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in Advanced Ballet, Ballet tips, Beginner Ballet, Intermediate Ballet, Uncategorized

Pirouettes

I was helping my friend with her pirouette that day. She is a beginner adult ballet dancer, with probably about 10 months in with twice-a-week classes. Understandably, almost every adult ballet dancer I meet are obsessed, or rather, pre-occupied with how to improve their turns.

There is just that something about turns. Even professional dancers and semi-professionals themselves are always working out how to improve them in both quantity and quality.

Unfortunately in the adult ballet dancer’s world, we don’t really get access to slow, repetitious teaching thus, adult ballet dancers are seldom great turners, unless they have been recreational ballet dancers since young. I’m referring to those who has only picked up ballet during their adult years. That’s not to say that I’ve not seen adult ballet dancers nail their turns, doubles even. It is just that majority seldom went beyond a single pirouette. And they generally don’t execute them with quality.

As I was figuring out how to teach turns, I recalled my journey in learning how to do a single pirouette, how I did my first doubles and my accidental triples.

Then I had to do doubles, landing in an open position in an attitude, and how I learned to fouette.

I also remembered how I learned how to do a pique turn, and a lame duck, then all that in a maneage and eventually, I had to do all that en pointe.

I wouldn’t say I am a great turner or I have the most perfect pirouettes. I’m just sharing with you what I have learned, and what helped. I will also share the areas that I’m still struggling in.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Strengthen your ankles

In my first few weeks of learning ballet, I couldn’t releve (stand on demi-pointe/toes) very high. I would get cramps in calves. My ankles will give way. My heel only slightly lifted off the floor. There is no way you can do a pirouette with your heels just slightly off the floor, unless it isn’t a ballet pirouette. There is a big sense of “up” and “high” in a ballet turn. How to strengthen your ankle? Do a lot of ironing-tendus – tendus where you iron your foot through demi-pointe with a straight knee.

Practice Balance

Exercise 1

My first ballet teacher would make us do a tombe or chasse pas de bouree diagonally across the floor into pirouette preparatory position in 4th, then releve with leg in retire. We did that repeatedly for 6 months. This balance is the crux of the turn. Thus, we should focus on the balancing on that leg for a long time, instead of focusing on the turning motion

Exercise 2

An exercise that really helped take away the intimidation of a turn is to do a quarter turn, then plie releve into another quarter turn and stay up as long as possible on demi pointe. Eventually, I would do a larger turning circle, like half, then full circle, then maybe full circle and a bit more, and eventually double turns.

Exercise 3

Start from 5th or 4th position, plie and then releve into pirouette position. Repeat on both sides for as many times as you can. This will help your body enforce that pirouette position into muscle memory.

How PULLED UP are you on your leg?

Be conscious of the pulled-up- torso from leg all the way to the hips to the head. Are you ‘sitting’ on your leg? I I thought I should explain what does this ‘sitting’ mean, since I’ve heard more than one ballet teacher yelling at their students. This ‘sitting’ means ‘slouching of the torso into the hip’. It is more common place than we think. I often like to look around at regular people (non dancers) in the train as I travel home, at how many people are ‘sitting/slouching’ into their hips on the top of their legs. The answer is – almost everyone. I blame our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Many adult ballet dancers were once these regular folks too – thus, there’s a lot of ‘sitting’/slouching action going on in ballet class, and they don’t know it. Who can blame them?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a teacher who would shout “Supporting leg – MORE UP!!!!” which essentially translates to “STAND TALLER ON YOUR SUPPORTING LEG”. Your supporting leg has to feel as though it is drilling into the ground, and the result of that is the opposing action of your torso, a sense of pull up, and ‘growth’/growing taller, thus, you are more taut in that position.

NOW LISTEN, the pull up action of the torso has to be initiated by the pressing downwards pressure of the foot and the leg. The action of pressing down will cause the torso to grow upwards or what is known as pull up. If you think just about pulling up from the torso, without considering your leg, then what you get is that common ribs out look (sticking your ribs out), or an extremely tensed look with a raised shoulder and stiff neck.

Of course, this applying-downward-pressure-of-the-foot causes a natural opposing force of a pulled-up torso… has to happen without compromising alignment – i.e. tilt of the pelvis or curvature of the spine. The pelvis should be held strongly at neutral (with a lifted feeling off the legs) and you should think about making the spine as long as possible. TIRE BOUCHON, as teacher yells at me. It means corkscrew in french. These are the same opposing forces that happen as you open a champagne bottle.

You can practice this – ensuring that you are extremely pulled up in correct alignment in all 3 exercises for improving pirouettes suggested in the previous section.

