Notes on Demi Plié

Ballet is hard. Really hard. No matter how ballet has progressed, the fundamentals of ballet have always stayed the same: turnout, pointed feet, and becoming something unattainable and unimaginable. Yes, these are the fundamentals, but the principals that ballet is based on have constantly changed throughout the decades to progress the technique. The first of these principles is plié. It is one of the first things you learn as a dancer. In the beginning, it is as simple as bending your knees and making a diamond.Then you learn to open your turnout, and finally it is the connection to the floor, the connection to tradition and the connection to a legacy that has been passed down from one generation to the next. So, the plié is not only the building block of ballet, but it also is the mental foundation of ballet.

notes on dem plies

From Issue 1 of A Ballet Magazine

No matter where you are in the world, no matter what time of day, no matter your socioeconomic status, if you take a ballet class, you will start pliés, unless a teacher gives you a random combination to warm-up your feet.

Plié

So, what are pliés used for?

Pliés are used to begin and end a jump, a turn, and basically every step in ballet. They are used to open the hips and facilitate turnout and to strengthen and lengthen the abductors. Pliés can be used to build strength in the hamstring, to stretch the Achilles, open the energy throughout the metatarsals, and open the body.

But more importantly, and the key to pliés, is the mindset that pliés set up for you. The plié clears your head, the outside world fades away, and ballet history starts to flow through your body. You see, pliés are a part of ballet history, and not just on the technical side of things. For generations, it has been a part of the tradition we enjoy so much. Plus, if you think about starting at barre, and the slight gesture of placing your hand at the barre, your hand is likely touching the imprint or sweat of generations before you. Think about it like this. Let’s say you go to SAB for the summer, and you are in one of the larger studios. Consider everyone who has touched that barre before you, stood where you stand, and now they are a part of ballet history. Think about the legends who grew up at Lincoln Center, or the standouts at your own studio who have moved on to accomplish great things. Sometimes, even inanimate objects have a history so inspiring that you are taken aback with awe.

Pliés for the Young Student
When you are younger, you think that the plié is the easiest of the technical vocabulary to master, but in reality it is quite difficult. Young students should really focus on alignment of the body, and really master the mechanic of slight movements (port de bras, plié, cambré, etc.), while maintaining their core.

Pliés for the Pre-Pro/Professional Student
For students who are in a higher program, the focus of a plié is to open your hips and start moving your joints. You should have warmed up prior to class, but if you aren’t there yet, then you really do use pliés as a warm-up. But, what you should focus on is the ability to gather and sustain energy from the body.

Pliés for the Professional
Once you are at a certain point in your career, pliés become the habit of life and just feel good. It is probably the only combination at barre that is easy and becomes second nature to you. But for you kids reading this, every professional uses pliés to warm-up the body and set the tone for their dance day. They will also pace themselves at barre, and work on the quality of their plié.

Pliés for the Mature Dancer
If you are on the mature side of dance, remember to thoroughly warm-up the body prior to taking class. The older we get, the more we have to preserve the body to prevent injury and to sustain dancing. Proper alignment really does become crucial for older dancers, especially where the knee is going in the plié. I always use my second toe as the guide of where my knee should be extending. With my demi plié, I also really try to make sure my knee goes slightly further than the length of my feet to get a really good stretch out of my Achilles.

Teaching Pliés: The David Way
Teaching how to properly plié is actually quite difficult. You can’t just say, “Bend Your Knees!” because some kid is going to bend their knees and out goes their rear, their ribs splay, and it becomes a hot mess. Truthfully, I actually don’t teach kids to plié in first position until age 8 or 9, when they can actually comprehend the fundamentals of the technique. With young students, I really try to maintain the integrity of the plié without messing up alignment by having them go under the barre and against the wall.

This only works if your barres are built into the wall and you have enough space for a dancer to go through. I am lucky to have the barres about 18 inches out from the wall but drilled into the floor- designed for stretching purposes and little kids. I have them do first position, backs against the wall, and as they plié I try to have them press their knees to touch the back of the wall. Honestly, I think I have only seen 4 kids do this naturally, otherwise it is like impossible — unless you have more than 180 turnout. But, by having them use this technique, and pressing the low back and full spinal cord into the wall, they are starting to learn how to build tension in the core, and feel the power of a plié coming from the hip. I also don’t really teach grand plié until they are 10 or 11 years old.

When they are older, they use one hand at the barre, (by now they have mastered grand plié facing the barre), but this time the focus isn’t just rotation and alignment, but coordination of the arm. I despise when people do grand plié and at the bottom of the grand plié their hands is in front of their crotch region; I think it’s ugly. So, I have my students delay the arm until they reach demi plié on the way back up.

grand plie
A Ballet Education Covergirl and ADC IBC GRAND PRIX winner:  Tegan Chou in Grand Plié

Finally, when teaching pliés, there are various universal corrections to keep in mind:
Lateral Alignment through the spine, ribs, and hips.
The alignment of the movement, knees over toes.
Feet should be flat on the floor, toes spread, but arches must be lifted.
When doing the second part of a plié, coming back up, the top of your thighs should touch first and then like an upside down zipper come together, one tooth at a time.
Spiral the inner back of your thigh forward.
Don’t rush the music.
Don’t sit at the bottom of grand plié.
Pliés should never stop moving.

 

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NOTES ON ROND DE JAMBE…

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

“Round of the leg on the ground”
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Eeesh. This is one of the hardest steps at barre in ballet. The exercise requires a ton of control and focus. In theory, this step should be really easy and a lot of people overlook how complicated rond de jambe is. Somewhere in between adagio qualities and stretching, rond de jambes are one of those things that you either have or you don’t.

