Period of Adjustment…

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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…

  1. Invite your roommate to make dinner together or get dinner together outside of dorm food.
  2. Play a board game.
  3. Use your phone’s note app to write down some things the teacher liked and disliked.
  4. Use that same app to write down any and all corrections you can remember, whether it was directed towards you or not.
  5. Go on a city tour, city guides know a lot.
  6. Facetime home.
  7. Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, and make sure you are getting enough sleep.

xoxo,
a Ballet Education

 

Notes on the Ideal Arabesque & Getting it Higher… part 1

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.

Notes on ArabesqueArabesque, 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)

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(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…

Getting a higher arabesque

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.
ideal classical position
(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 high arabesqueoutwards. 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)

ARABESQUES

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 JAMBE…

How to do a ron de jambe.jpg
Notes on Rond De Jambes (a terre)

“Round of the leg on the ground”
poster available here in 3 sizes. (click here)

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.

ron de jambe a terre
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.)

a. Standing in first position. If you need to get some tips on improving your first position. Click here >> (https://aballeteducation.com/2016/03/25/first-position-it-is-so-hard/)

b. Just like a tendu start pressing the heel forward and pushing through the floor. Because barre is built one step on top of the other, don’t miss out the notes on tendu. Click here >>(https://aballeteducation.com/2016/03/26/notes-on-tendu-well-tendu-devant/)

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.

ron de jambe balletd. 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.

ron de jambe ballet copy

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.
ballet tool guide

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.
ballet technique

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.

a ballet education ballet techniqueThe 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

RON DE JAMBE POSTER AVAILABLE HERE…

Notes on Second Position

notes on second 1

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.

energy focusSecond 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.


Doodle Book 3 Cover

Over two hundred of my doodles. The third book.

Notes on Pas De Cheval: My Favorite Step at Barre

Notes on Pas De Cheval

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:
How to do a pas de cheval

  1. Really try to slip the heel forward before even attempting to get into sur le coup de pied, and really utilize your turn out.
  2. Really try to press through to the dégagé position. Create resistance from your sartorius and calf.
  3. 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.
  4. Don’t forget to grow in your standing/supporting leg. You don’t want to sink back or shorten the supporting leg.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Best of luck horsing around in this step.

NOTES ON ATTITUDE DEVANT: THE TURNOUT POSITION

NOTES ON ATTITUDE DEVANT: THE TURNOUT POSITION

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

best-ballet-blog-attitude-front

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? 

attitude-front-ballet

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?

  1. Pigeon Stretch for 15 minutes a day each side.
  2. Really pointing the foot and shaping the ankle in sur le coup de pied every day to achieve a better line in the foot.
  3. Stretching out glutes constantly
  4. Core work.

Notes on Jetés… petit jetés… and awful petit allegro

Jetė

JETE a ballet educationThere is nothing in the world… and I mean nothing… better than a really good, really clean, really technical petit allegro. Yup, it can turn any bad day into a great day… or it can turn a great day into a crappy day depending on what side of the glass window you are standing on…. The problem is, most people are pretty awful at petit allegro, and a lot of the times at smaller studios, most teachers don’t really emphasize petit allegro causing there to be a lot of dancers to have pretty awful petit allegro skills…

I don’t even know where to begin about awful petit allegros… but I think I will start with petit jeté… Or in America, we just use jeté… but I love it…. I love them in petit allegro, in grand allegro, in random combinations… I love them in ecarté, turning, and with beats… I just in general love them… The problem… so many jetés out there are soooo sucky.

What good petit allegro looks like… and no I am not going to shame someone and post a bad petit allegro video… but trust me there are lots of them…


There are multiple approaches to jeté… again they vary by pedagogy. The first conversation to have how to approach a jeté.

jeté ballet

a. This is the way most schools around the US teach jeté. The idea is from fifth to throw the first leg, pass through a semi-second, and connect the coupé when landing in plié… There is nothing wrong with this, personally, I find it yucky… but then again I find a lot of things yucky in classical ballet. The idea is to brush to degagé height and bring the coupé to the first leg, and transition accordingly… If you are a ballet dancer, you will understand… if you aren’t a ballet dancer you throw your working leg into the air, but after the midway point and as you descend, your working leg becomes the supporting/landing leg.

b. The second way of looking at jeté is the way I was taught, the Balanchine way… To throw the first left to whatever height the music allows, and to connect the coupé as quickly as possible and maintain that shape while landing… Then as you grew up, the jeté may or may not become more stylized.
3:19 is the finale of Symphony in C by PNB

c. Finally, when I was older I learned the idea that every petit allegro step had to have two butts up… This concept is hit the height of the jump quickly and hit a clean second in the air, and cut to coupé while maintaining the height, then land underneath yourself… avoiding injury…

Where to put the coupe

Then we run into the issue of coupé… and where to put the coupé… when to connect it, and where to place it. Ideally, coupé back is coupé back, the problem is that we travel and move in time and space… This causes the coupé to move around and get sloppy… Then there is the idea of over crossing the coupé in the air that way when you land you are in a solid position when landing. I am not one to say one way or the other… Another issue people talk about is how high the working leg hits, which varies because different schools teach different degagé heights… Soo, again that varies but… usually I go through for a 45 degrees. When in doubt… keep a clean line either 45 or 90 degrees as a general rule of thumb for all of ballet.

Then you have the issue of leaning… really only choreography calls for leaning… and bending… and usually the choreography is Balanchine or contemporary pieces…

Finally, here are definite things to avoid when doing petit jeté:

  • do not travel forward more than one-fifth foot position front… Don’t get into the bad habit of traveling obnoxiously forward. If a jeté is a degage and fifth, you would only travel forward that one degagé closing from front to back forward.
  • do not travel randomly side… I hate when people do jetés obnoxiously traveling far… it looks weird and not precise. Petit allegro should look like a hibachi chef jabbing a knife into the bamboo between his fingers.
  • do not torque your hips, a lot of young dancers torque or shift their hips like doing the wave at a baseball game… They do it to gain height, which is actually counter productive to everything… and it is awful looking and spazzy…
  • do not grip your quads… use your abductors and the backs of your legs to make that sh!t happen in the air. To get a two butts up jeté you have to pop, but you pop from the pressure in your ankle pressing off the ground, and the backs of your legs snapping forward.
  • DON’T SICKLE or have biscuity feet…
  • don’t tuck your pelvis under or release it back to have duck butt
  • do not over compensate in the knees, that is how injury happens. When taking off and landing make sure your knee is moving over your second toe, and the weight is centered over the ball of your foot and the energy connects from the back of your leg, through your heel, into the ball of your foot… cleaner and safer take off and landing… the landing is the reverse.

Here are some things to work on to improve your jetés:

  • a lot of degagés…
  • jumping at the barre, practicing hitting a clean second in the air…
  • those awful things when you lay on your back and have your legs at 90, in a clean pointed fifth and you beat front back a million times… but this time hi 45 degrees open every time
  • line the barres like a gymnast’s parallel bars and press down on them to lift yourself off the ground and go over the motions military style… like by the number… that way you know exactly the where the clean positions feel on your body.
  • practice using a pilates reformer springboard

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frappé … frappuccino

frappe life

Frappuccino or Frappé… Some of you have written in asking whether or not you should teach frappé with a flexed foot (a) or a pointed foot (b)… Both are technically correct if done right, and they both serve the same fundamental purpose: to feel the floor, and really to feel the floor in coming in and out of jumps… It is why some teachers use the pointed foot to feel the floor coming from a pull pointed foot (like all jumps) and then 3/4 to full pointed… Others teach from a flexed position… Either way… you hit the floor and pull the energy back.  I think the most important thing, like always is being turned out. As a lot of students focus on pulling the heel in, it is more important to focus on pulling the knee back as fast as you can. The result being that the foot connects to the flex coupe position or the sur le cou de pied position. A lot of the time or most of the time when doing the exercise on relevé (c) you keep the foot pointed and focus on speed… it is why it is usually combined with battu/batterie/petit battement/serré. During these portions, you have to be really focused on disconnected your lower leg from the knee… Your knee should not move, and it should just hinge there… quickly… To stabilize the knee you need to use the crap out of your abductors… sorry this was so brief… I have a lot going on in my personal life, and getting the blog put together…. More to come soon, probably tonight when I can’t sleep.

