2 3 Ballet Webb: June 2018

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Better



Sunday Better

Back in the day, wise older people would advise the younger set to “marry someone who makes you a better person”. I think you can extend this sage piece of advice even further.

Be with those people who make you a better person. I’ve discovered that simply doing this makes you a happier person. Friends that care about you, friends that open their hearts to you and others – those are the treasures to find and keep.

A good friend wears well, as the older generation would say. A good friend priceless, and will make you a better person too.

Who do you choose to spend time with? Are they helping make you a better, happier person? Are you, in turn, doing the same for them? If not, it might be time to redirect your sails.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Motivational Secret #136:
“Be with someone who makes you a better person.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“The things that may change our world to make better; smiling, helping, respecting, loving & forgiving.”
― Hussein Abdallah

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday Superstition Left



Saturday Superstition Left

As I have said before, dancers and actors are a superstitious lot. This is most evident during performances, and particularly backstage. But today I ran across a little piece of information I’d never heard before: always exit your dressing room with your left foot first (presumably for good luck). I also found out that anyone entering the dressing room should come in with their right foot first. Hmmm.

It is interesting to note that normally the word left (in handedness for example) was consider to mean "bad" or "unlucky", and the Latin word sinistra meant left and that's where we get our English word sinister. And we all know what that means.

So why would stepping out on the left foot be lucky? My guess is that it is like saying “break a leg” to wish a dancer good luck – do the opposite of the normal meaning. (Dancers are such a contrary lot.) Or, it could have evolved from something entirely different. I haven’t yet uncovered any documentation on where the superstition came from.

If you know the answer, I’d love to hear from you!

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Theatrical Superstition #126:
“Always exit a dressing room with your left foot first.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“The general root of superstition : namely, that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other.”
― Francis BaconThe Collected Works of Sir Francis Bacon

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Fun Friday Territory



Fun Friday Territory

In some places, dancers “claim” a particular space, or territory at the barre. They often defend it vigorously if this is not frowned upon by the management. This territorial behavior is so common that dancers learn to ask “Is this someone’s space?” before parking themselves and/or their stuff at the barre.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Humans are, by nature, creatures of habit – which is why dance training works so well. We are more comfortable in a familiar space, so I understand why dancers tend to gravitate to the same place every day. And most of us do.

But defending one’s space by asking (or demanding) that someone move elsewhere shouldn’t happen. Kindness dictates that something so trivial shouldn’t  be cause for bad behavior and if someone (usually a stranger or new student) inadvertently stands in “your” space, it doesn’t hurt to let them.

Kindness and compassion rule.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Secret #28c:
“Some dancers have their particular space at the barre.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
― Desmond Tutu

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Throwback Thursday and Martha Mansfield



Throwback Thursday and Martha Mansfield

I've written before about the perils faced by young “ballet girls” who often died due to coming too close to the gas jet lighting so popular in the 1800s. But there are more recent deaths that occurred in a similar fashion. Martha Mansfield is a case in point.

Born on July 14, 1899, Martha Mansfield was a silent firm actress who also appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies. Her real name was Martha Ehrlich, but she adopted the name Mansfield from the town in Ohio where her mother was from.

Her career began at age fourteen, when she performed in the Broadway production of Little Women. She then danced in the musical Hop ‘ My Thumb in 1913. She signed a six-month contract with Essanay Studios in 1917 and appeared in three films under the name Martha Early.

Her first movie in Hollywood was Civilian Clothes (1920), and she soon gained recognition in the film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, playing a role originally offered to Tallulah Bankhead. She then signed a contract with Selznick Pictures before returning to vaudeville for a tour in 1921. She also acted in two independent films in between performing on the vaudeville circuit. In 1923 she fulfilled her contract with Selznick and signed on with Fox Film Corporation, acting with such notables as Bela Lugosi.

On November 29, 1923, Martha Mansfield was in San Antonio, Texas, filming scenes for the movie The Warrens of Virginia. Another cast member tossed a match aside and it caught her costume – a heavily layered hoop skirt – on fire. The fire was quickly put out, but it wasn’t soon enough to save her. She was taken to a local hospital where she died. Martha Mansfield was only 24 years old.

She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx County, New York.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Dance History Factoid #136:
“Martha Mansfield was another victim of an onstage fire.”

