2 3 Ballet Webb: August 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

Marvelous Monday Tennis Balls and Goldilocks


Marvelous Monday Tennis Balls and Goldilocks

When the arms are in fifth en bas, the correct, curved shape of the arms must be maintained. You will remember that this curve is the same in almost all positions of the arm (except ones like arabesque, etc.).

The problem in fifth en bas is a tendency for the elbows to either droop backwards (and there is no drooping in ballet), or relax too much and rest against the torso. Not good.

A small space is always maintained between the elbow and the side of the dancer’s torso. This space shouldn’t be too big or too small (think Goldilocks) – it must be just right. So imagine being able to pass a tennis ball through the space. It should just fit, with almost no space left over.  Something like a bowling ball won’t fit, it would be too big. And a ping pong ball is a bit too small…

But a tennis ball is just right.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #6aa:  
Imagine being able to pass a tennis ball between the elbow and the torso in fifth en bas.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““Believing in negative thoughts is the single greatest obstruction to success.”
Charles F. Glassman, Brain Drain The Breakthrough That Will Change Your Life

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Super Fun Sunday


Super Fun Sunday

When I was studying elementary education, it was emphasized that good lessons for young students involve this principle: Make it fun. I think this applies to all of us.

I certainly don’t like doing things that aren’t, on some level, fun. I don’t like going to the doctor, starting an unpleasant task, or confronting a difficult person. These things aren’t fun. But lots and lots of things are fun: learning something new, meeting a wonderful person, looking at an inspirational view, reading a great book or online article…the list is literally endless. Fun, fun, fun!

How can you apply this to the everyday, repetitive things we do (or worse, have to do)? By looking for the “fun” that is hidden everywhere. It’s like a treasure hunt. Find the fun, and/or find a way to make it fun. In a difficult ballet class, focus on what you can do well and have fun with that, even while working on the challenging bits. Once you get close to mastering the difficult things, celebrate and have fun with that. Also, remember to embrace how great it feels to dance – I think we too often forget about this.

Be a treasure hunter of fun. You’ll like it!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #80:  
“The secret to motivation is: Make it fun.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.”
Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Silly Saying


Saturday Silly Saying

Here we go again with another Silly Saying. This one could apply to people other than dancers, too. Here it is: “The best (dance)things you do will never be seen by a director, teacher, or the audience.” I will go one step further (no pun intended), and add that the best dance moves usually occur in one’s kitchen – and when no one else is around.

My dancer friends and I have discussed this phenomenon, and wondered if kitchens have some magical force that allows for extended balances, and multiple pirouettes. Maybe it has something to do with all those appliances?

It undoubtedly has more to do with the fact that in one’s own kitchen a dancer is simply more relaxed and therefore able to do things that wouldn’t happen in stressful or judgmental situations. Just a thought.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Silly Saying #43:  
“The best (dance)things you do will never be seen by a , teacher or the audience.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Fun Friday Tiny Face


Fun Friday Tiny Face

An all-too-common problem for dancers is excessive pronation. We call it “rolling” on the arches, and it occurs when students attempt to force their turn-out beyond their limit.

When this happens, the little toe lifts away from the floor and the arch and the front of the foot roll forward, sometimes even resting on the floor. Scary.

The most important thing is this:  students must fully understand how to properly develop turn-out by rotating the femur in the hip socket and not by twisting the feet and ankles into positions they aren’t yet ready for.

 It helps to imagine a tiny face painted on the underside of the pinky toe. This face must “kiss” the floor at all times when the whole foot is in contact with the floor.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #7yy:  
“Imagine a tiny face underneath the little toe and have it “kiss” the floor whenever the whole foot is in contact with the floor.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
Aristotle
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday and Spotting


Throwback Thursday and Spotting

A student asked recently where “spotting” came from. As all dancers know, spotting is what keeps us from becoming so dizzy during turns that we crash into things. Here is the technical definition: “Spotting is the process of delaying the rotation of the head, relative to the body's rotational speed, by way of visual focus on one or more fixed points in space.” Well! To simplify this, spotting just means keeping the head (and focus) fixed for a period of time while the body rotates underneath.