Blue Bird Pas De Deux

 

Notes on Pirouettes… en dehors… part one

I have been avoiding talking about anything at center as I am trying to focus on my book, BUT a lot of you have asked… a lot… So, when it comes to pirouettes, I probably could write a good 10 pages about them… With that being said, I was never a turner… In fact, I was mediocre back then and by today’s standards, I would be pathetic. I was consistently at a triple, and if I was really on my leg I could get in a fourth rotation, and the most I have ever done was six… And the last rotation was really turned in. I never really had a good turning coach, and probably could have really used one. So, I actually first learned how to turn in jazz class, which helped me when I focused on ballet because I was trained to turn the Balanchine way… But then, at CPYB… they kind of beat it out of me and I lost my ability to turn… Totally NOT blaming, I am saying that because I wasn’t a turner to begin with, it didn’t help that I never really had a super solid foundation… But once I went pro, all I turned was from a Balanchine fourth, and an overexaggerated fourth at that… Like super overexaggerated, I used to be in company class with my friend’s and I would turn from basically a runner’s lunge and try to end in an even deeper fourth… I enjoyed it, but it isn’t for everyone… So here: Part One of my notes on pirouettes.

Notes on Pirouettes a Ballet Education

What is a pirouette?
A pirouette (whirl or spin, which is the translation… but a horrible definition…) is an axial rotation on one leg that can be done either en dehors (to the outside) or en dedans (to the inside) in a variety of positions but the standard position is in passé. Which is kind of right and kind of wrong, because while turning… the passé has to change at different points in the turn. (If you have no clue what I’m talking about, I’m sorry… but I don’t want to break down the basics any more than that because it is all going in the book…)

The Prep (preparation): I am about to generalize a bunch of stuff right now, but I am trying to keep this post under 2,000 words, and saving the elaborate, non-generalized stuff for the book…

There are a variety of ways to approaching pirouettes, and most of them start with how you prepare… Yes, you can prep in fifth, which is actually how I teach pirouettes to young kids, but the standard is prepping in fourth. You can prep in either open fourth in plié, closed forth in plié, or what is called the Balanchine fourth… No matter what position you turn from you have to be properly aligned in the prep and the passé position.

alignment

Closed fourth (straight back leg into plié): This preparation is probably the correct preparation to teach pirouettes from, especially for younger kids… like under 14. This preparation starts in a fourth position with the front leg bent, and the back leg straight, you can actually sit in this position without losing energy because the energy comes from the bending of the back leg at the moment you are about to turn.

Open Fourth (double plié): The preparation actually happens rather quickly, as the focus is usually on the transition to get into the fourth position to build momentum. This style of turning is usually done by super male technicians. The use these larger open positions to gather energy, and then control the aerodynamics and physics of the rotations by closing the aerodynamic space and speeding up the rotations… a lot like ice skaters… The arms in the preparation usually go from opposite fourth arms and the right arm opens to hit a la seconde as the “widest” moment… From the preparation, the fourth position rotates into a second position facing side and then pulls up into the pirouette… your weight, center, and the axis is always centered. You have to have a ton of control for this kind of turn…

turning

Balanchine Fourth (straight back leg): This preparation can’t really be static because the weight is forced into only the front leg. The arms are also elongated/reaching and not rounded. from this position… The energy goes up and forwards before turning… You actually don’t transfer your weight in this pirouette, or at least not as much because the weight is always in the front leg. The (working side) arm never opens to second… it pulls straight in. This method should be used for the more advanced student because it requires all of the strength to turn off of the standing leg. This method is really efficient as it doesn’t have a ton of weight shifting.

alignment passe

The take off:
It is obvious that the force comes from the plié… but what happens a lot of the time is that students kill the plié… This means they lose the elasticity in the prep, or they forget to bend a little more right before the taking off… Another mistake is putting too much power in the plié and forcing the turn… Another boo boo students make is flailing their arms or throwing their working arm behind them before taking off…
Taking off:
The biggest problem while taking off, besides unpointed feet, or sickled feet… is overshooting or underestimating the line of balance… You have to move your body while rotating and hit your axis… It’s quite difficult and takes a while to know exactly where your center of gravity is in relevé passé and how much force you need to get there…

Adding force:
Rotating the passé adds more torque to a pirouette…
Controlling the rate your foot gets into passé increases g-force, just like bringing in your arms slower…
Raising your passé right before you end your turn adds an extra lift and controls the landing… usually you want to press down in the standing leg while lifting up in the passé to avoid hopping or swaying back.

how to turn

Spotting:
Two ways of thinking about spotting… the body turning first, and the spot follows, or the spot happens first and the body follows. Both concepts are correct and depends on the dancer’s needs… Personally, I don’t spot while turning, mostly because I can’t, or it actually slows me down… But then again, I’m not a natural turner, so I know what works for my body, and some of my students. Another think you want to avoid is locking the neck either forward and having “turtle-neck”, or backwards and have “double chin”… locking up the neck doesn’t allow for spotting… and who wants a double chin?

The Landing:
Most people throw away the landing, and it is a shame. It conditions the body to end a combination poorly. Before you land, you should always lift, and as a general rule of thumb both heels should touch down at the same time… I’ve seen a lot of dancers get the bad habit of dropping their supporting heel first and then swiveling to land, letting the working leg follow… It isn’t technically wrong but is a sign of lack of control and sloppiness.

Tips & Tricks from the teacher … me… well, I guess this whole post is tips & tricks from me… soooo… here are some tips and tricks for pirouettes when having a bad turning day… or you are just bad at turning.

passe moment

-make sure your core is really warmed up… even before going across the floor, I hop down to the ground and do some extra crunches…
-keep your neck relaxed and told hold tension in your neck or traps… hold it in your core…
-It is okay to just do a passé instead of turning… despite popular demands of teachers around the world… the more your turn poorly the more bad habits, and bad equilibrium compensation your body retains…
-pressing down into the standing leg relevé to center yourself is always helpful
-visualizing the turn can help as well… especially for those clean singles that end in relevé
-make sure your supporting leg is strong enough to turn on and that the back of your leg is the part supporting the turn while keeping the knee locked.
and the most important: NEVER EVER KILL YOUR PLIÉ!! the more you sit and wait… you lose the power to develop your turn.

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Notes on Body Types…

Firstly, before I start my long, and much-needed blog update on body types, I want to say, “Thank You.” The amount of support and followers and all of that has been mighty overwhelming. I am pleased to also say that this week I got to send out eight checks to students around the US to go off to their summer programs. I am not going to list the students out of respect to their financial situations, the fact that they are minors, and the way others will view them at their summer courses. Scholarship applications will be open again January-March 2017. Hopefully, with all of the sales throughout the year, I will be able to help more students!!! Thank you. To help support this scholarship fund click here. I have been really overwhelmed by the amount of e-mails I have been receiving and promise to get a better handle on the influx of emails. My friend Edgar has jumped in to help me at the warehouse, so I have more time to answer emails. Also this week the shop is going to have 8 new shirts added… Kind of excited…. So, a big thank you. Also sorry that I am going to have to start watermarking like crazy… people have been stealing and trying to sell my work… sooo everything is going to have these SUPER UGLY watermarks from now on…


proportions of ballet

Now, onto Notes on Body Types…

I have talked about the ideal body type… (click here to read that one) and height stuff… (click here to read about that) and how body type effects casting… (and this one)