Weight Placement

As a beginner dancer, we are less conscious of where we are placing our weight in. If you have just started ballet, you may not understand what I mean by “weight placement”. However, that is essential to ballet. It is one of the most important lessons we have to master, all the way up to advanced levels. Even the professionals are consciously feeling and searching for their weight placement.

What it is referring to – in layman terms, is where is most of your body weight is. If you’re wearing high heels, your weight is actually ‘back’ on the heels of the shoe. Thus, it actually throws your body alignment into a ‘sexier’ pose – your breast are pushed forward, bottom is stuck out, and you have a bigger curve of your lower back. If you’ve been wearing heels for a long time, then kicked them off in exchange for some nice comfy bedroom slippers, you’ll realize that you have to adjust your weight. Initially, you might feel your heels feeling sore, from too much pressing – a muscle memory carried over from high heels. As you adjust your pelvis and alignment naturally, your body is re-calibrating to put more weight over the whole spread of the foot.

In ballet, we must try to put our weight over the ball of our foot as much as possible. This will ensure a more taut body, and one that is more responsive to a wider range of dance movements and quick footwork.

We will also grow more sensitive to where we “place our weight” during movement in dancing, as we advance in technique. The more sensitive you are, the more you can control your body.

Similarly, we have to be more conscious of our weight placement in pirouettes, especially in the beginning, because we’re not so sensitive to our body yet. Ensure that most of your weight is at the ball of the foot before you releve.

The quicker your body understands how to place your weight dynamically, the quicker you will master your turns.

Spotting

Spotting is not a technique isolated to dancers. Ballroom dancers and other types of dancers have to have a good spot too, otherwise they look and are amateurs. Even ice skaters.

Spotting may be defined ‘whip of the head to the front, before the body turns to that facing’. It helps you prevent dizziness.

In my experience, learning how to spot correctly takes a long time. Or maybe I just didn’t get it as quickly as I should have. My spot is sufficient for a single pirouette, but insufficient for 2 or 3. My ‘2nd’ head is slow and my teacher nags and complains at me all day.

There is also spotting for Chaine, pique turns and lame duck.

There are several theories of how to learn to spot. I’m not sure which ones will work for you but you can try all of them!

Exercise 1

Stand in parallel position with hands on hips and face the mirror. Keep looking at yourself and slowly shuffle your feet as you turn your body away from the mirror. Keep looking at the mirror for as long as you can, then quickly shuffle back to face the front. So in other words, you ‘leave your head/face’ behind and then whip your head quickly to the front.

I had one teacher who told me to tie a pony tail then think about slapping my own face with my pony tail.

Some asked me to imagine being slapped as I turned around.

(Just a note: Some teachers disagree with the above methods and then to start arguing – but I’m not here to argue.)

Exercise 2

Look for a focal point and focus your eyes at that point as you turn. You don’t have to think about anything, you just are dancing and moving and trying to keep your eyes on that point at all times. Sometimes it could be a piano, or a water bottle on top of a piano.

Exercise 3

Look for a general large area, it could be a big grey door. Just remember to keep your face towards the door. I like to imagine that I have to show my face for the photographer to take a picture of. So if I’m doing 3 turns, I need to show my face towards his lens 3 times (I know, it’s so dumb but it works SOMETIMES).

Arms

Placement of the arms is important, not just to aid the turn, but it is also for visual aesthetics. Shoulders should be pressed down, elbows lifted, and hands at first position.

What is common in adult ballet dancers are – dropped elbows, arms not held by the back (thus wobbly), and also sometimes, the arms are not central to the body but lopsided to one side.  

I try to think about keeping my hands in front of my belly button. I still don’t have the arms I want in turns.

There are also different theories of how to use the arms in pirouettes.

Theory #1

From 3rd position arms, open to 2nd then bring both arms back to first as you execute the turn.

Theory #2

While the arm is in 3rd position, say, the right hand is in front of belly button, and the left hand is in 2nd position, move arm, leading from elbow, and keep it “moving” along with your body, and share that force with that left hand as you close into 1st position during the turn.

Theory #3

Assuming same arms in 3rd position, the right hand does not move at all, and the left hand is the one that uses force as you bring it into first during the execution of the turn

Regardless of which theory you use, if you can execute a nice looking pirouette, that is really all that matters.

The problem of too much arms

Some dancers use too much arms to force the turn, and as a result, the torso is twisted and the correct ballet alignment cannot be maintained. The twist in the torso works against you. It is almost be impossible to be pulled up correctly. If you do it this way, you might get by with one turn, but not with 2 or 3.

In that few occasions that I teach, I tell these dancers to turn without the arms. Then they are forced to compensate using other muscles (and break their bad habit) , and initiate the turn with their legs. In doing so, they sometimes find the correct pull up. The arms are really used for balance and some force for the turns, but most of the power of the turns come from the legs.

