2 3 Ballet Webb: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

Fun Friday and Falling


Fun Friday and Falling
From the Big Beige Book of Ballet Statutes comes this rule:  “Always fall forward.”  Now, you may think that falling isn’t exactly something one plans to do – it just happens.  Well, that’s true up to a point (no pun intended).  However, during the thousands of hours of class time, dancers should always work toward making any falls go forward – and especially not backwards.
This is because, as discussed before, the correct alignment of the body is straight and slightly forward from the ankles.  Therefore, the alignment itself should make a forward fall more likely. Dancers that fall backwards on a regular basis are usually pulling up from the chest and not the top of the head, so the alignment issues, once corrected, will often solve any falling problems altogether.
But if a dancer must fall – he/she should always strive to fall forward!
 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Statute #9:
“Always fall forward.”

 

                Link of the Day:  

 

Quote of the Day:
“Most important thing in life is learning how to fall.”
  -Jeanette Walls
 

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Fred Astaire


Throwback Thursday and Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire’s screen test for MGM was, to say the least, not encouraging.  The MGM testing director supposedly wrote the following:  “Can’t act.  Can’t sing.  Slightly balding.  Can dance a little.”  Despite this, Fred Astaire went on to become a famous dancer, choreographer, innovator, musician, singer, and actor.   He made 31 musical films, plus several television specials.  His career lasted for 76 years and he was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film institute.
His early career involved performing with his sister Adele, touring the U.S. and playing in various venues, and also performing for U.S. and Allied troops.  The couple then appeared on Broadway and in London stage shows.  When Adele married in 1932, Fred Astaire began going it alone.
He achieved his greatest fame when paired with Ginger Rogers in a series of film musicals such as Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time and Shall We Dance to name just a few.
He is also credited with two ground-breaking ideas in the early film musicals:  1. Dance routines must be filmed in a single shot and the dancers must be seen at all times; and 2. All plot lines must be seamlessly incorporated into the plot of the musical.
All this from someone who “can dance a little”! 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #14:
“Fred Astaire was a famous dancer in early film musicals who was also a great choreographic innovator.” 

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


Quote of the Day:

“Master yourself, and become king of the world around you. Let no odds, chastisement, exile, doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be its conqueror.”
– Mike Norton

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wonderful Wednesday and Iron Pipes


Wonderful Wednesday and Iron Pipes
When a dancer stands on demi-pointe, or full pointe, maintaining a strong ankle position is critical.  So often the ankle is the weak link in the lower leg alignment, and it tends to rock forward or (horrors!) backward into a sickled and very dangerous position.
The other variable is that there are so many variables!  As in most things in ballet, there are an infinite number of ways to do things wrong.  (This is from the Scary Ballet Facts Handbook.)
So, to prevent these scenarios, it helps to imagine that there is an iron pipe around the ankle whenever the dancer is standing in a demi-pointe or full pointe position.  Visualize a nice, thick, solid pipe with no wiggle room at all. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets

Secret #8d:
“Imagine an iron pipe around the ankle when in a demi-pointe or full pointe position.”

  

Link of the Day: 


  

Quote of the Day:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
-Neale Donald Walsch

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Technical Tuesday and Ice Cream Scoops


Technical Tuesday and Ice Cream Scoops
Arguably the most important area of the body in dance is the center section of the torso:  the abdominals and the back.  Sometimes I refer to it as the “golden circle”.
To fully engage this area, a dancer must lengthen the spine, then use the abdominals: “suck the stomach in”; “belly button to spine”, etc.  I tell my students that the abdominal area should look like someone used an ice cream scoop to scoop out the center.  It would be one of those nice, rounded ice cream scoops that produce such nice, rounded mounds of ice cream.
“Scoop it!”
 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #1t 
“The abdominal area should look like someone used an ice cream scoop on it.”

 

                Link of the Day:  


 

Quote of the Day:

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
-Dr. Seuss

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Mad Monday and A Place to Go Before


Mad Monday and A Place to Go Before
In ballet, there is an opposite energy that is used before the intended movement is executed. Confused?  In simpler terms, for every movement in ballet, there’s a place to go before you go where you intended to go.  Still not clear?
Examples:  In a first port de bras, the fingers move slightly forward before the arms move to à la seconde; from fifth en haut, the fingers go up before moving the arms open and down.  In a plié the energy (lift) goes up before the knees bend and the body descends.  For almost any movement there is always a breath (a lifting upward) before the movement begins.
Get it?  There’s always a place to go before you go where you are going – Secret 7g.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #7g:
“There’s always a place to go before you go where you are going.”