Now it is time to really talk about body type and how this all factors into the big picture of ballet. Classic body proportions in art has been determined by 8 heads, the idea that if you take the height from top of the head to chin, the rest of the body proportionally you add seven heads… In fashion the standard is 9. The body of the female ballet dancer follows that of a fashion… but more compact… While the ideal female model is 5’9″-6’1″, the ideal female ballet dancer is 5’4″-5’9″; but with the same proportions.

ballet body types

In ballet, however, we make exceptions to the rules of proportion based on height… So here I have drawn this random, kind of awful sketch of body types…

A. The ideal body type in ideal proportions. Usually includes hypermobility in the joints,a narrow pelvis, an average torso and long extremities. (basically, like every Russian girl) They can be any height, they just carry the ideal proportions of ballet…

B. The shorter torso girl in ballet, is usually on the shorter side, and their body type is slightly more athletic, this body type was more common, but unfortunately we are seeing less and less of it. These bodies are still in proportion but compact.(aka, Ashley Bouder, Leta Biasucci etc)

C. The tall girl… They usually have elongated torsos, but are on the taller side of life. (aka Teresa Reichlen, pretty much everyone at PNB, etc)

D. The broader body type, there is room in ballet for a wider body type and we see it on women like Carrie Imler, Kathleen Breen Combes, Sara Mearns… By no means are these women fat, or large- their body types or bone structures are just broader. This body type is actually one of the more common American body types.

These four body types are the most common in ballet. Very rarely do we see a body type outside of these four. Does this mean that if you don’t fall into one of these categories you will never be a professional ballet? By no means, it just means you have to find the right company for you. This means you have to find companies who have your body type in the corps.

Now, within these four body types there are tons of variations… High arches, hypermobility, a meatier arch, long toes, the list goes on. That is the wonderful side of individuality and genetics… But unfortunately, there are some curses when it comes to ballet. The first is flat feet. Without the arch, it is harder to complete a line… It isn’t impossible. You can cheat bad feet with bangin turnout, or really strong toes. It isn’t impossible. Just means you have to work differently. Another curse in ballet is being knocked kneed.

knees and ballet

a. Knocked knees, this is a really hard curse to overcome in ballet. It changes the line of the body, and changes the shape of the muscles.

b. Hypermobility is key in ballet, but can also be a curse if overstretched and not properly trained.

c. Bowlegged… pretty common in ballet, because it is usually combined with hypermobile knees. It just means you have to be more in tune with your body while landing from jumps.

So, with all this talk about body type… There is a reason behind it all… BODY LINE

notes on body line

All of these factors really only come to play when talking about body line. The line of the body is the key to ballet. These lines are created by the negative space of the body. It creates the shape of arabesque, attitude, and even the space between the fingers… It is all relevant. It is probably why teachers yell to keep the focus of your eyes, because even that completes the line. Everything in ballet is determined on body line. For example, if you point your foot parallel to the ground and were to draw a line from your ankle, through… the line should un-waiver and hit at your big toe, or your toes should be below the line… It is how you can determine whether or not a student is ready for pointe, or if a student might be more successful en pointe. The wing in a foot creates a more curved line, and a more flexible instep creates another curve. The longer the foot, the more length it gives a dancer in their legs… The list goes on… The more curves your body makes, the more lines and the more interesting negative space can be created. Dancers with hypermobile backs, or hypermobile hips allows for endless possibilities when it comes to shapes.

Now, the body type can also be altered by muscles as well… If your body is prone to building muscle, then it can change the shape of the body. If your body is in perfect proportions, but you have tight tendons and closed hips (no rotation or turnout) well… that is going to be another obstacle to get over.

If you are a thirteen-year-old girl, and you are freaking out because your body is changing, don’t worry- every girl in ballet goes through it. It is one of the scary things in ballet, is that nothing is ever certain… just like injuries… So… I can now answer questions that have been written in (condensed a bunch as well):

Q: My body has changed a lot now that I am sixteen, and I don’t have a “good” ballet body, what should I do? I don’t know how drastic your body has changed, but if your body type isn’t the ideal ballet body, and you aren’t getting into summer programs, and you want to dance there is are hundreds of dance careers out there… Teaching, choreographing, writing, production, administration, and development/fundraising. You don’t have to give up on ballet altogether. Additionally, there are other genres out there… ballroom… contemporary… modern… post modern… broadway.

Q: I am very hypermobile and don’t know what to do? It means you need to take tons of pilates classes and cross train in a pool. Don’t stand in first with your ankles apart, and don’t grip the hypermobility as well. The majority of dancers out there are hyperextended in the knees… it just means you have to work smart.

Q: I have short legs, will I still be a dancer? Ummmm… no one can say if someone is going to be a dancer or not be a dancer… It is very hard… and the ballet world is very fickle… If you have short legs and a long torso that is hypermobile, you actually might have a stellar arabesque line…. So, there is no answer to that…

Q: I diet, I cross-train, I dance every day but can’t lose weight… what should I do? So, if you are doing all of those things, but you aren’t losing weight… it could be that you are overdoing your body and you’re are exhausting your body. Sometimes, dancing every day is a bad thing… especially for young girls who are pre-teens. During puberty your body is already going under a lot of stress because of growth plates and tendons… add over stretching and constant physical demands of ballet… your body might be exhausted. It might just be best to take a break for 10 days, let your body readjust and start again… Also, you could be starving your body… which is TOTALLY NOT GOOD… dieting doesn’t mean starve yourself…. despite popular belief…. you actually have to eat quite a bit as a dancer, but you have to be fueling your body correctly throughout the day to prepare you for the dance load you have that evening.

Okay then… hope you enjoyed… don’t forget to follow me on facebook and instagram… This week’s instagram theme is: BAD GIRLS OF BALLET: kicked it off this Sunday with Carabosse from “the Sleeping Beauty”

carabosse costume design

 

Notes On: Getting Extension… to the side…

Extensions in ballet are everything… Well extensions are also everything on social media, but social media is a whole different post. But extensions in ballet… truly are everything… It is the difference between getting a contract and not getting a contract, it is the difference between being cast as Odette … or not. You get the idea, or at least I hope you do. My original post about tilting your hips has kind of come under a lot of fire, which is totally cool… Everyone is entitled to their own pedagogy and ballet ideals. But a lot of you have asked some questions, so I am here to answer some of them. In ballet… a la seconde or side or perfect side or whatever your natural turnout decides what side is… well it is really confusing and quite difficult. And truth be told, I had no clue what any of it really meant until I became a teacher…

Developpe Poster 1

Side Action… first we have to determine what is side. For some schools- it is about the natural turnout and you draw a line from the second toe outwards (i)… Other schools teach that side is in line or slightly in front of your shoulder (ii) and some schools teach that side is behind your hip line (which only works if you are freakishly hypermobile or flexible, iii). This is all determined by turnout.

what is a la seconde a ballet eduation

 

Okay, okay… Now onto the good stuff… Getting your leg up. You can just hoist your leg up, you have to use the back of your legs. If your teacher is one of those sticklers for being square, which I totally don’t disagree with, you only have to follow a and b.

a-b. From passé, you rotate slight forward to an attitude position and lift your knee as high as it can go while your hips stay square. You have to seperate your femoral head while rotating it to get to this position. then you just have to extend the heel forward till your leg is fully extended. Yes, you use your heel as the guide of your extension, not your knee. If you are focusing on your knee… you get massive quads and can grip. You have to really use opposition to achieve the back of your legs. The oposition comes from really pressing your psoas and core downwards.

square extension what is a la seconde

c-e. I teach my students to start shifting their weight into their standing leg, and aligning the opposing hip. I tell them to use the full power of the backs of their leg to rotate forward, bring the leg even more slightly infront of their body allow the look of maximum turnout. Then bring the knee into the front of your armpit using your psoas, and pressing down through the student’s core to get the maximum stability and correct tension saving the hips. Then guiding through the heel, like the later part of a ron de jambe en l’iar. So instead of thinking of extension as a line, you have to think of it as a circular motion… like turnout… like everything in ballet. Use your hamstring to supply the support needed. But the higher your leg gets, the easier it should feel. It is simply physics, as the weight is now all shifted into your standing leg, freeing up your working leg.

f. Then, for those students who are hypermobile, and have mastered the ability to rotate the extension upwards, I let my students shift their weight even more into their standing leg, and then like a teetertotter shift their hips even more to get those last six inches of extension. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, so you have to be strong and pretty advanced to achieve it.

more notes: Tilting your hips on the plane of turnout is not the same as lifting your hip. Lifting your hip usually reffers to your booty and pelvis tipping forward. You have to understand your hip anatomy in order to really understand turnout and a la seconde. You never want to lift from your quads. Again work from the back of your legs! If you don’t know how, read my notes on how to work from the backs of your legs. Your hips have to be really warmed up and stretched out before your attempt this… Don’t be one of those kids sitting in their room reading this and then just go try it… It is why barre is structured.

