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Ballet Talk for Dancers

"Dance Big"


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Hello, my dd has an issue she needs help with. She is preparing for The Nutcracker performances and every day gets the comment that she is not dancing big. In fact, one teacher told her she dances like she is five feet tall. She is at a loss for how best to fix this. She feels like she is extending and trying hard to fill space, but there are girls all around her and she feels like she is going to hit someone. In fact, that has happened. I am speaking of Waltz of the Flowers and she also has a part in Mirlitons. Any ideas?

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I don't think your daughter's height has anything to do with it. My daughter is quite petite, but has been told that she dances "big." I think it comes from not only from the degree of extensions, per se, but rather from confidence and a self-assuredness. Making every movement count. More of an attitude than a physical attribute.
my two cents...

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No, height has a LOT to do with it - especially with a tall dancer!! I have a 5'9" (maybe even taller now) 13 yr old dancer too and she's been given the same comments... USE your length dance big... The studio she just left was a rather small room and she could barely get a grand allegro across the floor diagonally, She is ALWAYS aware of those around her and who she's gonna hit!! I dont't know what to tell you. Maybe have her talk to her classmates saying, look, i need to dance bigger and i'm worried about hitting you guys so if you can please try to stay out of my way, that would be great! although, that sounds kind of snotty, huh?? maybe have her talk to the teacher and ask that she be allowed to at least to stuff across the floor on her own so she can feel what its like to really use her body! My dd's new studio is a very large room and very small classes!

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Sorry, clarification. Being tall does NOT have anything to do with dancing "big" but it does have everything to do with why our tall dancers DONT dance big!

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Good point, Lady Elle. I agree it is related to height and length of limbs. She does not have a confidence problem. Thanks for the feedback though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Does it also have something to do with "attack?" My DD was also told to "Dance Bigger" and now I am told she is better at it. The changes I see are that she moves well, covers a lot of space with her steps. She doesn't take any additional steps in her transitions, and her movement can be seen from the back of the theater. This is in comparison to how she used to be....a bit timid, and bit afraid to push to the front, and do the combination an extra time.


I heard it most from her modern teacher, who said ballerina's don't usually like to dance big.

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This advice has also been given to my tall dd. To dance "full out" and develop her full artistic potential, she must use the full length of her limbs with confidence. A few years ago, after a little self-analysis, she discussed with me why she realized she hadn't been doing that and it had to do with the fact that in the particular program she was in, where she was a new student, she was the tallest in her class. She had recently grown close to her full height and realized that she was possibly spending her time trying to fit in physically with the others around her. She also expressed that she had been concerned about taking up so much space next to them when they travelled across the floor. There were even some "jokes" by a teacher obsessed with height, which didn't help her self confidence. It was from the observations of outside teachers, who took an interest and counseled her during occasional private lessons, that she gained insight about why and how to dance "bigger." For instance, we visited a well known former dancer teaching in Connecticut for a private, just because I thought this teacher, who is very tall, herself, might have some wise advice and dd has come across few ballet teachers who would know what it feels like to have such long limbs! What she explained to my dd is that small and sweet does not look well on tall dancers. (she was also partial to a different teaching method, but that's another story!) This teacher is a beautiful 5'10" and had been very fortunate to have been nurtured and mentored by a director who had celebrated her height and encouraged her to dance full out. And his name was George Balanchine. DD doesn't need to be reminded that she must dance big any more. She still can find it a challenge and must develop the core strength constantly to manage her long lines. But she has more recently found it to be somewhat supportive to be in class with a few others of similar height. And she will always love a large studio!

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I came across an article by Jennifer Homans this morning, which is a tribute to Maria Tallchief. http://www.nytimes.com/news/the-lives-they-lived/2013/12/21/maria-tallchief/. Towards the end of the piece is a reference to "dance big" and it underscores the point that it is something every height dancer needs to do. It was so well explained, as it describes the beauty of Ms. Tallchief's dancing, that I wanted to share it here. I hope it's okay to fill up this space with a cut and pasted section of the article. It also mentions "nerve", which could be a reference to the comment that some of our dancers may have heard about the importance of taking risks. I posted a question about the meaning of that one once. I think both of these concepts can probably have several explanations. But this description beautifully explains one of them.

She was an empiricist: not “I think therefore I am,” more like “I dance therefore I feel.” She had unusual physical strength, but this did not come from steadily building muscles from the inside. It was a hungry and willful strength, inhaled, reached for and pulled in from the world outside, and sent down the back, arms and hands. Her focus, like her spine, was formidable. “Weak,” she would say disparagingly as she pressed on our extended arms and they gave way. “Too weak.”

Hands especially mattered. Hers were muscular but refined and pressed through the air as if through water. She examined ours with intense fascination, gauging the energy flow through every finger and joint. She wanted us to know their power, and thus too their fragility — no pretty ornaments here: “more, more — move!” Tallchief made us move bigger than we actually were, with a courage and physical confidence we didn’t yet possess. It was a skill — a nerve — she wanted female dancers especially to have. When I think of her in Paris that year, I flash-forward to her way of quoting the dancer Agnes de Mille: “Being a ballerina,” she liked to say, “ is like being a five-star general.”

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Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I have shared responses with my dd and I think it's making a difference for her.

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Your welcome, flipflop! Sometimes the most important comments given to our dancers seem to be in the form of one sentence that they carry away and don't always want to bother the teacher to clarify as much as they may need. Until they go back and do that, I would think that hearing perspectives of what some of these important ideas mean would help! I plan to share this one with my dd, too.

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