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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Arms and shoulders


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I have recently been given a correction regarding my arms from a teacher which I had never heard before. Bearing in mind that not many teachers around here give corrections regarding the arms, I am not surprised. However, it is annoying since I've had my "bad" arms for about 4 years withouth realising I was doing something wrong. A bad habit is difficult to get rid of!


Here it goes: My teacher says that you should aim for your shoulders to point as far out as possible, because that is when you become "widest" when you enter a stage which allows you to really "own" the stage. Thing is, that my shoulders naturally point forward when I'm relaxed. I have noticed that forward pointing shoulders seem to be more common among women than men. I think the idea my teacher has is that the arms should be like a doll which forces you to have your shoulders pointing outwards.


My fear is that I will gain all sorts of stress and strain in my shoulder/neck area since I have to actively pull back my shoulders. Pulling back my shoulders also makes me lose my balance and tilt backwards with my whole upper-body, probably it is only a matter of habit and I will hopefully learn to find my balance in the new position again?

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Susanne, if your shoulders are pointing forward, then they definitely need to be opened up! This should not, however, affect your alignment. Opening the shoulders does not mean moving or leaning back at all! Maintain your correct alignment and just open the shoulders. This is probably something that needs to be practiced 24/7, not just in class. If your shoulders are forward, your head is probably forward too. Are you carrying a backpack? This causes extreme problems with alignment of the head and shoulders, and not just for ballet. :yes: It creates a "hunchback" look, and this is a total disaster that is completely unnecessary for a young person without osteoporosis, and a bigger disaster for ballet.

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I had (have) this problem too.My shoulders and neck go forward, so I spent a long time trying to pull them back and down, which made my whole upper body alignment go totally backwards. I got VERY good at balancing with my upper body back, which is also a disaster, because it became a comfortable habit.


Now I try and feel expansion in my upper back and an "open" feeling, and just try and push my shoulders down on "moments" when they may tend to raise...landing from jumps and at the end of a multiple pirouette.



It doesn't help that I have narrow, body shoulders and a very long neck with small head. Any tiny misalignment is so visible. I get jealous of "compact" dancers who can get away with more.

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Would it help to think "shoulders down, elbows back" instead? I tend to carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck which gives me weird looking arms and a hunched look if I'm not careful. Focusing on relaxing my shoulders but trying to keep my elbows back without hyperextending them helps the shoulders look open without actually having to pull them back from the shoulders which ruins my alignment. You shouldn't have to squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly or bend backward or anything in order to open the shoulders


Another thing that I find helpful is to focus on the movement of the arms as an extension from your center, not from the shoulders. Thinking of it being initiated out of the center, going all the way to your fingertips, and use your biceps (and a bit of triceps to a small extent) to make the movement happen. Make sure you're not going way back when you do port de bras a la seconde or have your arms en haute. I have an instructor that says you should be able to see your fingertips in your peripheral vision at all times. For lack of a better way to say it, en haute, your arms should be extended up and outward so that if you look if with your eyes you can see your fingertips, not straight over the top of your head. In seconde, they shouldn't be sticking way out beside you.


I think port de bras can be hard. It's way more complicated than it seems. I hope I didn't confuse you more, I'm definitely not an expert and it's difficult for me to explain concepts sometimes.

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No my neck is not forward. In fact, I think I'm the only one in class not getting corrected for a forward neck. If I just think shoulders down and pull up, my shoulders automatically point a little bit forward in a diagonale. (Basically I just let every body components to rest on eachother using gravity. Shoulders above hip ears above shoulders) To open up = pull back shoulders really gives me tension in my shoulders. (I have previously had problems with tensed shoulders when I played the piano over 10 years ago, and my teacher said my bad attack was due to me not relaxing my shoulders enough.

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This is something I've been working on for the past few months as well - this and turn out. It's hard work, and the first few weeks I had an incredibly sore upper back/shoulders. If I've had time off and go back to these classes (even just a week away from this teacher - I try to work on it elsewhere but she really pushes me! :yes: ), then I'll be sore again. She's given me a lot of different theories to think about - to help conceptualise it. You can think about it as turning out from the spine as an axis (like what AmyKL said), as presenting yourself - whatever works. But I did the same thing and started collapsing/leaning back. I had to really work on strengthening my abs and thinking about them - Pilates has helped immensely. It has taken months for me to get used to this, and be able to tell if I'm leaning back or not, and I still have to think about it, but less than before (like what lampwick said!) I find that if I really concentrate on alignment and the processes of movements at barre, my centerwork comes along much better.... like everything in ballet, usually, time is the answer... All that said, you may feel like you leaning back when you are actually finding your true up and down! Ask your teacher....


The benefit, I think is that your back becomes really strong and rather pretty... :wub:





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Hi Susanne,

One teacher urges us to 'turn out' our upper arms as well as our legs, which is an image which helps me with getting the shoulders down and back in the right way. It's hard to correct the bad shoulder habits that come from hunching over desks or carrying backpacks etc but it makes such a huge difference to your presence and confidence to open up in that way. It's yet another thing to add to the list of everything to try and remember in class.... :)

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Hi Susanne,


I feel you - sometimes I think I've had "bad arms" for about, oh my god, 14 years now!! :) Arms and shoulders are SO HARD, and just like so many other things in ballet (feet, legs, turnout... everything... ), you can spend your entire life trying to perfect them. Don't feel bad!!


I agree with the suggestions that you should try to think of pulling your shoulders down rather than back. They shouldn't be so far back that they cause you to arch and fall backwards - they should just be pulling as far down from your ears as possible. You can try thinking of pulling your skull + spine up while you pull your shoulders down, which creates a nice opposition, and always makes me feel much taller and more on balance. Good luck! :)

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Hi, I just wanted to update everyone on how I was doing and thank you for the advice.


I just found out how it would help me to for the correct feeling: to lie down on the floor and letting gravity doing the job on my shoulders.


After three/four weeks of trying opening up my arms and shoulders (what helped me was to really feel my shoulderblades secured in my spine) I finally really understand what all the fuss about the abs in dance is about :)


I think I am definitely on the right track though, since I have found out that slightly pushing my shoulders back and securing my shoulderblades in my back I feel lifted in my whole upper body, (that powerhouse which some Pilates instructors talk about) instead of only lifting from the abs. This has made my life so much easier! I can lift my legs easier, keep my balance easier in developpes and for the first time in a very long time I can do a rather clean single pirouette! The funny thing is though that I cannot hold a passé relevé statically though! I think that requires more focus on my abs!


It is funny that after quite a long break and rather unorganized classes offering no/rare corrections, I am now back with a teacher who just after 5 classes has made my life so much easier! Just this correction with my arms and telling me to keep my weight on my keybones when standing in 5th have all of a sudden made wonders with my center-work!

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Sometimes, that's all it takes, and don't think that we teachers don't spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what the "key" for every individual student will be! Congratulations to both you and your teacher! :)

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