Diagram of hip for ballet


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Notes on Dégagés…

how to degage

In the beginning there was pliés, followed by tendus, and then came dégagés. It is the way the universe designed it… or the French. Because of this, there are two types of techniques out there… Good technique and bad technique. Unfortunately, there is a lot more bad technique out there than good technique. (Seriously… I’ve seen the instas… and the youtubes.) Now, in the world of good technique there are two types of dégagés – long dégagés and short ones. Both are technically correct and both show refinement, but they are two different approaches in building technique.

Things dégagés are used for:
1. To warm up the feet and establish the workings of how the foot leaves and contacts the floor. (both short and long)
2. To establish the range of motion of turnout while leaving the floor and establishing length and connection. (long)
3. To have the control to stop kinetic energy of the working leg in time with music. (short)

Now, the two concepts can always be combined… But sometimes teachers forget the most important thing about this step… That if a tendu is based on the spiral rotation (turnout), and that is what causes the foot to point and reach… Then the dégagé is really just the continuation of that. Which means… The only way for a dégagé to actually leave floor is if it is rotated off the floor… you can’t just lift it. That would be quad gripping.

Sooo, here we go…
tendu degage

a. Standing in fifth is hard, and you have to to be fully rotated… The most important thing is making sure the weight is pressing down through the heels. It is really hard… But here we go…

b. Like in tendu, the heel presses forward and rotates forward- but now we have to really focus on the standing leg. Some schools teach the weight to be even through the heels an down the center of the body, some pedagogies teach you to start shifting the weight into towards front of your foot. I personally prefer the second. So everything is rotating just like in tendu…

c. Same as tendu, and pressing through the floor, keeping your toes spread…

d. The arch presses up, the heel rotates forward… just like tendu, the foot is rotating and spiraling… This time you are pushing harder than before, because you know your working leg has to “pop” off the ground versus and tendu you are only working on the floor.As you hop the arch- you shouldn’t be popping up, you should be popping forward…

e. Everything is happening… just like tendu… except now the point becomes a reality for the leg… The rotation extends and causes the leg to create even more tension and you start to rotate even more…

degage stuff

e. part 2… so there are two thoughts of how to rotate off the floor. This is tricky because different bodies respond in different ways. Some teachers say lift the foot off the floor 2 inches off the floor and rotate hard. Sometimes this causes quad gripping. The second is to rotate slightly forward in front of the shoulder and just rotate more…

f. Short Tendu- is that as soon as the energy disconnects from the floor, you stop it- freeze it- and slight the turnout back into fifth… or whatever position you are working in.

g. Long Tendu- The leg keeps reaching out and spirals pushing the circumference of an imaginary circle. You have to resist the force and not just let it fly up to 90 degrees by pressing down and outwards against the working hamstring… without gripping your quads. (Probably why I don’t teach long tendus till kids are like 15ish)

The most important part is rotating constantly and that all movement is started and finished by turnout. You have to turnout… turnout some more and when you think you have turned out as much as you could… You turnout even more. So, the leg has to spiral so hard that it pulls out of the socket and your abductors spiral the opposing way holding the leg in the socket… If you achieve this correct tension… You won’t have wonky hips.

Since my book isn’t due to come out for a while… and I still have to keep up the blog… I have started releasing posters… and the plus side is that since I have found a cheaper printer, the posters are cheaper. The attitude poster is now available by clicking here.For the month of April it is only $24.99 (May it will be $49.99)

Some of you have written to me asking what it costs for me to come teach at your studio, or work with your teachers. I am pretty flexible with time at the moment- and all I do is ask that you cover all travel expenses and my regular teaching fees. If you are interested please don’t hesitate to reach out and email me.

This week’s insta theme is Modern Classic’s starting with SUNDAY: PETITE MORT (@aballeteducation)

Untitled_Artwork 140

 

Notes on working from the backs of your legs

Enveloppe

I would hate, and I mean hate it, when a teacher would yell at me or give me the correction: you are gripping your quads, work from the back of your legs. The correction itself is an insult because they are basically saying you are about to get thick thunder thighs, but they wouldn’t tell you how to work or engage the back of your legs… It was crazy, it was mind boggling, and it wasn’t until I was like, hmmm maybe 16 that I figured it out… And no teacher helped me… I figured it out on my own because I was sick and tired of it. I started teaching young students and I started watching their bodies break down, and I started developing my method of teaching. So, like all my all technical notes, here we go… Notes on the back of your legs… via enveloppé.

So, I get a lot of dancers who are already trained but have bad habits. I rarely get to start and finish a dancer as they all go away to year-round programs. With that being said, this post is really geared towards dancers who are already trained and are having a hard time feeling the backs of their legs. To feel the backs of the legs, I use enveloppé from a working back fifth position.

rotate back

The whole concept of using the back of your legs is pretty difficult… When you are dancing, you usually aren’t thinking of the backs of your legs, mostly because you have been told to tendu and then get your leg up. So, you are standing in fifth position with the working leg back, and you really have to focus about the spiraling of your legs. As you tendu side, you are only going to move the heel by rotating forward. as you rotate “up and forward” your weight will start to shift, and you start to work through your metatarsals. While all this happening, you really have to focus on your hamstrings rotating forward, your sartorius and abductors rotating back… You will keep rotating until your heel is forward and you can slightly see the sole of your shoe… This means you might not have your leg directly side at all, and for this exercise that is totally ok. (You can modify this exercise to go to passé instead of sur le coup de pied) Now, you wait to keep rotating from the backs of your legs so hard that your leg lifts off the ground to degage height… and keep working the muscles in your legs spiraling into your hip joint. You then want to lift your leg higher using your psoas and obliques till your leg is fully rotated. Now the hard part…. With keeping the spiral, rotation, and tension in your leg that you have created (specifically your hamstring and calf rotating forward) you want to lift your knee slightly higher (to make space) for your leg to move, and rotate the heel of the working leg into the standing leg. (Basically, you are going for the passé) You want to keep the tension in your hamstring till you connect (wherever your teacher tells you passé is. For me, I tell my kids that the “indent” on above the inner knee has no technical anatomical name, and I tell them that God made it for passé). You never want to rest or be stagnate in passé, and you won’t be if you are constantly spiraling. Now that you are connected in passé, focus on the standing leg rotating forward, and using the spiral back towards the spine… From that spiral, rotate your heel forward to press into relevé and lift the working leg knee higher, from the hamstring. Everything moving upwards while the muscles are spiraling downwards towards the ground.

While some teachers encourage cross training first to develop the muscle, so you can feel the muscle in class… I find that unless you already know how to engage the muscle, in applicable ballet exercises, that cross training the muscles doesn’t help as quickly.

Enveloppé I think really utilizes the backs of the legs quicker than developpé, and through the range of steps that make up the enveloppé you really get a sense of the backs of your legs.

side note: The weight in the standing leg is shifting as well, as your hips are the counter balance to the working leg… If you don’t know how to stabilize your hips, check out my turnout blog… I hope this helps all of you who have asked about working from the backs of your legs.

