2 3 Ballet Webb: February 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fun Friday Creases


Fun Friday Creases
When dancers stand in passé, or perform a développé to à la seconde at 90 degrees, there is a tendency for the working hip to lift.  Sometimes this lift is slight, but any lift at all destroys the integrity and efficiency of the position.
I’ve blogged before about the “teotard” line where the leotard and tights meet in the front of the hip.  Now I’m going to add the “teotard crease”.  This is a crease that must exist on the side of the working hip, where the thigh in passé (or in à la seconde) forms a right angle with the torso.
Dancers must always maintain a crease at this point; otherwise it means that the hip has been allowed to lift.                                              

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #16d 
“Always maintain the “teotard crease” when in passé or a 90 degree a la seconde position.”

 

                Link of the Day:

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXhET4s6E6A

 
Quote of the Day:
 
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago.  The second best time is today.”
-Unknown

 

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Peg Leg Bates




Throwback Thursday and Peg Leg Bates
For those who think they can’t do something, or who come up with a million excuses, I present Peg Leg Bates.  His real name was Clayton Bates, and he was born in South Carolina in 1907.  He started dancing at age five, but when he was twelve, he lost a leg to conveyor belt while working in a mill.  Despite this setback, he was determined to continue dancing.
His uncle carved a wooden peg leg for him and he used it to create his own unique style of tap dancing.  He worked his way from minstrel shows and carnivals to the vaudeville stage.  In 1930 he performed as a featured tap dancer at such famous venues as the Cotton Club, Connie’s Inn and the Club Zanzibar.  In 1955, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Peg Leg Bates often surpassed other two-legged dancers, and went on to become one of the finest rhythm dancers in the history of tap dancing.
                                                                                                                                        

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #18:  
“Peg Leg Bates was a famous tap dancer with only one leg.”

 

                Link of the Day:  


 

Quote of the Day:

"Life means, do the best you can with what you've got, with all your mind and heart. You can do anything in this world if you want to do it bad enough,"

-Peg Leg Bates

 

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wild Wednesday Gorillas




Wild Wednesday Gorillas
One area that frequently needs improvement in dance students is the use of the arms during balancés.  Balancé is a step that is based very much on illusion – that is, what it looks like to the casual observer is not the way it is actually performed.
For balancés that move side to side, the correct port de bras requires that the arms move across the body, (roughly parallel to the floor).  The path follows the correct back and forth framework of a first port de bras with the arms at the height of the lower rib cage.  The illusion is created because the torso moves side to side with the balancé, giving the impression that the arms do more, and move more, than they actually do.
The most frequent mistake students make is bringing the arms down and then moving them back and forth.  I call this the gorilla port de bras, because that is what it looks like! 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #6L 
“Avoid gorilla arms in balancé.”

 

                Link of the Day:  

 

Quote of the Day:

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."
- Emile Zola

 

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Terrific Tuesday Thigh on Table


Terrific Tuesday Thigh on Table
In attitude derrière, the angle of the leg is important.  Too often dancers allow the knee of the working leg to dip down toward the floor, resulting in a turned-in position.
To prevent this, imagine placing the thigh on a flat table top.  This includes the entire “inside” thigh, and if the attitude is higher than 90 degrees, then it is as though the table top tilts – like an artist’s table.  In other words, the angle of the leg is the same; it simply rotates into a higher position from the hip joint.   Placing the thigh on an imaginary table should cause the entire leg to be on the table as well – including the ankle of the working foot.
Another phrase that can be used is:  “knee up, heel down”.  This also helps achieve the correct position in attitude derrière. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #18c 
“In attitude derrière, imagine the thigh resting on a table.”

                Link of the Day:  


 

Quote of the Day:

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

-George Bernard Shaw

 

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Monday, February 24, 2014

A Monday Gate


A Monday Gate
In a previous blog I talked about how, for any movement, there is a place to go before you go where you are going.  This is particularly true during a first port de bras, when the arms open from fifth en avant (first) to a la seconde.  This is an important area because this port de bras is in almost everything!
This appearance of this lovely presentational port de bra can be ruined if the arms open improperly.  Usually this involves leading with the wrists or the elbows instead of the fingers.  It helps to remember that the fingers lead the movement and open forward as though opening a gate in preparation for moving into a garden, or some other inviting place. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #6k 
“In a first port de bras, the fingertips open forward like opening a gate.”