 

                Link of the Day:
An excerpt of an incredible piece, but the video doesn’t do it justice.  See it live and be amazed!


 Quote of the Day:
“The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal.  The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”
-Benjamin E. Mays

 

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Forward and Back


Sunday Forward and Back
It has been said that we live our life looking forward but understand it looking backward.  I believe this is true, and it also explains why it is difficult for teenagers to have perspective.  They don’t have much “backward” to look upon!
For dancers (and artists in other areas too), their lives revolve around the pursuit of their artistic goals, with anything else just dancing (no pun intended) on the periphery.  No wonder everything in their life becomes so overwhelmingly important.  No perspective.  Nothing to look back upon to let them remember that “this too will pass”.
So when life becomes overwhelming, and the problems of the day seem like too much, look back just enough to recall other times, and other events, and how everything worked out somehow. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #12 
“We live our life looking forward but understand it looking backward.”

 

                Link of the Day:
 

Quote of the Day:

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

 

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday Spots and Stuff


Saturday Spots and Stuff
From the Big Beige Book of Ballet Statutes comes this rule for spotting turns:  Turns spot where they finish.  Now, there are exceptions, one notable one is for pirouettes en dedans.  In this instance, the dancer can spot front, or where the turn finishes.
The reasoning behind spotting where you finish is simple.  Spotting at the “finish line” provides a template for a clean finish.  In other words, the dancer knows, both mentally and visually, where he/she is going before she gets there.  And that’s a story for another day:  dancers always think one step ahead of where they are.
That’s just one more reason why dancers are so smart! 

From the Big Beige Book of Ballet Statutes

Statute #8:
Turns spot where they finish.”


Link of the Day: 


  

Quote of the Day:

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
-Tony Robbins

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fun Friday and Aunt Matilda


Fun Friday and Aunt Matilda
It’s Fun Friday again!  Today I thought I’d introduce Aunt Matilda.  She is that wonderful, ample aunt who rushes in at every family gathering to plant a kiss on your cheek.  As she approaches, you automatically incline your head in anticipation of the kiss.
This is the exact angle of the head for many positions in ballet.  It is a one quarter turn, with an incline -just as I described in a previous blog about not getting paint on the nose.  This turn-with-an-incline position can be a difficult thing to achieve, especially for a beginner, since there are so many possible variations on turning and inclining.
But just remember Aunt Matilda, and the correct positioning will be much easier. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #5d 
“Most frequently, the correct angle of the head is as though it is being inclined so Aunt Matilda can kiss your cheek.”
 

                Link of the Day:
 

Quote of the Day:

“People tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will descend like fine weather if you’re fortunate. But happiness is the result of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert

 

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Arthur Mitchell


Throwback Thursday and Arthur Mitchell
Arthur Mitchell changed the face of dance in more ways than one.  He was selected by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein to join the New York City Ballet.  He thus became the first African American in the company, and went on to be a principal dancer there for fifteen years.  He thus opened the door for the generations that would follow.
Balanchine choreographed several pieces for him, such as the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and the pas de deux in Agon.  But it was just the beginning.
In 1969, with Karel Shook, Arthur Mitchell founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  He began by teaching classes out of a garage on 152nd Street, and he designed the school’s curriculum to give African-American students the opportunities that Mitchell himself never had.  From this simple beginning a great company grew.  Today the Dance Theatre of Harlem is recognized as one of the best companies in the world.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #13:  

“Arthur Mitchell was the first African American in the New York City Ballet and the founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.”

 

Links of the Day:


 


 

Quote of the Day:

“When your dreams are big enough the odds just don’t matter.”
-          John A. Passaro

 

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wild Wednesday and Ski Jumps


Wild Wednesday and Ski Jumps
In honor of the upcoming Winter Olympics, I thought this would be a good time to blog about the importance of ski jumps.  The angle and trajectory of them, that is.
When a dancer moves from a passé or retiré position to an attitude derriere or arabesque, the placement of the torso must change.  It moves forward, with an up and outward energy.  The central, supporting axis now extends from the supporting leg up through the lower back instead of through the middle of the body and exits from the top of the head.  A significant change!
To achieve this alignment, imagine the curve of a ski jump.  The body moves along this “ski jump” as it transitions from passé to arabesque.  

