2 3 Ballet Webb: June 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mad Monday Manège


Mad Monday Manège

The French word manège (ma-NEZH) means circular.  Most dancers are familiar with the term since it is used frequently in the ballet classroom, particularly when it comes to a sequence of traveling turns that move in a circular pattern around the room or the stage.

It is this circular pattern that can cause problems.  Since “if it turns it spots”, (Ballet Statute #5) the dancer must spot while traveling in a circle, and exactly where to spot can be confusing. 

It is actually very simple.   Think of the path not as a circle, but as a square, or rectangle (depending on the configuration of the room or the stage).  If the dancer begins in the downstage left corner of a square stage, and the combination calls for sixteen piqué turns, the first four turns will spot the wings on the stage right side, the next four will spot the upstage wall or scrim, the third set will spot the stage left wings, and the final set of turns will spot toward the audience – thus bringing the dancer full circle and back to the beginning point.

This is the basic hint for most circular patterns – divide the number of turns into the space and spot accordingly.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #14h:  
When performing a manège of traveling turns, think of the path as a square or rectangle.”

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:

“The whole universe is based on rhythms.  Everything happens in circles, in spirals.”
-          John Hartford

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Be the Reason


Sunday Be the Reason

Whatever is on your agenda today, find a way to make someone smile.  It can be a little thing or a big thing, but put it on your To Do List.  In fact, it would be a good way to start every daily To Do List.  Make “Get a Smile” number one.

It doesn’t matter if it is a friend, family member or stranger, just say or do something that elicits a smile.  Maybe a compliment, maybe a good deed, or perhaps an encouraging email – in the case of the email, you won’t get to see the smile, but you will know it’s there!

So make someone else smile today.  It might just make you smile, too!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #32:  
“Be the reason someone smiles today.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“A smile is the curve that sets everything straight.”
-Unknown

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Pas de Chat


Saturday Pas de Chat

Most students know that pas de chat means “step of the cat”.  I haven’t seen my own cats duplicate this step precisely, but I can see the similarity of movement.

The problem with pas de chats, as with so many steps, is drooping.  The feet never achieve enough height during the jump and this often prevents the jump itself (and the dancer) from achieving good height - in other words, a grounded pas de chat.  Not good!

To help with pas de chats, remember Ballet Secret #15m“A pas de chat is two passés”:  one with the leading foot and the second with the following foot.  This makes the step look crisp and helps the dancer achieve a good lift away from the floor.


From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #15m:  
“A pas de chat is two passés.”

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.”
-          Unknown

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Fun Friday Shooting Saut de Chat


Fun Friday Shooting Saut de Chat

That wonderful step called saut de chat is where a dancer can feel truly abandoned!  It differs from a standard grand jeté because of the action of the front leg.  In a regular grand jeté, the front leg brushes out and up straight (like a grand battement), as the dancer propels herself into the air.

In a saut de chat, the front leg instead operates like a rapid, aggressive developpé.  In both jumps, the back leg performs a grand battement as it leaves the floor, simultaneous with the action of the front leg.  This synchronicity is crucial to the success of the jump.

In a saut de chat, it is important that the front leg shoots out parallel to the floor.  It as if the dancer is trying to fly through the air and have the front leg stick into the wall!   Watch a dancer from the corner of the room they are traveling toward and this “shooting out parallel to the floor” will be immediately obvious.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #15L:  
“A saut de chat involves shooting the front leg out parallel to the floor.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“Everything you need for better future and success has already been written.  And guess what?  All you have to do is go to the library.
-          Henri Frederic Amiel

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva




Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva
Olga Spessivtseva was born in 1895 in a small Russian village.  When her father died in 1901, she was sent to live at an orphanage, and at age ten she began studying at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg.  She soon joined the company and moved quickly from soloist (1916) to ballerina (1918).
She was known for her virtuosity and for her poignant character portrayals, particularly in the ballet Giselle.  It is said that when she performed it, people wept.   Offstage she was shy and introverted, but when it came to dance, she was a consummate perfectionist.  In order to prepare for the famous mad scene in Giselle, she visited several insane asylums to study the movement patterns and expressions of the patients.
She danced briefly with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, performing the role of Aurora in The Sleeping Princess.  She returned to Russia and danced the role there, but this was the period of the Russian Revolution and life was different and difficult.   Olga wrote the following in her diary:
“Life is hard – like the grey soldiers’ overcoats at the theatre, it defies description. Neither the theatres nor the rehearsal classes were heated. In warm breeches and woollen tops we rehearsed and as soon as we stopped the sweat steamed off as it did on horses. …This year my brother Alexander, twenty one years old, was killed on the streets.”
Soon after, Olga left Russian forever. 
During a performance in 1934 she had a mental breakdown, and became completely unaware of the music or the choreography.   The curtain was lowered and the newspapers said she had suffered a sprained ankle.  In 1939 her patron moved her to New York, because he believed it would be safer for her there with WW II approaching.  In 1943 she had a complete mental breakdown and was admitted to the Hudson River Asylum for the Insane, where she lived for the next 20 years.
She was discharged in 1963 and moved to the Tolstoy Foundation Farm in Rockland County, New York.  There, this real-life Giselle’s life ended age 96.

