2 3 Ballet Webb: November 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Proud Promenades




Proud Promenades

A promenade is a great preliminary step for pirouettes and all turning movements.  It teaches correct weight placement (over the balls of the feet); and the correct “Flat Stanley” alignment (no twisting of the body).  It also teaches the dancer to maintain, while slowly turning, the postural lift away from gravity, as well as the “politely arrogant” attitude.

The word itself comes from the mid 16th century French word se promener ‘to walk’, and the verb means: “ to take a leisurely public walk, ride, or drive so as to meet or be seen by others”.  How appropriate for a step done by a performing artist!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #14a:
“The word ‘promenade’ means to take a walk so as to meet or be seen by others.”

               

Various vintage clips of different ballerinas in the promenade section of the
 Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty:

Link of the Day:


 

Quote of the Day:
“But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations.”
-          Gwyn Thomas

 

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Fun Friday and Seymour



Fun Friday and Seymour

A useful object for the ballet classroom is a small model of a human skeleton.  The one I use is plastic – a simple Halloween decoration that is, surprisingly, pretty anatomically correct.  I also use drawings or charts when I want more detail, but Seymour (because you can “see more” bones) is always popular.

Seymour is especially useful for showing students the ball-and-socket joint of the hip, and how this allows the rotation of the femur that produces the turn-out that is essential in ballet technique. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #3f:
“A model of the human skeleton is useful for showing how the ball-and-socket joint of the hip allows a dancer to turn-out safely.”

 

                Link of the Day:
                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h03QBNVwX8Q 

 
Quote of the Day:

“Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will break our hearts.”
-Robert Fulghum

 

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Throwback Thursday Thanksgiving





Throwback Thursday Thanksgiving

Today as we enjoy time with family, friends and food, let us remember, and be thankful for, Sarah Josepha Hale.  Sometimes called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving”, Sarah was born in New Hampshire in 1788.  She was a teacher and writer who published several books, including one called “Poems for Our Children” in 1830.
One of her lifelong obsessions was to promote the holiday we are celebrating today.  She wrote to President Lincoln, urging him to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.  On October 3, 1863, Lincoln did just that:  he issued a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the last Thursday in November as a day set aside to give thanks.
But you probably already know a little bit about Sarah Josepha Hale.  In “Poems for Our Children”, one became famous:  “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

Historical Factoid #1:
“Sarah Josepha Hale is known as the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.”
 

                Link of the Day:
 

Quote of the Day:
“Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.”
-Todd Stocker

 

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wonderful Wednesday and the Rubber Band Theory



Wonderful Wednesday and the Rubber Band Theory

Dance is a constant interplay of potential and kinetic energy.  I often use a rubber band (or hair band) to demonstrate this concept, in a basic sense, to my students.   I stretch the rubber band and say that this is the potential energy, and then I let it go to illustrate kinetic energy.

In ballet class, I usually start at barre with sous-sus soutenu as an example.  The plié (done correctly as a movement, not a position), and the extending to tendu is the potential energy (the pull of the rubber band); and the movement to relevé  in sous-sus is the kinetic energy (the release of the rubber band).

This helps the dancers remember to use the plié as a continuous movement, and not “sit” at the bottom.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #2e:
“Pulling a rubber band (plié) shows potential energy, letting it go illustrates kinetic energy.”

 

                Link of the Day:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viL-HEis-h4              

Quote of the Day:

“Your life is a reflection of how effectively you balance potential and kinetic energy.”
-Steve Maraboli

 

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Terrific Tuesday and Pins and Piqués


 
Terrific Tuesday and Pins and Piqués


Yesterday I talked about one of the secrets to a successful piqué.  Another secret is related to the literal translation of the word piqué, which means to prick or stab.  When stepping onto the piqué leg the action requires a quick attack, because balancing on one leg, especially when wearing pointe shoes, is challenging in and of itself.

So using the literal meaning of the word, imagine your piqué leg as a giant pin, and the piqué movement itself is the pin traveling out and up into a giant pincushion. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #13b 
“Imagine your piqué leg as a pin going into a giant pincushion.”