But where did this technique originate? It is believed that Carlo Blasis (http://balletwebb.blogspot.com/2015/03/throwback-thursday-and-carlo-blasis.html) invented spotting, and according to the website www.the-perfect-pointe.com http://www.the-perfect-pointe.com/PointeHistory.html, spotting was the “secret weapon” of the Italian school that allowed for feats of virtuosity such as multiple turns.

I suspect spotting could also have been an outgrowth of a natural inclination to keep looking at a fixed place while the body turns. But Carlo Blasis took the idea and refined it.

The truth is, we don’t really know for sure. If you find any old papers hidden in an attic that describe the first use of spotting in dance, let me know!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #83:  
“Spotting is believed to have been invented by Carlo Blasis.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”
J.K. Rowling

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wild Wednesday Smartphone


Wild Wednesday Smartphone

Yesterday I talked about pulling up into relevé by using two imaginary ropes. I also mentioned that this image helps keep the torso in one piece during turns – an important thing for successful pirouettes.  Unfortunately, a disjointed torso is a common problem.

Therefore, here is another image for that problematic torso: Imagine the torso as a giant Smartphone – nice and solid. On each turn, the display side of the phone comes to the front in one piece, so the information on it can be read. At no time does the phone twist or break.

So for solid, successful pirouettes, picture the torso as a Smartphone and flash the display to the audience on each turn.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #14u:  
Imagine the torso as a Smartphone so it will stay in one piece during turns.

                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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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Technical Tuesday Double Ropes


Technical Tuesday Double Ropes

In a pirouette, it is important that the torso remain solid. This keeps everything together in one solid piece, allowing for multiple rotations without anything becoming disconnected.

To do this effectively, a dancer must be able to feel the muscles in the back and torso that must be engaged. The easiest way to feel this is to use the double rope image. Imagine two large ropes hanging from the ceiling with a knot tied on the bottom end. Place one hand on each “rope” during the preparation, then relevé to retiré by “pulling” on the ropes.

If the two ropes were really there, it would be easy-peasy to balance forever in retiré. But even the imaginary ropes should produce the correct muscular sensation and allow for an extended, easy balance, and ultimately, better pirouettes.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #14t:  

“Imagine two ropes hanging from the ceiling, and feel the sensation of how the back muscles work when pulling down on them.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Mad Monday Magnetism


Mad Monday Magnetism

Keeping the foot attached to the floor in tendues (and some other steps) can be a problem. The feet tend to “pop off” the floor, especially at the end (extension) of the tendu. Now it is no longer a tendu.

To keep that all-important contact with the floor, imagine that the floor is a giant magnet, or is completely magnetized. Now pretend that your ballet shoes or pointe shoes are made of a lightweight, flexible metal. Feel the sensation of the magnetic floor drawing the shoe downward as the tendu moves outward.

This is what needs to happen on each and every tendu. Magnet power!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #4o:  
Imagine standing on a magnetic floor wearing metal shoes.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““It’s the unknown that draws people.”
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sensational Sunday Small Steps


Sensational Sunday Small Steps

At the beginning of each college semester, professors usually hand out a syllabus of the work expected for the class. I don’t know about you, but I always found these things pretty daunting. It always seemed like an impossible amount of work.

That’s because the syllabus was presenting the Big Picture. Big Pictures are scary. But when the work is done a little bit at a time, consistently, it often isn’t difficult at all. Most things in life are like that, I’ve discovered. Looking at how far one has to go is discouraging, but focusing on the small steps that can be taken today to get there makes it seem much easier. Like the image above, a staircase could be pretty frightening if you had to get to the top by taking a giant leap over all the steps, but going one step at a time is so easy we never even think about it.

If you are discouraged by any step or piece of choreography, break it down into smaller pieces and focus on that one piece each day. Gradually the Big Picture will come into focus, and it won’t be so scary.

It works for other things in life too. Try it.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivatinal Secret #79:  
“Take small steps consistently.”

