Author

Seira

in Advanced Ballet, Ballet tips

Stability – The Foundation of Dance Training

It has been a few months now. I’ve gone back to slower, more beginner classes to strengthen my supporting leg, work on a better alignment of my body, a pulled up pelvis and a open, pressed down shoulders pointing to the back. I still have issues with my pelvis and ribs from time to time, and I’ve since discovered that it was due to tightness of my IT bands and quads.

I’ve been having fun videoing myself in the studio with friends, posing and taking silly dance pictures. Even then, it is a good practice because you increase your consciousness of what you’re doing with your body. One thing I’ve observed with my ballet eyes is that why my upper body and port de bras became nicer (except for an non-existent right elbow – AM working on it now), I’m not satisfied with my legs. They somehow look not 100% engaged.

Initially, I thought it is the issue of not straightening my knees. Even one of my best ballet friends who danced since she was a child told me so. Then I thought I was not lifting my pelvis enough. That is true, I can always go for 20% more than I thought was my maximum. I practiced again, and still I’m not achieving what I feel it is supposed to look like.


Stability – The Foundation of Dance Training

It all came to me in a eureka moment. I lack stability. My legs are not yet strong enough, perhaps my core too – to maintain that pulled up pushed down look of my legs, which affects everything above my legs, my entire body. And that is why, my upper body looks improved and better, but waist down, it doesn’t. Time to go back to the “drawing board”.

In a recent trip to Japan, my Japanese friend wrote in to her strict Japanese teacher to allow me join her Russian ballet class. That was quite the experience. Now I’ve been schooled in a mix of pseudo-Russian and pseudo-RAD style for the past 5 years of my intense ballet life. I was, of course nervous, because this teacher had graduated from the Leningrad Choreographic School, also named after the famous Aggrippa Vaganova. To cut the long story short, I survived the class, but was deeply intrigued by her Russian ballet training methods, which to me had a more 3 dimensional feel, with lots of pretty arms. I went back to my extensive collection of ballet books and deeply researched because I didn’t want to feel like a moron dancing if ever I took a Russian ballet class again.

In my obsessive research, I discovered the whole concept of stability. I mean I understood that we needed stability but I didn’t  know the extent of training to acquire it.  As I pored over my books and videos, I noticed that in the first few years of dance, there is strong focus on emphasis on training a dancer to have extensive stability. Stability is trained beginning with both hands at the barre, then with one hand. Then in the center, and later on demi-pointe. The exercises start out very slow and painful and then, it changes position such as croise, efface etc and eventually the speed of exercise get increased and the complicated movements vary (probably in the final few years of study). Acquiring stability seems that that is all the teachers of the Russian training method set out to do in the first few years of training. In their level 0, which is something like a pre-ballet class, teachers train students to strengthen their core, increase the range of their flexibility, turn of head, neck and upper body for epaulment and give lots of conditioning exercises.

Although, us adults may not have that kind of luxury of having ballet class everyday and being trained in that slow and boring way, there are still some things we can learn from these Russian training methods to acquire stability. I’ve also included some ideas which I personally use.

Daily training is essential to acquire stability

In the Russian training method, they believe that daily training is required to acquire a pulled up character and stability.

Though most of us can’t take a ballet class everyday, we can compensate this by being extremely conscious of our posture. When you’re waiting for the bus, or train, or in the shower. Stand in first position or in demi pointe and maintain a pull up of the pelvis and a conscious push down of the legs, as though you’re standing on a weighing machine and trying to ‘press’ it to get a large reading on the scale. You can try doing other things while maintaining this strong stability, such as shampooing or doing your port de bras. Even when I have a heavy backpack on my back, I try to maintain a neutral pelvis and pull up of my torso.

proper distribution of weight over legs (and transference of weight)

To be sufficiently stable we have to learn to be very acutely aware of where our “weight” is. Standing in first position, the weight has to be placed evenly over both legs. At the barre, you must check if your weight is centered, especially over one leg, thus, you shouldn’t be gripping the barre. We have to be good at knowing when to distribute our weight evenly over two legs or load on one leg. There are many exercises you can try to google/search on youtube to practice this transfer of weight from leg to leg, or from two legs to on and etc. Be very careful to maintain alignment and use maximum turn out at all times. Of course, this transfer of weight and proper distribution of weight is practiced in ballet class in many exercises without us realizing. Many teachers do this in tendu exercises in the center where you quickly alternate the supporting leg. The key for us here is to grow more sensitive to the acute transfer of weight. How to do it quickly or control the weight placement etc.