 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“The trick is to enjoy life.  Don’t wish away your days, waiting for better ones ahead.”
- Marjorie Pay Hinckley

 

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Monday, November 25, 2013

A Handy Tip for Piqués





A Handy Tip for Piqués
Whether using a piqué as a preparation for a turn or a pose, one fact remains:  it is the piqué that largely determines the success or failure of whatever follows it.  In previous posts, I talked about rotation and what an important tool it is for everything in ballet technique.  Well, here is an instance where even a momentary thought about using that rotation can improve the execution of whatever step comes after the piqué.
Here’s the handy tip:  right before stepping onto the piqué foot, think of rotating that leg a little bit extra.  This will result in a very well placed, well balanced, turn or pose.  Try it!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #3e 
“Rotate the piqué leg a little bit extra, right before stepping onto it.”

 

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:
“The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.”
-          Ayn Rand

 

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pencils and Optimism



Pencils and Optimism

A pencil is an interesting object:  utilitarian, ergonomically friendly, and infinitely optimistic.  Observe it: it’s about eight inches long, oddly colored, simple in design, and it seems to last forever.  But the most wonderful thing about a pencil is its eraser.  That’s right.  That tiny, quarter-inch nub at the end is what makes a pencil one of the world’s most optimistic items.
A pencil presumes that despite the abundant eight inches of lead it provides for writing, adding, marking, musing, etc., it only needs to use a fraction of its length to repair errors.  It appears that the pencil assumes we won’t make too many mistakes.  Even so, the pencil isn’t unrealistic – no one is perfect, after all – and that fact is accommodated by the small, but necessary, eraser at the tip.
  All of this philosophy embodied in the simple pencil!
From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Motivational Secret #5a 
“A pencil is one of the world’s most optimistic objects.”
                Link of the Day:
Quote of the Day:
“A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere.”
-Joyce Meyer

 

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday and Chassé


 
 
Saturday Chassés
 
A step that is often performed as a series of jumps where one foot appears to chase the other is the chassé.  It can also be a step that slides from fifth position to fourth to tendu, etc., and can be performed in any direction, to almost any position.  The interesting thing about chassé is this:  it is a step that says its own name when it is done correctly.
The sliding action of the foot against the floor makes a shhhhhhh sound:  chhhhhhaaaassssseee.  This auditory image is helpful for remembering that a downward push is necessary for the step to do its job:  that of propelling the dancer into the air, or stopping the momentum from a series of turns.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #13a:

“A chassé is a step that says its own name.”
 

                Link of the Day:

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtxCqljeTjE

 
Quote of the Day:

“It’s insecurity that is always chasing you and standing the way of your dreams.”

-          Vin Diesel

 

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Quote of the Day:

“It’s insecurity that is always chasing you and standing the way of your dreams.”

-          Vin Diesel

 

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Fun Friday and Trap Doors




Fun Friday and Trap Doors
In the same category as yesterday’s post, I’m going to continue the discussion on resisting gravity, or pulling up.  Here is the Fun Friday thought:  What if a dancer doesn’t pull up and gravity takes over and a trap door opens and they are pulled down all the way below the ground?!  If that could actually happen, then pulling away from gravity would be a necessity – which it is anyway, to prevent slumping postures.  And slumping posture is something every dance teacher sees on a daily basis.
So pretend that pulling up is essential because otherwise the floor opens, and the dancer is propelled downward – perhaps for miles – into the “ballet dungeon”.  Only bread and water to eat, and who knows how dark it must be!   The ballet dungeon will be discussed more fully in a future post. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #1p:

“If there is no resistance to gravity, the trap door will open and the dancer will be sucked down below the floor into the ballet dungeon.”  
 

                Link of the Day:

 

Quote of the Day:

“Falling down isn’t defeat.  Defeat is when you refuse to get up.”

-          Unknown

 

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Throwback Thursday and Eleanor Powell


 
Throwback Thursday and Eleanor Powell

Today is the birthday of Eleanor Powell, the famous tap dancer and movie star who had ten formal tap lessons.  She was born on November 21, 1912 and died in 1982.  Discovered on an Atlantic City beach, she had trained in ballet and acrobatics, but not tap.  After performing in nightclubs and vaudeville circuits during the 1920s, she realized that some formal tap classes would be necessary if she wanted to perform on Broadway.  So she enrolled with Jack Donahue and Johnny Doyle, and in 1929 made her Broadway debut in Follow Thru.

