NOTES ON ATTITUDE DEVANT: THE TURNOUT POSITION

attitude front attitude devant

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…)
attitude-devant

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? Get the Attitude Front Technique Tracker here.

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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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Ballet Vocabulary: Lesson 1

A Ballet Education the best ballet schools

In the world of ballet, there are three languages. There is the language in which ballet was codified, French. Then there is the language in which interprets ballet, body language backed by emotion. And then there is a language that ballet dancers actually speak, a language of their own, and I’m not talking about French. So, here is the modern vocabulary list every ballet dancer/student should know (part one). These terms you will come across in class, gossiping among your fellow peers in ballet school, blogs like this one, or social media.

Mr. B (noun): AKA, George Balanchine, aka God (just kidding, not really)

  1. The founder of New York City Ballet, and probably the most influential choreographer of the 20th century.

What would Mr. B do?

4 T’s (noun): AKA The Four Temperaments

  1. Choreographed by George Balanchine in 1946 to music by Paul Hindemith.

Dancing 4T’s is really difficult if you aren’t trained Balanchine.

Buiscut (noun or adj):

  1. Dancers with “bad” feet or feet that don’t point.

She has biscuit feet, she’ll never go en pointe.

A La Sebesque, secabesque (noun):

  1. A non existent position in ballet that people with bad technique use. It is a combination of a la seconde, and arabesque.

You are doing a la sebesque dear, you aren’t in jazz class.

Bunhead (noun):

1. A dancer who is overly intense about ballet, to the point where it might be unhealthy.
Maureen is a bunhead, Eva is not.

Snatched (adj):

1. A dancer’s body in peak shape.
Her body is snatched, hence why she is rockin’ a unitard.

Whacked out (adj):
1. Ridiculously flexible
He is so whacked out… but only to the right.

AD (noun) aka Artistic Director:

1. The head of a ballet company.
She only got the part because she is sleeping with the AD.

Leo (noun) aka Leotard:

1. Appropriate ballet attire, made from mesh, nylon, spandex, lycra or another synthetic blend of fabric.
Who wears a white leo to an audition?

________ Hands (_____ (adj) + noun): 

1. Spatula Hands: hands that look like spatulas.
2. Oven mitt hands: hands that are shaped like an oven mitt.
3. Hamburger Hands: hands that are shaped like one is holding a hamburger.
She is definitely not getting into SAB because of her spatula hands.

Claws (noun):

1. Hands that have gone through rigorous Balanchine training and are the anti Russian hand.
He has claws, you think he is from SAB?

Nut Season (noun):
1. The part of the season in which one must dance in the annual production of the Nutcracker in which they will be overworked, and over rehearsed. Dancers may cringe, or cry if they are at the mall shopping and the Tchaikovsky score is being played during the holidays. The time of the season in which every dancer wants to quit.
It is Nut Season, I want to die.

Pancaking (verb):
1. The application of a mattifier to match ones skin tone and remove the shine or pink color.
2. When a ballet dancer goes to iHop and dreams of ordering pancakes but orders a salad instead.
Gaynor Mindens should always be pancaked, that way it isn’t obvious you are wearing them.

Floor Barre (noun):

1. An awful, but healthy alternative to taking class. It is the combination of ballet, yoga and pilates.
I would rather do character than floor barre.

This is just part one, and as I compile list two, please feel free to email me for suggestions.

5 Ballet Techniques that make me melt

In today’s world of dance we applaud ridiculous extension, turns that never end, and jumps that defy gravity. Or, we celebrate mediocrity. Either way, it doesn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some musicality, and artistic achievement but… I’m like a lover of technique. So, as much as I appreciate and glorify dancers of the past… It doesn’t really do much for me either. I recently was watching some video of Maria Tallchief in Allegro Brilliante and I was like -_____-.  Like randomly placed passes, and some questionable releves from male dancers of the past… that doesn’t really do anything for me.

So, in today’s world of ridiculousness technique… There are five techniques that if done well, make me melt… Like I get all warm inside, and if it is on youtube I rewind it and watch it again… SOOO, what are they?

1. The technically crisp soutenu.

2. A two butts up glissade.

3. A super generous, and resistant pas de cheval.

4. A Balanchine saute arabesque, jete combo.

5. When a dancer bevels or wings their supporting foot right before they come down from releve, or when they place themselves on the wing of pointe shoe for a balance.