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.
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
- Correct distribution of the center of weight
- A pulled up body in correct alignment
- Intelligent transference of weight over the legs (one or both)
- Level hips
- 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! 🙂