Doodle Cover Page Doodle Book

The first doodle book of doodles (not technical drawings) is now available 🙂

140+ pages of doodles, fat pandas, and other random doodles.

What is Ballet?

You could be reading this as a professional dancer looking to retire into teaching, be a teacher already, an aspiring student, a parent of a ballet dancer, or even an adult coming to ballet for the first time. As scary as ballet is, ballet is beautiful and benefits everyone through discipline, repetition, hearing and understanding music, the human anatomy and evoking the one quality that defines the ballet aesthetic: elegance.

Working on my Intro/Preface for the book… 

The technical book

Not the final cover, but using it as a mock up.

Ballet. Classical ballet as an art form can not stand alone, it is the collaboration of movement, music, costuming, lighting and design. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes all of humanities achievements, accomplishments and history to make ballet happen. Ballet as a whole is a reflection of our times, it portrays the context of what was popular at the time, what was happening in the modern world, and how it is unforgiving. Yet, somehow, this art form has survived hundreds of years, because of tradition. The tradition of ballet has been verbally passed down from one generation of dancers to the next, and like traditions and folklore, it has been expanded on, distorted, and refined. Today, ballet is the reflection of that oral tradition presented on the human anatomy to music.

Watching a ballet performance is magical. There is something to be said about getting dressed up for the theatre and watch humans transform into fairies, sylphs, heroes and heroines, star-crossed lovers and swans. It is truly the ethereal escape that for years ballet critics have fawned over. But in today’s ballet world, in the age of technology, ballet has changed. In the 60’s the audiences were balletomanes, knowing dancers by name and rank. They roared in applause for superstars and cried over well-danced performances. Nowadays, ballet companies have the audience of ballet isn’t just captivated in beautiful theaters across the world. Ballet companies are now performing to the masses via social media. The demand for ballet is instantaneous, ballet superstars aren’t created by artistic directors, they are created by their followers on social media.

This means, ballet dancers once again have to find a way to reinvent themselves. While the older generation of dancers moved on to become entrepreneurs with the young millennials, young ballet dancers now are creating such a huge following for themselves by being exceptionally gifted, have the best training the world has to offer and be fundamentally interesting as both a human and a ballet dancer. And now, companies are head hunting again, and having to follow social media trends in dance.

As a result, the demand for excellent teacher has grown. Teachers used to rely on their reputations as dancers, and studios relied on the fact that every girl wants to be a ballerina. Nowadays, studios and ballet schools have to have a combination of excellent coaches, extremely educated teachers, and phenomenal instructors. The three are very different. Additionally, they have to be well connected to the ballet world or the competition circuit of ballet. If a parent or student doesn’t feel that the student is growing or not being pushed to their full potential they will leave and find a school that fits their needs.

Because of the increase of ballet companies in the world, the number of ballet schools has increased, and the number of dance studios has increased. This means, for the potential dancer, there are hundreds of options and many options locally.

When I started the blog, a Ballet Education was just a place for me to rant about my frustrations within the professional world of ballet, but now over the past two years, it has grown to become a resource for parents, students, teachers, and more. So for that, I am thankful that it has grown and has become a source to help others pursue their dreams or help understand what goes on in the world of ballet.

So, as I am preparing to start writing my ballet book… I have encountered a larger problem… The funding for my book… While I have been contacting by smaller publishers, they can’t offer what I need to complete my book, and how I think the book should be published. My book is estimated to be close to 400 color pages, and preferably hardcover because let’s face it… If you have a ballet dictionary it is falling apart after years of carrying it around in sweaty dance bags. Ballet books have to be structurally made to last. As teachers, they are even in worse condition as you write notes in them, and use them constantly, or at least you should.

Finally my notes on technique aren’t just on technique, but how to approach them as the adult dancer, the young dancer, dancers with “difficult body types”, and how my methods of how to teach these. As I am putting the work out slowly to get a feel from publishers and literary agents, and I hope that it happens soon, I hope my future book will help generations of ballet dancers like the ballet manuals prior to mine.

Also, once it is published via the IBSN, I hope you all go out and buy it right away so I can land a spot on a bestseller list. I would be nice to have a “ballet book” (not a biography) make the best sellers list, just sayin. Thank you again.

My blog won’t be updated as I am leaving for two weeks, but when I return: order will be shipped and blogging will resume. I’ve been working on quite a few blog posts. And since I won’t be posting via Instagram or blog, I am just going to publish the rest of my doodles of the day. Remember, this week’s theme was fashion illustrations of what ballet dancers wear, not doodles. (Follow me on Instagram: @aballeteducation)

LOOK OF THE DAYS

Notes on Port de Bras… well clarification

What is port de bras forward

In America, we use the vocabulary term “port de bras” too much. We overuse the term quite a bit… Then again, in the English language, we have a tendency to group ideas together under one word, limiting our vocabularies sometimes. So, I would like to talk about, how in America we use “port de bras” for everything that isn’t necessary. The Vaganova school has numbered their port de bras 1-6, which is kind of nice- but somehow it didn’t catch on in America? Maybe some teachers here use it… but I have never really come across it. And I’m sure one of you will have some smart a$s comment that your teacher used the Russian numbers, but honestly… in all the years I have danced, and all the elite schools I have gone to… haven’t come across it. So, port de bras is the carriage of the arms, and really has nothing to do with back movement or spinal flexion.

Technically speaking “port de bras back” should be referred to as cambré, circular port de bras should be grand port de corps, port de bras forward… well that is still up for debate… Some say you should use port de corps, and some say that it is port de bras… Cambré really does only refer to as arched. Soooo… Where does this leave us? I actually don’t really care, but with that being said, whatever the term is for the movement… Let’s talk about how difficult it is. I know I sound like a broken record that ballet is hard, but it really is. Truthfully, I don’t know why anyone would want to do it… I mean sure, once you are older and smarter, you understand the art and the finesse, but seriously… why would any 13-year-old put themselves to through the stress of ballet?

So, usually during pliés we are given these wonderful movements to warm up our spines and stretch out our bodies. And yes, I know I haven’t written about pliés, but my illustrations still are subpar for the pliés.

What is port de bras forward 1-3

a. As you have warmed up in plié you are about to embark on a mission… The mission being… port de bras forward. The first thing you need to do before taking the dive forward, well you shouldn’t be diving at all, but you have to separate as many spinal disks from your pelvic cradle and make as much space as you can from your hips and ribcage. So lift. Press your belly button to your spine, and use your muscles to pull your body apart.

b. When going forward don’t rock back into your legs. You have to go up and forward using your abs and core like crazy. Your abs, ribs, pectorals and such should be pressing back into your spine. Now, the trick in moving forward is to separate each spinal disk and lift them one at a time from the base of your skull down. You actually don’t move down. You move up and forward and then start to trace a semi-circle. Note: adjust your arm at the bar. You are moving forward so the arm has to move forward, or else it distorts the line, connection, and alignment.

c. As you hit the bottom, the top of your head should be reaching through your legs… A lot of students have a tendency to not release their necks, and therefore, shortening the space and range of motion between the vertebrae in the neck.
Again, don’t rock back into your hamstrings because that locks up your ankles, puts stress on the knees, and makes the quads grip and get thicker.

You get to the bottom and then what?
ballet meme

There are two trains of thought on how to get up from this position… Flat back and rolling up. Both actually have the same principal of opening the spine and keeping the space between the vertebrae. I decided to illustrate the flat back because more people are prone to messing this up.

What is port de bras forward 3-6

d-f. The most important part, is that from the bottom of the bend, you separate the lower spinal disks from the pelvic cradle. If you are going to “flat back” it up, you then reach accordingly and keep the distance between the vertebrae. That brings you back to a taller, more compact core position.