In the Russian training method, exercises are really slow, allowing students to check and feel their weight. They do a lot of poses towards at 45 degrees towards the barre and away from the barre and back to en face, thus forcing them to shift their weight and maximize their turn out in that process.

Whole foot barre exercises first, then similar exercises in center

Barre work is extremely important. Slow painful exercises are first repeated extensively then identical exercises are done at the center. The muscles are set in for stability and the greater test would to perform the same quality at the center. Without the barre, the bodies are required to work harder to find stability and balance.

These daily exercises are first done on flat (whole foot), and then proceeded onto center. Later on, maybe after 6 months, half the exercises will be done flat, and the other half will be done on demi-pointe. The same process will be carried on to center.

As the years of training go on, the speed and variations will increase, also incorporating port de bras, epaulment and poses.

adagio first before allegro

To acquire stability in the fullest way, the Russian training method believe that adagio training is far more important in early years of ballet training than allegro. They believe in slow execution of proper poses and positions allowing the dancer time to think, check and feel their body. As they develop the right coordination and their muscles fire correctly, they slowly increase the speed of adagio and incorporate allegro. However, that doesn’t mean that allegro is ignored, they do a trampoline-type jump from Level 0 and Level 1. In those, stability is trained as they bounce in the air. Their arms are maintained, neck long, maintainence of alignment, knees and feet stretched fully.

Demi-pointe training

Eventually, we want to achieve stability on demipointe. This will helps turns and all the poses and all the advanced stuff in ballet. In the Russian training method, students are first introduced to a low demipointe with the priority to maintaining their maximum turn out. That is because the Russian ballet teachers believe that after learning to be stable on flat (whole foot), the students cannot yet maintain full turnout on demi-pointe.

When training, their supporting leg is watched carefully, to ensure that it is bearing the entire weight (of the body) in a strongly stretched and turned out position. Of course, demi-pointe is first trained at the barre, because it is harder to maintain turn out in center and harder to be stable in the body and especially on demi-pointe.

 

Basic Conditions for Mastery of Stability

Thus, in conclusion, there are the basic conditions for the mastery of stability

  1. Correct distribution of the center of weight
  2. A pulled up body in correct alignment
  3. Intelligent transference of weight over the legs (one or both)
  4. Level hips
  5. Pulled up and turned out thigh of working leg

 

We are no longer children, so our brain power is much stronger. Thus, I believe we can improve our stability by first knowing and understanding the concepts of stability as listed above. Then practicing with the help of recording ourselves on video and in front of the mirror.

When working on your own, another great tip I’ve learned is not only to look at the physical form in the mirror, but also deeply feel the physical sensations of a pulled up assembled body.

In my personal conclusion, the next step in my progression is to acquire far more stability. I believe that as adults, we must work intelligently to save time. I plan to do very simple barre exercises at home, and then some center and also incorporate some nice poses and port de bras to develop classical ballet coordination while I’m at it. I’ll keep everyone updated! 🙂

in Adult Ballet Dancers, Ballet tips, Intermediate Ballet

Increase Your Consciousness and Improve Rapidly

Adult-ballet dancing tips: Read more about increasing your observation skills, the degree of consciousness each time and your focus and how that results in rapid improvement for us adult ballet beginners.

Some years ago, in spite of extreme self-consciousness, I planted myself in a children’s ballet class. The students were about 11-14 years of age and I was about twice their ages. On top of that, many of them had been dancing since they were about 3 years old and were more or less on a pre-professional route to dancing for a career.

