Notes on Second Position / Perfect Symmetry

Second Position is usually noted as the easiest position of the five as it has the least amount of pressure on the hips and knees, but lately I have been finding that second position might be even more difficult than first if done properly. Let’s break it down…

Second Position Rectanble

The idea of Second position takes Davinci’s Vitruvian man and then shortens the arms to elongate the legs. This is done by the curving of the port de bras. Then if you wanted to elongate the legs even more you would go on relevé, and even further go en pointe.

When standing in second position, not only are you making sure that your hips are equally between to feet, you are also lining up the hips to make sure they are not behind or in front of your feet. A common mistake in grand plié, is to allow your hips to shift back… but that is wrong, it also increases the amount of stress on the inside of your knee.

Second position allows you to really feel the turnout from the backs of your legs because your legs aren’t touching, so you have to really visualize the spiral coming from the back and opening your hips. If done properly, it will allow you to plié with exact alignment of the knees over the second toe and not putting pressure anywhere else.


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In second position it is easy to let your arches drop or let your feet pronate or supinate because there is not checks and balances. Where in first your heels and knees are touching, and fifth you are toe to heel, heel to toe. So, in second it is important to remember to keep your arches lifted, five toes spread on the floor, and the feeling of all five metatarsals evenly touching the floor. You should also feel your weight in the pads of your feet and support by the lower arch.

Remember, and this is pretty standard… don’t lift your heels in second position… which is truly the test of second position which makes it extremely difficult. Because the pelvis is free, it allows the Achilles to be free. Meaning, you can fully stretch your achilles out.

This is when people like to agree to disagree on how wide a second position should be.

second position

Classical Ballet really calls for a refined second position. Meaning 1 or 1 and a half times your foot length in the gap. This is included for pointe work. Where, updated technique allows for a wider or “healthier” second position.

Classical Second Position:
Pros: It is cleaner and forces the dancer to focus on turnout and alignment more, stretches the Achilles more.
Cons: It can create a shallower demi-plié, it is harder to achieve a nice grand plié and it is harder to master.

Updated Second Position:
Pros: easier on the body, allows for a bigger hamstring stretch
Cons: More can go wrong in grand plié and can put more pressure on the knees.

When doing an updated second position, I think the aesthetic is nicer when the arm is higher and less curved and more about length. Whichever one you choose, make sure it looks right on your body. For example, I have really long arms, so when I do the more classical second position, I have ot curve and place my arm a little more than I would usually to keep my body in a nice proportion.

Things to remember in Second Position:
Go long. Reach each scapula away from eachother to create the widest back.
Longest neck line
Really open those hips, thing of opening French doors to allow you to turn out more
Keep the weight even, don’t sit back or push forward, don’t favor one leg over the other.


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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…

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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…

Arabesque.

 

The Position That Makes Ballet, well ballet…

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Sara Michelle Murawski’s, a soloist at Slovak National Ballet, super famous arabesque picture that probably one of the first pictures that made dancers addicted to instagram.

Contemporary Dancers have the tilt, jazz dancers have the layout, but ballet dancers have arabesque.

For those of you who are auditioning for the first time, the reason why everyone asks for an arabesque picture is for the following reasons: arabesque is one of the hardest positions to make in ballet, and it shows your turn out, flexibility, hyperextension and feet in on photo without hating yourself. If ballet auditions asked for, say…ecarte derrière… no one would audition… ever.

Now, there is a great debate of what arabesque technique is correct, or where it actually comes from, but should we really get into all of that mess? Maybe, just little bit. Just generalizing some things about companies that have a very specific type of arabesque.

Royal Ballet, the Ashton Arabesque is this super classical, dreamy position that requires the following: a hypermobile back, beautifully arched feet, and rarely is placed above 90 degrees. In addition, I think the artists of the Royal Ballet are the only ones that don’t let the supporting leg turn in. Their turn out is bangin. The arms are always super relaxed, and rarely go above their faces. Ultimate restraint. (Royal Ballet’s arabesque line isn’t the RAD line. I don’t believe in the RAD method, so I am not going to talk about it.)

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Plus, who doesn’t love some Sarah Lamb on any given day? Ironically, she is an American, with Russian training, dancing a Jerome Robbin’s piece set on NYCB, but staged on Royal Ballet.

The Russians have their own arabesque line as well. They are known for their incredible height and stretch. Besides the majority of women coming out of Vaganova school are beasts, their primas have create this unique fragile but stretched arm position. Standing leg is turned in.

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For the sake of irony, the super stunning Uliana Lopatkina, a Russian Dancing a Balanchine piece set on Bolshoi.