 From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Dance History Factoid #35:  

“Olga Spessivtseva was a famous Russian ballerina known for her superb technique and for her exquisite portrayal of Giselle.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”
-          Napoleon Hill

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wild Wednesday Pointer Prop




Wild Wednesday Pointer Prop
A very useful prop is a telescoping pointer.   It looks like a pen until it is pulled, at which time it becomes longer and longer…and even longer.  Mine extends almost three feet.  College professors and business managers have used them in front of classrooms and in business meetings for years, to point to things on a blackboard or chart.
I use my pointer to demonstrate the energy required to achieve that favorite concept: “pulling up”.  To begin, I take the pointer and pull it out only part way, saying that this may look like a lot of energy, but more is needed.  Then I continue to pull it further, but still not all the way, although it appears as if it couldn’t be extended any more.  The students, nod, and usually smile, immediately understanding.
That’s when I pull the pointer  to its full length – which is considerable – and tell the dancers that this is how much they need to be doing when they extend their energy upward  (and downward) to “pull up”. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #20h 
“A metal telescoping pointer is a great prop to illustrate 'pulling up'.”
 

                Link of the Day:

 Quote of the Day:
“Friendship isn’t about who came first and who you’ve know the longest, it’s about who came and never left.”
-Unknown

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Tuesday Détourné


 
Tuesday Détourné
The French word “détourné” means roundabout, and that is an accurate description of the standard balletic step.  A détourné involves two things:  a pivot on the ball of the foot, and a fouetté action.  The fouetté part happens immediately after the pivot in such a way that it blends seamlessly into the fouetté at the end.
The fouetté can be thought of as “turning to face the foot”, that is, the foot that ends up in front (usually).  And, because a détourné is a turn, that means it has a spot!  See Ballet Statute #5:  http://balletwebb.blogspot.com/2013/12/wonderful-wednesday-turns-and-spots.html.
A common problem with a détourné happens when the dancer’s weight is placed too far back.  Then the pivot occurs on the heel (gasp!) instead of the ball of the foot. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #14g 
“A détourné involves both a pivot and a fouetté.”
 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Always do your best.  What you plant now you will harvest later.”
Og Mandino

 

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Melt




Monday Melt
I’ve talked before about how the foot should be relaxed when it is in contact with the floor (Ballet Secret #16h).  This is never truer than in that most important step, plié. 
Because pliés occur at the beginning of class, whatever the dancer does during that first plié exercise sets up a pattern for all the combinations that follow.  If the plié is tense and the feet are clenched, this tends to be repeated for every other step for the duration of the class.  Scary!
So when doing that first plié exercise, imagine the feet resting on a comfortably warm platter.  As the knees bend, the feet melt, like butter – pooling onto the floor.  This helps keep tension at bay and produces a smoother, safer plié. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #2k 
“In that first plié exercise, imagine the feet resting on a warm platter and melting like butter.”

 
                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“You can look for external sources of motivation and that can catalyze a change, but it won’t sustain one.  It has to be from an internal desire.”
-          Jillian Michaels
       

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Doubt




Sunday Doubt
Dancers are perfectionists and seeking perfection breeds doubt.  Therefore dancers are doubters.  We are – generally – an insecure breed.  This is fostered, I’m sure, by the constant flow of criticism (hopefully constructive) that rains down upon us in every class.
But we must learn to thrive in this “city of doubt” as today’s quote says.  And we do.  Dancers adjust, and even excel, surrounded by a constant chorus of what we are doing wrong.
So in this environment of never measuring up, take hope!  Take time to remember all the paths you have traveled, and the advancements that have been made.  Don’ focus constantly on the things that need improving without looking back on the wonders that have been – and will be - accomplished.
Learn to thrive in the city of doubt. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #31 
“Learn to thrive in the city of doubt.”

