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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Surprise!


Mel Johnson

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Summer is often a time of discovery and revelation. Most here, I venture to guess have been studying somehow over the summer at either SI or summer classes at their home school.

 

What did you learn this summer that surprised you about your technique?

 

Did you experience any ways of doing things which were strange to you? If so, what, and what do you think about that?

 

And in the field of history and performance, did you learn anything from the classic repertoire that you particularly enjoyed? If so, what, and why do you like it?

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Out of 64 hits, nobody learned anything?:)

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Guest hesterlover1

I don't think that's the problem, Major Johnson...I think it might be that we learned so much that it's hard to capture it all in words! At least, that's what it is for me...

 

I was at the Joffrey Midwest Workshop, and one thing I learned was that there are sometimes conflicting schools of thought and you have to decide which one works for you. My teacher at home is insistent that your body SHOULD NOT MOVE from side to side at all when doing degagés or tendus to 2nd, switching legs. But a teacher at Joffrey explained to us the importance of being ON your working leg, meaning you have to adjust your weight to be over the leg so you are correctly placed...I guess I'd always thought there was only one right way of doing things before. It sounds like a stupid thing to learn, but I guess I just finally realized it and put it into action on my own body.

 

I also discovered a lot of stuff this summer from working with a choreographer, which I'd never really done. Mr. Qi, one of the teachers, choreographed a dance for us to Vivaldi's Four Seasons--Spring. It's an interesting experience learning movements quickly, after seeing them just once or twice, and then having them changed, and needing to remember all the different ways the step has been done and be able to do them quickly, in order to be useful to the choreographer. Sometimes he would just say, "Do a movement. Not classical. Something...over..." and then we'd try out things and he'd say, "Yes! That's it!" Also, I got to be in two pas de deux parts with four couples (there were 4 guys in my class), and also in a pas de trois with one guy and two girls. The feeling of partnering is such a new sensation and a different feeling and I really learned to pull up and use my body in different ways than I would when dancing alone. I'd done a bit of pas before in classes, but partnering in choreography is very different!! At least, in this choreography. ;) Oh, and I was introduced to Italian pas de chats! We never do them at home, but when the teacher was choreographing the pas part on us, at the first rehearsal when we were all really nervous, the first step he demonstrated included one of them and I'd never done it before in my life!! ...Needless to say, I picked them up pretty quickly--I had to!! :eek:

 

I feel like I learned more about modern this summer, too..we had modern class every other day and everyone was in a modern dance for the performance. The teachers I've had in past summer haven't really explained things so I could understand them, not having ever studied modern during the year, and I felt like I was struggling to make my limbs go in the same direction as everyone else, let alone feel what they were talking about...but the teacher this summer really explained the momentum and the movement in ways that helped me a lot, even in my ballet classes.

 

Of course we did things in ways that were strange to me...but since I was at Joffrey last summer, nothing was really a surprise. When teachers ask for things that are different, I pretty much just try to do what is asked of me--unless I know I'm going to injure myself, but no one there forces 180 degree turnout, just pushes you to use your maximum.

 

Most importantly, I learned more not to waste class, and to work 110% ALL THE TIME in ballet class, to always dance full out, always mark the arms (a habit I keep falling out of back at home, unfortunately! :( )--just that if I want to improve, I have to make it happen. I knew that before, but I just found a new level of working HARD this summer that I'm now trying to keep up all the time! :D

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That's it, Katie!:(

 

Yes, reconciling contradictory information is part and parcel of learning to be a professional dancer, and it's especially needed when going into choreographic extensions of the danse d'ecole. When a choreographer asks for something from you, you have to be able just to feed things out, and let him/her be the editor sometimes. Others have a firm idea from the very start and will brook no variation therefrom!

 

Others yet will have at least fourteen different ways of doing every phrase, and never quite seem to make up their minds about which to go with, and these are the ones that explain grey hairs on 18-year-old heads!;)

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Great post, Katie! Very interesting. However, I'm quite puzzled by the fact that you have not previously learned to move your body weight when you stand on one leg. Whenever one moves from one leg to the other there has to be a change of weight. That's what dance is all about! One moves in space by moving from one leg to the other leg, and the weight of the body MUST move with you :( This starts at the barre, when you do tendus or dégagés which switch feet. Then temps lié or tombé, etc. If you don't move your weight over your standing leg, then you are not balanced. I have never heard of Cecchetti training which does not teach this. Perhaps you were misunderstanding your teachers?

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This summer, I definitely improved my jumps w/beats and turns. The other day, I thought of what I should feel when doing chaine turns--of someone hitting my opposite shoulder. That really worked. The teacher demonstrated by hitting a student's opposite shoulder to improve the turns.

 

I have some problems with a teacher's idea of pull up. I have had teachers who told me not to pull in my knee cap because my knees are hyperextended, more so with my left knee (also my injured knee). Do you have any opinions on this?

 

Thanks.

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Very often, we find little imagery tricks that help us to pull off those things we've been having trouble with. The increased classload in summer affords more opportunities for these mental pictures to come forward. Even Margot Fonteyn, who used to have trouble with the 32 fouettés in Act III Swan Lake got a tip at the beginning of her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev. While she was practicing them, and having difficulties, Rudi called out "Left shoulder front!" and it worked for the rest of her career!