Then we have the super “classical” arabesque which is the mish mosh of cecchetti, vaganova and french… which is now lumped into the category of classical:

ballet pose

Perfect turn out, not so hyper mobile, lifted up and forward, relaxed elbow, and spatula hands… just kidding, just a soft middle finger down…

Then we have the Balanchine Arabesque, which isn’t really a change in the principals of arabesque, but more of the arm and hand positions.

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Ashley Bouder and Jonathan Stafford in Tchai Pas. Ironically, everyone calls their hands the claw… or that they are really wristy, but Russians are more…  aka the super stunning and talented force Evgenia Obraztsova

evgenia obraztsova

And then finally, there is the Paris Opera Arabesque… which is basically like the impossible arabesque. Which is only possible if you are well… given everything and trained at Paris Opera.

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Another Irony, Paris Opera is the home of ballet, and here we have the Sylvie Guillem in a contemporary work. I have never really understood the Paris Opera arabesque besides it looking beyond perfect. David Hallberg who trained at POB has one of those arabesque that are beyond pulled up. A lot of the etoiles of paris opera have these super raised hips.

Another note… we gag on arabesque pictures on IG and tumblr, but the reality is… do we ever see these massive arabesques on stage… unless you are russian… Or Dark Angel in Serenade? I think the “style” of arabesque also comes from the role you are doing, the tempo of music, etc.

Now, here are some things that are really difficult for young dancers when it comes to arabesque…

Higher isn’t always better.

Being Square is in reference that both pelvic bones are on the same level of space.

Tilting your hip is really just for side extension.

Things regardless of what “style” of arabesque you are doing…

Your spinal chord can’t be compromised…

You either have a hyper mobile back and hips or you don’t.

Regardless of the arm placement, the torso doesn’t twist…

My favorite motto when teaching: when in doubt, turn out.

Finding what arabesque works on your body is really important as well. If you look at the women of NYCB, none of them have the same arabesque line. You have to find what looks best on your body… for anything in ballet, but especially for arabesque. As you develop into an artist you find your stride in arabesque, and what looks best on your body type. Arm placement, stretch, reach, quality… Those are the things that really distinguish an arabesque. No two professional arabesques are the same. When training, it might be a different story, but because no body is alike, the technique looks different on everyone.

 

Your petit allegro is awful…

Petit Allegro is neglected at most smaller schools in the US. It seems to be tossed aside, or never really done right. Either the tempo is too slow, or they just don’t teach their students the importance of petit allegro. The above picture is why. There are so many “ballet dictionaries” out there that teachers use to reference… and that is what they give. I honestly don’t know how this even got into a book, or how it even looks like a glissade…. but someone published it and put their name to it. *smh*

5 things to help you improve your petit allegro.

1. Close fifth every time. There aren’t very many steps in petit allegro that don’t close 5th, and without closing into a tight clean fifth, you aren’t really doing ballet. #justsayin

2. Stop putting the weight in the back of your foot, in petit allegro you have to be the most forward. By putting your weight forward, that is how you counter balance with your heels… the idea of pressing down and getting the most stretch in your achilles.

3. Carefully plan where you are going to accent in the music. You are able to play with the music a lot in petit allegro if you decide to move faster. Most students don’t realize that petit allegro is fun, flirty, and sassy. It is the one time you can really add some personality without looking over the top dramatic, or jazzarina whack a leg…

4. Your teacher probably doesn’t give good petit allegros, and is hurting you in the long run. Petit allegro makes or break an audition a lot of the times. Everyone focuses on adagio and grand allegro, and pirouettes… Everyone seems to forget, you have to move fast as well… So find a new studio. Okay, or not. But, you might want to ask your teachers why there isn’t an emphasis on it… Challenge how they think, an teach. Most teachers get lazy when it comes to petit allegro. I love petit allegro, so I focus a lot on it.

5. Eat more oatmeal, it makes you smarter so you can think faster… lol. It is what I tell my kids all the time…

The Great Debate: Gaynor Mindens…

gaynor mindens yucky

 

The Great Debate: Gaynor Mindens…

If I had it my way, everyone would dance in Freeds. Period. Because we are a free enterprise country, there are hundreds of different pointe shoes now available. Each brand has their own series of pointe shoes, and each pointe shoe has a “different personality” to accommodate a dancer’s needs. One of those needs is money… Pointe shoes don’t come cheap, and as a result, the Gaynor Minden was born… 

Some call it the cheater shoe, some call it flat out ugly, and some are for it because their feet are so good. Professionals around the world of adapted to Gaynors and the company didn’t waste anytime by capitalizing on that. Premiering with Gillian Murphy of ABT, and the release of the Ballet Companion, snagging dancer.com and using well known principal dancers as their ads… Gaynor Minden INC knew what they were doing. As a business, they are successful. The bigger question, is how do we look at Gaynors? Should students be allowed to wear Gaynors? Should more pointe shoe companies offer indestructible shoes regardless of compromising the look of the shoe?

