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Upper body problems. Grimacing and hunching.


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I have a couple of bad habits that I'm consistently corrected on and that I've recently noticed myself when standing near the mirror in class.


The first one is pulling faces. This doesn't happen so much at the barre, although I can sport a bit of a death stare. When I move into centre floor, though, the face-pulling starts. I'm not conscious I'm doing it, but have been told I either tend to have a very concentrated, grim face (when I'm doing something I find difficult) and an outright frustrated grimace (usually after I feel I've not done something as well as I wanted). The other girls all have their own 'ballet faces', whereas I gurn (like this: :) ). Facial expressions seem to be an involuntary thing; how does one begin to control them?


The second problem is to do with my shoulders. This is driving me mad. My shoulders always seem to creep up throughout class - particularly in centre floor, and particularly when I'm doing something I find difficult. It looks horrible :pinch: . Arms in fifth looks particularly nasty - if my shoulders are as far down as I can push them, then my arms look to rounded. If I elongate the arms, then up come the shoulders :) .


I've always had shoulder issues. I'm never sure whether 'shoulders down' means relaxed, or with a conscious sensation of pushing the shoulders down and back. My teacher says you should feel it beneath the shoulderblades, sort of mid-back to the outside back, but even when I really push I can't feel anything there. If it's of any use, the physio has said my lumbar region is very hypermobile, and my shoulders are also quite loose. I also have costochondritis.


Does anyone have any advice? :P I've noticed in class that one of the sure-fire ways to spot ladies who did ballet when they were younger is that they have a 'serene' face and proper 'ballet neck and shoulders. The real adult beginners don't. Is it just one of these things you would have had to have learned as a child?

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Now, there's a guid olde word I haven't seen in awhile! For those of you not of the elect, here's a set of examples:




The World Championship is held annually in Egremont. The tradition is that the contestants put their heads through a horse-collar and grimace away. It is to be hoped that class facial expression is not as pronounced as in these merry folks' efforts.


As to how to avoid it, I'd practice isolation, as in modern dance. "I'm not gonna stress my neck and head and FACE!" Concentrate on that while moving. For additional practice, you could try "sixpence poker". Sixpence opening bet, raises limited to a penny. It develops the "poker face" which is always serene and inscrutable. (Adding money as an incentive always seems to work! :pinch: )

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There is actually a page on this in Gretchen Ward Warren's book! You're not alone with the grimacing, my dear!!! I find myself saying anything I can think of that might be funny to make people relax when dancing. :cool2: (It's not a good thing. I'm not a comedienne, but they do humor me!)


I think what helps might be to listen to the music, and picture yourself performing on a stage. Smile and allow the feeling of the movement to overtake the concentration for a moment. Also, simply practicing facial expressions in the mirror can help you to notice how it feels when one is frowning. Remember that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile!!!!!!


For your shoulders- it seems that there is a gap in your training somewhere. The lats need to be engaged when dancing, which needs to become muscle-memory so that when you move, the arms move in a natural fashion. Again, practice in the mirror, using proper ballet stance, and engage your lats while you move through the arm positions. Feel what it feels like, then turn away from the mirror, try the same thing, then turn to the mirror to see if you were able to create it without looking!



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I find it helps to notice where my shoulders are during my every day life. I often find them up by my ears and have to concentrate on getting them back where they belong. It contributes to the whole muscle memory thing.

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In the Warren book, the pictures at the bottom of p. 24 always seem to suggest:


1) WHAT elephant?


2) Oy, sotch a GAS I got!


3) You want me to do WHAT???


4) Ohio...the final frontier....

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Thank-you Mr Johnson, Miss Clara and rshevin :yes: . I will consciously try to stay aware of my facial expressions next time I'm in class. I think sometimes I get too tense: I stop hearing the music and get the fixed grimace expression (probably along the lines of the 'you want me to do WHAT???' expression mentioned ;)). Maybe if I relax then my face and shoulders will loosen up! :angry:


Your're exactly right, Miss Clara, there are gaps in my training. I initially started classes three-quarters of the way through term. I've been attending for about a year and a half now - but I've never really started completely from scratch. I've tried engaging the lats, as you said, and it feels completely different in comparison to what I had been doing before. My shoulders are down - but still mobile. When I was trying to pull them down before it just felt like I was restricting movement in the shoulder joint itself


Could I also ask, would you recommend the Gretchen Ward Warren book for beginners? Would it help to fill in some of the gaps?

