Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grand Battement 6/8

Friday, September 25, 2009

Adagio Center Combination

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Expressing Emotion in Dance

We’ve all seen performances that have moved us…ones where the dancers transported us until we truly believed their plight or believed in their love. I performed in my very first pas de deux in a piece of student choreography at Indiana University. The piece was set to music by Rachmaninoff, and I felt transported, personally. The movements felt wonderfully full of abandon and we looked into each other’s eyes—everyone said it was great.

Well, we had a cast party after the performance where we watched the video. None of what I felt inside translated into what the audience saw. It was embarrassing because everyone was watching me to see my reaction, and all I could do was burst into tears and run from the room. I’m sure my partner wasn’t happy about that, because he felt pretty good about it himself, but for me it was all wrong. It wasn’t anything like I imagined it to be. I looked like a clumsy first year pointe student trying to do something way beyond her means. Of course, my facial expressions couldn’t be seen, and what I was feeling inside was hidden away from everyone but myself—although even I couldn’t see that when viewed from the audience’s perspective!

I’ve had teachers who said we need to dance with our souls. But how, exactly, do we do that? My father taught speech in high school and I was fortunate enough to take his class one year. He said that when you’re nervous, you tend to do certain things that give away the fact that you’re nervous. Some people might play with their hair, or move their hands a certain way, or swallow loudly. He taught us that it’s perfectly okay to be nervous, as long as we don’t let anyone know that we are nervous. So, we practiced keeping our hands behind the lecturn if our bad habit was something we did with our hands while we gave a speech.

I think that can translate into our performing as well, in that we can keep from doing something that gives away our nerves and still be nervous without anyone guessing. When I was in graduate school I was doing the Black Swan pas de deux with my partner, and every night of tech week I had a friend videotape our performance. I’d go home and watch the tape and critically pull it apart frame by frame until I was happy with what I was seeing. There were many subtle things that I was surprised to see: my hands were not sharp enough where I felt that they were sharper, or the place where I walked backwards away from my partner, leading him on seductively and maliciously didn't look malicious in the least. I found over the course of the week and watching the video every night after rehearsal that if I lowered my chin in that spot the demeanor came across much more effectively than when I just used my eyes. Everything we do on stage must be magnified in order to come across to the audience. This is, of course, why we wear heavier makeup, wear false eyelashes and extend our eyeliner to make our eyes appear larger.

The same is true for emotion. It isn’t enough to feel the emotion inside. We have to learn to project emotion, which can actually be accomplished without actually feeling the emotion! It is possible, I think, to make the audience believe you are a distraught Juliet by the way you move your body alone. I’m interested in hearing from other dancers and performers, too. How do you express emotion on stage?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Degage 4/4

2/4 or 4/4 5th position

1 Plié in 5th, arm to 5th en avant

2 Degagé devant and straighten legs, open arm 2nd

3 Piqué front

4 Brush thru 1st to degagé back

5-8 4 Degagé back closing 5th, arm to arabesque

1-8 Repeat with inside leg

1-8 Repeat side, finishing with foot in 5th back

1-7 En cloche degagé bfbfbfb

8 Close 5th back

1-32 Repeat all from back

Friday, September 11, 2009


Turnout: words you will hear from your ballet teacher throughout class and throughout your dancing career. There are differing views on how to go about reaching your maximum turn out, and this can (or should) be a make or break it point when choosing a teacher. I would definitely steer clear of any teachers who demand perfect turnout. It is much safer to practice ballet with a teacher who has you work within your natural ability to turn your legs and feet outward, over time increasing your strength and flexibility to maximize your own degree of rotation in the hip.

Beware of forcing the feet into a perfect 180 degree angle in first or second position. If you must bend the knees to put your feet into a turned out position you are in for future knee, ankle, and/or hip injuries. The turnout should always be initiated at the hip. Stand with your feet together and parallel, pulling up out of the knees, and then slowly open the toes outward as far as you comfortably can without making any adjustments in the knees. This is your natural turnout. This is where you should work, and gradually your turnout will improve over time and with more training. Attaining good turnout is another reason most ballet dancers need to start when they are young and before the bones are ossified or hardened.

It’s important to learn how to work within your natural turnout. I try to teach younger students to imagine arrows shooting out of their toes when they are standing in first position, and to move their foot along this trajectory in tendu à la seconde rather than directly side. This will keep their hips in line and they can work on feeling the outward rotation of the inner thigh as they brush the floor with their foot on opening and closing. The same holds true when the leg is lifted en l’air as well. We should try not to sacrifice the “squaring off” of our hips and shoulders (both hips and both shoulders square to the front) in order to get the leg more directly side. It takes some time for dancers to learn exactly where “their” turnout is—where they as individuals should aim in order to keep the proper alignment.