 

As to hyperextended dancers not pulling the knees to full travel, oh yes, absolutely - locking the knees will only causes more problems! Making the knees travel just to the point where the leg appears perfectly straight is what's needed. I know it'll feel like you're dancing on bent legs, but it's safer and better that way. :( Ms. Leigh can elaborate on this point, as she is THE VERY BEST at combating hyperextension!

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Thanks, Major, but I don't know about being the best, although certainly quite experienced with it! ;)

 

Pirouettes, the Major is right. When you are weight bearing, the knees must nut push back. This not only stresses the ligaments at the back of the knee, but it also throws your body weight into your heels. You have to learn to use your quad muscles to straighten the legs, and the knees ARE straight.....just not ALL the way straight to the point of locking. Be very sure the pelvis is properly aligned and the weight of the body is more in the metatarsals than the heels.

 

Hyperextension is both a blessing and a curse. It looks wonderful on an extended leg, especially in arabesque, however it's often hard to manage in weight bearing positions.

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Guest hesterlover1

Sorry if I explained what I meant poorly, Miss Leigh... I guess what I was trying to say was that my teacher at home demands that our bodies NOT SHIFT at all when we do dégagés or tendus, for example, first 8 from 5th with the right leg, and then 8 with the left leg in the center, which we work on often. It's kind of an idealistic thing, at least that's what I've been led to believe--it's nearly impossible not to shift at all, but she expects us not to. On the other hand, a teacher at Joffrey expected our bodies to move when we changed legs. I guess that was the difference--of course, both teachers want us correctly placed and to have our weight in the right place, and I've learned to do that from a young age! Is this just two different methods, or is it one teacher being realistic while the other wants the impossible??

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Guest attitude

Do you think maybe it's just a matter of aesthetics. I always very slightly sort of "lean" away from the working leg. For example tendu devant at the barre my head would be facing centre corner and my chest would be out. Tendu derriere I'd be facing towards the barre corner almost like I'm "peeking". The upper body just follows the tilt of the head and ever so slighlty leans forward. Personally, I find that "leaning" elongates the line from the head, upper body down to the toes. Hope it makes sense!

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I think it may be slight differences in schools. Various Russian schools add a bit of epaulement to the tendus or grands battements à la seconde moving forward and backward in the center, whether it be in center barre or toward the end of class. The not-quite-lean, not-quite-twist of the body and a slightly raised arm makes a charming stylistic picture important to these methods. The body "turns" slightly toward the leg in moving forward, and away moving backward, with a lift of the corresponding arm. Cecchetti is very squared, but while the weight on the foot does change, to provide a manageable "control zone", the upper body is quite steady. Thanks for the clarification.

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I studied at BalletMet this summer for 6 weeks. For the past three summers I have been at strictly Balanchine schools, so it was nice to have a change.

 

I became very aware of certain little idiosynchrosies (sp?) in my technique this year. For instance, I was engaging the calf muscle of my standing leg while doing frappe. There was a very big emphasis in the beginning of the program on doing everything properly-we were not allowed to 'cheat' anything: forcing turnout, bad placement in extension, and spinning in turns were strictly against the rules. I thought that this was a good way to address my own body within technique. I discovered what I could actually do and how to fix what I couldn't do. It was very much a study in self awareness.

 

My class was lucky enough to take class and rep. from the new artistic and associate artistic directors of balletmet (Gerard Charles and Stanton Welch respectively) I learned how to take corrections in rehearsals from these classes and how much 'movement' is expected in today's choreography.

 

Overall, I would say that this summer was a good step up into a vision of the reality of life as a professional dancer, and where I fit into that.

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Major Johnson - I was just going to post a question about épaulement (actually more head directions) elsewhere, but then I saw you were discussing what relates pretty well to my question here, so I thought this would be a better place. I am aware of what you said about the head (or upper body) looking/turning slightly away from the working leg when travelling backwards and toward it when moving forwards in some methods. What my question is is for tendu à la quatrième devant and derrière, if the head is inclined, which way should it be for each? (Is there a standard for this in certain methods, or is it usually straight ahead, or what?) I noticed some students in my school inclining the head a bit, but my teachers haven't mentioned it for these positions. (My school teaches a mixed syllabus like many US schools...like French, Russian, Danish, Italian, etc schools mixed....they are very specific with what they want ;) , but we don't have any one method.) If I were to guess an answer at my own question, I'd say that if the head is inclined it should be toward the working leg (out over) for à la quatrième devant. Looking in the mirror that looks better, I think....but I can't decide how derrière should be. And devant could be wrong, but that way feels better...probably because it feels like comfy old croisé!! :o Maybe I should just go to sleep and let you experts tell me... hehe... I had made a decision before, but now lots of ways look ok!!!!!! Yikes. Thanks for bearing with me!

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In quatrième devant and derrière both, the head is straight and level, and the arms are in seconde. Otherwise, what you would have would be a croisé or éffacé with a changed front.

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Thank you so much, Major Johnson. I suppose the straight and level head presents the body confidently to the audience...for devant especially.

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