Advanced Technique

The nice turns are UNLIKE SPINNING. Spinning looks like when you successfully spin a coin, it goes round and round evenly.

Beautiful pirouettes have a nice ‘whip’ feeling to it. Like when you whip the air with a piece of ribbon. There is a kind of a stretch before it comes back.

Also, advanced dancers are not just pulled up and on high demi-pointe, their core is strong, arms are held, and their head and neck relaxed.

Before their final turn (say in doubles or trips or quadruples), they tend to pause for a moment in the air, and grow even taller, with a slightly lift with their entire body, hold their for half a second, before landing nicely.

Just something to think about.

My Pirouette Story

How I went from single to doubles to triples and landing in all kinds of positions

After about 4 months of ballet classes, my ankles were stronger, and I could do a sufficiently-high demi pointe during releve.

I was really confused by pirouettes from fifth position, the preparatory position from fourth, closing in 4th or 5th and of course was really confused by en dehor and en dedan. I remember trying desperately trying to figure it out at home. My advice: ASK A FRIEND in the studio! Some time will be needed for the coordination to kick in.

SINGLES

I remember my first attempt to turn. Of course, I didn’t spot, so I turned like a zombie (as though I had no neck and I was a big block of wood). That doesn’t matter, if you can sustain an UP, on your leg, I believe you’re halfway there.

My Japanese teacher I remember would stand at the corner and wave at me, smiling and calling my name. I would respond by looking at him and as a result, I learned to spot. HAHA! (Maybe you could get a friend to try that for you).

There was once on a very very good day, I was turning and nailing my single pirouettes. Your body will just know that it was a good one. My German teacher was proud of me and asked me, “do you know why you are turning well today?” I shrugged my shoulders. He said something that I would never forget. “It is because during the barre, you were on your leg (which means my weight placement was good and correct)”.

DOUBLES

But he was also crazy. He would constantly ask me to do doubles, even though my single still kinda sucked. Looking back now. I didn’t agree with most of the things he taught me, but one thing I have to credit him is that he forced me to do doubles, no matter how bad they were, or how I fell and sat on my bum while trying. He made me overcome the fear of doing doubles. After a few dramatic and spectacular falls, I quickly realized I was still alive. Still, I would caution you to be careful, especially those who have weak and extremely flexible ankles (lest you have a strain).

I remember the class where I did doubles. He purposely gave me a combination to extremely fast music, and in concentration to keep up with the music, I had no time to fear, and I just whipped around rather effortlessly. (Maybe that could work for you too.)

I smiled for the whole week long after that. Before bed, I would replay that moment and feeling where I first did my doubles.

TRIPLES

I remember both separate days where I did a triple pirouette. As usual, NOBODY SAW. It both happened in a small studio when we had a couple of minutes of our own to practice our turns. For one of the turns, I was at the right corner of the studio, in front of the mirror. I launched into a pirouette and then kept going and realized I turned 3 times. The same thing happened to me doing a double pirouette en pointe.

PIQUE TURNS, LAME DUCK

Spotting and facing/position of the body was very important. I will elaborate on what helped me technically another time. But , I remember watching a random video of a professional over and over again until I could figure out what his legs were doing. Same advice as above, as a friend to show you! At least, nail the coordination down so that the technique can settle in (or concurrently). Eventually I got this. In fact, I felt these turns are the EASIEST TURNS.

FOUETTES, TURNING AND ENDING IN AN OPEN POSITION

I needed a strong releve leg, a pulled up body, and correct placement. I needed to come back to the pirouette position, then lifting before ending it nicely, otherwise I can’t do all the above. Once I understood the technical requirements, and built up sufficient strength. It is all about practicing it carefully, not being slipshod in my work.

MY TURNING JOURNEY THUS FAR

I’m generally not afraid of turns, though am nervous with triples with different levels of comfort on different studios. I don’t beat myself up if I can’t turn because turning is not everything! As a beginner adult ballet dancer, I used to judge how good a dancer is by their turns. Now, being a little further along the way, I realize there is so much more to dancing and so much more being a beautiful adult ballet dancer than turns.

However, it is always fun to work on turns.

Lastly, to comfort and encourage all of you who might have a bit of trouble with turns, don’t worry! If you’re a female dancer, all you need are double turns. It is the men who are expected to do 4 and above!

 

HAPPY TURNING! Hope that my article helped a bit  🙂

 

Love, Seira

in Advanced Ballet, Ballet tips, Uncategorized

Pull up on that supporting leg!

Pull up, lift up, stand taller, push into the ground more….all these refers to that supporting leg.

I had no idea how much I had been “sitting” on my supporting leg, until I began to advance in dancing ballet.

