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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The Vertical Axis


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Our teacher makes us do 1/2 turns very slowly at the barre holding our back very strong and tight. This does help to learn the feeling, but I believe my pilates class has helped me learn and understand the feeling of engaging the back even more so.

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Thanks all for your replies. I do understand the turning "without arms" thing. One of my teachers makes us turn (from second or fourth position) with our arms on our shoulders. At first I get around about 3/4 of the way. Then my body figures out that I need more push from the legs and after a few tries I start to get around all the way. Then we incorporate the arms and it feels much easier. I am guilty whipping my arms around as if my life depended on it :rolleyes: I will try to hold them better.

And I guess I do have better turning days when I do Pilates right before class (like this morning, in class today I got some pretty clean singles).

In suggesting swimming I just clearly remember one semester in college I swam like 3 times a week and my teachers in my open ballet classes would say, "Your back is in such better alignment!" For me, I'm kind of skinny with little body fat, I initially had trouble staying ON the surface of the water and not sinking. I found that if I relaxed and stretched my body I could stay on top of the water. Particularly with the backstroke I felt I had to relax but also hold the back strong in order not to sink.

These are just some things I was considering.

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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).


Ooof! Is this how I'm supposed to have been holding my arms in second? I've always had that shape, but I've never tried to feel as though I'm putting downward force. The downward force makes such a difference - my upper arm muscles now feel engaged, as does my back.

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Yes!!! Do use your back muscles!!!! The feeling should be as though you're in a pool with the weight of the water resisting your arms.


Just a side note- I enjoy watching you figure these things out over the years!!!!! That's the fun in teaching- watching the students 'get it'!!!!

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I have had rehearsals and recitals this weekend and did not have time to post on this earlier in the week. In regards to the tension in the jaw. What I find works for me when I pirouette is to think- exhale. Exhaling releases tension in all the muscles while at the same time allowing the ribcage to naturally close as it should because the air is leaving the lungs(think about doing a diaphramatic breath while lying on the floor- if you put your hands gently on the abdomen, you can feel the ribs close as you breath out). I am sure that the muscles around the mouth relax as someone commented previously about smiling- it takes more muscles in your face to frown than to smile, and how many of us have seen grimaces during any particular movement attempts in class? I think having studied the various methods of Hatha yoga breathing helped me figure out how to do this consistently- a sustained exhale gives the turn a light and airy quality, very suspended.


As for moving the arms from the back, when doing the preparation for the pirouette there was an excellent description of the pushing down feeling that is immensely important. I like to feel like the width of my back increases as I descend into the plie, and as I push downward, the arms are moving away from my center and moving into second position, as if circumscribing a large unseen circle. Everyone is familiar with DaVinci's Vitruvian Man(the man within the circle and square). This would be applying the same concept only in three dimensional space as opposed to two as depicted in the drawing. As the turn commences and the arms close into a circle of their own, the hands graze the perimeter of the circle around the body with the head staying on top of the supporting leg(think circle of the arms inside a circle that would be created if a pen was placed facing outward in the hands as the revolution is completed).

Edited by tangerinetwist
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