Eleanor Powell is best known for her work in the movies.  She was discovered by Louis B. Mayer, who launched her career in the movies in Broadway Melody of 1936.  Her most famous number is Begin the Bequine from Broadway Melody of 1940 which also starred Fred Astaire.  

Not bad for someone who started with only a few formal tap classes!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #7:

“Eleanor Powell was a famous tap dancer who had ten formal tap lessons.”

 

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’.”

-Audrey Hepburn

 

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wild Wednesday Push Down Pull Up


Push Down Pull Up

Another way to think about sending energy down through the floor is this:  feel as though you are pushing down into the floor.  Hopefully, the results are the same, and this pushing down sensation should always be matched with an equal and opposite lift or pull upward, as well as sending energy in all directions.
A problem that can happen with a “push” image is when the dancer fails to match it with the upward and opposite pull.  In this case, the push causes the student to squash the posture (see post on squashing), thus negating the benefit of the image. 
It depends on the dancer.  Some dancers respond better to the image of pushing down into the floor, and others “get” the energy down image.  It’s always helpful to have as many images as possible in the teacher’s toolbox. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #1o:  

“Good posture involves pressing down into the floor and pulling up away from the floor – at the same time.”
 

                Link of the Day:


 
Quote of the Day:

“You've done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.”

-          Ralph Marston



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baby Bird in the Hand


Baby Bird in the Hand

When teaching young students fifth en bas, or bra bas position of the arms, the shape of the hands is important.  In addition to the finger positions mentioned in previous posts, the overall shape of the hand is essential.

I use this image:  imagine holding a tiny baby bird, gently cradled in the palm of the hand.  The little fledgling should be held so it feels comfortable enough to fall asleep on its back, nestled up against the thumb.   This visual image works particularly well with very young beginners, but is also effective for everyone else.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #6d:
“To correctly shape the hand in fifth en bas, imagine cradling a sleeping baby bird.”
 

                Link of the Day:


  

Quote of the Day:

“Use what talents you possess:  the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
-Henry Van Dyke

 

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Dancing in a Bubble



Dancing in a Bubble

On the subject of energy again, another helpful image is that of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, with one change:  imagine that the man with his arms extended is in a bubble, not a circle.  Whether a dancer is posing, or moving through space, the extremities should reach (send energy) in wide directions:  up, down, out, around, etc.  Of course, the correct shape and direction of the movements are always maintained.

The bubble image helps students “pull up” if they imagine that their heads are trying to touch the top of their bubble; and helps prevent drooping arms if students try to feel the edge of the bubble with the tips of their fingers.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #1n:  

“Imagine dancing inside a bubble, and always reach to the edges.”

 

                Link of the Day:
               

 

Quote of the Day:

“Real laughter is spontaneous. Like water from the spring it bubbles forth a creation of mingled action and spontaneity - two magic potions in themselves - the very essence of laughter - the unrestrained emotion within us!”

-          Douglas Fairbanks

 

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Persistence and Pennies



Persistence and Pennies

I have known many dance students who are driven to persevere despite many obstacles - like having a less-than-perfect body for ballet.  These dancers carry on, often for years,  in spite of nay-saying teachers, friends, etc.  And against all odds, I have seen them succeed.  Oh, it took longer and undoubtedly required a great deal of sacrifice and determination, but these dancers taught me to never say never.

I wonder if all those dancers who gave up might have succeeded – if only they had stayed the course for a few more weeks, days, months, or years.  It made me think that it would be nice if we had a way to know how close we are to reaching our dream. Wouldn’t it be great if could use something like a jar of pennies to monitor our progress.  Every day that we work toward our goal – whatever that goal might be – we’d add a penny to the jar.  If we knew we'd succeed when the jar was full, we’d see exactly how much longer it would take, and how many pennies we’d need to add, before we’d finally arrive at our destination.  That way, we’d never give up when we were only pennies away.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #4a:  

Never give up – you might be only “pennies” away.”

