2 3 Ballet Webb: January 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Stairs and Stepping Stones


Sunday Stairs and Stepping Stones

Today’s quote is the basis for today’s blog. Think of obstacles as stepping stones instead of roadblocks. You can step on them, squashing them down into the stream and in doing so, get to the other side. Or, you can walk around them, perhaps getting wet in the process, but getting to the other bank nonetheless. You’ll fail only if you sit on the bank and lament that you can’t get across.

Also, imagine a staircase. At the top is your goal – whatever that may be. If you look at the staircase as a giant obstacle that you must leap in a single bound, you’ll find it daunting and impossible. But if you take it consistently, one step at a time, it becomes easier to reach your goal.

Discouraged? Think of staircases and stepping stones. You’ll find your way.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #102:  
“ Think of obstacles as stepping stones or stair steps.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“An obstacle is often a stepping stone.”
-William Prescott

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Super Saturday Hop


Super Saturday Hop

Those pesky hops! You know, the ones that sneak in at the end of a series of turns, or during a balance that isn’t quite centered. These hops camouflage the fact that the alignment is off, and prevent the dancer from learning exactly how the balance can be corrected.

Hops can quickly become a bad habit. Stamp out hopping! Unless it is specifically choreographed, like during hops on pointe (see today’s link), or during a petit allegro combination, no hopping is allowed.

How do you stop hops? By keeping your knees straight. You can’t hop very well (or at all) if your knees are fully pulled up. And, from a good, solid, straight knee position, you’ll know immediately how your alignment is off because you will fall or tilt in that direction.

When your knees are straight, you can fall over but you can’t hop - and then you’ll know what to correct.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Statute #59:  
“There is no (un-choreographed) hopping in ballet.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“I like not to be good at anything, so I keep hopping around.”
-          Jon Stewart

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Fun Friday Numbers and Letters



Fun Friday Numbers and Letters

So much of the time in ballet, the body (posture) needs to be in a nice, straight line (slightly forward from the ankles, you will remember). But this can be problematic. Too often the body ends up looking like the number “3”, the letter “S”, or the leaning tower of Pisa. Ouch! Scary.

To combat this tendency, imagine your body as the number “1”, or the letter “I” (or the small letter “i”, with your head being the dot). This is particularly helpful for turns, but it works for everything requiring a straight alignment of the body.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #1xx:  
Imagine yourself as a giant number "1", or the letter "I".

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings.”
W.E.B. Du Bois

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday and Tchaikovsky


Throwback Thursday and Tchaikovsky

Of all the famous composers, Tchaikovsky is probably the one most dancers know best - if only because of the Nutcracker. But Tchaikovsky is a fascinating person to research, and he remains somewhat of a mystery, even today.

He was born on in Russia on May 7, 1840, and it is said that even as a child he was given to spells of gloom and depression. He became obsessed with playing the family’s piano, and the music of Mozart was influential to him in his youth. In 1854, he produced his first work, a waltz for piano. However, he was apparently not a child prodigy, and his progress in music was slow. He was advised against pursuing a career in music by his piano teacher, Rudolf Kundinger.  

In 1866 he finished his studies at the conservatory in St. Petersburg and was hired as a teacher at the conservatory in Moscow. Here he began to develop himself as a composer. By the mid-1870s he had created three symphonies, three operas and the ballet Swan Lake. He went on to compose many more works including the 1812 Overture, which he said he greatly disliked. By the 1880s he had created The Sleeping Beauty ballet and the opera The Queen of Spades, and had become famous.

The 1890s found Tchaikovsky severely depressed, and this state of mind was heightened in 1891 when his sister, Alexandra died. It was during this dark time that the Nutcracker was composed. In 1893 he created the Pathetique, considered by many to be his finest work. Nine days after it premiered, Tchaikovsky died.

One of the mysteries about Tchaikovsky involves his death. Was it cholera, as many historians have recorded? Or could it have been suicide by arsenic poisoning?

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #101:  
Pyotr Llyich Tchaikovsky, unlike many famous composers, was not a child prodigy.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” 
 
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wacky Wednesday Electric Strips



Wacky Wednesday Electric Strips

In the category of The Cruel School of Ballet comes the idea of electric strips sewn into leotards in the abdominal area. These handy-dandy strips provide a mild electrical shock every time stomach muscles are allowed to “hang out”.

