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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Balance


kasaba

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One of the reasons I started ballet was to improve my coordination and sense of balance. It has helped a great deal but I still teeter in the center, especially in grand plies and developpe releve (did i say that right?) Beyond zipping up the lower abs, any suggestions?

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A lot of my wobbling seems to come from weakness on the outside of my ankles. Recently, in class, we have been doing a tendue combo in which we go from a wrapped coup de pied (sp) position to tendue, repeating this. The wrapped coup de pied position is really helping me with both my sickling, in releve, and in standing one leg.

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It depends somewhat on the balance you're doing, of course. And this is something that takes time, as you steadily gain stength. But for what it's worth, here's something that I've been thinking about a lot lately...

 

I've found that besides the lower abs, if you engage the whole core (i.e. torso, including the extension of the arms out from this), then you're less likely to have that core weigh down onto your pelvis. It is important to have your whole core engaged, especially for one-legged balances, because this allows you to optimally align yourself, according to the specifics of your own body. You will want your plumbline (axis of balance) to run through top of the head, down the spine and pelvis - all lined up on the supporting leg(s) - through the foot (or feet) and into the floor.

 

Every person's optimal plumbline varies in response to (1) whether the balance is supported by one or two legs and (2) the requirements of shifting your axis laterally (horizontally) to accommodate certain positions (e.g. in retiree the balance is far more vertical than in arabesque, where the back - and hence core - shifts comparatively further forward, into the more lateral balance that's required once the working leg is raised by 45 degrees or more).

 

For a wide range of balances, though, you could think of the following:

 

A strong buoyancy in the core lightens the pelvis and free the legs beneath it. This facilitates your efforts to make the plumbline of your balance (your axis) as fine and elongated as possible (so that you can access your most stable verticality). Elongating your entire body - and especially the supporting leg(s) - happens while maintaining connectivity to the floor. (You wouldn't want to pull so far up that you'd take off like a hot-air balloon - the balance can be buoyant while simultaneously elastic, with resistance against the floor).

 

Elongation of the body is always tempered by lateral balances which help stabilise you (e.g. the laterality of the working leg which extends out from the body in one-legged balances, say in retiree, arabesque, devant, etc. Or the laterality of the arms in any position - in 5th high or bras bas the laterality extends out from your shoulders, your epaulement).

 

To help stabilise the plumbline, it is probably as important to keep the core strong as it is to access the deep rotator muscles at the base of the buttocks, right where they adjoin the tops of the thighs. There's a bit of imagery that I like to use for detecting whether the rotators are held firmly enough. (I do not at all mean to suggest here that you should *sit* into the balance - quite the contrary).

 

To feel the rotator muscles line you up onto your axis, you could imagine how it would feel to be *seated* atop a very high platform, with your legs dangling over the edge (think of the 1920s black & white photographs of construction workers seated on cranes for sky-scraper building projects, eating their lunches in a daredevil fashion since there was nothing beneath them to catch their fall). In order to maintain that balance with any semblance of safety, you would not want to teeter back and forth. Instead, you'd need to actively engage your core and your buttock muscles - right up high where they adjoin the absolute top of your thighs - so that you could perch yourself well on that platform. Even with the legs dangling freely, your core (the whole torso) and the deep rotator muscles would need to be engaged well to provide you with a safe stability.

 

Stabilising the buttock muscles like this helps you pull up high on your own axis of balance so that it runs through the spine, supporting leg and foot down into the floor (no matter whether on flat, demi-pointe or pointe).

 

Watching yourself in the mirror, say in retiree, you can see an incremental difference if you move between ever-so-slightly slightly sitting into the pelvis or crotch, to lifting your core and accessing the deep rotators, where you'll reach your most elongated axis (while keeping the hips aligned).

 

The imagery of supported the plumbline with a buoyant core and the high-perched rotators helps me a lot. All too often I find myself doing one-legged balances lazily, without the necessary elongated axis, so that I actually come closer to adopting the centering that should be reserved for two-legged balances (e.g. the balance that is *split* in-between two legs, following an invisible line from the crotch to the floor). True enough, with strength we can stay aloft in the lazy balances for a bit of time. But we cannot ever go very far with those balances (e.g. using them for clean, multiple pirouettes).

 

Finally, a sales-pitch for asking your teacher, the only one who can see you and therefore give you the most precise advice on this.

 

Good teachers can, on the basis of a student's own specific body, assign a very exact lining-up of each body part to facilitate balance. These teachers will recognise how their students' bodies have been adapting to ongoing improvements in alignment over time, and will give corrections that factor in these observations. After all, alignment changes constantly - even if ever-so-slightly - throughout our lives and so needs constant fine-tuning. It's never a question of just *getting balance* and then basking in it ever afterward.

 

So ultimately, in addition to reading the posts, etc., it would be best to get your teacher's input. Why not approach your teacher in a quiet moment before or after class, and ask how to align your body for various kinds of balances? It's best to minimise the time spent on guess-working your way through alignment. The sooner you start working through correct alignment, the sooner you'll fine-tune that alignment and tap into the stability that you're after.

 

Good luck! :D

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Adult beginner here - I notice things like my mood, emotional state... well, basically how calm or stressed out I am makes a big difference. Spending a few minutes before a class breathing down into my belly (rather than shallow top of the lungs breathing) can help me to relax if I've had to rush about all day right up until the class (which is usually the case) and this helps my balance.

