s hard for anyone. Add the stress of being a ballet dancer, the intensity the ballet world brings, and a pinch of homesick and there you have it.
Some tips while adjusting…
Invite your roommate to make dinner together or get dinner together outside of dorm food.
Play a board game.
Use your phone’s note app to write down some things the teacher liked and disliked.
Use that same app to write down any and all corrections you can remember, whether it was directed towards you or not.
Go on a city tour, city guides know a lot.
Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
In ballet, there is one position above all others. It is the dreaded, gorgeous and controversial placement known as arabesque. There are a million ways to approach and improve arabesque, but the most important thing about it is to maintain control and show constraint. Below is how I teach arabesque and how to achieve an ideal position.
Arabesque, by definition, is in an Arabic fashion. In design, it refers to ornate patterns used quite frequently in textiles, interior design, and architecture. Okay, in ballet, it is when the dancer is standing (supporting) on one leg, while the second (working) leg is directly behind the body. Arabesque can be done in a variety of different positions based on where the arms are placed, and the facings of the bodies. It can be done at various different heights based on the working leg: a terre, en l’air at any varied of degrees, 45 degrees, 90 degrees and ridiculously high. The supporting leg can be in plié, but the back leg must remain straight and behind the body.
Okay… getting into arabesque… Some teachers like to teach arabesque from developpé while some teachers teach it from fondu. I prefer to teach it from tendu. I also use cambré back so I can combine basics and start teaching arabesque at a younger age. Secondly, I don’t teach arabesque until students can do the splits. Okidokie. Start off with plank for a bit, do some crutches, and the splits. Then the class is ready to move onto arabesque. Usually, my students are able to start and achieve arabesque quickly around the age of six. In the rare occasions, I have seen about eight five-year-olds able to achieve, understand and comprehend the ideal arabesque.
For younger students, I do two hands at the barre, for advanced students I do one hand at the barre at the end of a rond de jamb combination. (click here for rond de jambs)
(a.)So, we start in fifth position and tendu back.
(b.)From there, lift through the back and cambré back. (You can see the notes to cambré in issue three, click here) Don’t push the hips forward, make sure the standing leg is supported and perpendicular to the floor. Maintain the neck and let the sternum press into the ceiling. Don’t let the hips tip and keep the pelvis in neutral.
(c.) While in this position, maintaining your core, lift the leg as high as you can. Don’t lift from the quad, rotate from the hip and spiral the leg up directly behind the spine. The more rotation from the hip, the higher the leg. Don’t pinch or sit in the back. To make more space, or if you feel like you are running out of space, channel energy through the top of the head and create more space.
(d.) Start from the bottom of your abs and pelvis, and start to contract, maintaining the height of the leg. Start coming up from the cambré, leading with the sternum and creating an arch through the top of your head moving forward. Leave the neck and head where it is.
(e.) Adjust the neck and head, ideally, you should be at a perfect 90-degree arabesque or higher. Your hips should still be in neutral. Your spine and standing leg should make a straight line, your hips shouldn’t need to tilt, spill over, at all, especially at 90 degrees.
Now, onto getting your leg higher…
Second part of the exercise…
(f.) Place the weight slightly forward as you are about to start the plié. I work the leg higher while in plié. This would be the more classical position, by adjusting the back so that the spine and the front of the standing leg are lined up. To do this, you will let your hips tilt slightly forward, adding pressure to the back. Depending on the flexibility of your back, the break in the back will vary. This position is much harder than the position above based on your back.
(g.) Okay, So leave your foot where it is, exactly at 90. Plié. Leave your foot where it is, but you are adjusting the height of your body. This makes the angle smaller on top. Maintain proper alignment with the knee.
(h.) Plié even more while leaving your foot where it is in space. Keep the alignment behind your spine… I prefer behind the spine while others say behind the shoulder… I like everything over crossed as it creates a diagonal line, and makes the leg look longer. Preference. While at the bottom of the plié start to initiate the spine up and forward and outwards. So, the energy is flowing slightly forward and then back. This is when I have the students really wing/bevel their foot, and say that the foot and the head are creating a circle and trying to connect.