How did I get in? I was lucky. The school had just opened in my neighborhood, and they needed students. I was the first student and my first class consisted of me and another adult. But subsequently the teachers’ students from her previous schools followed her and my class became predominantly ballet-driven pre-teens and teenagers.

During one day in class, the teacher decided to pair us up. We had to each take turns to dance the combination, and our partner had to give us feedback. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me I was paired with the best dancer in that class. I felt so intimidated to be dancing and having her watching me. AND I was embarrassed that I had to correct her.

I couldn’t see anything! My ballet eyes weren’t developed yet and AT ALL. When I had to give her feedback, all I said was, “Oh, it looked good.” She looked at me again to see if there really wasn’t anything to add. I just sheepishly stood there. And there was a moment of awkward silence.

When it was my turn, I’m sorry to say that I had her fully watching me with her super ballet eyes, dancing the same variation she had before. I was so nervous and tried my best. I kinda looked at half shyly and half-eagerly. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was eager because she was such a good dancer and I was looking forward to the tips she could give me.

I braced myself for some divinely helpful tips. Instead all I got was:

 

Be more conscious.

 

Wait. What?

She repeated herself.

Be more conscious of every step.

 

Huh? What do you mean exactly? I asked her.

Just be more conscious.

 

I didn’t quite understand what she meant at that time. I brushed it off as one of those things or response you get when you know when people aren’t very articulate by nature. Maybe she is a dancer, so she’s more expressive and generous with her dancing than her words.

I wasn’t offended or anything, just perplexed.

I never forgot it though, even though I never fully understood.

As I continue to plough on in my journey learning to dance ballet, I kind of begin to understand.

My ballet journey was long: I went through training for ballet exams, took time out to go back to the basics, worked on flexibility, experienced my first few minor injuries. I even learned to dance on pointe, performed en pointe and took part in performances. I started doing a little teaching (young children) and etc etc.

Us adults learn differently from children. We didn’t have years for technique to sink in and the comprehension for how tecnnique is all inter-related. If you don’t nail down a certain technique, it is going to affect everything else.

We adults learn ballet all at one go. We don’t usually have the luxury fully get to understand the details of each plié, tendu, jete. We don’t see how the tendu and releve link together, and how extremely relevant is the plié to allegro. We don’t know how the press down and pull up of the supporting and working leg leads to being good en pointe. Thus, as adults, the comprehension of all these links and inter-relationships either don’t happen or we take a long time to get them. This leads to the extreme LACK OF CONSCIOUSNESS in our dancing as adult ballet dancers.

 

I'm conscious now that my back foot is not pointed

I’m conscious now that my back foot is not pointed

Just look around you in an adult ballet class. Just notice how many feet are never fully pointed. How back legs are bent, how much “sitting” or sinking of the torso into the pelvis. Also notice how shoulders are rolled in, or how shoulders aren’t engaged in center combinations. A HUGE reason of this is due to the lack of consciousness of what you’re doing.

Have you ever thought that you’re looking a certain way, or at least you look okay when you’re dancing a step, say, glissade into jete? And when you filmed it, you found that your 2nd leg (the leg that takes off after the first leg that moves) is weak, and your 2nd foot never fully reached its full pointe? Have you noticed your shoulders bobbing? And your arms jerking around? WELL THAT WAS ME. And I had been doing those simple combination of steps for YEARS.

It was only when I saw myself in a video that I noticed all these things.

So in essence, I increased my consciousness of what I was doing, unwittingly, by accident. Now that I’ve realized all those ‘mistakes’ that i’ve been doing and enforcing (unfortunately), I can then consciously correct it.

So it hit me.

We can speed up the process of learning ballet by increasing the degree of what we are doing exactly each time. We can hone our observation skills, zoom into a certain part in the mirror. We can get feedback from our friends, or film ourselves in a video, watch yourself or ask a better dancer to critique you. You can also force yourself to increase mental focus during class.