The same is true when working front or back as well: work on your turnout but not at the expense of proper placement in the hips, shoulders, or ankles. A good teacher will know how to guide you into working on your turnout without hurting yourself or overdoing anything. Stretching exercises that utilize the power of gravity are most beneficial and least harmful. If you feel pain, you should lessen your turnout or stop. Ballet is not a natural thing for the human body, and I still think there’s something to be said for countries who screen their young for natural ability before allowing them to study ballet. In America, where many young girls take ballet at some point or another, it’s especially important to find a qualified instructor who will not cause any damage.

Therabands are very useful devices for aiding in stretching and strengthening your whole body. Many physical therapists employ them in rehabilitation after injury or surgery. Click here for information on how to use a theraband, and click here to buy one.

Any other teachers or dancers out there with comments about acquiring good turnout? Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dancers and Weight: A Delicate Balance

Weight is a topic many dancers tend to dwell on. I first became conscious of my weight when I was studying ballet at Butler University in the early enrollment program for high school students. Once a month we were weighed, and a few dancers were counseled based on the numbers the scaled returned (either too high or too low). Fortunately at that time my weight was right where it was expected to be, and I didn’t have to think about it much.

As a teacher I was never in a position to demand any student to focus their attention on their weight. For the most part, I taught kids who were still growing and really shouldn’t be worrying about it. Now that I have my own children, I think it’s important for them to concentrate on eating right and getting exercise however they enjoy getting it, but I would be concerned to learn that either of my daughters, at ages 12 and 14, thought they needed to go on a diet.

When I was a young dancer I had heard about people being anorexic or bulimic, and I was aware of the heightened sensitivity in the room whenever a teacher made mention of someone’s weight. I knew of one girl who was taken to the hospital to have her stomach pumped, and another who was addicted to exercise and couldn’t gain weight no matter how hard she tried or how much she ate. For myself, I was always grateful that these were not issues I had to worry about. During my undergraduate years I was a healthy weight for a dancer, always around 100 pounds at 5’2”. But when I was doing graduate work I lost weight as I went through a period of severe depression. I was working all day at the university and most evenings with a local company, teaching classes and dancing at least eight hours a day, if not more.

At that time, I went to the campus health center for a sinus infection and was very abruptly introduced to fear, handed on a platter full of desserts and whole milk (just kidding) from the doctor who threatened to put me in the hospital because I was under weight. I ate regularly, although the depression had made me less hungry, but I felt that if I had the energy I needed to get through the rigorous schedule I was maintaining then I was fine and the doctor had no right to intrude. They were very serious, however, and thus began a new experience for me: eating as much dessert and drinking as much whole milk as possible. Really. It was very interesting, and since I have a sweet tooth it was easy to manage, but I think the best help I got was by visiting a psychiatrist and being put on anti-depressants. My appetite returned to normal and my weight did, too. And here is some good information on kicking the sweet tooth habit.

I had a friend I danced with at the Lexington Ballet who struggled with her weight constantly. After she quit dancing (and stopped worrying about being overweight), she lost weight! So there’s something to be said about obsessing too much over it. Stress can definitely swing the scales upward. When you’re under stress, a hormone called cortisol is released. This prepares us for the fight or flight response. Read more here to find out about that.

For dancers today, I would recommend making healthy decisions if you feel you have a weight problem. Eat many fruits and vegetables and cut back on fast food or foods with lots of preservatives. Drink plenty of water. Sometimes when we feel hungry, we may actually just be thirsty. It’s difficult for us to recognize the difference between hunger and thirst. And a good rule of thumb in all things is moderation. Taking anything to an extreme is usually not a healthy choice. Click here for some healthy tips on diet.

Do any other dancers or teachers have any insights to add? Please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


1st position preparation arm 1st port de bras to 2nd

1st position: 1-2 Demi plié, arm lowers to 5th en bas, lift to 2nd

3-4 Demi plié, arm to 5th en haut, lower to 5th en avant

5-6 Demi plié, arm to 5th en bas, lift to 2nd

7-8 Elevé in 1st and balance arms in 2nd

1-4 Cambré port de bras forward on demi pointe, recover through flat back arm 5th en haut

5-7 Cambré port de bras back on demi pointe, recover arm to 2nd

8 Lower heels, tendu side to 2nd position, arms 2nd

2nd position: 1-4 Grand plié, 1st port de bras

5-8 Grand plié, inverted 5th port de bras (5th en haut, en avant, en bas, 2nd)

1-4 Cambré port de bras toward barre, recover arm to 2nd

5-7 Cambré port de bras away from barre

8 Lift to point tendu side, close 5th position front

5th position: 1-16 Repeat as in 1st position

4th position: 1-16 Repeat as in 2nd position

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Grand Battement