 

                Link of the Day:


 

Quote of the Day:

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

-Winston Churchill

 

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Preparations and In-Betweens


Preparations and In-Betweens

A dancer’s success in mastering ballet technique often comes down to being aware of this overlooked area:  the preparations (sometimes called the “in-between steps”).  I am referring to the steps that precede the steps that tend to take all the effort and focus:  turns, jumps, poses, etc.  For all those steps it is the preparation that makes them or breaks them.

Most of the time, an effective preparation involves the correct use of the plié, (see previous posts on pliés), but sometimes simply encouraging a dancer to develop a greater awareness of the movements and steps that occur before the turn, or the jump, etc., makes a big impact.  To achieve this goal, I have my students take a moment to mark through a combination, focusing exclusively on the in-between steps. 

Today’s secret works in other areas of life, too – not just in dance training!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #7d:

“Success lies in the correct preparation.”  

 

                Link of the Day:
It's all in the preparation...


 
 
Quote of the Day:

“It’s not what you know; it’s what you can think of in time.”

-          The Wizard

 

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Fun Friday: Kiss Your Knees




Fun Friday: Kiss Your Knees
When dancers perform port de bras forward, a common problem is this:  they often hold tension in their neck, and/or forget to allow the head to relax and hang down in line with their legs when they are at the bottom of the movement.  This prevents fully stretching and relaxing the back and the neck. 
To prevent this “leaving the head up”moment, I tell the students to remember that they have to “kiss their knees” at the bottom of the movement.
 
From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #9b:  

“Remember to kiss the knees at the bottom of a port de bras forward.”

 
                Link of the Day:


 
Quote of the Day:

“The best things in life are unseen.  That’s why we close our eyes when we kiss, laugh and dream.”

-Unknown

 

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Why is Ballet Like It Is?


Throwback Thursday:  Why is Ballet Like It Is?

Why is ballet training done the way it is?  Why is there so much repetition on the same steps?  I wanted to know the answer myself when I was a student.
Basically the answer is this:  because it works!  The classical ballet system has been in place since Louis XIV established the Academie Royale de Musique which became Academie Royale de Danse.  This was in the 1660s, and it ultimately became The Paris Opera Ballet.  Over the centuries the system of balletic training has been tweaked, (and is still being tweaked), into the tremendously effective training method we have today.
Prior to King Louis XIV, ballet was done in the courts of royalty, and although that beginning provided the roots of what we know today, it bore only little resemblance to what we now think of as ballet.   

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #6:
“Ballet training evolved over centuries to become what it is today.”

                Link of the Day:


 

Quote of the Day:

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
- Confucius

 

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Many Pirouettes Please


Many Pirouettes Please

Pirouettes, as many as possible, please.  This is the philosophy of most dancers, and it is true - for the most part.  But most teachers are well aware that many students work first for the number of turns, instead of focusing on the correct positioning and best preparation for the turns.  Doing multiple pirouettes in a poor or unattractive position means nothing and fosters habits that are difficult to change (Motivational Secret #2a: “Practice make permanent.”).

In classical ballet the retiré position has to be well understood first, then a correct preparation must be established (Secret #2b: “A plié is a movement, not a position.”).  For standard pirouettes a correct fourth position is critical.  For maximum benefit, the fourth position plié should provide two main things:  enough “push” or torque to facilitate the number of revolutions; and an effective preparation to allow an efficient transfer of weight from two feet to one.

The Big Blue Book of Secrets says:  “The wider the fourth, the greater the force” – and this is important.  The dancer must use the widest fourth position they can control, in order to use the laws of physics to their advantage, and to help overcome the friction created by ballet slippers against the floor (less friction is created by the smaller surface area of a pointe shoe).   There are many other secrets to multiple pirouettes, which I will discuss in future posts.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #10a:

The wider the fourth, the greater the force. 

 
                Link of the Day:
 
 

Quote of the Day:



“Some of life’s best lessons are experienced when the road turns.”

-          www.everoptimistic.com