 

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:

“Creative people are confident in only one thing: their own doubt. I think there’s a huge lack of self-confidence in a creative person because, by nature, the definition of a creative person is someone who is trying to make something new….They build within that city of doubt.” – John Maeda

 

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday Mosquitoes


 
Saturday Mosquitoes
A grand battement is a forceful step.  Sometimes dancers forget this fact and kick with a non- aggressive attack, especially if they are tired.  Since grand battements generally occur at the end of barre, if it has been a particularly long and/or challenging barre, fatigue may have set in.   But this must be overcome!
To prevent lazy grand battements, imagine a pesky mosquito hovering about.  Kick upward with enough force to kill this annoying insect!  If the force isn’t great enough, the result will be just one stunned mosquito.  And what happens then?  He comes back madder than ever!
So a grand battement must kick with enough force to kill a mosquito – not just stun him! 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #12b 
“In a grand battement, kick with enough force to kill a mosquito hovering in the air.” 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”

-Christine Todd Whitman

 

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Fun Friday Falling


Fun Friday Falling
Dancers must not be afraid to fall!  Falling is inevitable, although of course we hope it happens in the classroom, and not on the stage.  But falling onstage happens too, and a dancer must learn to recover and carry on – unless there is an injury involved that precludes any further dancing.  In cases like this, the dancer should find a way offstage, or the technical director will bring the curtain down.  This is a rare occurrence, fortunately.
I have heard some teachers say that a dancer should fall at least once in every class.  While I understand the idea – a dancer needs to practice falling – I don’t agree with the necessity of falling down every day!
The technique for falling is simply this:  relax.  Try to relax when you find yourself in an inescapable fall, instead of tensing up and being afraid.  This is why practicing falling is important.  I remember one utterly fearless student who fell with such regularity and abandon that I feared for her safety – but she never got hurt!  She was totally relaxed whenever she fell.
So don’t be afraid to fall.  Practice falling in class, so it isn’t such a scary thing. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #7w 
 “ A dancer must practice falling.” 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

-          Mary Pickford           

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Flemming Flindt




Throwback Thursday and Flemming Flindt
For those who think ballets are always sweet, romantic and filled with ethereal beings, I give you choreographer Flemming Flindt. 
Flemming Flindt was Danish, born to parents who owned a restaurant near the Royal Theater in Copenhagen.  He was a dancer, company director and choreographer, who, like Bournonville before him, helped preserve his country’s ballet heritage.  He began his dance studies at age ten at the Royal Danish Ballet School, and as his performing career developed he danced typical classical roles.
In 1966 he became the director of The Royal Danish Ballet, and introduced several changes.  One was having the company hold open auditions, and for the first time in its history, hire non-Danish dancers.  He remained director until 1978.  From 1981 to 1989, he directed The Dallas Ballet in Texas, and traveled throughout America and Europe staging productions.
Flemming Flindt is probably best known as a choreographer, and his works are, well, somewhat unusual – at least compared to traditional ballets.  His first ballet is probably his most famous.  “The Lesson” was choreographed in 1963 and depicts a ballet teacher who murders his students. 
Flemming Flindt died in 2009 at his home in Sarasota, Florida. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #34 
“Flemming Flindt was a Danish choreographer, dancer, and director who created many ballets including The Lesson’.” 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
-          Wayne Dyer

 

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wacky Wednesday Towels (Again)


 
Wacky Wednesday Towels (Again)
Yes, it a day for towels again.  Yesterday I talked about using a towel to help center the arms in pirouettes, and today the subject is how towels can be used in that most beloved of all steps:  rond de jambe en l’air.
One of the secrets to rond de jambe en l’air is keeping the thigh of the working leg at a constant level and not allowing it to drop or twist around.  Of course, it is always important is to engage the turn-out!
To help maintain the integrity of the thigh, the teacher, or another student, wraps the towel, sling-like, under the thigh near the knee.  The two ends of the towel are held above the leg, allowed the thigh to rest in this sling.
Explain that this is the feeling needed when performing a rond de jambe en l’air – there is a sensation of support beneath the thigh at all times. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #20g 
“A towel can be used to support the thigh of the working leg in rond de jambe en’lair.”

 

                Link of the Day:
 

Quote of the Day:

“To be successful you don’t need a beautiful face and heroic body; what you need is a skillful mind and ability to perform.
-          Rowan Atkinson
 

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Terrific Tuesday Towels


Terrific Tuesday Towels
In pirouettes of all kinds, the arms have a tendency to wander around on their own.  And arms, as we know, cannot be trusted to randomly meander about.
The path these rogue arms tend to take in pirouettes is a twisting one.  Instead of remaining perfectly centered, with the hands directly in front of the lower rib cage (in first or fifth en avant), they twist to the side.  This twists the torso and destroys the integrity of the turn.  It is difficult to pirouette when everything is all twisted.
To prevent this, use a towel (or anything similar), and ask the dancer to hold it in the hand that begins in front (first or fifth en avant) on the preparation.  Then, as the turn begins and the other arm joins the hand holding the towel, this hand grabs the towel as well.  During the pirouette, both hands hold the towel firmly in the correct fifth en avant position in front of the lower rib cage.  This prevents the twisting action and makes the dancer more aware of where the arms need to remain for the duration of the turn.  