Since the abdominal muscles are notorious for being lazy and not wanting to work when they should, these leotards would provide the encouragement needed to keep them on task. Now I just have to find a way to turn them on and off so dancers won’t be consistently shocked – in between combinations, for example.

At any rate, during class exercises, pretend you are wearing one of these Cruel School leotards as a reminder to engage the abdominal muscles.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #16t:  
“ Imagine wearing a leotard with “electric strips” in the abdominal area.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Sometimes, the simple things are more fun and meaningful than all the banquets in the world ...”
E.A. Bucchianeri

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Technical Tuesday Penchée


Technical Tuesday Penchée

Few things in ballet are as beautiful as a perfectly executed penchée, especially if that penchée is in arabesque and the leg goes high enough to become the coveted “six-o’clock” penchée. Penchées are most often done in arabesque, but may also be performed in other positions. The word itself means “inclined” or “leaning”, and that is what happens, more or less. The dancer leans forward (or side or back) and the working leg extends higher as the dancer’s torso descends.

In any penchée, the distance between the working leg and the torso must be maintained. This means that the dancer may only go forward (or side or back) as much as she can until this distance is at the point of being broken.

There are several secrets to a successful penchée. First, the weight must be maintained over the ball of the foot, and this means the dancer must be aware of the point of no return where the extension tops out and the dancer’s weight begins to pull back toward the supporting heel. Also, a constant energy through the working leg must be maintained. And finally, the descent must be gradual. It isn’t a race.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Secret #21g:  
“The word “penchée” means leaning or inclined.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning... Anyone can start over and make a new ending. 
 
Chico Xavier

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Mad Monday Thigh Quest


Mad Monday Thigh Quest

Ballet Secret #7bbb states:  Feel the inner thighs by imagining tearing a newspaper in half with your turned-out feet. This is just one of several tricks dancers use to locate and thus use the elusive “inside thigh muscles”.

These muscles are critical for many things, but are particularly essential when the working leg is in a high extension or performing a développé. If the inner muscles aren’t  used, the poor quadriceps are forced to do the lion’s share of the work. Some teachers say “don’t use the quads”, but this isn’t literally true. They “work”, and it isn’t as though the quadriceps can take time off for a Caribbean cruise – they share the load, but shouldn’t do it all.

Some other tricks are: 1. From second position, pull the working foot inward along the floor to first position with resistance; 2. With the working leg on the barre, flex the foot, lengthen the leg and turn it out a little more, and concentrate on feeling the inner thighs; 3. In a foot-in-the-hand stretch in second, face the mirror and watch the inner thigh muscles of the working leg as you rotate the leg a bit more. You should see movement in the muscles.

There are lots of ways to discover these useful muscles. Keep trying. Most dancers say it took years to locate and use them effectively.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Ballet Secret #7ddd:  
“ There are many tricks for locating the inner thigh muscles.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“The trick is to never stop looking. There's always another secret.”
Brandon Sanderson

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Super Sunday Light


Super Sunday Light

I have a friend who claims that winter should be a time of hibernation for humans as well as animals. He’s right. He usually is. It would be nice if we could all settle down for a long winter nap, but unfortunately it isn’t practical.

One main reason we feel less motivated in the winter is due to lack of sunlight, particularly if you live in a northern climate. Finding ways to add light to your day (literally) will help boost your mood and therefore, your motivation.

They even make lights especially for this, but any light source can work. Make a point of getting outdoors in the sunlight when you can, and this isn’t possible, sit or work under bright light for at least a portion of the day. This will help when motivation lags.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #101:  
“Use light to help provide motivation in the winter.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Do you see that out there? The strange, unfamiliar light? It's called the sun. Let's go get us a little.”
Nora Roberts

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Super Saturday Soutenu



Super Saturday Soutenu

A soutenu turn is often introduced to dancers at the barre as an expedient way to change from one side to the other. It this case it is only a half-turn, and thus it is easier to learn and achieve.