If you are going to roll up, you want to focus on stacking each vertebra slowly on top of each other from the tailbone up.

The technical book

Currently, I am looking to create my own technical handbook filled with the illustrations and elaborations on ballet technique, ballet attire, ballet everything… Click here to learn more. And totally not the cover or the name of the book, just a mock up.

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Notes on the Styles of Attitude Derrière

types of attitudes STYLES OF ATTITUDE

There are two MAJOR positions/shapes for ballet dancers. Positions that are based on the negative space the body creates and the idea of intersecting lines and shapes. They are: Developpés en croix: two straight perpendicular lines dissecting at an axis point (like arabesque…. developpé a la seconde, etc etc etc. And then there is Attitude en croix: a curved line. Of the two… attitude is a harder position. It is harder to cheat, harder to clean up, and definitely harder on the body if done correctly…. Unfortunately or fortunately, different pedagogies teach different approaches and lines. It is like the difference between at a Matisse and a Rembrandt. Same tools, same technique different outcome. These are some of my notes on the different styles of Attitude Derriere aka attitude back. I am going to be using attitude back because I don’t like having to switch keyboards back and forth. And sorry for skipping around on techniques. (I am skipping around on techniques based on how well I can draw the positions lol.)

So, for me in my opinion, and from experiencing the wonderfully painful world of ballet, there are five different approaches to attitude back. The five styles are: Cecchetti/French, Balanchine, Russian, Royal Ballet, and for those who are lucky enough to be hypermobile. Each of these are technically correct, but based on two things- how the lines curve and intersect, how your center is placed and weighted, and the tipping of your pelvic cradle.

Cecchetti copy

a. Cecchetti (Italian) and French styles: the two are closely related, as Catherine Medici of Florence brought ballet to the French court. So of course, the two are related and similar. I actually think this probably the most classical position relating to the origins of ballet existing in today’s world… Because attitude back even 80 years ago was kind of a joke…. Ideally, both the standing and working leg are turned out, but the working leg (the leg going into attitude) will shift within the hip joint. The femur head basically roles forward towards the front flipping the passé horizontally and back. Ideally, there is no tipping in the pelvis, and tension is created by the working knee pressing up, while the lower leg’s turnout rotates downward.  The lower portion of the leg is slightly opened to give a curved spiraling line. The height of the attitude comes from how far you can rotate the femur head forward to achieve the line. As the femural head rocks forward the passé then flips and shifts directed by the knee and supported by the sartorius and moves behind the spinal cord. The foot gradually opens from the passé position into the coupé position and length. Ironically, no one teaches attitude from sur le coup de pied when that is basically the shape and length. The only attitude that is truly a flipped passe is the Balanchine line. which brings us to the Balanchine line.

b. Balanchine – when in doubt… turn it out. The Balanchine attitude is basically, “How much turn out do I have, and how strong are the backs of my legs. I have had numerous different Balanchine teachers and they all have their own take on the attitude back… Like how crossed is too crossed… But one teacher made it pretty clear: You take your passé, flip it and push your knee behind your spine. Don’t every open the lower portion of your leg, and support from the hamstring, not the sartorius. If you basically take your passé, flip it, and shove it over. Your foot no matter what will be over crossed to the other side… Unless you have a short tibia or a wider torso. The position is extremely hard on the back because ideally the same concept of letting the femoral head roll forward and outwardly rotating the femur behind you. This creates a perfect perpendicular shape from the side but creates the elongated spiral through your back. If you are hypermobile you can separate the hips easily from your spinal chord, but for most, this position has to be cheated with the tipping of the pelvic cradle.

Balanchine_attitude

c. Now the Russian/Hypermobile line is modified because the center line is now based on your back in correlation to the front of your standing leg. The Russian line is extremely open, unlike the Balanchine line closing it from passe. Russian attitudes, the height is measured by the working foot. This allows the pelvis to tilt forward, the knee to slightly turn in and the attitude leg to go much higher. Unfortunately, you have to have a very flexible lower back, or else the line and center of gravity get distorted.There is this saying in ballet saying that when you do extensions to the back you move up and forward… and then you end up in these random superman positions, or crunchy necklines… It is just ugly. The idea of up and forward is based that your upper back remains completely straight up without compromising the ribcage or neck and shoulder line. You move your back line to be slightly in front of the standing leg line to counterbalance within the pelvis. Once the pelvis is centered, your body weight is now half and a half… And depending how flexible your back is, you can tilt as far as you want to get into a hypermobile attitude back… In Russia…. it seems every girl and boy at Vaganova Academy has a hypermobile back which gives us the elusive hypermobile attitude back…. The further your hips tilt or pour over, you have to create more space in between the pelvis and ribcage to allow your center of gravity to be balanced without straining your knee or ankle. Additionally these lines have the knee crossing behind the working sides shoulder blades.

d. Royal Ballet, not RAD, uses the hip tilting to the full advantage. Royal ballet students tip their hips completely forward to the back. This allows for two major things, the first is that when you hip your hips you aren’t concentrated on the femur head rotating forward… and for a lot of people that is a hard sensation to feel. Once your hips are tilted forward, your working legs has a ton of freedom. The problem is… that if you aren’t hypermobile and are given perfect turn out… this line causes the upper body to be wonky. Even at 90 degrees it’s pretty hard. The second pro to this line, is it makes your legs look incredibly long. As the pelvis tipping forward adds a good 6-10 inches to your leg line. It basically creates the leg line from the natural waist to the end of the foot versus other attitudes going from the hip joint to the toe. Sarah Lamb is probably the master of this line… Additionally, once the hips are tilted forward at 90 degrees, the leg is free to hit or maximize the penche line in arabesque. Again though, you have to have a gifted body to achieve this line or you get superman flying through the sky, or your get wrinkly neck rolls, or lumpy shoulders.. Royal ballet also places the knee behind the shoulder creating less tension within the lower back and creating a more open curve natural curve from the standing sides shoulder spiraling through to the working foot.

I have said it before, but you really do have to find the right line for you. This is really important for every dance to experience because finding the right line on your body could be the difference between a company contract… and ending up working at a Taco Shop. #justsayin

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Notes on the Basics… my basics

Apparently, once again I have to go in depth to defend my blog… and truthfully… At this point I don’t really care, with the exception of  recent negative comments and emails from other ballet bloggers and ballet teachers… Let’s talk about the basics of ballet and not the fact that other blogs rarely quote their sources, link the photos to the actual photographers so their readers can, at the least, have access to the photographer, and be bland… *shade* Blogs aren’t newspapers or literary journals… They are opinions… and if you don’t have anything nice to say… Just don’t say anything at all… Or post it on your blog… Seriously… *side eye* Another plus side… is my ability to doodle… so now I can just doodle everything I am talking about.

HOW I TEACH THE BASICS

The basic principal of ballet technique is turnout. (click here to read post on turnout)
Turnout as a concept is easy to understand, but to actually turn out… That is like the lifetime commitment you are making to ballet.

Then as we progress through the ballet vocabulary, I break down ballet technique based on four basics:

Plié (build): the literal translation of plié is to bend.
Tendu (stretch): the translation is to stretch.
Relevé (press): to raise/ to rise
Coupé (rotation): to cut

Side note… the translations of the vocabulary aren’t the definitions or even a guide on how to properly execute the techniques. These words are translated as verbs, so they portray an action or movement, but they aren’t just as simple as bending… I think a lot of times teachers get caught up in the idea of ballet vocabulary versus the actual use of the vocabulary.