 

                Link of the Day:

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HlUPVTT9jA
 

Quote of the Day:

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”
-Willie Nelson

 

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday and Varied


Sunday and Varied
Dancers tend to be masters of tunnel vision.  This is largely necessary, due to the demands of the art.  However, I have known dancers who, when asked what they do besides dance, give me a puzzled look.  Sometimes they will answer simply:  “Nothing.”
That is too much of a good thing.  Every dancer – every person, for that matter – needs to cultivate interests outside their main focus.  It can be anything.  But usually, for a dancer, other interests tend to lean toward other artistic areas, like painting or writing. 
Having varied interests tends to make a happier person, and different interests help one another, so each one gets better.
So start thinking about what you like to do, or what area you could delve into that isn’t dance.  You might find that your dance actually improves in the process!
 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #16 
“Have varied interests.”

 

                Link of the Day:

 Quote of the Day:

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
-Benjamin Franklin

 

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Stuff and Yet another Statute


Saturday Stuff and Yet another Statute
I love ballet.  It is so logical and extremely well designed.  It is all codified (written down), so anything can be looked up and verified somewhere.  So if you don’t understand something a dance teacher says, you can look it up and/or Google it.  Be warned, however, that there may be more than one correct answer!
That brings me to today’s great statute.  Everything in ballet has a name and can be reversed.  Think about that the next time you can’t fall asleep.  Try reversing any step (or combination of steps) you can think of, and pretty soon you’ll be able to fall asleep.  Some steps reverse more easily than others, but the statute holds true.  Everything can be reversed.
Asking dancers to reverse a combination is often done at auditions, so it is helpful to become skilled at being able to reverse things immediately – even in the middle of a set of steps.   It is also a fun challenge! 

From the Big Beige Book of Ballet Statutes:

Statute #14:
“Everything in ballet has a name and can be reversed.”  

 

                Link of the Day:

 
Quote of the Day:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
-Soren Kierkegaard

 

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Fun Friday: When in Doubt…




Fun Friday:   When in Doubt…
One of the most important things for a dancer to remember is how to use space effectively.  This involves taking large steps (most of the time – I’ll blog about the exceptions later).  Traveling is tantamount.  In other words, when in doubt, step out.
Using big steps and filling the space should always be in a dancer’s mind.  This becomes difficult when the choreography is unfamiliar, or when the dancer is unsure or insecure about a series of steps.  That’s when there is an almost innate “pulling back” or tentative attack on the steps in question.  This not only looks bad, it also compromises the dancer’s ability to do the step at all.
Instead, remember to take large steps, and remember to use pliés to their full potential. 

From the Big Blue Beige Book of Ballet Statutes:

Statute #13 
“When in doubt, step out.”

                Link of the Day:  


 

Quote of the Day:

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
-Milton Berle

 

 

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Josephine Baker




Throwback Thursday and Josephine Baker
Long before Madonna, Beyonce, or Janet Jackson, there was American-born Josephine Baker.  She was one of the world’s first African American celebrities.
Associated mostly with the Jazz Age, Josephine Baker performed in the Folies Bergère wearing a skirt made of bananas.  It was this appearance that her career began its climb.  French audiences loved her combination of exoticism and natural charm, and she remained popular in France for many years to come.
 In 1936 she returned to the U.S. to star in the Zeigfeld Follies.  It was a disaster. American audiences were not ready for a black celebrity of her status.  Newspaper reviews were nothing less than cruel. 
In 1970 she attempted a comeback on Broadway, and in 1975, she opened a retrospective show in Paris.  She died that year, one week after the show opened, of a brain hemorrhage.
Today her influence is still felt – over one hundred years after her birth.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #17 
“Josephine Baker was one of the world’s first African American celebrities.”

 
                Link of the Day:
                                                                                                                                                                        

Quote of the Day:

“All life is an experiment.  The more experiments you make the better.”