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #20f 
“Use a towel to demonstrate how the arms must stay centered on the torso in a pirouette.”
 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“Life is like a camera…
Focus on what’s important,
Capture the good times,
Develop from the negatives,
And if thing don’t work out,
Take another shot.”
-Anonymous

 

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Shower


Monday Shower
Shaping the arms in à la seconde requires attention to the problem of drooping elbows.  This ruins the beautiful curve of the arms and makes the dancer look lazy.  I have blogged several times about ways to prevent this drooping elbow syndrome, suggesting ideas from marionette strings to pillows under the arms.
So now a test!  A way to find out if the arms are indeed, correctly shaped.  This test can be, and should be, done in the privacy of one’s own home – specifically the shower.
When the arms are correctly shaped, most of the water from a showerhead will flow down the shoulder, down the arm and finally, roll down off the first finger.  If the elbow is dropped, the water will run down at that point, rather like a broken gutter.
So try this test the next time you are in a shower, or perhaps under a waterfall! 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #6t:  
“When standing beneath the water in a shower, if the arms are correctly shaped in à la seconde, the water will run down the arm and off the first finger.” 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“To learn something, to master something, anything, is as sweet as first love.”
― Geoffrey Wolff

 

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Three Pillars


Sunday Three Pillars
Three things to think about this week:  The Three Pillars of Inspiration.  These three things can help pull you out of a rut, shift your focus, and generally help you feel more inspired.
The first pillar is this:  turn off your phone and /or any other electronic devices.  I know, I know.  But you can do it.  Just turn things off for a short, set period – a half hour.  Unplug yourself.  Then use that half hour to begin pillar number two.
The second pillar:  Focus.  This can be giving attention to anything you normally ignore, or don’t usually notice.  Your focus can be inward (daydream or brainstorm!), or outward (appreciate the beauty around you).
The third pillar:  As you unplug, be positive and non-judgmental.  Don’t berate yourself for ignoring your phone for a half hour, or worry about what else you should (see this previous Sunday blog:  http://balletwebb.blogspot.com/2014/05/sunday-should.html ) be doing.  Let the daydreaming inspire you and encourage new thoughts and ideas.  Give in to your childlike self, if only for a brief time.  You might be surprised at the results.
Just a half hour a day this week.  Try it. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #30 
 “Remember the three pillars of inspiration.” 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“We get sucked into the Internet and streaming information, and it’s time to just unplug and look within.”
-          Jonathan Cain

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday Accents


Saturday Accents
In a previous blog: http://balletwebb.blogspot.com/2013/10/d-e-gag-e-s-battement-d-e-gag-e-s.html  I discussed dégagé and mentioned the image I’m going to talk about today.  In a dégagé, the musical accent can be “in”:  as the dancer closes the foot in fifth, or on the outward stroke, as the foot reaches its full stretch.  Most commonly, it is as the foot closes in fifth.
This can be difficult for some beginners.  The idea that works most often for them (and sometimes for more advanced dancers, too), is this:   Imagine that closing your feet in first or fifth is like clapping your hands.  Explain that it isn’t supposed to make a sound and that the closing action needs to be done gently – the feet never slam into position.  But the rhythm established is like clapping hands to a beat.  I will sometimes illustrate this concept by first clapping my hands “wrong”, and putting the accent out.  The students get it, and often make the leap to understanding that the “wrong” way to clap is the other way to accent a dégagé - on the “out” action. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #4h 
 “When the musical accent of a dégagé is in first or fifth position, think of clapping your feet.” 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are nice, but because you are.”
-Anonymous 

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Fun Friday and the Internal Straw


Fun Friday and the Internal Straw
When drawing the foot up to passé, usually in preparation for a developpé in any direction, the foot must peel itself off the floor and move directly to the knee, following a straight line up the shin.  This seems to be easier to do when the goal is to stop in retiré.  If the goal is a developpé, the foot, and therefore the leg, tends to drift away from the leg and move upward through the vastness of space. 
To keep the foot following the correct straight path up the shinbone, imagine that the body has an internal straw.  It runs from the top of the head, through the torso and down through the supporting leg and on into the floor. 
When preparing to developpé, imagine sucking a milkshake through this straw and use that force to draw the foot upward along the proper path. 

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #11b 
“Imagine an internal straw running vertically through the center of the body.” 
 

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“I compare a lot of life to looking at a map through a straw. The less ability you have to see life in a humorous way, the smaller the straw is that you're looking at the map of life. You're not looking at the whole picture. You can't see the whole topography without it, and it can help you to make better choices.”

-Reggie Watts

 

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