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About the death look - one of my teachers once told us that she took classes for professionals and some of them always got the same comment, especially when doing plies. That helped me to not feel so weird about it and at the same time work extra hard on it as it seemed to be quite difficult. For me, focussing on a point and trying to really 'see' it (instead of just staring in that direction) helped, and also smiling, which brings life to your face and the expression of your whole body.


When I pull up my shoulders, they're usually telling me that I'm tensed, both in ballet and in everyday life, and I find that counts for grimacing too - maybe you should try to relax more and give yourself some space to learn through mistakes? Just a thought...

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We recommend the Gretchen Ward Warren book for everyone, Mazenderan! :yes:

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All the characteristics described are a result of tension, trying too hard, or fear of doing something wrong. The solution is simple—relax. Easier said than done I know. Many people actually become more tense when the consciously try to relax.


Others have given good suggestions. I’ll add one more. Be patient. With time you will naturally become more relaxed in class. It may take years rather than weeks, but if you take enough classes and persist, you will settle into a calm state, accepting your limitations and maximizing you enjoyment of ballet.

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That was funny.

I am guessing you and the Major would be experts on recognizing the faces of ballet class.

It is hard to hide that "You want me to do what" face. One tries to not use it so much but if one holds it in for too long, out comes a snorting sort of laugh instead. I wonder which comes off less rude?



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I will definitely get the Gretchen Ward Warren book, Miss Leigh. :D


Rhoda M and Garyech, you've hit the nail on the head. I tense up because I don't want to make mistakes. Then sometimes after the step or sequence, I tense up because I get angry at the disparity between what I want to achieve, and what I actually manage to accomplish. My jaw muscles are always agony after class because I grind my teeth so much! :D I'll try and relax into it more. Thanks for the advice.

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Your jaw hurts because you're clenching your teeth??? Oh yes time to lighten up...it's just ballet dear, not brain surgery, and it's supposed to be enjoyable!! :blushing: Patience with yourself must be your lesson....... :wacko:

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Mazenderan, I'm an A-type personality, anxious over-achiever, but ballet class is the place to relax! Of course, you're going to make mistakes. I think a good class is one where I get the combinations right the third time!!


But the great thing about class is that there's always another day and another class, and another chance to try again. And the imrovement is incremental -- a little bit each day, each class.


Like you, my constant correction was 'Shoulders down!' -- although over the last couple of years, less so. I don't know if that's because I'm starting to solve the problem, or that my teachers have just given me up as a hopeles case! :):unsure: The former, I hope. So that's only taken 15 years ...


I try to think of lifting up the breast bone, and send the tips of my shoulders back & down, and sliding my shoulder blades down my back. And BREATHING! I try to remember every now & then to take a big breath and blow it out hard and relax on that out breath -- visualising expelling the tension from my body with that out breath. Also, I've found that focussing on getting my alignment correct helps -- so working on the alignment of pelvis to backbone & core stability seems to have helped my shoulders.

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I tense up because I don't want to make mistakes. Then sometimes after the step or sequence, I tense up because I get angry at the disparity between what I want to achieve, and what I actually manage to accomplish.

I'm so familiar with that feeling! I used to sometimes give myself such an angry look in the mirror that it scared my teacher! Try to think of yourself as a student rather than a professional dancer and to keep in mind that you're a student that's not aiming to be a professional either. Maybe you can reward yourself after class when you feel you have given the best that you had at that day? I think I'm going to try that when I start dancing again (well, I never really stop dancing, but I mean when I'm taking classes again). Remember: it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. And presentation and interpretation are just as important as technique, and more fun to work on sometimes.

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