- Waldo Emerson

 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wild Wednesday and Ballet Statute #12




Wild Wednesday and Ballet Statute #12
Negativity in the ballet classroom is horribly counterproductive.  Yes, dancers are constantly chasing a perfection that is unattainable.  Yes, the steps are difficult to do, much less do perfectly.  And yes, dancers are often fatigued or even injured.  That’s the way it is.
Therefore, there is no room for the word “can’t” in ballet.  “I can’t do it because ____ "(fill in the blank).  Every moment, every thought that is less than positive gets in the way of progress.  Although there can be legitimate reasons why a dancer cannot perform, (like a broken leg) there would still be no reason for the use of the word “can’t”.  A broken leg would be obvious and an excuse would be unnecessary.
So purge the word “can’t”. 

From the Beige Book of Ballet Statutes:

Ballet Statute #12 
“There is no ‘can’t’ in ballet.

                Link of the Day:  

 

Quote of the Day:

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare
that things are difficult.”
– Seneca


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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Technical Tuesday and Four Parts




Technical Tuesday and Four Parts
Grand pliés are often performed incorrectly, simply because one of the four parts that make up the grand plié is left out.  Usually this is part three.
A grand plié moves through these four parts:  1. Demi plié, heels on the ground; 2. Full descent, heels off the ground;  3. Return to demi plié with the heels coming back to the floor as soon as possible; and  4.  The knees straighten and the arm opens to à la seconde.
Eliminating or rushing through any of these parts reduces or eliminates the benefits of the grand plié.   But especially part 3:  the heels must return to the floor expediently, to stretch the Achilles tendon and other muscles of the leg, and to provide the “push” or impetus needed to complete the plié and straighten the knees.
There is an exception:   A grand plié in second position.  In this case the heels stay on the floor all the time, and the pelvis never goes lower than the knees. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #2g 
“A grand plié has four parts.”
 

                Link of the Day:

 
Quote of the Day:

"Kindness is the language the blind can see and the deaf can hear."
- Mark Twain

 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday and Ice Cream Cones




Monday and Ice Cream Cones
I’ve talked before about the movement of the foot in tendu.  How it never leaves the floor, and how it should go “through the foot” as it moves along the floor.   But since tendu is the second most important step in ballet, it is useful to have as many images related to it as possible.
One that works well is to imagine the floor as a giant ice cream cone, with the dancer standing on the top.  Imagine any flavor you like:  chocolate fudge, vanilla caramel, etc.  If the bottom of the foot had taste buds, like the tongue, then performing a tendu should be like licking the ice cream.
The foot should “slurp” along the floor (the ice cream), on the way in and on the way out.  Yummmm!
 
From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #4d:
“A tendu should “slurp” along the floor like licking an ice cream cone.”

                 Link of the Day:
                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47koNFAGcXw

Quote of the Day:

“My love for ice cream emerged at an early age - and has never left!”
-Ginger Rogers

 

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday and the Happiness Chase




Sunday and the Happiness Chase
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are familiar words.  But I wonder if sometimes we are not chasing happiness – happiness is chasing us.  We are so focused on our goals, or the problems of the day that we never allow happiness to catch up with us.  We leave it in our dust.   I think dancers can be particularly prone to leaving happiness far behind us as we pursue a perfection that is, by definition, unattainable.
Now, I am not suggesting that we give up the drive to succeed.  Not at all.  Dancers must be hungry, and stay hungry if they want to compete.  But within each day there should be enough time allowed for happiness to catch up and fall in step with us. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #15 
“Allow time in each day for happiness to catch up and fall in step with you.”

 

                Link of the Day:

 
Quote of the Day:

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
-Guillaume Apollinaire

 

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Super Saturday and the Magic Turn-out Detector


Super Saturday and the Magic Turn-out Detector
When students learn to plié, often the concept of “knees over toes” can be hard to understand and even harder to produce.  Even for experienced dancers, the tendency for the knees to roll forward – in front of the knees - is a habit that can creep into the technique.
One answer: a Magic Turn-out Detector that is simple to make.  Using a string or shoelace, put a weight of some kind on the bottom (a drapery weight, an eraser, or even a marble if you glue it).  Then hold the top of the string at the center of the kneecap, and have the student plié.  The weight should fall directly in line with the toes of the turned-out foot.  If it falls in front, the turned-out plié position must be corrected.  

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #3g 
“Use a Magic Turn-out Detector to make sure that the plié knee is aligned over the toes.”