 

Also remembering to take in the whole room during class helps me - even visualize beyond it all the way to the horizon, especially if it is a small cramped studio. Sometimes in class I concentrate so much on feeling this muscle or that (because I am such a beginner) it can all get very insular if you know what I mean..... sometimes I have to remind myself to sense *beyond* the body and it really helps. The same is true if I am in a class full of people who are way beyond me technically (Ok so that's most classes then!) it's easy to feel a teensy bit intimidated and shrink inwardly a bit, but really to balance you want to feel yourself extending beyond yourself - so I just try to feel a bit more confident than I really feel! Does that make any sense....?

 

I think there are lots of visualization techniques which can really help balance a lot. When I plie down I feel the energy go up - like a lift (elevator) and its counter balance. Then when I come up again I feel the energy come back down again. Similar sort of thing with releve.

 

I also like to massage my feet and toes befoe a class which definately makes them more sensitive to my weight placement, as well as more quick to respond to keep me balanced.

 

But obviously strength is the key thing - I'm not implying it isn't at all - these are just some things I do in a class. Maybe they are odd but I find they help! :D

Edited by GoCoyote!
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A reply from me too - though there's not much to add after dragonstooth great response - which I will say again, though in a different way. I found that I had problems with balance because I was concentrating too much on what my working leg was doing. After all, lifting a leg and waving it around is difficult and tends to get your attention and concentration. I got an immediate improvement after I tried not to think about my working leg, but to concentrate on getting the "pillar of strength" from the toes of my supporting leg to the top of my head, and letting the working leg do what it wanted. Not only did my balance improve, but my working leg improved, because it was taking off from a more stable base.

 

Jim.

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Last week my teacher advised us to think up the back of the body rather than up the front and I found this really helpful. I think often, in the attempt to pull up and zip up and not sit, a lot of tension can travel up the body and end up too high and cause me to throw the top half of my body back. But I found by concentrating on holding everything lower down, in the pelvis, and then thinking, or actually really visualising the back of my body, right up the spine and through the top of my head, it really really helped. It almost felt like reaching up and hanging myself up on a peg from the back of the nape of my neck, and then my shoulders and arms and body felt much more relaxed. I like Dragon's tooth's skyscraper picnic imagery too, so I am going to try and combine the two next time.

For some reason this really worked for me last week, and I am usually terrible at balancing and have a real psychological block about it.

 

All the best

K

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I think everyone wobbles from time to time. I think the causes vary by person also. We all seem to have our bad tendencies, whatever they may be, and these tendencies seem to come back no matter what. The good thing is that with time and experience, you come to know these goblins. In my own case, with but a few exceptions usually depending on what I am doing, a wobble is the result of my leaning back. That doesn’t mean I can instantly fix the problem, but usually I do know the cause.

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I find that I have the wobbles during the first 15 minutes of class. After that, my body adjusts to what it is supposed to do and I'm fine. Also odd...there are several things I am rock solid on in centre, but I wobble more at the barre. Things like pique sousou, various turns, etc. When I have open space, I do them better....I think it is just a psychological thing with turns at the barre, afraid of wacking a hip. ;)

 

Oh, the good news is that my teacher finally moved us into pirouettes. The bad news, she begins teaching pirouettes in fifth position and I can't get them around to save my life (all along, I've been practicing "for" them from fourth).

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Guest tutuonmymind

I have the same problem at barre. I think I may just have it in my mind that it's there if I need it. So I guess I subconsciously need it. I have a terrible time doing pirouettes at the barre because I am too conscious of it being in the way. During the center work, I know I have no "crutch" so I tend to do better.

 

TemptressToo, I am with you on the pirouettes. I do them much better from fourth. I hadn't done much dancing for the past few years and just started back. All of a sudden pirouettes from fifth. :firedevil: I need the extra preparation.

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Lately, in my lower level class, I have really been trying to do barre as though it were center. After nearly three years, I looked in the mirror one day trying to figure out why my arabesque was looking so funny to find out that I was really, REALLY leaning on the barre. No wonder I have a hard time figuring out where my weight is supposed to be! I definitely lose some of my turn-out and alignment when I do barre work without holding on, but for these lower level class, I find that I am so rock solid strong in the center because I spent the entire barre finding my balance. I am definitely a more functional dancer in the center when I do this.

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Hmmm...good idea. I've been getting bored with my Monday night classes which focus on rock bottom basics (geared more to rank beginners). Perhaps I could dress it up by treating the whole thing as centre work.

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..., the good news is that my teacher finally moved us into pirouettes. The bad news, she begins teaching pirouettes in fifth position and I can't get them around to save my life (all along, I've been practicing "for" them from fourth).

Just so you know, it works both ways. I was taught pirouettes en dehors from fifth, and had almost gotten them (3/4 turn fairly reliable...) when the teacher and/or syllabus changed and they are now all from fourth. Totally lost my balance point, it took 6 months to get close to where I was. In fact at first I found en dedans easier from fourth, but my teacher was not THAT flexible :) . So of course once I got close again I tried to add spotting, and it's back to square one. :wacko:

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Very very good teaching and learning strategy to mix pirouettes from 4th and 5th in my opinion. Best is to have both in the same combination from time to time. Why? Because each relies on something different (5th easier to balance, but must use the foot of working leg more; 4th just the opposite).

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