                Link of the Day:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aY5EikJbPk

Quote of the Day:
““I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”
Abraham Lincoln

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Stage Statute


Saturday Stage Statute

In the history of the performing arts, some stage statutes are true for everyone. Whether a dancer, actor, singer, etc., these rules remain true.

Today’s Stage Statute is one of these rules and it is an oldie but a goodie: “If you can see them, they can see you”. This is designed to remind performers that if they aren’t standing far enough back in the wings, or if they try to sneak a peek at the audience, they can be seen.

Being seen (or heard, gasp!) backstage destroys the magic of the theater and is strictly prohibited. Since performers work so hard to make the magic happen, they don’t want it to be compromised, even a little bit.

So remember: “If you can see them, they can see you.”

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Stage Statute #42:  
“If you can see them, they can see you.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

““The stage is a magic circle where only the most real things happen, a neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe.”
P.S. Baber, Cassie Draws the Universe

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Fun Friday Make It Snappy


Fun Friday Make It Snappy

The abdominal area is a constant source of frustration for many dancers. No matter how hard they try to keep the"stomach in”, once they forget to think about it everything relaxes. It would be nice to have a way to keep it intact.

Well, the secret is repetition. The more you think about holding the abdominals, the closer this gets to being the kind of habit you want to cultivate. Once the habit is established, you won’t have to think much about it any longer.

So to get this habit off to a good start try Ballet Secret 1rr: Imagine one half of a giant internal snap located behind the belly button and snap it to the other half located on the inside of the spine. It helps to also imagine hearing the resounding click of the snap as it locks in place.

You could also refer back to Ballet Secret 1x: “To help engage the abdominal muscles, imagine two internal pieces of Velcro:  one behind the belly button, and one on the inside of the spine.”

Whether you imagine Velcro or a snap, either one (or both) will help keep the abdominal muscles engaged and strong.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Secret #15p:  

1rr. 1rr. Imagine one half of a giant internal snap located behind the belly button and snap it to the other half located on the inside of the spine.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“To learn something new is a timeless pleasure and a valuable treasure.”

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Throwback Thursday and the Christiensen Brothers


Throwback Thursday and the Christiensen Brothers

The three Christiensen brothers, William (1902), Harold (1904) and Lew (1909), were born into a family of Mormon dance and music masters. They were instrumental in fostering the development of ballet in the United States, particularly in the western part of the country.

Their early training was received from family members, and they began their careers in vaudeville. During this period, Lew and Harold studied with George Balanchine, and in 1937 Lew danced the title role in Apollo. He went on to choreograph the ballet Filling Station that has become an American classic.

Meanwhile, William began his association with the San Francisco Opera Ballet (that became the San Francisco Ballet). This later involved all three brothers: Harold as director of the San Francisco Ballet School and Lew as artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet.

In 1951 William established a ballet program at the University of Utah that ultimately became Ballet West.

William died in 2001, Harold in 1989, and Lew in 1984. A book on their lives called The Christensen Brothers, An American Dance Epic was written by Debra Hickenlooper Sowell.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #82:  
The Christiensen brothers fostered the development of ballet in the United States.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
William Faulkner

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wacky Wednesday Pop


Wacky Wednesday Pop

I’ve blogged before about assemblé; see Ballet Secret # 15d: “In an assemblé, to make sure the legs assemble in the air, imagine catching a fly between the ankles.”  As most dance students know, assemblés must assemble in the air. That’s the important part – in the air, not on the landing. And like a cabriole, the second leg must travel up and out to meet the first leg in the air. That means that the first leg can’tt go up so high that the second leg is unable to “catch” it.

Another fun step is the petit assemblé, which, unlike the standard assemblé, assembles as the leg (usually in cou de pied) shoots downward toward the floor, and a lovely fifth position sous-sus in the air is shown before the dancer lands in fifth.