Okay, so if you take a glissade… and really break it down it goes from a plié, to a tendu, to a relevé, and then in the reverse. If you look at a jump, it starts in a plié and moves through relevé, and into a tendu in the air… If you look at a pirouette, it goes from a plié, to a relevé, and moves through coupé and rotates higher to passé. These are why I only use the four instead of the classic French 7 by Raoul Auger Feuillet and Jean-Goerges Noverre. (plier, étendre, glisser, relever, sauter, tourner and élancer)


To talk about elancer, glisser, sauter, and tourner; these ideas still have to be broken down… sooo I use the four I said above. These four terms, or the idea of turning and the idea of jumping are directional concepts. Even then a turn, for me and how I teach, can be broken down to axial turns or spatial turns. A pique turn and a pirouette… both would be categorized as tourné, but let’s be real… The approach to the two are completely different. Even jumps… an entrechat and grand jete would be both categorized as sautés…. buuuuuut ummm completely different in aesthetic and technique… Which is why, I refer to and defend my four principals.

PliéWhy do I say build instead of bend? Well if all you do in a plié is bend… you probably have thunder thighs, wobbly knees and have a jerky jump and fugly pirouettes. (No offense…) But, even starting with 5 and 6-year-olds… We talk about how pliés build kinetic energy, how a plié never ends, and is constantly growing. Even before “bending” there is a slight lift in our hips and cores… I call it our high hips, or the breath before you jump in the pool. Either way… at barre we start talking about how our plié fuels our bodies (rocketships) and you have to have a full tank of gas if you want to get to Mars…

Tendu, again a verb… doesn’t have an end point, unless…. we are preparing for the SAB and other Balanchine schools and work on placing/stopping our tendus.You can click here to read my notes on tendu. But, basically, I use Tendu as stretch, to get the most length and extension through the legs and toes.
TENDU BANNER

Tendu

releveTo press versus to rise… Relevé as much as it is your heels rising off the floor… there is a huge downward action, so we press our energy into the floor through the balls of our feet causing us to rise.

Coupé…ROTATION I use coupé and the variations of coupé a lot… I use this position for students to feel the rotation of the working leg. If you were to take the coupe position and raise it straight up you end up in passé. If you open the coupé to the front… you are in attitude front… And so on… Coupés definition: to cut, is basically about cutting the line of the leg.

So… these are the reasons I use these four basics to teach ballet opposed to the classical 7.

Coupé

 

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Notes on Tendu… well tendu devant

TENDU BANNER

If you thought standing in first position was hard…. try moving in ballet. Moving in ballet looks easy, due to all of the painstaking and financially draining years dancers train before getting an elusive contract. In ballet the first thing you learn is plié, but because I have not mastered the art drawing a plié (it looks like a squatty ugly troll at the moment) I have skipped to tendu. Formally a tendu is a battement tendu, but it in ballet world… tendu is tendu. In ballet, every vocabulary step is based on four basics: plié (build), tendu (stretch), relevé (press), and coupé (rotation). Master these four things and the basic positions and you can basically break down any ballet step. So, what is a tendu? Defined by the ABT curriculum it is the following:

battement tendu is the commencing portion and ending portion of a grand battement and is an exercise to force the insteps well outward. The working foot slides from the first or fifth position to the second or fourth position without lifting the toe from the ground. Both knees must be kept straight. When the foot reaches the position pointe tendue, it then returns to the first or fifth position. Battements tendus may also be done with a demi-plié in the first or fifth position. They should be practiced encroix. (ABT DICTIONARY)

If you have no clue what that is… well, don’t worry- it is a horrible definition, and really poorly explained. Ignore, well all of that. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have even used that. That is awful. (Sorry American Ballet Theatre) If you did it their way, you would be in this choppy awful position. For those of you who are ballet dancers, imagine sliding your body from fifth to fourth without shifting your weight… Hahaha. You would look like a LEGO person trying to dance.

So, a tendu is the stretching/reaching/lengthening of the full leg. This being from the hip joint to the edges of all your toes. Typically, a tendu is done from first or fifth at barre, but can show up randomly in centre combinations. Tendus can be done in all positions, in any direction, and at any speed on either straight legs, in plié, or randomly in a Russian class on relevé. Tendus work/exercise/strengthen both the standing leg (the leg that is not doing the work aka tendu) and the working leg (the leg that is doing all of the moving aka the tendu). Ideally, as you tendu both knees are straight, but there is a lot of give in that sentence. Now that you are in a fifth position, you have to get to the tendu position, and in order to do that, you have to kind of know your body a little more than the average Joe. So, here we go explaining tendu devant/ tendu front/ tendu to the front:

how to tendua. Starting in a solid fifth position, your core is centered between both legs. The weight of your legs are centered above your ankles but shifted into the balls of your feet. Unfortunately, even positions in ballet are never still and relaxed, they are always active.
b. From the hip join into the thigh, you use your turn out, or outward rotation to start spiraling down your leg, but in an upward sensation, into your calf and heel. (Think of your legs as barber shop poles.) This spiraling feeling then allows you to rotate your heel up and forward without bending your knee to start pressing the heel forward. (Forward being in front of your belly button/ center of your body, don’t go towards your toe, or some other ungodly open position. It is just ugly.)

c

c. As you push forward the femur head in your hip joint will be rotating away from your body keeping the tension in your hips, and allowing the femur head to slightly incline back into your pelvis. To build strength in the leg, you want to work isometrically, so you use the back of your leg to push down into the floor and into the ball of your foot. You want to keep your toes, and ball of your foot on the floor as long as possible in the tempo given. Using that downward pressure, you can use it to your advantage to press the heel forward even more. During this time your arch will start to form/pointe and you want to rotate up and forwards towards your final destination. (The little green dot). As this happens you want to keep the your body center over your hips and standing leg. Because you are working in two directions, your working leg should be/feel weightless. As the ankle gets further away from the body, your toes will start to have to reach, using the full range of motion of your arch, metatarsals and toes.

 

d.jpgd. In theory, as you reach towards your final destination your foot becomes fully pointed, no crunch toes either. That is a ginchy foot waiting to happen. Here is the trick though to reaching your final destination. Only the outside tip of your big toe/shoe should touch your destination. This creates a slightly beveled look, also known as not sickling or having a biscuit. As the length of your leg is now on a diagonal, it ideally makes your line visually longer. Your working leg should be constantly reaching towards the destination and even further, while your hip joint works against it and pulls the muscles and tendons up into your crease.The top of your leg is basically pulling around into the back of your leg, and the back of your leg is reaching down at the diagonal. Tendu doesn’t have an endpoint, so you have reach as far as you can as long as you can, in the allotted tempo.

e.jpge. As you come back in towards homebase, fifth position, the action works in reverse. Instead of leading with your heel, you are now leading the movement with your pinky toe. Your ankle spirals back towards fifth position, and glides towards fifth. As you come back in your standing leg has to work even harder to make sure you can retain the length of the leg you achieved in the tendu. Additionally, as you come back into fifth this is where you don’t want to bend your knee, BUT if you are hyper extended, have muscle-y thighs, or baseball calves (none of these are bad), your working leg’s knee might need to relax to get into a solid fifth position. BUT WAIT! there is a way to avoid this. It is kind of a Balanchine thing, but when I am teaching, I only teach it to kids like 12+ who have the cognitive ability to think about this.

fge. As you start to zip your thighs downwards, meaning the tops of your legs have to touch first, then slowly down the leg, you start running out of room. You just did all of that hard work to get length in your leg and work out your arch, and you don’t want to release the tension by just bending the knee… Or you do if you are super hyper-extended… But you have the option of slightly doing the smallest ever relevé so you can lift to close. As you lift to close, you are retaining the length and tension in your leg. And then you control lowering your heels at the same rate, this way you don’t clunk down like an elephant and lose all of the hard work you just did. If you aren’t for the lifting to close, as you zip your thighs down, you want to make sure your pinky toe touches the standing leg’s heel first so you know you are turned out, not sickled or in a funky random position. Then you want to press your heel firmly into the grown. It is still lifting to close but not as dramatic, or as much work on the standing leg.

g. Finally, you are finished as now your legs have completely spiraled and should feel taller than when you started. By the end of a slow tendu, or warm up tendu you should feel your legs starting to wrap into your crease, your calves rotating forward, and your hamstrings engaged. You should feel pretty tall and elongated.