(i.) Press to relevé and lengthen through the supporting leg. Press into the floor and maintain the position. Ideally, you won’t feel any pressure in the back as you are constantly creating space in the spine and rotation in the hips. Re-align the back so the spine and the front of the standing leg match to visually create a line. Once you are in this position you can slightly raise the arm and eye line. (pas de bourré and then other side)
First arabesque is the most common. I prefer open first but it does put a strain on your spine as it causes you to disconnecting the upper back from your core and spiral open without changing your hip placement. Second Arabesque is the devil position. Third Arabesque is super pretty, especially when the leg is at 45 degrees.
Classical positions require strength and control, it adds quality and allows for musicality. Sometimes, you are allowed to whack the leg, sometimes during grand allegro, or in choreography, depends. Whacking can cause injury or misalignment so I don’t ever recommend it. I’m more of a place it one count. Classically, you want to show constraint with the height in the leg but generosity in the preparation, getting into the position and turn out. Stylistically, the arabesque will change with the placement of the hips, standing leg and back. Click here to see.
For the older dancer, arabesque can be death. For me it is. My back is completely shot, and have to do Gyrotonics and pilates to even maintain a 90-degree line. Though I have figured a way to improve my arabesque but it’s complicated to draw, so I am going to make a video of my busted self later on.
For young dancers, I know there is so much pressure to have high legs, but I am telling you this method does work! Keep up the good work. Subscribe to the magazine this month for only $9.99
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Notes on Rond De Jambes (a terre) “Round of the leg on the ground”
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Eeesh. This is one of the hardest steps at barre in ballet. The exercise requires a ton of control and focus. In theory, this step should be really easy and a lot of people overlook how complicated rond de jambe is. Somewhere in between adagio qualities and stretching, rond de jambes are one of those things that you either have or you don’t.
Rond de jambes are versatile, you can do them en l’air, in a jump, on relevé, done en dehors or en dedans or even in fondu/plié. The list goes on. It can be done at varied heights, at varied speeds, or varied accents. Like most steps in ballet, you can do them any way you want.
So, let’s get to breaking down rond de jambe.
en dehors:It is easier to learn rond de jambes from first. Standing very tall, you press through to tendu devant. Both legs are extremely straight without gripping the quad, and you need to focus on the inner hip socket. From this position, you hold the turnout and push to the side without changing the shape of the leg. Without gripping the quad you rotate the hip socket rotates even more and you continue the semi-circle to get to tendu devant. Nothing moves. I MEAN NOTHING! You keep the shape of the leg the entire time, the turn out, the shape, everything. Closing through the tendu and relaxing the toes, the heel gradually pushes forward and closes back to first. The important thing in rond de jambe is to keep the turn out active at all times. (Reality… you are supposed to keep your turn out active at all times but sometimes you just need to relax. Relax in first position if you need to relax.)
c. Reaching the maximum length of tendu devant, you have to extend even more in rond de jambe. You want to create enough length in the working leg to free up the hip socket. To do this, you have to push through your standing leg, or channel energy down into the floor on your supporting side.
d. This is the hardest part of rond de jambe… You have to start rotating the heel even more, and channel energy up into the hip sock and start to rotate the femur head in the socket outward. Don’t change the shape of the foot or leg, don’t relax the knee. Grow taller and start to carry to the side. You should feel a ton of tension pressing outwards in the supporting hip.
e. Keep carrying till you hit tendu a la seconde. A very long a la seconde. Keep lifting in the supporting side.
f. The next hardest part of rond de jambe is ridiculously hard. This is where a lot of people go a muck. Stabilize the hips by rotating outwards and channeling energy into the floor and start to rotate towards the back. Do not flip the hips or let the pelvis rock. Don’t sway in your back, don’t sit in your hips, don’t let your weight shift. You have to be even more mindful of your supporting leg. All while making the circle even larger.
g. Reach to tendu derriere
h. Relax your toes and press the heel forward leaving the toes behind.
i. Pull up harder into your standing leg and hip flexor. Lift even higher. The energy should never die in rond de jambe. You have to constantly grow and channel energy through each extremity of the body. As your relax your full foot on the floor your turn out should feel the deepest in the hip socket.
j. Reach back into a taller first.