Why I have labeled this post as an advanced post in adult ballet, is because, when you’re an adult learning in beginner and Intermediate ballet, there is so much to do. The focus will then be trying to learn basic positions and vocabulary, improve the coordination, remembering the steps and how to link them altogether. Learning the correct placement and establishing them into muscle memory may take at least a year.

Thus, a teacher may be satisfied with your less-than-pulled-up supporting leg, to help you through all that beginner and Intermediate stuff, just so you could dance. You may not have yet developed the ballet eyes to figure out what she means by pulling up of your legs. You probably can’t tell and feel the difference! However, once you progress to an advanced level, you would need this strongly pulled up lengthened supporting leg more and more, in order to be to learn and execute advanced steps.

It is amazing how much I had to go back to the basics, and work those beginner ballet steps with a much higher quality. I have to have a greater clarity and purity when I approach a basic step or position. I had to re-visit how I stood in bras bas position (preparatory position), re-place my arms in first, and in 5th position. I had to keep working on my tight 5th position. In fact, my teacher said, even as professionals, they never stop working to try to get a better 5th position, throughout their career.

I had to work on how I do my port de bras in seconde sideways towards the barre. My shoulders had to be kept down more, yet not compromising on the reach, keeping my elbows curved in a way that framed my head.

All these things I had to re-establish them into a higher standard and then set it in ‘stone’ into my muscle memory.

Establishing That Habit of a Pulled Up Supporting Leg

Conscious thinking must be done constantly before it comes a habit.

I have to constantly think about pulling up my supporting side, lest I sink and sit. I have to use my brain to command and activate those muscles, otherwise they won’t do it!

I have to do this enough times in order for this to become a habit.

Since I do not pull up my supporting side enough naturally, I have to still consciously think about this during ballet class.

What I’m Thinking About

when it comes to my supporting leg/side

 

  • Where is my weight? It has to be somewhere over my toes at the ball of my foot.
  • I have to ensure my pelvis is not tilted and remains square.
  • I not only have to push into the ground, I have to pull up on my leg…like opposing forces. It is a little bit like the action of uncorking a champagne bottle, the left hand pushes down, but the right hand pulls the cork up and out (except that this motion happens on all in your supporting leg)
  • Say I’m standing on my left leg, I also have to think about the pull up force going through the left side of my pelvis, through the left side of my ribs and the force going through the center of my body, while keeping my shoulders pressed down.
  • I also think about my glutes and all the muscles holding my turn out, because I’m working with my maximum rotation. I should work with my maximum rotation all the time.

 

Pull up should go BEYOND your leg

Maybe teachers should say, “pull up your supporting side” instead…

Though I have titled this article  “Pull up on that supporting leg”, the pull up action goes beyond your leg. The left side of your body should be pulled up too, and through center them in your imaginary center axis, so that you’re square in correct placement.

Some dancers’ think of only the leg, and that is why they can’t seem to stabilize their upper body. They forget to engage the core, but try so hard to keep their body still that they tense up their neck and shoulders.

It is also a push down into the floor

The ‘pull up’ force actually goes down into and under the floor, and is lifted through the pelvis, up the core and above. However, you don’t ‘pull up’ from the chest. The chest area remains relaxed and shoulders held.

This is my current struggle. I believe this is the reason why I sometimes hop WAY too much in my doubles and triple pirouettes. I do not have enough of the “push down” to pull up.  A ballet teacher recently said I looked like a Jack Hammer during my pirouettes. (HAHA! Though I was embarrassed, I didn’t take offense.)

Well I’m working on it. This stems also from my basic preparatory position when I’m standing at the barre. I mostly forget and just…stand (kinda sit) there. I must remember “push down and pull up” ballet visual like the uncorking of a champagne bottle. (note to self, note to self, note to self).

Those dancers who have had proper training usually don’t think about this, especially when trained from a  child. They already have it and they don’t seem to understand why us adult dancers struggle with this.

The arrows are where I think about to activate the muscles, the yellow 'lightning' is where I send energy.

The arrows are the areas I think about to activate the muscles, the yellow ‘lightning’ is where I send energy to mentally.

Gaining the Strength to Execute the Pull up

Most adult dancers understand this concept much quicker than children or teenagers. However, we may not yet have the strength and stamina to execute this pull up. You may be able to achieve this pull up for 1 second, but due to the lack to stamina, your leg ‘lets go’ and you end up ‘sitting on it’.

Don’t be discouraged. This is only natural.

I remember when I first had to ‘pull up’ my supporting leg, and ‘stand taller’ on it. I could only hold my maximum strength for about 5 seconds. That was simply standing still in preparatory position at the barre!

When I established some strength, I then had to increase this to be able to execute this pull up during plies and tendu exercises.

ballet supporting leg

I would collapse over the barre catching my breath like this but I won’t be smiling.

