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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The Vertical Axis


gerlonda

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I, like many people, have issues with pirouettes (beginning from all positions). I now KNOW what I need to do (getting the weight fully on the supporting hip/leg, maintaining a solid axis in the torso with strong abs, etc.) but many times I toppled to the back, occassionally to either side as well.

I was watching Carlos Acosta on youtube and with his pirouettes you can really see him PULLING the body vertically in opposition such that you can draw a perfect line from his head to his feet. My problem is that even if my pirouette BEGINS nicely aligned by the time I turn 180 degrees I'm already falling back or to the sides! I think I need a stronger push from the retire leg during the preparation. I'm going to begin swimming again because I think that helped my alignment at one point, but what else can I do to stay straight vertically in pirouettes?

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Can you put in the link? I'm having similar issues and would like to see it in action, myself.

 

And, question - what did you do in swimming that you think helped with alignment? I used to swim primarily as my workout, when I was very overweight but have gotten away from it. If it can help, then I'll go back to it, perhaps on weekends this summer when there're no ballet classes.

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You really do need an equal push from both legs, shoulders and arms to turn freely. Coordination is key. Perhaps you are not using your head so that it stays on top of your body? If you do not put your head on the ball of your supporting foot as you rotate, you can fall in many directions. Also make sure you do not spot with a tilt to the head. It is difficult to say what is going on without observing. Have you spoken with your teacher about some extra help? :D

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I know I have - tonight being the latest conversation. We're going to be working on it in private lessons this summer. I hope, hope, hope! I can finally nail them. I used to be a turner, but for some reason, age, probably, I just can't manage now a single without issues. :D

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Hmmm...... :D

with his pirouettes you can really see him PULLING the body vertically in opposition such that you can draw a perfect line from his head to his feet.
I have found it helpful to imagine your head raising straight up to the ceiling as you're turning. Keep your belly-button pulled into your spine, your knee out as far to second as possible, and imagine your head going straight up.
I think I need a stronger push from the retire leg during the preparation.
I think the push is in the arm that is to the side - in second position, not the arm that is out straight in front, that arm you pull into your body, again, keeping the core straight and tight.

 

I have also found starting from a smaller fourth is helpful. My fourth position when I started was too big and I was throwing myself off. When I shortened my fourth, it was helpful.

 

As for swimming, I used to swim several miles (before my hair got too long and it was all just too difficult to manage), I used paddles to help strengthen my arms (my weakest link). I found the swimming helped to relax my muscles, and I used the freestyle stroke to really stretch myself out. However, I did find (and have always found - all through the years) that whenever I did a lot of swimming (more than 10 miles a week) my deltoids got very large. I know, women are not supposed to develop large muscles, but for whatever reason, mine did. This was one reason I didn't lament giving up the swimming. I still swim, just not 10 miles a week. In my humble opinion, it's one of the best exercises for dancers. It helps stretch the muscles, it works the entire body and it's kind to the joints. It's just really tough on long colored hair!

 

Hope this helps!

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We talk a lot about vertical axis in our classes. Besides the problems you've already realized for your own self, part of the issue might be the strength to execute. Getting on the vertical axis and being able to stay there, hold it, and adjust it while turning takes quite a bit of core strength. Everything factors into a pirouette. If your chest is too concave because you're trying to hold your arms strong, you'll feel the same flopping falling sensation. If your arms are slightly off kilter from your first or third (5th) position, your upper body will again fall. If your hips aren't flattened (this sounds vulgar) and your pelvic area pulled forward (ladies), you'll likely also be off balance. I have a lot of trouble with multiple pirouettes too, but when these factors are all packaged nicely together, that's when I get my clean multiple turns easily. I mean it too, when you can turn on the axis and have all those little quirks worked out, your turns feel so easy you just seriously have the sensation of sailing.

 

For us women, having hips can impede getting on that axis. Lately, we've been doing pirouettes from a crossed fourth, straight leg in the back, and straight arms in prep. This straight leg in the back helps to push your hips forward, lengthens your lower back, and gets you up onto your axis before you even relevé for the turn. Your plié is last minute, and your arm's momentum is from the second position arm breaking/whipping into first from only the elbow (not the entire arm). If you can practice pirouettes in this manner, it reduces your falling factor and gets your hips on top of the standing leg. It's been amazingly helpful for me! For the first time in my life, I've been getting semi consistent triples on my bad side. I hope my lengthy description can be useful for you!

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I'm afraid I have to question the idea of the arms whipping to generate the force, and even more so the idea of an arm moving from second to first by moving from the elbow. The arms move from the back muscles. You can whip arms all over the place without using your back muscles, but you don't go anywhere. The power to turn comes from the legs and the torso, not from the arms. They are connected to the torso. They help the turn when used correctly, but not at all when not used correctly. Also, moving from the elbows creates very angular positions, which is not something one wants to have in ballet.

