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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Port de Bras


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I was thinking about asking this for a long time. It's been 4-5 months since I've restarted ballet; but I don't want to say "restarted" because I now understand that I have never learned how to use my arms properly and my years have been consumed by a Dolly Dinkle school.


I know it's something that needs to be fixed at ages 5-6 and it's very late for me, but I have serious problems with my artistry because I have very bad port de bras. Broken angular wrists, arms either too high or too low or too closed; weird elbows, discontinued or fictitious arm movements (I have a very large imagination about making up new port de bras for steps). I hate when I watch myself in action, my arms are always all over the place. :blushing: Has any of you been in this situation, and how could you get over it? :shrug:


Actually, I know its logic, that the movement must be supported by upper back muscles, no shoulders must be involved, the imagination of a big beach ball etc. but I just can't put them into practice while dancing. What type of exercises can I do at home to practice? I know that this isn't something that can be fixed by only taking regular ballet classes at my age; I have to intensely and separately work on it =/ I read something about sitting and drawing circles on the floor with fingertips in the teachers' forum under the thread "awkward arms", but couldn't get enough help, so... :P

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Actually, it starts much closer to the body than you would think. Get control of the arms from the shoulder to the elbow first. In ballet, both the legs AND the arms are rotated from their starting points. The "pit" of the elbow, the inside of the joint, faces front when the arms are in second. That takes quite awhile to get under control. They stay rotated like that for a considerable amount of time through all port de bras. Once that's properly accomplished, we'll work on the flippy appendages on the lower arms, but I bet that just controlling the upper parts will take care of a lot of that automatically! :blushing:

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I like the analogy to the legs! I too have serious arm problems. My elbows NEVER look right and are always pointing here, there, and everywhere. The hands are an entirely different nightmare. I can all of a sudden see my muscles where they're supposed to be now that I know they wrap out of the socket like my legs. Why did no one tell me this before?

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Far too many teachers depend simply on demonstration to get this point across. There has to be a lot of lifting of elbows and assuring the students of the correct positions when teaching port de bras.

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Guest pink tights

....elbows lifted, shoulders down. Elbows lifted, shoulders down. Repeat to self as often as necessary! Seriously....I believe this works. Helps to build awareness and control.

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Oh, and while you're worried about lifting elbows and pressing shoulders down, be sure to hold your abs, use your butt, wrap your leg, don't scrunch your neck, lift up from this hip, press down from that one, point your toe, don't scrunch your toe, turn your head this way, don't look down and while you're at it, there might be enough neurons left for a combination or two!

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Breathing? Minor detail I say!


On a serious note, I actually thought my arms looked better in class tonight. I'll have to keep working on them in the mirror at home.

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I’m not suggesting that anyone do this. Perhaps it is just a side note to file away until later in one’s dance life, but I believe an excellent exercise for port de bras is Spanish dance. The technique is a little different, but the positions are the same. Port de bras seems to be a much bigger deal in Spanish than ballet, at least based on the amount of time one spends practicing it. Playing castanets while doing the port de bras will definitely cure droopy elbow syndrome.


Most modern styles emphasize initiating movement from the torso, which I think can help you learn to use the back in moving the arms.


But the best thing for the ballet student in my opinion is just to watch the really good people in your class and emulate them. With time and lots of classes, you will improve.

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I have just the same problem, Skyish!


And because we don't use mirrors much, I never know if I am doing it right or not, that is the trouble!


I do what I think I am supposed to be doing, and then when I do get to see in the mirror, I realise that my elbows are still too pointy (my usual worst problem). How do I deal with this when I can't see myself - where am I supposed to "feel" it when my arms are not-too-straight-and-not-too-bent?



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I have really angular boney arms. And slightly hyperextended. And we don't have mirrors... Ick.


One teacher had me lie on my back and guide my arms through port de bras... I then had to do this on my own every day for a few weeks - if its a hard floor, and you pay attention, you can really feel it in your back and shoulder girdle... And then realise that's how it's supposed to feel standing up! Makes you really engage your torso - and yes, it is quite a strenuous work out until you get used to it!

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Wow!! Thank you all so much, now I actually have an idea about how I must feel while moving my arms, I can feel the difference.


I didn't have class today but I had spring term registrations at school and I practiced a little in an empty hallway (yep, I'm one of those crazy, "can't-stop-dancing" dancers when I see an open space big enough to do a few steps =P) with my hiker boots on, lol, but this really is the first day in my life that I threw my front arm in the plie while doing a pirouette, and I believe that this really is connected to this "feeling the port de bras inside" thing! It's quite amazing =)) And I noticed that when I focus on my arms, my body acts like it already knows what to do and I don't need to think about the rest of the movement :shrug: Fascinating! Thank you again :unsure: (skyish discovers the miracles of port de bras)

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pink tights - this was over a year ago, so I just lay on my back right now to try to find the feeling.


I was on my back, on a hard floor, legs straight down but relaxed. Put your arms in a nice first position, and then open them to second - you should really feel you back engage and there's a point where you back feels super wide, engaged, and your arms are curved, not relaxed and straightened, and not on the floor. You should really really feel you back muscles. Then take them down to bras bas, through first, up throught fifth en haut, back to second... You can really then move your arms through these in multitudes of ways - my own teacher watched me, and we really were focusing on my second and en haut - but once you feel tha in your back, you then have to do the hard part - and feel it when standing. Seriously, simple port de bras exercises when standing can be a very very good back/shoulder work out.


I hope that helps. If not, let me know, and I'll ask my teacher more later this week.

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Guest pink tights

Thanks Ami--I'll try this out this week. The muscles in the back and shoulders are so important and are often overlooked. More awareness should also help to improve turns. I'll post a progress report in a few weeks.

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