I remember being completely taken aback in surprise at how weak I was. I would collapse over the barre and try to catch my breath after each exercise (see picture). It felt as though my muscles were burning. My teacher would not let me do any exercises with my previous sub-standard pull up (actually I was sitting on my leg all this while unknowingly).

While training to gain the strength for this pull up of supporting leg, I literally dreaded and hated slow plies and slow tendus, because you’re forced to work purely and clearly. I remember hating those two exercises because of how exhausted it made me.

I also forced myself not to ‘let go’ and try to work in the purest way I know how during easy open classes (I went back to basic beginner class to do this).

However, after a month or two, I gained the strength and suddenly I realized I wasn’t collapsing after each exercise.

That doesn’t mean I have sufficient strength yet. I have to gain enough strength and stamina to last the entire barre and support me in center. I need it to become a habit, so that I can learn more advanced steps properly.

One Side is Usually Stronger

Although I am still working on gaining strength in both legs, I have noticed something. My right side is more pulled up than my left…naturally. If we had to do a balance in retire position, I would be able to let go of the barre right away if I’m standing on my right side. I take a longer time to find my center on my left side.

I’m sure it is different for everybody, but I particularly have a lazy left supporting side.  Maybe, it is just not strong as the right side. Thus, I struggle to achieve that pull up much more on the left.

My friends and I joke about our ‘weaker’ side. We all agree it is as though one side of our body has less nerves than the other side. I literally feel less nerves firing when I’m on my left side.

And that is why, my teacher tells me I’m more pulled up on my left pirouettes (because I’m more pulled up on my right side. It the right leg that I’m balancing on when I’m turning). It is no coincidence that I’m a left turner too.

Though I have to train both sides, I feel encouraged that at least I have something…a good side!

When should you be thinking about supporting leg?

That really depends on where you are in your technique.

I think about my supporting leg and supporting side throughout the barre particularly

    • tendus, glissades, jetes
    • rond de jambe
    • fondus (extra focus from me here)
    • adagio (extra extra focus!)
    • grand battements

 

These days, I focus mostly on supporting leg throughout the barre because I don’t have that habit yet. This is unless the combinations are more complicated and I have to think about  placement.

In the center exercises, I think about supporting leg especially during adagio and tendus.

Results of thinking and working my supporting side

I’m often surprised at how much better and more stable I am in the center when I’ve been disciplined to keep working my supporting side during the barre.

I never forgot what a previous ballet teacher said to me once. That one day, I was totally ON during center, especially during pirouettes, executing them rather flawlessly (for my standard). He said to me, “Do you know why you’re dancing with such ease today?”

I shook my head, thinking it was a stroke of luck.

He replied coolly, “That’s because throughout the barre, you were on your (supporting) leg.”

Wow. He actually noticed.

Always Working to Perfection

Though I’m a lot stronger on my supporting side than before, I STILL feel I have insufficient strength and stamina to carry me to the center. I still do not have enough to support what I need to do. But that’s just how ballet is isn’t it? We must always work towards that elusive perfection. Even for professionals, it’s normal for them to be dissatisfied with their pelvis placement, or arms, or 5th position or turns etc. Thus, they are constantly working it.

I don’t believe we should beat ourselves up when we’re not good enough like all those crazy misrepresented ballet TV shows. I like to see it as rather, having a humble attitude to keep working hard and keep improving.

Having a strong pulled up supporting leg not only is essential to be able to execute advanced steps, but dancing becomes more beautiful too. It simply looks a lot better. You can actually see the difference in energy in the dancing when there is a pulled up supporting leg.

With a pulled up supporting side, your core is engaged and you’re actually in more control of your body. Your upper body can actually relax, because it is being supported by a very strong base (your legs and core). That is how dancers look so relaxed and seem to be dancing with minimal effort. Funnily, I used to be so frustrated with the heavy tension in my face, neck and upper back. My body naturally tensed up because I had a shaking foundation to dance on. I now realize it is due to the disconnect of the supporting side: my legs and core and upper body was out of sync.

I am grateful that I get a chance now to work this part of ballet technique which I need. I can’t wait for it to become a habit, so that I don’t really have to think about it anymore!

🙂

promo-image
in Advanced Ballet, Ballet tips, Uncategorized

Straighten that back leg!

A recent habit I’ve been trying to acquire is to lengthen and fully straighten both my legs during a tendu, jete, fondu (or rather, coming up from a fondu), grand battement… and pretty much all the time during ballet class.

A fully lengthened leg looks beautifully straight.

When I say, a straightened-leg … I’m referring to ballet standards here. Most non-dancers will agree that your leg is straight, when you’re standing or if you happened to lift one leg off the ground to show it to them. But that is not considered straight in ballet.

In ballet, a straightened leg requires strength and engagement from your leg muscles. It also looks very different.

