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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Help new student understand form-- I think I am too stiff and trying t


KikiM

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As a newbie, I am not sure I fully understand what the proper form means in in ballet. My only experience with form is from childhood gymnastics lessons. I am not sure how to use the proper terminology to explain this, but when I was a gymnast, I would put 100% into every movement-- think of a gymnast doing a routine on a balance beam-- the moves are powerful and distinct, but not really very "dancerlike". I have been applying that gymnast mentality to my ballet practice, putting maximum effort into each position-- e.g., I am hyperfocused on standing as straight as possible, extending my leg as much as possible with pointed toes, while keeping it ramrod straight. But as I look around the room at my classmates, it doesn't appear that anyone else looks like they are putting as much effort into this. For example, some girls look positively effortless and beautiful in every movement but still have perfect straight legs, extension, etc. Others look effortless but also sloppy with no form. I am worried that if I relax the way I hold myself I will lose my posture etc. and fall into this sloppy group. How do I achieve that "effortless" look without losing the form?

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Kiki, the whole are of ballet is about making it look fluid and effortless! But that is also the difficulty! And, it takes years and years of training! You are still a beginner, and you really can't expect that to happen yet. Have you watched much professional ballet? I think it would really help if you could see a good, live performance. There is a lot on youtube, of course, but it would be best to watch the dancers on stage if you can. While the dancers have to be physically somewhat like athletes, ballet is not a sport, it is an art. :o

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Thanks Victoria! I have seen live ballet, but not since I started taking classes, so I definitely should get some tickets to the NYC ballet, great suggestion. I think I asked an unanswerable question, and perhaps the "art" part of ballet may just take longer to synch with me. I imagine that it is a very individual experience in how it comes together for each student. In the meantime, I love having the more experienced dancers in class to follow, hopefully I will at least pick something up by osmosis!

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What Ms Leigh says is absolutely right (of course!). The really difficult thing is turning the separate body moves into dance -- that is the art in ballet, and why it's not a sport, although it requires probably as great (if not greater) athleticism than most elite sports.

 

I know that what I struggle with in class is doing things through strength and correct alignment, rather than through tension and strain and visible effort. This is really hard!

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Hopefully, if you are learning how to achieve the right positions and forms (even with the strain and effort) that it will become second nature with time. Muscle memory is one of the big reasons why some of those effortless looking girls can achieve what they have... their bodies (after an extended period of time) is accustomed to hitting that position correctly so that dancer can also concentrate on looking happily at ease! No matter how difficult it is for that dancer, at least her body can relegate a part of executing a movement to the semi-subconscious anomaly of muscle memory while the conscious mind focuses on smiling and acting. This will come with time for you too.

 

In the beginning, I always had to think before I even placed my arm in second position, I always had to check the mirror, reposition after a few tendus, recheck again - heavens forbid that the arm position would have to move and transition during the exercise. That sort of thing eventually just became second nature!

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Tension, strain and visible effort-- yes that would describe me exactly! Add "contorted look on face." Thanks so much for the responses-- I guess at this level it seems impossible to imagine that my strained effort can ever become second nature, so it was helpful to read about how muscle memory operates. I seriously thought I was doing something wrong, but it sounds like I have to accept that it is going to look that way until the muscle memory catches up eventually (I hope!). Thanks for all the responses, reading them I am thinking duh, I should have known that, but believe it or not this stuff is not obvious to me!

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If you are too tense in your upper body, your arms and hands become stiff and you find it hard to move from position to position. Relax and enjoy yourself! By the way I often have similar problems with students who have moved to dancing from gymnastics Yes they have talent and they're usually very flexible, but they are also very often like stick creatures!! So don't try and dance like you did gym and do remember that Rome wasn't built in a day! It takes a lot of time and patience to become a dancer............ In the meantime have fun!

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actionwoman-- I am pleased to hear it is a conquerable problem! Congrats on your progress!

 

Hamorah-- you nailed it, I am a "stick creature"! What an apt description, I am going to remember that when I watch myself in the mirror at class and hopefully it will make me laugh and release some of the tension. Thanks for the great advice, "trying to relax" is the story of my life, not just ballet!

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If you are too tense in your upper body, your arms and hands become stiff and you find it hard to move from position to position. Relax and enjoy yourself! By the way I often have similar problems with students who have moved to dancing from gymnastics Yes they have talent and they're usually very flexible, but they are also very often like stick creatures!! So don't try and dance like you did gym and do remember that Rome wasn't built in a day! It takes a lot of time and patience to become a dancer............ In the meantime have fun!

 

That is so true! i could never figure out why i was having difficulty with combinations particularly petit and grande allegro exxercises before and this definatley hit the nail on the head! Coming from a gymnastics background I think it is very difficult to shake the stiffness when dancing. Letting go is often the hardest thing to do but on the odd occasion I do, the exercises can become so much more easier to execute with flow :thumbsup:

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I am quite stiff and focussed during class, and what is very helpful is to sometimes just put some music on and dance around freely to the music. This lets me loosen up and just move again!

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I agree 100%! I finally found some "practice space" that I can use from time to time and being able to just put some music on and fiddle around with movements and short passages from class (one of my teachers makes a point of noting certain things for "homework" between classes) and like you said, just relax and move with the music , has made a big difference in the tension I tend to carry in my upper body. I find I am concentrating and trying so hard to work on things during class that sometimes I forget to just enjoy and MOVE :) But it's getting better with time and repetition, so hang in there. Also, I find watching videos of professional dancers and seeing how well they use their entire bodies and integrate all body movements seamlessly makes me better able to translate how that looks into how I should try to do it. It's a journey, for sure!

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