INcrease consciousness of details and observation skills

We have to do this more often, or ideally, ALL THE TIME! That is why many ballet mothers film their daughters at home practicing or during private lessons, so that they can review and improve further.

 

“My mom frequently tapes my classes for me to view later so I am able to improve my lines and expression. That really helps me a lot, as often times, I think I’m doing it correctly, but it turns out that I need to improve it further.” – Charmaine, vocational student at Queensland Ballet Academy

 

When I was training for ballet exams, I would set up my video camera, or get my teacher to film me for every exercise. I would make mental notes or even jot down in my ballet journal. Sometimes I would read them at night and mentally imagine myself doing them, especially when I had to do 8 fouettes on both my right and left side.

My professional dancer friend NT told me that when he was training to become professional, he would video himself doing certain steps, and watch a video on youtube/pro videos and compare it side by side. That was how he increased his observation skills.

I use Instagram and even then, I see current working professionals videoing themselves for their own observation and consciousness to improve.

Recently, I’ve been working on my arm movement, torso and pelvis placement during this very common combination: tombe pas de bouree, glissade and grand jete.  I use that spare time after each ballet class and get my ballet friend to film me. I then would quickly look over that 6-8 second video, and make mental notes, increase consciousness of what I was doing, or send consciousness to my fingers, my feet etc, then video again hoping to see later that I have applied my corrections. I would repeat the process at least 3 times (and repeat the favor for my friend). This way, I literally make great improvements rapidly in that mealsy 10 minutes!

It does feel like miracles are working.

Now if only I could commit my “new and improved” to muscle memory. That would be my next goal. Once the muscle memory sets in, I can focus on improving other things or come back to it to refine it further.

That’s how adults can work to improve to look more and more like a dancer. 

And the best part is technique is all related. When you work on your placement of arms for that combi, it works for other combis too.

Be Mentally Tough and Focused

As adults, our mental game is strong. Even then, applying our mental consciousness to dancing takes effort. It is easy to just dance freely in open classes, focusing on the combinations and steps, and not technique. It is easy to make excuses and be lax. No one is going to punish us for not trying our best. We work, we have family, we are tired. It is natural to be that way.

Thus it is too easy to have this mentality “Oh, it doesn’t matter if we don’t stretch or strengthen, it doesn’t really matter if we can’t do a good pirouette. Getting around is “enough”

I mean, of course if you just dance ballet because you purely enjoy it, that’s fine. But it WILL matter if you want to improve and get to the more advanced class. It matters to me because I want to be a good dancer.

If so, then you have to be tough with yourself. And you’ll have to increase your focus. So many times, I start out being very determined to apply corrections with my arms, or my stomach, say before I launch into my pirouettes from the diagonal. SO I start chanting in my head what I’m supposed to think about, “Strong stomach, leave your first arm in front of your belly button, and make the 2nd arm first the first etc” just before my turn. But after dancing down the room, I realized I wasn’t thinking about those things during the dancing!

ARGHHH

So I really understand it is much harder to really apply corrections. Somehow we are clumsier with our bodies and than the degree of sharpness with our minds.

But now that we know how rapidly we can improve by increasing our consciousness, we just got to find a way to make it work for us.

Looking back to that incident where I had to dance my horrible dancing in front of a would-be semi-professional, let’s be really honest here. I probably had a thousand things for her to comment on. She could have said, “Your turn out is not engaged, your arms are stiff like sticks, your ribs are sticking out, pelvis not lifted. Your legs are loose, feet not pointed.” Or she maybe she did give up on me and decided those were the best words.

Maybe she was kind.

Maybe God put those words in her mouth to encourage me. (Because sometimes, it is privately devastating.)

Somehow those words, “Be more conscious” brewed in me and now finally I understand. If I wanted to improve the technique and the quality of my dancing, all I had to do was to be more conscious. After all, I know enough technique to be able to try to work on my own. I don’t need someone to tell me to turn out and point my feet. I know all that. Now it is all about bridging that gap between what I know and what I DO.

So what happened to that little dancer who gave me this precious ballet nugget?

She is a professional now.

 

🙂

 

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