Interestingly, a straight-looking (ballet) leg looks effortless. But unfortunately, the opposite is actually true. A straight looking leg has energy flowing through it and the muscles are fully engaged. It is just that in ballet, we use our muscles differently from body builders and weight lifters. We don’t grip the muscles, but we stretch them so that they look long and become lean. Thus, we don’t develop bulky muscles the way they do (of course, generally speaking. The way your muscles develop also depends on a number of factors such as muscle type, body type).

A less-than-straight leg, according to ballet standards, looks lazy. And that pretty much comprises the whole adult ballet dancer population, unless, they are very fortunate to have a good teacher who looks beyond their adult body and trains them like they do to the pre-professionals. But in all honesty, I know the sincere, hard-working adult dancer is FAR from being lazy. They just haven’t developed that sensitivity yet. But, we have to acknowledge the fact that it looks lazy, no matter how hard you think you’re working. It is just the matter of unlocking those ‘sleeping muscles’.

For years, I wondered exasperated why my teachers kept telling me the same thing. “To straighten my leg”. But…ISN’T MY LEG ALREADY STRAIGHT????

I also wondered why some of my friends (a very few of them, I’ll admit) never get told to straighten their legs. Okay, so the raw fact is that it is largely due to the shape of their legs. Those gifted straight legs or certain hyper-extensions – those legs look straight no matter what they do, whether or not they are using the correct muscles. Regardless of whether you’re of that gifted breed, the correct ballet technique to lengthen and straighten our legs, with muscles fully engaged. Even if you get away without mastering this technique, you won’t be able to advance properly. So sorry, you still have to work hard like the rest of us.

Beginner dancers and non-dancers will not realize the extent to what I mean by ‘fully-engaged’. It will take some time to develop the sensation and the know to whether their leg is straight enough (with a fully pointed foot). Thus, I have labeled this post under advanced.

Being able to dance ballet with fully lengthened legs is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to achieve for an adult dancer. We don’t have the luxury of slow-learning. We are not okay with waiting for a decade for our muscles to instill that habit.

Many adult ballet dancers dance with loose legs. Thus, we should always be conscious of this. We must think of pulling up the knees, stretching the back of the knees, and sending energy through the whole leg and shooting that energy from our toes out the door.

When we tendu, we have to think of going under the floor (a tip I received from David Howard through one of his books). We have to apply pressure to the floor even when we’re standing in 5th position. This will get the legs to engage the muscles and hopefully, it becomes a habit quicker than expected.

The worst offender is the back leg.

degagederriere

This is especially so in a degage derriere a terre or en lair (when your leg is behind you on the floor or in the air).

The easiest to spot the loose back leg, especially, if you’re dancing in adult ballet class or open classes… is the position of the arabesque. Somehow, the back leg never fully straightens for most adult dancers. Try to look out for it when you’re in class tonight.

This is not meant to judge other people’s dancing, but being more conscious of this will increase awareness in your own dancing, so that you can improve.

Adult dancers, including myself, tend to ‘forget’ the back leg, because we mostly can’t see it in the mirror. I wrote about ballet eyes, and how it takes time to develop its sharpness. We also haven’t developed the sensitivity in our body. In other words, we can’t FEEL our back leg. We think we can, but we can’t feel it to that degree to control it automatically, thus, for now, we have to consciously think about it. We have to rely on mental strength to memorize this, think about it and actively act on it.

There are a few ways I do this. I haven’t successfully gotten this into a habit (yet).

When my leg is going to the back, I think about the area of the back of my knee. My teacher sometimes scratches it, so that I’m more conscious of it. Thus, I try to recreate that feeling in my mind. I sometimes pull up a mental image of my back knee.

Other times, I think about both my legs growing longer. I stand taller on the supporting leg and the working leg just reaches as far back as I can, as though I have to try to touch the wall with it.

I will have to warn you. It is not easy and it requires A LOT more effort than what you’ve been regularly doing.

Most adult dancers, never fully straighten their leg, even when posing for ballet photos. There are some very talented dancers with beautiful bodies, such as beautifully arched feet and hyperextension in their legs (considered to be beautiful in ballet). Unfortunately, because they don’t fully straighten their legs in the ballet way, their ballet pictures or dancing is not quite up to their potential.

I’m only slightly hyper-extended, and so my ballet teacher wants me to maximize the “look” of my leg by ‘going all the way’. I pull up my knees the best I can, use the inner muscles (instead of the quads because bulky quad muscles will ruin the smoothness of the line). I am told to strengthen my hamstrings and get into the habit of using less quad muscles (I’m still exasperated and figuring out how to isolate the use of my leg muscles).

 

Straightening my legs in first position

Straightening my legs sufficiently in first position is still difficult for me. (A relative nightmare).

