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.

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

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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.

Should You Hyperextend?

hyperextension

The obvious answer is yes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ridiculous and silly. Everyone goes on and on about if you should hyperextend your knees or if you shouldn’t hyperextend and blah blah blah. The answer is pretty obvious at looking at any ballet photo or video. Now, to be a little more precise, there is a right way, and there is DEFINITELY a wrong way to hyperextend.

The Pros of Hyperextension:
Hyperextension makes for prettier lines
Makes the leg look higher in extensions
More precise shapes.
The Cons of Hyperextension:
Prone to injury in weaker dancers
A smaller center of gravity
Gripping.

So, for a quick look at hyperextension: usually in ballet, when talking about hyperextension it is usually talking about the knees. Hypermobility usually refers to the back. Hyperextension occurs when the knees are pushed too far back, usually from over-stretching of the ligaments. Because of this, the Posterior cruciate ligament is prone to injury. The PCL is the strongest ligament in the knee and is pretty crucial for a ballet dancer. Hyperextension also causes weak external rotator muscles, which can cause rolling and if your are rolling in your foot out of a jump, you can sprain your ankle or hurt your knee. With that being said, anything in ballet can cause an injury.

But, hyperextension is sought after in post preprofessional dancers. Companies and school directors look for potential body types, and hyperextension is one of those things.

If you are gifted with hyperextension, don’t look at it as a curse (trust me, girls would kill to be hyperextended). There are plenty of ways to maintain and control hyperextension. When over stretching, don’t overstretch by putting pressure on your knee. Like putting your leg on a chair. Lay on gymnastic mats or anything lifted 8-12 inches off the floor and stretch on your back. Yes, your arms have to do some of the work, but let gravity take you backward instead of gravity pulling your body weight onto your knees.

Get into pilates twice a week. Whether you are doing it on your own for 45 minutes or getting into mat or reformer classes, pilates will be your maintenance.

At the barre, avoid locking back and shifting into the back of your knee. Keep your weight pressed forward in the balls of your feet and maintain that throughout barre exercises.
Lengthen don’t grip. Hyperextension usually causes dancers to lock back in their legs, causing the quads to grip. If you the weight is shifted properly and the energy is spiraling down through the leg, it maintains the support the knee needs.

There is a point of too much hyperextension, and until you are Misty Copeland or Lia Cirio and have mastered the control of your legs, avoid working in an over extended first position. In fact, avoid it. When you have the hyperextension like these two ladies, you have to become extremely aware of your legs and your rotation.
I’ve also noticed girls with hyperextended legs wear their legs out quicker throughout a class. Work smartly. Be conscious of when you are working, as you must constantly be working on maintaining the tension in your legs and they aren’t just flopping around, and you use your quads to compensate.

Finally, girls with hyperextension usually have a harder time trying to turn. In these situations, don’t hyperextend, even if you feel like your knee is bent. When you hyperextend your standing leg, the bend causes your center of gravity to shift. So, you have to move your pelvis and center of gravity over the arch of your foot. By strengthening this idea, and putting it onto your body will allow for a stronger, more heightened sense of where your center of gravity.

Hope this helps & here are some videos of gorgeous hyperextension of ballet…

Meet Lia Cirio… & her body

Misty Copeland…Under Armor

Michaela Deprince

Sylvie Guillem, Queen of legs.

Svetlana Zakharova, Princess of Legs4Days