To do this effectively, imagine the effervescence of a bottle of carbonated soda, and lift the body as though the bottle was just shaken and the bubbles rise madly - causing the top to pop off.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #15gg:  
Petit assemblés assemble downward instead of outward.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“Life is not a solo act. It's a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife.”
-          Tim Gunn


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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Technical Tuesday Échappé


Technical Tuesday Échappé

Yesterday I blogged about sous-sus and how each leg travels an equal distance to come from fifth to relevé. An échappé does something similar.

The word “échappé” comes from the French word échapper which means “to escape; and that is what the feet do – they “escape” from fifth position (usually) and move to an open position like fourth or second. The definition is: “of a movement) progressing from a closed position (first, third, or fifth) to an open position (second or fourth) of the feet.”

An échappé is not only a jumping step, but also a pointe step. The movement is almost the same: each foot travels (slides) outward equally to an open position. It is like sous-sus but in reverse: the movement is outward instead of inward. Sous-sus and échappé are often combined in choreography and classroom pointe-work exercises.

The secret to échappé is like sous-sus: equal, equal, equal distance must be traveled from the starting position.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #15ff:  
Échappé comes from the French word échapper which means “to escape”.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

““Practice doesn't make perfect.
Practice reduces the imperfection.”
Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Mad Monday Equal Distance


Mad Monday Equal Distance

A common step in pointe work is the lovely sous-sus (under-over) - or in the Cecchetti school, sus-sous (over-under) position. When this step is performed  correctly the feet create a heart shape. (See Ballet Secret #8e: In a sous-sus in fifth position the feet should make a heart shape).

The tricky part of a sous-sus (besides which way it is spelled) is getting each foot to travel an equal distance inward from the starting point of fifth position. This is more difficult than it sounds. The stronger foot always tends to travel further than the weaker one – and we all have one foot that is stronger despite our best efforts.

So dancers must engage in target practice: repeating the sous-sus in front of a mirror to check both the equality of the pulling in and up, plus the finishing position of the heart shape (it must not be over-shot or under-shot). Practice makes permanent.

Isn’t ballet fun?!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #23a:  
From fifth position, each foot must travel equally to sous-su.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday New Things


Sunday New Things

Yes, here we are again at the beginning of a new school year. This is either welcomed or dreaded (or a combination of both), depending on your point of view.

It made me think about beginnings. Today’s quote expresses it well – any new beginning is the doorway to things that have never been before. It’s true that these new things can be wonderful or not so great, but the truth is new beginnings are exciting because of the unknown possibilities ahead.

Embrace the excitement of possibility. I think that is the lesson of new beginnings. Every new beginning is a fresh start, a clean outlook, and is filled with the ever-present unfolding of exhilarating possibilities.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #78:  
“The beginning of anything is a doorway to exciting possibilities.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been”
Rainer Maria Rilke

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Super Saturday Stage Statute


Super Saturday Stage Statute

There are certain skills and bits of knowledge that are important for a dancer to know that extend beyond dance technique itself. Many of these involve stage technique
.
Often these skills are assimilated more than taught – by simply being onstage. One of them is today’s Ballet Statute #41: “After a stage blackout, hold the final position for at least two seconds.”

That’s right. After the final notes of the music have sounded and the dancers have hit their final pose, the stage goes dark – blackout. The dancers must then count to themselves “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand”, before they move a muscle. This is because the audience’s eyes need time to adjust to the darkness and if the dancers move too soon their “ghosts” or silhouettes will still be visible.

And seeing the dancers scramble madly for the wings (even in silhouette) will ruin the magic they have worked so hard to create.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Statute #41:  
“After a stage blackout, hold the final position for at least two seconds.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““There are seasons when to be still demands immeasurably higher strength than to act.”
Margaret Bottome

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Fun Friday Gargouillade


Fun Friday Gargouillade

On the short list of ballet steps that are seldom used we find gargouillade. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. It isn’t a step for beginners and even advanced dancers find this step challenging.

A gargouillade is a jump with two double rond de jambes. The first double rond de jambe is done (usually) en dehors with one leg, then immediately followed by a double rond de jambe en dedans by the other leg. It takes a very accomplished dancer to perform this step and not have it look, well, like a couple of leg spasms.