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets

Secret #18b:
“When moving from passé to a derriere position, imagine moving the torso along a ski jump trajectory.” 
 

Link of the Day:


 

Quote of the Day:

“The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.”
-          William James

 

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits


Tuesday Tidbits
For those who tend to shorten their neck (lift their shoulders), here is an image that works well:  Imagine wearing long, elegant, dangling earrings, and don’t allow them to touch the shoulders.  This also works for the mental attitude.  Imagining lovely earrings is related to being dressed up and carrying oneself like a prince or princess attending a ball.
For dance teachers:  Usually this problem of lifting the shoulders is related to holding tension in the neck or shoulders, or both.  So reminding students to relax is also important, but it is helpful to understand why the dancer is working with too much tension.  Is it because they are worried about being judged?  Is it something in their non-dancing life that is weighing heavily on them?  Dance teacher detective work!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #1s 
“Imagine wearing long, elegant earrings, and don’t allow them to touch the shoulders.”

 

                Link of the Day:
 

Quote of the Day:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
-Maya Angelou

 

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Motivation in Dance


Monday Motivation in Dance
How do dancers stay motivated to push forward in a field that is brutally demanding and, let’s be honest, often not as rewarding as we’d like?  I believe it is different for each individual, but there are some things that are true for everyone.  The link of the day describes seven steps that can be useful.
For dancers, I think it involves the sheer love of the art form.  We love it so much that we are willing to do whatever it takes to participate in it.  Even when we realize, as we often do, that a career as a performer is out of the question, we still want to be a part of the art form in some way.
So it comes down to love - a love of the beauty and inspiration of the art of dance.  Anyone, at any time, can participate in that! 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #11 
“Motivation in dance is created by the love of the art.”

 

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”

–Helen Keller

 

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday What Did I Say?



Sunday What Did I Say?
Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seemed to be going well?  Then out of nowhere, someone – perhaps a friend, or even a stranger – said something that made you feel wonderful?  Maybe it was just a little thing:   a compliment on your jewelry, or a thank you for something you’d forgotten about….it could be just about anything.
My point is this:  even the smallest comment or compliment has the power to change someone’s day.  That’s powerful stuff.  Whatever you say has to be sincere, of course, but it helps to remember that no matter how small or insignificant you may think the comment is, its power can be huge.
So say something nice or complimentary to someone today.  It can have far-reaching results – for them and for you. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #10:
“A simple kind word or compliment has the power to transform someone’s day.”
 

                Link of the Day: 
                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97YP9RsQsJ8

 
Quote of the Day:

Kind words are the music of the world. They have a power which seems to be beyond natural causes, as if they were some angel's song, which had lost its way and come on Earth, and sang on undyingly, smiting the hearts of men with sweetest wounds, and putting for the while an angel's nature into us."
-Frederick William Faber

 

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Three Toes


Saturday Three Toes
When teaching the correct way to rise to demi-pointe, a question that arises is this:  “Should all five toes maintain contact with the floor?”  The answer isn’t as simple as one might think.  It depends on the anatomical structure of the individual dancer’s feet.
For most people, the toes taper in length from longest (usually the big toe), to smallest (pinky toe).  In this case the weight should be over the first three toes, and the pinky toe (and sometimes the one next to it) may or may not actually come in contact with the floor.  This is the most common scenario.  If the pinky toe attempts to be on the floor the result can be a “sickled” foot – not only unsightly but dangerous.  It is easy to see when this done incorrectly, as the weight is no longer aligned over the center of the foot.
When the whole foot is on the floor, all toes should make contact.  But when on demi-pointe, for most dancers, only the first three (sometimes four) toes should be in contact with the ground.   

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #8c:
“On demi-pointe, usually only the first three toes make contact with the floor.”