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I am a huge fan of Eric Franklin and his Franklin-Methode. In his book "Conditioning for dance" he makes a really good point(e) :innocent: about turns: I have the same issue like you. I can go up vertically, I can balance forever on demi without turning but as soon as I turn, I fall out of that nice stance. Now I read in his book that it might help to imagine your inner organs and your bodyparts spinning balanced around your turning-axis. This helped me a bit to get a better feeling of staying centered while turning. Another one that might sound stupid: Do you bite your teeth together while turning? Try to relax your jaw (??) and your spot will be much better!

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I found (my teacher, rather) that what made me fall either side or back was due to 1) my starting position; I thought I squared my hips and shoulders, but right before starting I slightly twisted my hips one way and my shoulders the other: this delays the upper body with respect to the hips and causes the upper body to fall sideways; 2) spotting too long before turning - it helped me to turn the head earlier; 3) I 'collapsed' the ribs on the turning side - it helped me to think of lenghtening both sides equal (maybe that's where the swimming helps); and 4) I swung my arms - it helped me a lot to turn without using the arms, hands on the hips or on shoulders, then motioning only the forearms (I turned better with arms in third).

 

I find that the best way to correct pirouettes, once alignment is figured out, is to go back to practicing 1/4, then 1/2, then 1 turn.

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Claude, relaxing the face does help a great deal, but I would not use "relax your jaw", because that would just create an open mouth, which is not good! :o Try using "smile". Seriously, when you smile you don't grip the muscles of the shoulders, neck and face. :innocent:

 

Mireille, "...motioning only the forearms..." ? Don't get that at all. Sounds like moving from the elbows to me. Did I read it wrong?

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Whipping as in throwing the arms is not what I meant at all. It's difficult to describe, but I'll try anyway so that it doesn't seem as though I'm telling people to whip their arms around out of control and crazy-like.

 

1.) Holding the arms in a real second with the elbows not downward, no line breakage, feeling as though you are putting downward force on an invisible barrier. That image conjuring should promote holding your back while lowering your trapezius/shoulder-neck area. Check to make sure that the chest is not concave. Sometimes, the effort of holding your back muscles can make your chest concave, leading to a pirouette that circles the vertical axis, but is not on the vertical axis (laundry machine pirouettes).

 

2.) When initiating the turn, the entire body must move as one unit.. Not just the arm. Of course the force comes from the legs' plié and ascent into passé retire. However, what I was trying to explain was that in this particular way of turning, the arm does not move from the entire shoulder (or crazy whipping), but it forcefully (depending on how many turns you need to do) moves from the inner elbow and becomes a forearm movement into first - thus meeting the other arm that had opened at the same time you've initiated the turn. The idea of closing from your inner elbow and not your entire arm keeps one from throwing their shoulders and upper body around.

 

3.) Upon closing your arms, if you are holding your second (which I kind of thought was a given in the last post, by no means do I endorse a loose second position) your arms should not be in a low first. Your hands should at least be in front of your solar plexus, but by no means above your collar bones and definitely not down to your bellybutton! Elbows should still have that same fake downward pressure like pressing down on a fake wall, but elbows not drooping at all.

 

If the problem is in your upper body, this could be very helpful. If it isn't, then perhaps reassessing the legs would be a step. Yesterday, we worked an entire class on the physics of turning and had to attempt single pirouettes and step ups/lame ducks with our hands clasped behind our lower back. It made our problems with things like hitting retire instantly, not taking a deep enough plié, or not over crossing for a step up/lame duck glaringly obvious.

 

I hope this more clearly explains my theories on the previous post. I apologize for the last post, but I really was not trying to advise people on throwing their bodies around, Ms. Leigh! :innocent: If anything, this way of pirouettes has made me more sore this weekend because of all the muscle control that I had to try and use which I was unaccustomed to before (hence my unsuccessful past with pirouettes).

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Holding the arms in a real second with the elbows not downward, no line breakage, feeling as though you are putting downward force on an invisible barrier. That image conjuring should promote holding your back while lowering your trapezius/shoulder-neck area.

 

Yes, yes, yes! :innocent: Thank you! I couldn't figure out how to put this into words. Very well written.

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I am a huge fan of Eric Franklin and his Franklin-Methode.... Another one that might sound stupid: Do you bite your teeth together while turning? Try to relax your jaw (??) and your spot will be much better!

 

I tried this, and it did help. I think the reasoning behind it is that clenching your jaw tenses muscles down the side of the neck, which can, in turn, make spotting difficult. I clench my jaw so much in class that my neck would often be rigid, which made spotting nigh on impossible.

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I couldn't figure out how to put this into words.

 

It's a very different feeling in the back, isn't it? I can't help but wonder if that's ever going to become second nature because I'm always conscious of trying to hold my arms with my back.

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