The trick to a soutenu turn is to remember that it happens in a single, clean movement. The feet are not permitted to skitter about, taking random extra steps. This is easier during the half-turn at the barre than it is in the center where a soutenu is apt to be at least a ¾ turn if not a full turn. If the feet move around, and extra steps are taken during the soutenu, it is no longer a soutenu. It becomes a different step altogether: a bourrée turn.

Many teachers are extremely picky about this difference – and rightfully so. They are two different steps.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Statue #60:  
“A soutenu turn is done in a single movement. Otherwise, it is a bourrée turn.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“If you hate difference, you'll be bored to death.”
Toba Beta

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Fun Friday Snooze Alert


Fun Friday Snooze Alert

In ballet, the correct eye focus is usually slightly above eye level. See previous blog: http://balletwebb.blogspot.com/2013/10/eye-focus.html This means that dancers seldom focus on the floor. And sadly, doing so is a very common bad habit. 

Wouldn’t it be interesting if dancers wore a device designed for drivers. One that fits neatly over the ear and emits a loud beep or some other sound whenever the head drops forward or down. These handy little items are designed to keep drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, but could also be used to alert dancers when they drop their eye focus.

Of course it wouldn’t really be practical, since dancers move so much. But it is an interesting image to use. Imagine a beep going off every time a dancer inadvertently looks at the floor!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #1ww:  
Imagine wearing a driver’s snooze alert on your ear.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”
Santosh Kalwar

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday and Marie van Goethem


Throwback Thursday and Marie van Goethem

Born on June 7, 1865, Marie van Goethem was the real life dancer that posed for the famous sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, by Edgar Degas. It was the only sculpture he ever displayed during his lifetime. In 1881, when the finished statue was unveiled, Marie was a member of the corps de ballet in the Paris Opera. She had joined the dance school there in 1878, at age twelve and had recently been promoted to the corps.

Her early life was one of poverty  and her family moved often, probably because they couldn’t pay the rent. Her father died in 1870, leaving her mother to raise Marie and her two sisters alone. This was the time of the Franco-Prussian War which made living conditions even worse, and the family did whatever was necessary to survive.

Degas modeled the statue by hand from wax, and the process took two years. He appears to have portrayed Marie in a way that captured the reality of her world: a brutal and unforgiving one where she was often exhausted, thin, and hungry. This may be why the statue didn’t sell, and it became his most controversial work.

After that first exhibition, Degas never display the statue again. Instead he kept it with him and jokingly referred to her as his “daughter”.  When he died in 1917, the sculpture was cast in bronze, and several of these bronzes are now in major museums. The original wax sculpture is believed to have been lost or destroyed.

A later work, a pastel entitled Dancer with Long Hair Bowing, shows Marie later in her career, now a soloist in the company. But what happened to her after that remains a mystery. If her life ended, as it began, in poverty, she would have been buried in a pauper’s unmarked grave.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #15p:  
Marie van Goethem was the young model for the famous Degas sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people”
Edgar Degas

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wacky Wednesday Crossing


Wacky Wednesday Crossing

For successful beats, the feet must cross fully, and use an angular,(not circular) pattern of movement. Dancers learn these rules as soon as they learn how to perform beats. But achieving clean, crossed beats is difficult and requires practice – like everything else.

To make it easier, practice beats coming from a plié in second position, and think of crossing the thighs not the feet. This works better. After all, the feet are attached at the bottom of the legs, so if the thighs are crossed, the feet will cross. Easy peasy.

It’s all a matter of how you think about it.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #15kk:  
“For successful beats, think of crossing your thighs.”

                Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Albert Einstein

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Technical Tuesday Port de Corps



Technical Tuesday Port de Corps

I once studied with a teacher who always said “port de corps forward, and cambré back” whenever we did a standard port de bras that stretched forward and back. I've never heard anyone else use the term port de corps, before or since.

In researching it, I found this definition for port-de-corps: “Carriage of the body. Basically, port-de-bras action supplemented with flexion, lateral flexion, or hyperextension movement of the spine. http://www.orthopt.org/downloads/PAglossary.pdf

The word “cambré” means arched, so it makes sense that this teacher said what she did. You would arch going back, but not going forward.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #6gg:  
“Port de corps means carriage of the body.”