(Please Comment Below)

an interview with Eliza Gaynor Minden. (click here)

a funny commentary via the youtube:

Nike Arc Angel, a dummy design by a graphic artist, but interesting concept…

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Want extension? Tilt your hips!

Controversy. 

Everyone wants gorgeous extensions, and we all youtube and watch the most beautiful extensions happen around the world. We idolize Sylvie Guillem, and Svetlana Zakharova. Now the problem? In ballet class some teachers say keep your hip down, keep your hips square, keep blah blah blah blah blah… It goes on and on and on… In an ideal world, the hip should be down, the reality? No one really keeps their hips down in developpe side. It is like this secret no one really talks about.

The one and only Sylvie... TOOOOTAL hip up
The one and only Sylvie… TOOOOTAL hip up
Students at the JKO school in NYC.
Students at the JKO school in NYC.

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Svetlana... total hip up... Vaganova School and principal at Bolshoi.
Svetlana… total hip up… Vaganova School and principal at Bolshoi.

So, embrace it. This doesn’t mean get all wonky in your posture, in fact it means you have to be more focused on your torso and upper body so you don’t look all caddy-wompus. So, after careful examination and talk with numerous ballet teachers, we have decided that the correction: Keep your hip down and square is correct. The correction should also include, tilt your hips directly side, in second, and that is what makes the leg go higher, as if your pelvis is in center straddle. So, this means no gripping from behind, or some crazy lifted twerkin booty out, just simply take your hips and tilt them side.

As you all will be going crazy, and probably writing me hate mail… Examine the body’s anatomy, and ask yourself, why do you say hip down? Is it because someone told you to, or some old russian teacher from god knows when said so? Reality check.  That isn’t teaching, that is passing on information and it is like playing telephone, that game we played as kids. The reality is that extensions are required to be a dancer, so you have to look at each students’ body and see if they have the natural facility to developpe without compromising the hips. Very rarely have I seen bodies with the facility to do so.

With that being said, time to get legs up.

You know you trained Balanchine if…

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Have you ever gone to an audition, and you are sizing up the competition before the class begins? It doesn’t even have to be an audition, it can just be an open class. As you look around, you start to size dancers up by “look”. Instantly, you can spot those dancers. Balanchine trained dancers. Even before barre starts, even before the first piano chord is played and you take your first plié, you can tell… You can spot Balanchine boys pretty easily: the white socks and white ballet shoes on black tights with a white shirt. You can usually spot Balanchine girls by their high buns, or the Balanchine bun (it is like a hybrid bun/ french twist). Once the music starts, then you can really tell who trained Balanchine, here are some of the “giveaways”…  and if you trained Balanchine, you might get a giggle…

So, you know you trained Balanchine if… 

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1. Your hands are remotely “claw” shaped. This could be the modified CPYB hand, or the hands that come from Ballet Austin (kind of a more contemporary relaxed version). You know you came from SAB if you are really all about the “claw” and broken wrist. Yup, just by the hands you can tell.

2. Your tendus are over crossed and you automatically assume the accent is in or down.

3. You don’t use elaborate port de bras during barre combinations.  During port de bras and cambré you roll through your spine instead of a straight back.

4. Your developpés happen in one count, or less, but this idea can be applied to grand pliés, or anything for that matter.

5. When coming out of a relevé you emphasize the pressing of  the heels down.

So, that was just barre… Center (Centre)

You know you trained Balanchine if…

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1. The obvious… Pirouette off of a straight back leg, and for fun you try to turn from a ridiculously large, deep, exaggerated fourth.

2. You are awesome at petite allegro.

3. In assemblé you bring the supporting leg to the working leg, and in jetés your coupe happens instantly- and you might bend a little for show…

4. In your saut de chat.. your back leg is probably higher than your front. During grand allegro you probably travel the furthest…

5. You over cross everything… including port de bras.

6. You know you came from SAB if you have Suki Schorer’s voice in your head saying, “no, AND one.”

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(And as a side comment: Balanchine dancers are my favorite to watch, and I think the Balanchine Aesthetic… since that is what it is now being called instead of technique… is gorgeous. Insert European remarks here…)