Okay, here are some of the ridiculously hard things about rond de jambe… One, your body has to create tons of infinite circles that move through your space at barre. It is rather difficult, each time trying to make the circle bigger and bigger. Keeping the pelvis neutral and legs long. The best way is to keep your hamstrings constantly engaged without gripping into your quads and locking up your hip flexors. Another really difficult thing to do in rond de jambe is to keep the foot relaxed and not gripping.
Rond de Jambes for the young child…
It is a common imagery tool to teach kids to draw a half circle on the floor. The problem with this, is that kids will usually push most of the work and effort into the quad. I find it better to tell kids to make an egg-like shape with the foot. This keeps from adding too much pressure in the knee, and not letting the student grip in the quad.
Rond de Jambe for the adult dancer… Nowadays, rond de jambe kills my hip. Like to the point of exhaustion. It is easier to work from a more turned in first than perfect first, and definitely in fifth position, it puts too much pressure to the knee… For me. I also find when being in a more turned in fifth position, I use my quad too much, so I rond de jambe from first. Less pressure all over, and my legs don’t die and I don’t grip in my quad.
Where in the world do you put your weight in rond de jambe… Classically speaking, rond de jambe should always be centered… meaning the weight is centered in your pelvis and the weight is placed over the arch. Some teachers allow weight to shift into the standing leg even more so that the hamstrings are longer. The weight then shifts so the center of the pelvis is above the arch and there is slight pressure in the ball of the foot. This frees up the working hip. The standing hip and leg then channels more energy.
The stylistic rond de jambe… Some teachers teach to over cross the rond de jambe in tendu devant and derriere (over crossing meaning that the toe of the working foot lines up to the heel or arch. Some teachers, teach a more open rond de jambe that pushes the focus on the in between positions. Like half tendu front and half tendu back. Some teachers teach an exaggerated over crossing where the working toe lines up with the supporting toe. This definitely causes a weight shift.
Some final thoughts on rond de jambe…
Rond de jambe is hard, but don’t give up! The most important thing in rond de jambe is to open the hips and really create a connection through the space and floor. I always enjoy rond de jambe, and try to find really great musicality. Some teachers prefer accent front and back, some prefer accent side, and some prefer no accent and to keep the motion evenly. Depending on the song and the musicality and tempo, I accent in various places including first. Best of luck rond de jamming out… hahah
Following up on Notes on First Position… Second position is the logical next position to learn, in fact, a lot of students will learn second position prior to first. There is a lot less to mess up in second position. Well, that is a lie.
Second position is just as hard as first position. In second, the lack of rotation or the abundance of rotation is more apparent than first. A large mistake in second position is the width… How wide to make your second. Classical ballet calls for your heels to be under your shoulders, while more contemporary teachers ask for a larger second. The larger the second the more support is needed from the hips and sartorius, especially while trying to plié or maneuver in and out of the position. The width also is relevant to how strong the dancer is. To relevé in this position en pointe, the dancer can only be as wide as they are strong enough to get over the box.
A lot of the same principals apply to second position, but I feel like in second position you have to be higher in the hips because your weight has to be centered while your legs are separated out from the hips. To get higher in the hips you have to really focus on engaging your hip flexors and psoas and keep the hamstrings long and active. You don’t want to sit back in your legs in second, which is a common mistake students make. Keep the pelvis in neutral and the quads relaxed. Don’t ever grip.
Second position is also one of the more severe positions because it shows the body in all proportions. Kind of like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, all limbs are spread. Energy has to be channeled from all four limbs and the head. You have to have quite a bit of stretch in the position.
At the same time you have to have quite a bit of control as you have to also have a lot of energy focusing inward. Second position is important as it sets up half of the steps in center. The stronger the position at barre, the stronger the center work will be. Like… glissade, sautebasque, and jete. Regardless, the position has to be strong.