                Link of the Day:
https://www.facebook.com/1day1dance/videos/1017417088321056/

Quote of the Day:
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
George Eliot

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Mad Monday Arm Imitators


Mad Monday Arm Imitators

The arms have a peculiar need to imitate whatever the legs are doing. Sometimes this is a good thing, like when the breath in the body extends through the arms. But most often it is not a good thing.

One prime example is when the leg does grand battement, and the arm does its own grand battement. A similar thing happens In a piqué arabesque, when the arms battement themselves too far upward and out of the correct position. Another example is when the arms try to “help” lift the dancer, usually from the elbows, causing the body to sag and the shoulders to lift.

The arms always have their own prescribed paths and positions. Beware of arm imitators.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #6ff:  
“Beware of the great arm imitators.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Furry Friends


Sunday Furry Friends

You may have noticed that a photograph (meme)of an animal accompanies most of my blogs. I often use cats, not only because I have two of my own, but because they work so well for illustrative purposes. I also have a dog, and have never decided whether I am a dog or a cat person. I guess I’m both.

Animals are a huge part of my life, and always have been. Our pets give us so much more than we give them, and interacting with them is a wonderful way to de-stress after a hard day. Studies have shown that the simple act of petting an animal lowers blood pressure. Also, watching how they move through the world provides a fascinating glimpse into the meaning of “living in the moment”. But most of all, (as you know if you have a beloved animal), is their unconditional love.

If you have a pet, notice them anew today. Give them your love, care, and attention and you will be richly rewarded.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Motivational Secret #100:  
“We can learn a lot from our pets.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.”
Anatole France

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday Statute Chest


Saturday Statute Chest

A common problem for many dancers is understanding the directive “pull up”. I have blogged before about how this lift must come from the top of the head, or the ears (or both), and it must be a lift of the skeletal structure.

The natural reaction to the phrase “pull up” is to lift from the chest. This doesn’t work because a lift from the chest just throws the body backwards. It can also cause a compression of the spine and an arch in the back and then the dancer tends to fall backwards. Scary.

Therefore, Ballet Statue #57 is simple and direct: “Never “pull up” from the chest.”

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #57:  
“Never “pull up” from the chest.”

                Link of the Day:
https://www.facebook.com/rodrigopirescomrua/videos/1306545276038314/

Quote of the Day:
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.”
– Dolly Parton

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Fun Friday Squeeze


Fun Friday Squeeze

Dancers are often told “squeeze the seat”, in an attempt to get them to turn out more. There is a little truth in that directive, but it is because when the turn-out is engaged an indentation appears in each side of the seat. But the seat itself isn’t truly “squeezed”, and the pelvis should never be “tucked under”. I have blogged about this before.

Instead, think of rotating the femur (thigh bone) in the hip socket. That, as we all know, is where true turn-out comes from, and this action will put those indentations in the seat, giving the illusion of it being squeezed.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Ballet Secret #16r:  
“Don’t squeeze the seat, rotate the femur.”

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“The tighter you squeeze, the less you have.”
-          Zen saying

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Throwback Thursday and Ludmilla Tcherina


Throwback Thursday and Ludmilla Tcherina

Born in Paris on October 10, 1924, Ludmilla Tcherina was a dancer and actress known for her radiant beauty. Her father was an exiled Georgian prince and her mother was French. She trained as a classical ballet dancer, but loved the world of film and television. As a child, she appeared in fashion shows. When she was sixteen, she made her debut as a dancer with the opera in Marseilles.

She joined the Ballet de Monte Carlo and was discovered by Serge Lifar who gave her the starring role in Romeo and Juliet in 1942. By 1945 however, she became interested in the movie world and her first film was Un Revenent in 1946.

In 1951 she formed her own company and created Les Amants De Teruel, a dramatic ballet choreographed by Mildo Sparemblek. This ballet became a film and Tcherina was reviewed as “the tragic actress of dance”.

In addition to her work in dance and film, she was also a painter and sculptor, and she published two novels involving dancers and tragedy, "L'amour au miroir" (1983) and "La femme a l'envers (1986). In her later years, she was often seen at theater premieres and galas, impeccably dressed in elegant style. She died on March 20, 2004.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #99:  
Ludmilla Tcherina was a French dancer, actress and author.

                Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Butterflies are self propelled flowers.”
Robert A. Heinlein

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