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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Port de bras question

Older Ballet Boy

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I'm going to be taking my first class this week (well, after ditching ballet after a few weeks when I was younger, which I regret now) and have been trying to revise some basics. Now, when I took lessons some years ago, 3rd position was one arm in front (as per 1st position) and one arm to the side (as per 2nd). Seen somewhere that it's one arm high (as per 5th) and one to the side. Similarly, I seem to remember 4th as one arm high and one arm in front, but one some sites, it seems it's one arm to the side instead of in front.


I might be getting my wires crossed here, but can anyone clear this up? Is it to do with the different styles/syllabi e.g. Ceccheti, Vaganova, RAD etc?



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Just out of interest, is there one method/syllabus which is seen as the generally accepted "norm"/definitive way of doing things?

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I've moved this query to Adult Ballet Students, as it's a technique question from an adult student. Teacher Mods look in here, as Ms Leigh has done, and adult students with varying degrees of experience are also able to comment.


For adult ballet students, I don't think there really is a syllabus as such. I tend to do open classes - levelled for experience, but not tied to a set syllabus. But other adult students posting here do syllabus classes with RAD or Cecchetti -- that tends to be the norm in the UK actually, where we seem to be more tied to an organisation's syllabus. But I think also, we take what classes we can find!


But any syllabus is a means to an end: teaching the dance vocabulary and technique of ballet. I'm reading the thread on the new RAD Advanced syllabus, and that's the point that is being made there.


It'd be useful to hear other's experiences of syllabi etc for adult students.

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I danced mainly in Switzerland and in Italy and in Switzerland, the tendency goes towards RAD, even if teacher do not make part of the RAD organisation and teach syllabus classes. I think it is because, they have themself RAD backgrounds and terminology is hard to change. In Italy I always happened to take classes at schools that follow Vaganova, so the terminology changed.


I personally have never seen a general norm of how to do things. Sometimes I get confused because I am not familiar with the terms in RAD and recently I had a misunderstanding with a teacher until I figured out that she was using termiology that was not clear for me coming from now teaching and mainly studying Vaganova. I try to adapt quickly and not look puzzled when I have to put my arms in 5th.... ;-)

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"you say tomAto, I say toMAHto...." :)


Yep, different styles and methods often call for different names; not only for steps and positions, but also for directions in the room, which can really make things exciting!

(also in Germany stage directions are different than in the English-speaking world; that always gets a laugh, too)


I try to let my students, especially the adults, know that there are many different ways of saying something, and that it is o.k., but that I am going to say .... whatever I say. :)



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Redbookish, I wasn't sure whether or not my question was specific enough to adult students, so that's why I posted it in cross-talk. Sorry about that. Must admit, as someone who's just about to start taking classes (and therefore to some extent a bit of an outsider looking in), I'm surprised that something as disciplined as ballet isn't more "standardised" when it comes to basic stuff like port de bras, if you can see where I'm coming from.


Thanks for the replies.

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Well, it's an art form, and a choreographic art form at that, so there are many roads to Rome, and "standardisation" isn't really the point.


The training is a means to the end, rather than an end in itself, and it's an international art -- emerging from the aristocratic dancing of the French court, which was then commercialised at the point of the French Revolution by Italian and German dancers and choreographers, as well as French.


What you're learning is what every dancer needs to learn: that choreographers will ask for lots of different things, each using slightly different language.

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I have just moved from Australia to the USA and I cant believe how many things are called different names. A good deal of the pettite allegro, the arabesque arms, so many things. I spend a bunch of time looking lost unfortunately, But i'm slowly starting to think in sous sous, and degage and bouree. (Instead of releve 5th, battement glisses and courus).

A tip, identify the most competent student in the class and watch them do it if you're unsure.

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Guest Pas de Quoi

Hi Appleblossom:


It's precisely for this reason that I give the "alternate" names of positions and steps as often as I can, according to the age and skill level of the students I am teaching. I find it so interesting that one thing will be called by different names, according to one's country and training method! All part of "the magic of dance". :)

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I am finding it fascinating. It's just adding that extra element to allegro/batterie where it happens so quickly there's no time to think of the translation. I cant begin to wonder how difficult it must be to go from somewhere like China to England where you have the overall language barrier. I think coming from the RAD method where we learn set exercises and do them over and over again is making it a little more difficult where now the class that I'm in is more open style. Every single day is different. I'm wishing it weren't in some ways because you just learn a correction then you've moved on to something different and may never do that exercise in that particular way again. It feels difficult to progress solidly.

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I've danced in Australia (my classes in Australia were usually open classes), the US, and the UK. I find that there's no particular "national" trend for usage of alternate terms, except that Australian & American pronunciation of French is usually pretty bad in comparison with UK or European teachers!


And I do find the use of "passé" as a noun rather than a verb, and as a substitute for "retiré" a bit irritating. But that's me being a pedant, as I know the idea behind using passé -- it emphasises the movement of the retiré passé.


But if you watch, you learn, which is the main thing .

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The passes / retire thing is very confusing. The first few classes I seemed to always have the wrong foot in front due to executing a passes when it was asked for and actually passing the foot to the back (or front).


Having studied French at highschool my pronunciation is pretty good and the RAD used to have the names of the exercises spoken at the start of their audio track which was helpful because you learnt how to say them (sad that they took that off). Dessous and Dessus is the one I can never get my head around.

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No, I can't get that one either, I'm afraid!


And, yes!! Like you if I am told "passé" I pass the working foot/leg from front to back, or vice versa! I suspect I'm too literal or a pedant (well, I know I'm a pedant).

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