STRENGTHENING SECOND Pliés in second are an easy way to strengthen the inner thigh and core. Don’t over rotate, don’t let your hips tip, and make sure your knees are aligned with your second toe. Don’t grip your quads, and definitely make sure your weight is centered between your hips, feet, front and back.
Pilates. Focusing on nonweight bearing exercises that go from parallel to turn out in second are extremely helpful. It will also help isolate the proper muscles needed.
SECOND POSITION FOR THE OLDER DANCER
So, normally, second position would be super easy for me. Now that I am older, and my body doesn’t want to just relax into ballet positions, second position puts me in quite a predicament. So, normally, I would have a rather large second position, but as I plié I can feel the strain in my knees. But, when I decrease the width of the position my hips can’t take it. The compromise? Wide second with less turn out. I can stabilize my hips and knees a lot more and even if standing side profile I look stupid, and ridiculously turned in so be it. The last thing I want is to rip up my knees for the sake of losing weight.
Notes on Pas De Cheval: My Favorite Step at Barre (From Issue 2)
Pas de Cheval is one of the most important steps in ballet to refine, especially at barre. It is actually my favorite step at barre. The step itself is versatile, and used frequently in ballet. It is subtle and glorious if done right, and you can really feel your turn out. There are a ton of ways to approach pas de cheval. There is the idea of showing all of the positions sharply, moving through the step seamlessly, or the idea of up and over. There are a lot of ways to go about doing it, and no one way is better than the other. But here are some important things to remember while doing pas de cheval:
Really try to slip the heel forward before even attempting to get into sur le coup de pied, and really utilize your turn out.
Really try to press through to the dégagé position. Create resistance from your sartorius and calf.
If you are going to focus on the up and over aspect of pas de cheval, make sure the knee is completely rotated and really lift. In my opinion you can never have too much lift.
Don’t forget to grow in your standing/supporting leg. You don’t want to sink back or shorten the supporting leg.
Don’t forget the tendu. Even if you are just moving through the action, you really want the longest tendu possible. See my notes on tendu.
Really lift to close into fifth. Don’t slam. Don’t half do it. Don’t sit in fifth. Be active in fifth.
Another thing to try to do in pas de cheval is to keep the movement long. If you shorten the pas de cheval, you just look like a lame horse.
When I teach this step, I really try to focus on the lift in and out of fifth. Engaging the back of the legs before you even start the step is so important. It gives pas de cheval a crisper/clean look. So, if you are starting in fifth, slightly shift the weight into the balls of both feet, slightly put pressure into them so that you can really move the working leg heel forward. Pull the knee up and back to get into sur le coup de pied, and articulate the working foot. Show the position and resist out by lengthening through the back of the working leg. Find the dégagé position, but then lengthen an extra inch to find tendu. Leave the heel, and start pulling the toes back. Put pressure in the metatarsals when closing and feel the lift back in as you close to fifth. Obviously, the faster you go, the less time you have to focus on all these details, but hopefully you are strong enough or have the muscle memory to do all these things while moving at a quicker tempo.
Pet Peeve: When students don’t use their cores and they do this weird body roll during the step or they don’t stop in fifth when doing consecutive pas de chevals.
One thing I also encourage in pas de cheval is to be generous with the lift and presentation of the foot and turn out. This will help students develop a sense of generosity at center and in performances in the in between steps. Like the pas de cheval prior to the pique arabesque — or into bourrés. Being generous with your turnout, feet, and articulation makes for great performance quality. I love watching Darci Kistler’s performance as Sugar Plum in Nutcracker because of her generosity with the simplest of steps.
If your students can’t find the back of your legs, reverse the pas de cheval to the side and really focus on squeezing the glutes together, then focus on squeezing the hamstring to the calf as you lift off the floor. If they can’t achieve an active fifth from a standing position, do barre on the slightest relevé, with the correct weight placement.