 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”
-Mark Twain

 

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Fun Friday Fingers and Trap Doors


Fun Friday Fingers and Trap Doors
One problem that dance teachers see frequently is a limp, or energy-less hand or hands.  The energy seems to die out around the wrist, leaving the fingers drooping.
I’ve talked many times about the energy needed in the fingers:   that this energy extends beyond the extremities and out into space.  Here is one image that works for many of my students:  imagine a small trap door at the end of each finger.  This trap door is hinged on the top, which allows it to open if enough energy pushes it.  Therefore, send enough energy through the fingers to push the trap doors open – and keep them open.
Sometimes I tell students to imagine this energy as a flow of water through a hose, and turn the water on high enough to press the trap doors open and let the water flow outward into space. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #6j 
 

                Link of the Day:
 

Quote of the Day:

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
-Mother Teresa

 

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Bournonville


Throwback Thursday and Bournonville
Dancers are familiar with the unique grand jeté known as the Bournonville leap.  But many dancers don’t know that this term honors August Bournonville, a famous dancer and dance teacher.  He directed the Royal Danish Ballet for almost 50 years.  He also established the Danish style of ballet, which is instantly recognizable for its quick footwork, jumps and expressive mime.  It is interesting to note that Bournonville’s father was French, his mother Swedish, so this man who became so associated with Danish ballet, wasn’t genetically Danish at all. 
His classes were so admired by his students that they wrote them down – and that is partly why we know so much about his teaching today.  Bournonville also choreographed a ballet called Konservatoriet (1849) that is the only surviving ballet that shows ballet exercises as practiced in the early 19th century classroom.
In 1877, he had the honor of being knighted.  He died on November 30, 1879. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #13 
“The Bournonville leap was named for Danish dancer and dance teacher August Bournonville.”

 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”
-Bertrand Russell

 

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wild Weds. Pirouette Popping and Buttons


Wild Weds. Pirouette Popping and Buttons
When preparing in fourth position for a pirouette, there can be a tendency to lift the heels off the floor instead on pressing them down into the floor.  This “popping” of the heels ruins the force that should be created from the preparation.
To prevent this lifting of the heels, it helps to imagine that there are “pirouette buttons” on the floor, located directly underneath each heel.  These buttons are magic pirouette buttons, and they have to be pressed in order to create a successful turn.
Of course, there is also an equal and opposite lift in the body as the heels press down into the floor.
 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #14c 
“Imagine buttons under the heels in a pirouette preparation.”

 
                Link of the Day:

 Quote of the Day:
“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”
-Nido Qubein

 

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Technical Tuesday and Squares and Tilts


Technical Tuesday and Squares and Tilts
I’ve blogged before about the “squareness” of the hips (imagine headlights), required for classical ballet.  Like most things, ballet rules are full of exceptions.
One of these exceptions involves the requirement that the hips should always be square and level.  In any derrière position, when the working leg is above 45 degrees (or even lower, in some cases), the hips can no longer be square and level, due to the body’s skeletal anatomy and capability.
Instead, as the leg lifts off the floor, when it approaches 45 degrees, there is a gradual tilt of the pelvis that must occur in order to achieve high extensions in any derrière position, such as attitude or arabesque.
The rib cage, however, must maintain its square alignment. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Exception to Secret #5a, #5ax:
“When the leg is above 45 degrees in any derrière position, the pelvis must be allowed to tilt.”

 

                Link of the Day:
                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QhVWT6Nqbg
 
 
Quote of the Day:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
-Dr. Seuss

 

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Motivational Monday and Small Things


Motivational Monday and Small Things
Here we are, moving further and further past all the holiday festivities and deep into January.  Sometimes it is not the happiest month, it seems to me.
To help with the January slowdown, it helps to focus the mind on good things.  But sometimes even that is hard to do, so I decided to find just one small thing each day.  Anything at all.  Just one small thing that makes you feel good.
Perhaps it is the early morning song of a solitary bird, singing its heart out with joy.  Perhaps it is a late Christmas gift that you didn’t expect, or a kind word sent to you on Facebook.  It can be anything at all that gives a lift to the spirit.  Some people keep a journal and record these small things so they can look back on them later in the year, or in the years ahead.
Just one small thing.  It can make a big difference.
 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #9 
“Find one small thing each day that lifts your spirits.” 

                Link of the Day:

 

Quote of the Day:

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

-Vincent Van Gogh

 

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