Rond de jambes are versatile, you can do them en l’air, in a jump, on relevé, done en dehors or en dedans or even in fondu/plié. The list goes on. It can be done at varied heights, at varied speeds, or varied accents. Like most steps in ballet, you can do them any way you want.

So, let’s get to breaking down rond de jambe.

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

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Notes on Jetés… petit jetés… and awful petit allegro

Jetė

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

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

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

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

jeté ballet

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

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

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

Where to put the coupe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes on Pirouettes… en dehors… part one

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

Notes on Pirouettes a Ballet Education

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

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

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

alignment

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

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

turning

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

alignment passe

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

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

how to turn

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

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

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

passe moment

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

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Notes on Dégagés…

how to degage

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

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

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

Sooo, here we go…
tendu degage

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

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

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

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

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

degage stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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 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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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

5 things your teachers will never tell you… and they should

how to do ballet real ballet

If you are ages 11+ and you are training in ballet, like seriously training… Not like the, I dance ballet twice a week, supplemented with 4 jazz classes, leaps and turns and competition rehearsals… Like REAL TRAINING… Meaning you are taking at least 3 hours of ballet a day, and you are pushing yourself constantly. You parents are breaking the bank and paying for privates and coaching… You might be aspiring to go the YAGP, (the finals start tomorrow BTW in NYC), you might have your hopes on next years summer programs, or you are going to a summer program this year… This post is dedicated to you… and your parents.

1. “This is not the right place for you.” There are a million different schools out there, and each have their own approach, way of thinking and pedagogy. The reality is that not every body type is meant to dance, every technique. If you are at an ACTUAL super Russian school… Your body has to be gifted with turnout, feet that overly point, and a back that is hyper mobile… If you don’t have all those things… Russian technique is extremely difficult, and your muscles build the wrong way… You get bulky, instead of having that long, rangy Russian look. The reasoning behind this, is that dance studios are businesses and need you to pay the bills. They don’t want to lose students.

2. “You are too good to be here.” Studios again are a business, and so they like to keep dancers around as an “investment”… If your child shows potential, and is the best one at the studio or school, then it is time to move on. Sure, you can still learn things, and become stronger, but the reality is that a student has to challenge themselves. If there isn’t competition in the room, how are they striving to be better? Yes, ballet comes from within oneself, but the reality is, when you are around better dancers, you mentally try harder… Also, you need to be around peers that are at the same level as you, and are experiencing the same things, and struggling with the same things.

3. “You need to diet.” No, I’m not talking about starving yourself. I am talking about what a dancer should actually be eating to ensure a healthy body. The word diet in ballet is so taboo, but the reality is, dancers are burning X amount of calories, and shredding their muscles on a daily basis… So higher proteins, less carbs is a good thing. The amount of fruit and veggies are just generally good, I mean who doesn’t love a detox… Also, eating clean means healthier looking skin, so that is a plus.

4. “Ballet isn’t your thing.” So many times, I have seen girls prepped and primed for the world of ballet, but really they should have pursued jazz or modern. It takes a lot to be a ballet dancer: the right body proportions, the right turn out, the right feet, the right everything… Granted there are variances by company, by AD’s preference, but the reality is…. Turnout, hyper extended knees, a hyper mobile back, and feet that shape well are pretty much required. With the caliber of ballet dancers that schools are cranking out, there really is no room for anything else. If you don’t have all those things, there are other genres that are more relaxed… and if your child LOVES ballet, and dreams to become a professional, than find every possible thing to help make that come true… Private lessons, stretching coaches, pilates, foot stretchers and strengtheners (besides a theraband, but that too!)…

5. “Most of you will not become a prima ballerina. In fact, most of you will not go pro.” Hard reality to accept, but it is the truth. I have gone to some pretty amazing schools, and seen some pretty amazing, technically sound, musical and artistic dancers… but the reality is that most of them did not get a job… Those who do get jobs are BEYOND exceptional… And even those who did get a job in a second company, and then promoted into the first company, most of them were only there four a couple of seasons, if that, and then their contracts weren’t renewed…
From one school I went to in SoCal, which had a very high enrollment, and has produced really great dancers… I think, that 4 eventually went pro out of the senior division, and I think only two are still dancing in major companies. Both are still in the corps…

From another school I went to in SoCal that was a very small school, but offered great training… I think of the 12 students in the highest level, I think 4 of us went professional, but currently only still dances in a major company… still in the corps… I think the rest have gone into teaching… Now CPYB on the other hand… I think like everyone who stuck it out, and pursued dance seriously went pro…

The odds are really slim.

and… to throw in a extra one…

6. “I don’t know.” Very rarely will a teacher admit to something they don’t know. Which is a shame, because no one knows everything about everything. Most teachers very rarely go out and find new ways of teaching, or they don’t bother to go take anatomy courses (unless they go to college) to really explain muscle, ligaments, and tendons… They don’t go out and research how to teach towards ethnic body types, or late starters who’s muscles and bones have already set, or they don’t go out and stay current on how things are done in ballet. Most of them teach the way they were taught, which was passed down from some crazy soviet russian era teacher with a cane… I mean obviously not relevant but whatever. A good teacher goes out constantly in search for new ideas, new ways of approaching technique, and finding the understandings of different body types, ages, etc… (This last post was geared at ballet teachers at random schools, not teachers at professional or pre professional schools.)