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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Best way to work on upper body?


Molly

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I just went away to a SI at the Rock and today my teacher told me my lower body has gotten a ton better....but that it seems the teachers didn't pay enough attention to upper body work, mostly the arms. During the summer I was told I had amazing artistry and passion and thought my arms were fine, but now looking more closely at them and being home, I can tell they still need a lot more work. My arm flail around becuase they aren't as stong as they should be and I'm not sure how I should get more muscle in them with out bulking them up. I tried doing my arms in the water and thea helped a lot but I don't have time to go down to the gym and use the pool every week once rehersals for Nutcracker start. What are some good exersizes to keep my arms under control and how often should I be able to do them without bulking up?

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Your arms themselves don't have to be strong for you to have good port de bras, but you must be sure you are moving them from your back and coordinating your arms with your legs, torso, and head. All of it has to move together.

 

If you know any standard port de bras exercises, those would be good to practise, or you could do combinations from class but only using the arms. Practise the arms and head in front of a mirror, with good posture, shoulder blades down, elbows well supported (not drooping) and coordinating the arm, wrist, and hand. When you have that down, add the legs. None of this will cause your arms to become bulky.

 

When in class, try concentrating on learning the arms first instead of just what the legs are doing. The arms are always coordinated with the legs, so if you learn the arms, it helps you learn the legs as well, and it helps you focus better on what your arms are doing.

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Since your teacher is taking note of your arm movement difficulty, ask your teacher to help you further in this area. Hans has given you excellent advice, but you do need more "hands on" involvement. Pay attention to all corrections in class not just the ones given specifically to you. Correcting arm coordination can make very positive differences in how you look and feel when you dance. Pursuing this area of your technique with all of your heart and soul and achievng will make changes in you that you will know in your heart of hearts is the way to go.

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Thoese both sound like wonderful ideas. I have had private lesssons with my ballet teacher before and I think it might be time to have one again. My problem is not usually at the barre, but at center. When we have combinations that I find difficult, my arms lose control. Usually the problem is having them go above my shoulders. This occurs especially in grande allegro, because sometime I get so caught up in the jump I forget the rest. I'd really like to fix this because I love doing grand allegro and could do it all day, but my teachers get to distracted by my arms to see my sauter. Would putting small arms weights on my wrist possibly makes this work better? Or would that build the bulk I'm worrying about?

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No weights Molly, just training. From experience I would have to say that you may not notice your lack of coordination at the barre but it is there most likely. Training the arms, head & eyes and legs together at the barre is what leads to better coordination in the centre. Of course constructive exercises to help you understand the correct coordination in the centre are helpful. Just a guess, but your allonge may be timed and mechancially done incorrectly. You may not be coordinating the closing of the arms together with the legs in allegro movements. The correction of these issues are found in both barre and centre work. You need a teacher to focus on these areas of your work. It is not difficult to change, but tedious for the student. This is not the "fun" part of ballet, at first! :rolleyes:

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Thanks! I think what you're saying on timing may be correct, I have a lot of trouble connecting my arms to my legs. They prefer to work independently of each other which seems to go back to what you said about the barre in the begining. I've been working on the basic arm movements in doing the David Howard across the floor lately and they seemed to be improving. Since I am fortunate enough to have a barre and mirrios in my basement I think after class each day I'll try doing all the barre exersizes we did in class at home on my own with just the arms. I may also try and get a private lesson with one of my teachers who is very into phrasing and musicality. Thanks again for all the help you have provided!

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Let me ask you one question: Why do arms move, Molly?

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Hm...well I'd say they move to compliment your legs and because the undeducated part of the audience watches just that. It can also help with balance and with engaging your back muscels.

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Actually, Molly, the upper back muscles must be engaged to move the arms with the kind of grace and fluidity that is required in ballet. If they don't move from the back, then they move from joints, which creates very jerky and angular movement. When the arms are a result of the torso and back muscles and the épaulement and use of the head, then they are a part of making the total movment, as opposed to steps. Ballet is not about steps, it is about movement. There are steps within the movements, but without the rest of the body totally integrated and coordinated into how the steps move, then they are just steps, which is not ballet at all. :)

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Ami1436 has written to me with an exercise to help you feel the connection of the arms to the back. If you lie on the floor on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and do port de bras, you can very clearly feel how your back moves when you move your arms. The port de bras should be done just as you would do it in class, that is, the arms must never touch the floor. It is quite a workout if you do it correctly! Once you feel how to move your arms from your back, it is easier to understand how the whole body is connected via the torso.

 

I think sometimes it is easy in ballet to think of the upper and lower body separately, but in reality it is all one body, and it has to move that way. If we were all just pairs of dancing legs, ballet would not be very interesting!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been doing this exersize by lying on the floor or using a flat wall. It's helped very much!! Thank you!!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Molly! Whenever I take a class and we are broken up into multiple groups for center work, I always mark the arms full out in the back of the room when another group is dancing. Doing this on a regular basis has really helped me fine tune my arms and concentrate on using my back.

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