 

                Link of the Day:
                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iS4Yj_84Co 

 Quote of the Day: 
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
— Mark Twain

  

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine’s Day and Hearts


Valentine’s Day and Hearts
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d talk about the beautiful heart shape that should be created by a dancer’s feet when they stand in sous-sus.  This heart is especially evident when the relevé is on pointe but is also noticeable on demi-pointe.
When correctly executed, the heart shape is created by a turned-out relevé in fifth position;  and when viewed from the front shows two heels but only one toe. 
Creating this perfectly shaped heart is more difficult than it may appear.  It requires the front toe to align directly in front of the back toe.  It is all too easy to cross the feet too much, or too little.  In either case, the heart shape disappears.
 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #8e 
“In a sous-sus in fifth position the feet should make a heart shape.”

 

                Link of the Day:
 

A Valentine Quote of the Day:
 

“Love is friendship set to music.”
-Joseph Campbell

  

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Shirley Temple




Throwback Thursday and Shirley Temple
This week the world lost a wonderful talent and a great human being.  Shirley Temple Black, famous child star from the movies of the Depression era, died Monday at age 85.
She helped lead a generation through the Great Depression with her charm, her smile, and her face surrounded by ringlets of curls.  She danced on screen with many legendary performers, including Bill Robinson.  At the time, he was 57 and she was six years old.  Together, they created a groundbreaking moment in the movies where two races came together and gave us some of the most wonderful minutes of choreography ever recorded.
Shirley Temple retired from performing at age 22, and in 1969 President Nixon named her ambassador to the United Nations.  Later, she became ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, working under several different U.S. Presidents. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #16  
“Shirley Temple was a child star of the Depression era, who helped change the face of American movies and dance.”

                Link of the Day:  


 

Quote of the Day:

“Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.”
-Agnes Martin

 

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wacky Wednesday and Zippered Knees


Wacky Wednesday and Zippered Knees
This is turning into the Week of the Knee.  Which is very different than being weak in the knees…. :)
Anyway, one common problem for dancers is having a supporting leg that is almost, but not quite straight.  This also happens frequently in arabesque on both legs.  The legs may feel straight, but they are not quite there.
To help achieve a leg that is fully straight with a fully pulled up knee, imagine a zipper running up the back of the leg, and pull it up.  The sensation of pulling the zipper should be like trying to put on a pair of snuggly –fitting jeans.  

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #7k 
“To achieve a fully straightened knee, imagine a zipper running up the back of the leg.”

                Link of the Day:  


 

Quote of the Day:

“Gossip is hardly uplifting.”
-Ginger Rogers

 

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Terrific Tuesday and Relaxed Knees


Terrific Tuesday and Relaxed Knees
Today I am addressing the ladies – mostly.  In an earlier blog I talked about how the knees have smiley faces when the patella is pulled up, and the knees should almost always be smiling when the legs are straight.  Now I’ve come to the exception:  bourrées.
Bourrées are one of ballet’s most magical steps, especially when performed on pointe.  Without any special effects at all, a dancer who executes them well will appear to be floating across the stage – more so if there is a layer of mist from dry ice wafting across the scene.
To achieve this floating illusion, the knees must be relaxed.  The legs work like a fine sewing machine needle with more of an up and down motion than a side to side one.  The back leg propels the dancer forward, and the thighs come apart very little or not at all.  But it is the relaxed nature of the knees that allows all of this to happen. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #13f 
“In a bourrée, the knees must be relaxed.”
 

                Link of the Day:  

Beginning at 3:25 for some beautiful bourrées


 

Quote of the Day:

“Work.  Don’t Think. Relax.”
-Ray Bradbury

 

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday and Going to the Knee


Monday and Going to the Knee
Something that occurs with a certain frequency in ballet is when a dancer “goes to the knee”.  This position, with much of the weight resting on one knee, is often one that may be held for several counts, so it is helpful if the descent doesn’t come crashing down to the floor, thus bruising the knee.
In order to descend correctly, the dancer must maintain a pointed foot, and slide downward using the foot as a sort of braking mechanism.  Never should the foot flex so the finishing position has a foot that looks more like a kickstand on a bicycle.
This gradual sliding descent not only looks pleasing, it also prevents injuring the vulnerable knee joint. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #7j:
“When going down on one knee, slide on the top of a pointed foot.”

 

                Link of the Day:
                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O_zHJqqo9s

 Quote of the Day:
“Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions; it is governed by our mental attitude.”
-Dale Carnegie

 

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