In ballet, there are a million rules, but within these rules, there is flexibility based on pedagogy or approach. There are ways to “cheat” a position or “fix” or “make it look better than it really is”… All of these ideas are technically not the best thing, but the reality is, that not every body type can achieve certain positions based on the Russian or French Aesthetics/Technique. Now there are two positions in ballet that can’t be cheated, they are two of the hardest positions: Ecarté Derrière and Attitude Devant. The later being used quite often. The hard thing about these two positions is the ability to identify turnout, flexibility and strength without using the spine. In my opinion, attitude derrière is the hardest position in ballet. (you can disagree…)
So, as a student growing up, I would hear “Shape the foot!” and “Turnout more!” and my favorite one, “You should be able to balance a hot cup of tea on your front foot.” Yes, that is the ideal, but not every bodytype can find that position. Additionally, when I was growing up, teacher would push and prod at my hips, which is probably why I have had to have two hip surgeries. They probably assumed because I had a hypermobile back, that I had flexible hips as well… Which was not true…
Now as a teacher, attitude front has become the bane of my existence. That is a lie, ecarté is. But attitude devant seems to be a position every student struggles with. Here is why:
You have to flexibility in your hamstring, glutes, and hips. In order to have that gorgeous line, your flute has to be flexible enough to release so the hip can rotate the femur head back. With that being said your hamstring can’t get in the way. Your hips also have to have the flexibility to let this process happen without any shift in hips (lateral shifting or tipping) or in core.
A student has to have a strong understanding and grasp on their turnout. If a student doesn’t know how to rotate the hip outwards or laterally, they will struggle with the concept of rotating the leg up, and instead, they grip in the quad and lift. Then with the quad gripped, the leg can only rotate so much, and only gain a certain amount of height.
Students need a very strong and connected core. Because ballet is so core intensive, if you don’t have a connected core, your hips and back can easily become displaced and the dancer will develop poor alignment habits.
The ideal line of attitude front should be that the heel and the knee should be in a line. If your body can’t achieve the ideal, then it should be higher knee than heel with the most rotation possible. Then for those who are extremely hypermobile or hyperflexible, the rules get bent and the heel becomes the highest point of the line with the knee dropping down towards the floor and so on. This is becoming the standard for attitude front, but the reality is, not everybody can achieve this line. The line of attitude front is hard because of the turnout factor.
So, how do you even get into attitude front?
There are a couple of schools of thought. The first being the more common… A lot of schools teach the attitude front from the Sur le coup de pied position. Which is the ideal position of attitude but the leg rotated to 90 degrees. The idea is the rotate the heel forward so much, that the leg has to lift. Without changing the length of the leg or degree of the bend in the knee, you rotate upwards and achieve the line. This creates a very long, and the line goes slightly down from the knee.
The next school of thought is to achieve the attitude through passé. The concept of turnout is the same, but the goal is to keep the 90-degree line of the passé and rotate the hip back into the socket and achieve a tighter attitude. This creates of pressure on the hips, and if you don’t have ideal rotation and flexibility, it will mess your hips up. This creates a very hard line extending from the hips.
Things to avoid when getting to attitude devant? My big concern is the gripping of the quad. When the quad grips instead of lengthening or rotating causes a lot of tension at the hip flexor and the hip joint which unfortunately doesn’t allow the position to grow. Additionally, I dislike when people turn in as they bring the leg up, and then you see the heel or you lose sight the knee at side profile. Hip shifting is also a pet peeve. A lot of people sink into their supporting hip to get the leg up, or their hips aren’t strong enough to hold the position and their hips become wonky. If you are turning out from the hip, it should create a ton of tension to work within to keep the hips stabilized at all times. Avoiding turning in the standing leg, but if you are going to compromise anything in this position, I think slightly turning in the standing leg is the lesser of the evils.
But, I feel the most ideal “cheat” to maintain the technique and the shape of the position is to lift out of the hips and slightly stick your bootie out. NOT SPLAY our sit in your lower back but let the hips slightly tip forward. You have to have a very strong core to do this without looking ridiculous.
BONUS: Add the developpé front by rotating the heel long, and lengthening the back of the knee.
How to get a better attitude front? Get the Attitude Front Technique Tracker here.