However, when gargouillade is done to perfection, each rond de jambe is clearly shown and the effect is riveting.

Balanchine often used gargouillade in his choreography and that is where this step is most often seen today.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #15ee:  
A gargouillade is a step involving two double rond de jambes.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
““The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Throwback Thursday and Oleg Briansky


Throwback Thursday and Oleg Briansky

A prolific dancer, teacher, director and choreographer, Oleg Briansky was born in Brussels. He received his training from Leonide Katchourowsky and began his professional career with Roland Petit at the Ballet de Paris. He went on to dance with many other companies including the London Festival Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

He founded the Brainsky Saratoga Ballet Center, a summer program for ballet in Saratoga Springs, New York. He taught for many other dance companies and schools including the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Universal Ballet Company, and from 1990-1991 he was associate director of the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington, D.C.

He has performed character roles such as Drosselmeyer in the Nutcracker and Madge in La Sylphide and has restaged many works that remain in the repertory of both national and regional companies. He has choreographed works such as Country Moon, A Furtive Tryst and Death and the Lumberjack.

Oleg Briansky served as artistic director for the film The Children of Theatre Street, a documentary on the Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad. It was nominated for an Academy Award in in 1978. He translated the books Classes in Classical Ballet by Asaf Messerer and One Hundred Classes in Classical Ballet by Vera Kostrovitskaya.In 1994 he received the Nijinsky Award for his ballet, Scheherazade, in honor his efforts to educate  audiences about the life of Nijinsky.

Oleg Briansky is currently the President at Briansky Saratoga Ballet Center.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #81:  
Oleg Briansky is an internationally known dancer, director, teacher, translator and coach.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

““There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wonderful Wednesday Grand Rond de Jambe


Wonderful Wednesday Grand Rond de Jambe

A grand rond de jambe is such a beautiful step. It shows off a dancer’s extension and flow of movement. It produces “Ahhhh” moments in the audience.  Wonderful! Of course this happens only if step is performed correctly.

The problem usually occurs as the working leg transitions to or from à la seconde. This is a tricky place, especially coming from the back to the front (en dedans). But the secret is the same for each direction, so let’s talk about doing a grand rond de jambe en dehors (front to back).

As the leg moves from à la seconde to arabesque, it wants to drop down in order to make the transition, and this causes the leg to turn in. This is a normal reaction due to the structure of the hip socket, but here is how to fix it: Imagine the working leg going from a la seconde to a back ecarté position before going to arabesque. This keeps the leg turned out. It is also helpful to feel as though the leg is being pulled outward from the hip socket all the way beyond the tip of the toes. This will produce an almost invisible transition to arabesque.

While all this is going on, remember to keep the energy up and energy down sensation throughout the body.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #11h:  
“In a grand rond de jambe, imagine hitting a back ecarté as the leg moves to or from à la seconde.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:

“When you reach for the stars, you are reaching for the farthest thing out there. When you reach deep into yourself, it is the same thing, but in the opposite direction. If you reach in both directions, you will have spanned the universe.”
Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Technical Tuesday Mercury Attitude


Technical Tuesday Mercury Attitude

I’ve talked about attitudes before, both devant and derriere. But there is another attitude, and a very interesting one at that. It’s the "Mercury Attitude".

Carlo Blasis is credited with creating the attitude position in 1829 and he is said to have based it on the statue of Mercury by Giovanni da Bologna. The specific “Mercury Attitude” we refer to today is a characteristic position of the Italian school and involves a twisting of the upper body in opposition to the working leg it attitude.  One arm is raised in fifth en haut and the eye focus is upward toward the lifted arm. The photograph above shows the great ballet master Enrico Cecchetti coaching Anna Pavlova and although she isn’t in attitude, her upper body shows the position used in Mercury Attitude.

If you remember the icon associated with a florist shop, it shows the god Mercury in a similar position. He has wings on his feet – wouldn’t that be something for dancers to have?!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #18j:  
“The Mercury Attitude is named after the Roman God Mercury.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”
Socrates

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