In some pictures, with my lengthened and straightened leg, I do look like I have a beautiful ballet leg line. Though my legs are not straight enough in most of my pictures.

Nevertheless, in ballet, we are told to make the best use of what we have. I feel this applies to us adult dancers too. We don’t judge our circumstances or age, or ability or flexibility or body. We just come as we are and we get ready to work hard in an honest way.

Thus, just one extra tip to think about for your next class. Straighten that back leg (especially in arabesque)!

 

Love, Seira

in Ballet Diaries, Ballet tips, Uncategorized

Feeling Stagnant in Learning Ballet? Here’s what to do

I’ve felt rather stagnant in my ballet education for the past 6-8 months, shortly after my Advanced exams and my studio’s year end performance.

There were many reasons.

I was overseas for a good period of time for work, I had an injury (sprained ankle, sore Achilles and back) and also the focus of my studio has changed. It also wasn’t offering examinations this year – thus, we didn’t have a syllabus or anything to work towards.

The teachers just comes in and does whatever they want. They now want to win ballet competitions and incorporate more concert rehearsals into classes – things that us working adults most likely are unable to take part in. Nevertheless, I still try my best to learn.

 

Dancing ballet as an adult has many challenges and it is not as straight-forward as a child. However, we have a greater ability to do something about it and take charge of our life.

 

This is life as an adult. It is not as straight forward as dancing ballet as a child. There will be interruptions in life. What shouldn’t change is your approach to learning ballet, or anything in life that you want to work towards, really.

Despite all that, I don’t believe in allowing myself to go with the flow and accept a back seat. I don’t want to give up. I feel I’m responsible for my growth. There are always things that have room for improvement. Things that I could work on my own. So thus, I made a list of what I want to improve

 

Make a list of Improvement Goals

Here is an example of my list:

1) More flexibility in my turnout and legs (front side back!)

2) Mastering some petit allegro steps

3) Not move my upper body in allegro and especially in beats

4) Get comfortable in beats

5) Less tension

6) Improve in coordination

7) Use of epaulment

8) Get a lifted look during dancing

9) Learning to dance variations (to learn about quality of expression)

10) Better spotting

11) Character steps

12) A feeling of lengthening as I am dancing.

and a host of other things!!!

 

Action Steps – Making Plans on How To Achieve Them

Then I decided to come up with my own individual plans on how to achieve them. It may not be all in the right direction – there was a lot of trial and error but eventually I found my groove. I feel excited and motivated again.

Variations

I tried learning 1-2 really simple variations with the help of my pre-professional friend. One is a contemporary ballet piece which I hope to dance en pointe, and the other one is a spirited variation from Paquita (which uses a lot of epaulment, attitude and style).

Learning variations is something what most adult ballet dancers don’t get a chance to do that much. In some studios and in some countries, you have what is called a repertoire class. You will learn snippets of Swan Lake, Giselle etc. First of all, learning variations is really learning to dance. You will find that all the hundreds of ballet classes of barrework and center work come to of use, even though you might not see your efforts so clearly.

It is true and I’ve seen the difference between the two. There were two adult groups learning to dance the same variation in the Nutcracker for a year end concert performance. Though both groups did not have much or any dance experience, one of the groups have been attending beginner ballet classes for at least twice a week for a year. It was a big difference in dance quality even though technically, both weren’t very good yet. The group of adult dancers that committed to take ballet classes had a better quality in their dancing than those who just wanted to take part to ‘learn the dance’.

That was when I was convinced that ballet barre and center work INDEED prepares you for dancing in more ways that you know!

When you learn variations, you also learn how to link steps better. You will also learn that dancing is a whole body movement (not just the legs) and we also dance with our upper body, head and eyes. Eyes have specific positions too! We also learn how to present ourselves better in dancing, and learn how to make a movement “more beautiful”.

We learn to listen to the music and communicate by varying the impetus of the movement. Otherwise, it is just a bland motion, like washing the dishes.

Being on stage and performing for an audience (even if it is of one) brings out a certain quality in the way you dance. It will help you grow as a dancer. This is one area that unfortunately, adults don’t have that much opportunities in. I greatly admire the young dancers in my class. Some of them have been performing since they were 3 and become seasoned professionals on stage!

I don’t have any plans of performing, nor have any opportunities though I understand performing really helps me grow. In the end, I might just perform for my iphone 6 video camera function. Right now, I still feel the values in learning to dance different variations, even if it just RAD Grade 4’s variation… 🙂

Coordination

I also ask more advanced friends to teach me the coordination of some advanced allegro steps such as tombe, coupe, jete, the grand jete and I’ve been practicing. This is not an ideal situation because I feel I suffer in technique, but oh well, for now.

