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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Learning and performing simultaneously


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During class, when we are taught new movements, e.g Port de Bras, how should I deal with the teacher's explicit request to be expressive? If I 'let go', I can not learn the new movements.

How do you deal with this? Is it possible to learn a new technique and be expressive at the same time? I feel so stupid.

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Well, when you're a student, memory does usually come before expression, but I think maybe your teacher means that you should learn the movement and then do it full out when performing it, not thinking about just hitting position to position in a robotic sense. Expression doesn't simply mean letting go and flailing, it means using your body control and muscles in a way that suits musicality, with great timing, and flow of movement.


If it helps, try your ports de bras without stopping any movement. If you are lifting your arms to 3rd above your head, don't get there on the first count, but let your arms rise from first up into 3rd, not just instantly hitting 3rd. I guess one could say, use all of your back muscles to let your arms float up with the allotted amount of time the musical phrase allows, breathing through the movements, and don't freeze there, be ready to transition fluidly into the next ports de bras position. Does this make sense?

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I forgot to mention, having an expressive ports de bras also involves good use of the head too. If your head is always just looking straightforward as your arms go through the motions, there will be something "missing" and it will not seem expressive.

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That's good advice LafilleSylphide, its about what my teacher also says with any new movement/position. Like the old saying "practice makes perfect". I have come to learn nothing comes overnight in ballet it slowly develops with time

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I've faced this issue for my entire dance career. But then I'm a guy and guys can only think of one thing at a time. Thinking about technique, remembering the combination, and being expressive all at the same time is a wonderful thing to do if you can do it. I know I can't. The only good thing is that I've learned to switch what I'm thinking about faster.


When you are learning a skill, unless you are kinesthetically gifted (a rare thing)you go through a progression of stages. You begin by just trying to learn the skill and what it is about, doing as best you can, but probably not doing it very well. Over time and with much repetition you reach the point where the skill is automatic. I think once you get to that point, you can introduce artistry.


In the last few years, I've tried to make artistry my priority in class. Nonetheless, I still find myself thinking about what I'm supposed to do next when the combinations get really long. When that happens, artistry goes out the door for me though I've given myself permission to mess up a combination while keeping artistry a priority.


Good dance students try to internalize what teachers say. But translating what they say into action is difficult. You have to hear something repeated many times for it to really sink in I think. Developing talent in dance largely a matter of repetition, thousands of hours. Be patient with yourself and keep practicing.

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Does it depend on what method or style of ballet? Like some methods are more perky. I'm thinking Cecchetti (sp) and some are more flowing. My daughter's arms tend to flow from one position to the next. Her movements are graceful and fluid. Maybe the perkier dancers are more technical, but have not yet grasped musicality and artistic expression?


I'd like to read more on different styles/methods of ballet and their desirable characteristics. And also company preferences. If there are any articles on this topic could you lead me in the right direction?


It would be helpful. Especially if a dancer is interested in using an SI to expand their horizons, try something new. Or the opposite, if a dancer wanted to stick to something more familiar to refine the method of their home school training.

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Thank you all :clapping:


I reflected on my frustration. I have not yet accepted the fact that ballet is challenging and it takes time to learn.

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I must be crippled by that darn Y-chromosome too, because I can't be very expressive when I'm still struggling to remember where my feet go. Once that stops taking all my concentration then I can add tweaks.

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How you move may be dependent not only on style, but on what the teacher or choreographer wants. Definitely if you are learning Nikiya from La Bayadere it will be different from the Finger Fairy in Sleeping Beauty - no matter what school of technique you are utilizing.


Let me outline, if you will, a way I handle this mental disconnect with the body when I am learning. If I am learning a variation, for instance, Lilac Fairy, I will of course focus on just learning the actual dance and its basic components. When I have that rather loosely memorized, I will go through the entire variation with only the arms full out, marking the feet and not really thinking very much about the feet. I observe in the mirror if my arms are timed correctly with the music and if I am correct. As I become more confident in these progressions, I will add those flourishes/expression in using my arms more fully and beautifully.


Of course, this is self practice on your own! I hope that helps.

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I must be crippled by that darn Y-chromosome too, because I can't be very expressive when I'm still struggling to remember where my feet go. Once that stops taking all my concentration then I can add tweaks.

Sounds familiar :).

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If I am learning a variation, for instance, Lilac Fairy, I will of course focus on just learning the actual dance and its basic components.


Yes. Isn't this the inevitable prerequisite for expression? You need the material to work on. Of course, there will be cases where new variations contain familiar components, and Garyecht's "automation" will be partially triggered.


I am classically trained musician and it is easy to think that the same rules of learning a new piece apply here in the ballet world as well.


I take (too) seriously what I am told to do, and my thinking is (too) organized. This creates practical problems :)


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  • 2 weeks later...

One of the things about expressiveness is that we often think about it, and sometimes port de bras, as "add-ons" or "embellishments" to the steps/dancing, as opposed to central to it. I strongly feel that it helps to think about the connections and the movements as wholes, instead of "legs do this" and "arms do this" and "head does this", and often try to consider how they connect.


It takes practice, practice, practice to get there though, and that's practice with an approach/perspective that's different, in some ways, to what seems natural or conducive. With my younger dancers, when we are learning a new step, I often have them keep the arms still/on their hips/etc. -- but as they get more advanced, I strive to make some of these connections more. And when they are marking, they cannot just mark the legs - they've got to get in the practice of thinking about arms and head (that's for my upper-level teens).


On a more personal note, one of the wonderful things about dance is that you can transform yourself through movement, and enjoy that type of expressiveness and creativity. I know, for me, that's one of the things I love the most about it.

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Yes, yes, Ami! And I find I need to mark combinations with feet, arms, head & shoulders. It helps me get the overall feel and movement of a combination.


Although I suspect that this is probably because my technique's not so good that focus on details is pleasant. That is, I "fake" it by giving an overall impression of musical movement, to distract from not-so-perfect technique!

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But... no one has perfect technique! Dance is about technique, yes, but also about movement, musicality, art....

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Yes, that's what I tell myself, Ami, when I'm faking petit allegro.

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