If you don’t you could have done the following:
Gripped your quads: if you are a quad gripper, that is a hard habit to break. You need to work at a slower pace to correct the gripping. To keep your knee straight you use the back of your knee pulling upwards or downwards depending on how you feel your legs. Regardless, it is the same concept of the back of your leg lengthening. Another thing, if you are gripping in your standing leg, your weight is probably in the standing leg heel opposed to being centered over the foot.

Biscuit foot: In tendus… if you have any sickling, pronating or arch gripping, toe curling… you are not going to get the desired line you want.. You are also not working your foot properly, which probably means you aren’t working your leg properly.

Weight shifting: sometimes little kids have a hard time keeping their standing leg spiraling down into the floor to anchor their core and body weight… So sometimes as they tendu, their body weight shift into the working leg causing the quad to grip. Or vice versa, they shift into the standing leg heel causing their quad to lock and lower back to arch.

If you are mind blown by this… Start off slow… like not even in class… take time at home in the kitchen or your bedroom, and start barefoot. Feel the floor and how your legs work… Take your time to really develop every part of the tendu.

Side note, tendus can change drastically by the tempo of the music and style. In a Balanchine-sque class you are going to want to really define your destination point, and really define your fifth. This is also called stopping the tendu, or hitting the position, or quickly place the foot pointed and quickly place into fifth. The dynamic can also drastically change based on direction and if you are coming from a different position than first or fifth. And finally, my way of tendus isn’t the only way to tendu… Every school has their thought process… This is just how I teach tendus.

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First Position: it is so hard

ballet first position

Ballet is hard, like really hard but teachers expect young children to get into classical positions by the age of 5. And you know, at some dolly dinkle studio they are teaching their students ridiculously hard techniques to students who are like 9…. If people really understood the body and complexities of ballet technique and pedagogy, well we would have better dance studios across America… lol. The reality is, that teachers teach a certain way because someone back in the day told them this is how it is done… Well because of physics, physio, and the perfection of anatomy- ballet technique has become redefined and developed. For example… who pliés in third anymore? So, where is this leading to?

A fun fact about little kids… the plus side about a 5-year-old in dance is that their bones and ligaments aren’t set… Soooo, they are able to reshape their legs, feet, and overstretch in moderation…. So, until a child is actually able to think about their own bodies and their own interworkings… They probably shouldn’t be put into ballet positions… I mean, unless you like forcing kids to turn out without using the proper muscles just so that their bodies learn it… I guess that works too…
*side eye*

As much as first position teaches you to turn out… Whether that is forced from the ankles, knees or properly from the hips… First position really isn’t about the turn out factor… It is really just how to align your body evenly before your legs start crossing the lateral axis of the body and weight shifts. First position teaches you how to stand and properly align your body. Little kids like to booty tooch, and splay their ribs all over the place, and do the weirdest things with their hips. It is why we start plies in first or second position… No one should start their day with doing plies in fourth…. (God, just thinking about it is awful)
Here are the complexities of just standing in first position…. The hardest part isn’t even turning out. Turn out can be faked, forced or non-existent. The hardest thing is engaging your core to your center/pelvic shelf and stabilizing that.

If you ever have gotten corrections like, “Are you training to be a hula girl?” Or my favorite, “This is ballet not clubbing.” Or the standard, “Don’t move your hips!” The issue is that most teachers don’t tell you how you stop your hips from moving, besides the old school, “Squeeze your cheeks together.” (I hate that correction because gripping your butt is so gross) Anyways, in order for your hips to not move, while you simultaneously move your legs, spinal cord and arms independently are to: create tension in your hips to stabilize them. And no this isn’t by gripping your cheeks together to squeeze a dollar and make change.

So to create tension properly, you can’t be splayed like a dead chicken. And you definitely can’t be Quasimodo. You definitely can’t have slouchy shoulders and well upper body that’s a whole different subject… But here are some of the basic principals of first position:
ballet position
1. Create horizontal tension between your hips by rotating your hip joint outwards. The principle of turnout. The ball part of your hip joint, also known as the femur heads, should be like french doors opening outwards and wrapping into the backs of your legs… Which actually starts at your crease. Turnout is usually limited to 180 degrees unless you are gifted with hypermobility and overstretching. So the tension can’t be released because the femur head/ femoral neck has to stop, and usually stops against the cartilage of your pelvis; specifically the acetabulum.
2. Create vertical tension. Vertical tension is created via hip flexor… By drawing your iliopsoas up and into your core, and using your sartorius and pectineus to press down and out it creates a tension that gives the lifted out of your hips aspect of ballet.
3. Another way to create tension is to use your lower glutes and upper hamstrings to create the support for your pelvis.
This is all really hard stuff. Honestly, I didn’t really feel all of this till I was about 14. Then I could really feel and control all of these things. But ask a 9-year-old to use their psoas and they will probably look at you funny.

Now, standing in first position is usually defined as heels together and toes out. But, most books and teachers forget to tell you that positions are always active. If you are building tension in your pelvis, engaging your core, and properly using your neck and back… It is all good, but your feet are super important in first. In first position don’t pronate or supinate. One it messes up your Achilles, and two that is a sprain and fracture waiting to happen.
notes on ballet positions
1. In first position make sure all five toes are spread out, fanned out.
2. Don’t grip the tops of your arches. Some teachers ask you to lift your arches in first, and to do that all of the tendons in your feet have to be super developed. This can also be done by shifting the majority of the weight of your legs into the balls of your feet, and then counterbalancing that with pressure in your heel. This creates a triangle to balance the weight and tension in the legs on top of your feet.
3. Shift your pelvis to be in the center of your ankles. I know that sounds weird, but it is to align your hips on top of your ankles.

Port de bras for first is simple and relaxed. But should be engaged through your back. In theory… the tension/engaging of muscles isometrically through your body looks something like this…But port de bras… that should get it’s own post because… a lot of you have crazy ugly arms… Just kidding… No arms are just as complicated as legs, kind of.
how to do ballet positions

(in retrospect, I should have made all of the first positions that light purple/blue color but for some reason I made this one green. Lol)

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When in Doubt… Turn Out

when in doubt turn out ballet turn out

“Turn-out. Turn-out. Turn-out.”

“Use what you have.”

“I don’t see you even trying.”

“What was that? That wasn’t even ballet.”

All corrections we may have heard. Turn-out in ballet is the most important thing. I remember a teacher once asking me, “Is it more important to have straight knees or be perfectly turned-out in a tendu?”  My immediate response was something like, “Have straight knees so you can lengthen the muscle and work correctly.” I was then told I was wrong. Now as a teacher, I realize what she was talking about. In ballet, the most important thing is turn-out, it is the thing that makes ballet so difficult, and separates ballet from the rest of the classical dance forms. Turn-0ut is the outward rotation of the hip joint. The goal is 180 degrees (90 degrees on each leg).It is based on the stance in fencing. So, turn-out is the one thing that defines ballet. If you have biscuity feet, you can kind of hide it by turning out. But, what makes turn-out so amazing is that by properly rotating the leg from the hip, and using the muscles and tendons properly, it changes the shape of the leg. Which is why turn-out is the most important thing in ballet. Unfortunately, if you don’t have close to perfect turn-out… ballet might not be for you…

And no, it isn’t about just standing there in a nice turned out position… It is about dancing 100% of the time turned out. ABT’s Zhong-Jing Fang at the Prix de Lausanne. She won in 2000. Unfortunately, she is still in the corps… but that is some killer turnout.

Dancing turned out all the time puts a ton of stress on the legs, and can cause the ligaments to overdevelop and compensate for other ligaments. So, it is really important to get into pilates, or go swimming. Turn-out is ten times more important than body proportions because turn-out is the first deciding factor for the potential of a ballet dancer.