Private Lessons

I tried taking a few private lessons (as much as I can afford) from some of my old teachers, whom I give lots of credit to in helping me advance – but it is just not working out this time. 🙁 They may be too distracted by other things to really help me. They are still really good teachers though, maybe just not for an adult like me at this moment.

It doesn’t matter, as long as I keep looking for a ‘new’ teacher for a fresh perspective (and I think I’ve found one!). Sometimes the best teachers aren’t the most ‘qualified’.

New Flexibility Goals

I’ve been stretching on my own and maybe due to sitting out a lot in class thus stretching, my flexibility has improved. I look forward to improving it further. I also found that deep tissue massages really help with that. I’ve also found my favorite therapist. We are all different, so it is best you look for it on your own.

Working on flexibility wherever I go.

Working on flexibility wherever I go.

 

Gain a Fresh Perspective

Sometimes taking classes from a new teacher can bring a new perspective. I’ve been hearing the same feedback from my current teacher for years, but maybe I just didn’t understand it in the way she intended, thus I was unable to apply it. Recently I found this Italian-trained teacher and even though the classes are simple, I felt I have improved a lot in the basics.

Going back to the Basics

Funnily, I am taking more basic and beginner classes now. I feel I can work better and get all the good habits established. I feel I don’t have enough good habits to carry me through to more advanced steps. Though there are many people who can seemingly do advanced steps, somehow the quality is not there because the basics are not fully established. It is somewhat like taking a step back in order to move 2 steps forward.

After all that hunt, I found a certain groove that I’m happy to work in till the end of the year.

Up to now, I’m focusing on a strong torso and upright hip (hipbones into the armpits), nicely placed arms, lengthening everything as I tendu out and in and the correct weight placement. Such basic things but it has made all the difference!

 

in Uncategorized

Finally Starting My Dream

By: Nikki,
New York

Ever since I was a young girl, I always wanted to be a ballerina. There was something about the grace and natural beauty of a ballet dancer that I envied so much. Unfortunately, my family was relatively poor; we were always behind with rent and other bills, so there was no way in the world my parents could afford dance lessons.

Years later, my mom allowed me to attend a 7-day Dance Camp during the summer when I was 13 years old. I was the oldest and tallest student, and truthfully I didn’t feel welcomed by the teachers (I’m guessing because of my age, compared to the other students).

When the Dance Camp was over, I decided to enroll in beginner ballet classes at the studio. When I arrived for my first class, there was a mixup and the class was actually intermediate modern dance. They seemed perplexed and annoyed, however they invited me to take the intermediate modern….
Umm, no thank you, I signed up for beginner ballet. I politely declined, walked out of the studio and called my mom on a pay phone to come pick me up. That was the last time I stepped foot in a ballet studio…

…until I was 25! During this time, I began researching the possibility of learning ballet as an adult. To my surprise, I came across YouTube videos and blogs like this describing the possibility of learning ballet as an adult. As a working professional, I finally had the financial means to support my dream of dancing ballet.

Fortunately, I found a studio that offered Cecchetti method ballet. I was in contact for weeks with the director, who actually took the time to listen to to my needs and goals and gave valuable feedback on how to achieve these goals.

I attended class once a week for six months. During this time, I created friendships with people in the same boat as me, and I built excellent rapport with my ballet teacher.

It was a bittersweet moment when I had to tell my teacher and the director that I couldn’t take ballet with them anymore. I was offered and accepted a teaching job almost four hours away, and I was scheduled to move a few weeks later. They were very happy for me, and gave me a few words of wisdom to keep my eye on the ball to continue my dream.

I was in contact with several other dance studios in the new town that I was living in. Some never returned my phone calls/emails, while other studios didn’t offer adult ballet. I was in the process of setting up beginner/intermediate semi-private ballet lessons, however the director abruptly stopped communication with me before anything was finalized. This not only frustrated me, but it turned me off from pursuing this studio.

So here I am now, 26 years old, and I haven’t danced in five months because there are no studios in the area that can accommodate my needs/goals. I’m okay with this though, because I’m actually moving to New York City in five months, and I’ve already been in contact with a few different dance studios that have a full adult ballet and pointe program!!! I plan on starting from the beginning again, and in the meantime I plan on continuing with yoga. It has really helped to strengthen my entire body, while advancing my level of flexibility.

As I reflect back, I came a long way, yet I have so much ahead of me. My goal is to spend a few years dancing ballet a few times a week. Eventually, I would like to take on pointework. I realize that I’m the only one standing in my way. I will soon be living in one of the best performing arts cities of the world. My journey has just begun, and I so excited to come back to this blog in a few years to see how much I’ve progressed.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story! I hope it will inspire others who doubt themselves, their abilities, or the possibilities ahead of them.

Submitted Sat Jan 31 2015

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