Link of the Day:


Quote of the Day:
“Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?”
― Pat Conroy

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wild Wednesday Walk



Wild Wednesday Walk

Why would anyone worry about walking? Ballet means dancing – right? No – not all the time. The ability to do a lovely balletic walk is important, especially for circumstances like entering and exiting the stage, or during long acts of classical ballets where walking around in the background is done.

The classical ballet walk involves stepping with a fully stretched working foot forward, then the toes touch the ground first and the foot rolls through until the whole foot is on the floor (moderately turned out).

Immediately after the heel touches the ground, the weight is transferred forward and the back knee bends and the foot executes a small développé that passes by the now supporting leg and the whole process starts over again. Of course, lovely, regal balletic posture is maintained throughout.

Walks that are performed quickly follow the same path but done almost exclusively on the demi-pointe (see the entrance on the Link of the Day below.)

All of this is a very complicated way of saying that walking in ballet involves rolling through the feet from toes to heel – with good balletic posture.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Secret #21nn:
“Walking is a highly underrated skill in ballet.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“But the beauty is in the walking -- we are betrayed by destinations.”
― Gwyn Thomas

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Technical Tuesday Tiroirs



Technical Tuesday Tiroirs

The word tiroirs means drawers, as in a chest of drawers. Therefore, faire les tiroirs means to act or move like drawers in a bureau. I’ve never heard this used in a class or rehearsal, but according to Gail Grant’s book Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet, it “indicates that two opposite lines of dancers are to cross each other and cross back again to their original positions.”

This would certainly be a good, simple way to instruct a room full of dancers to cross and cross back without a lot of explanation. I wonder why it isn’t used more frequently – at least in my experience?

Whatever, it is a neat little piece of terminology to add to your repertoire.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Secret #30a:
Faire les tiroirs means to act like the drawers in a chest.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.”
― Thomas Carlyle

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Mad Monday Motor



Mad Monday Motor

When you drive a car and stop at an intersection, the engine doesn’t cut off, it keeps running, or idling. Think about what a problem it would be if the motor did shut off and you had to start it over again every time you came to a stop.

This is a good analogy for how your body works when dancing. When learning new steps or choreography the tendency is to stop or pause in between each step – effectively cutting your engine. Not good.

Your body is always idling, like a car engine, even during momentary pauses in combinations or choreography. It’s like a cat getting ready to spring – its body idling until the moment of take-off.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Secret #21mm:
”Imagine idling your motor.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“You are
What you do
When it counts"
- The Masao”
― John SteakleyArmor

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday New Possibilities



Sunday New Possibilities

It’s easy to fall into the routine of our day to day existence and forget to look at things with a new perspective. But sometimes a reminder appears, seemingly out of nowhere.

The photo above shows my trusty clothespin bag that I use regularly when the weather is good enough to hang a load of wash outside. (For those of you who have never done this, I recommend it, if only for the delightful scent of clothes and sheets dried in the fresh air.)

But this week a small creature made my bag its home. I don’t know what kind of bird it is, or whether it is male or female, but I have watched it build its nest, one slim piece of grass at a time. It is a wonder of engineering and purpose. I don’t know if there will soon be some eggs inside, but I hope so. I have tried to capture the bird itself with my camera, but haven’t been able to – so far.

So I will leave my trusty bag to the bird for now and head to the store to buy myself some new clothespins – ever alert to any new and interesting things that may come my way.


From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Motivational Secret #135:
“Be alert to new possibilities.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
― Robert Lynd

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday Rolling Statute



Saturday Rolling Statute

Dancers are good at subtle, body language types of communication. And that can be good. But then there are other times…

When a dancer is frustrated, he/she is not allowed to stomp off the floor and communicate this frustration to everyone. Dancers know this. But there are more insidious, subtle ways that dancers express their feelings. One big one is rolling the eyes (gasp!). This is often accompanied by other body language like hands on the hips, or the famous click-and-sigh. Scary.

There is no eye rolling in ballet. None. Never. This gesture is rich with the sort of bad attitude that has absolutely no place in a dance class – or anywhere else for that matter. You know what I mean.

There is no eye rolling in ballet.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Ballet Statute #125:
“There is no eye rolling in ballet.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
― Herman Melville

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Friday, June 8, 2018

Fun Friday Fermée



Fun Friday Fermée

A ballet term many of you will recognize is fermée (fair-MAY). This French word means “closed” and it is usually used to indicate that the foot is closing in fifth as opposed to staying in the air – most frequently during jumps.

The term ouverte (oo-VAIRT), meaning “open” is often used as the opposite of fermée. For example, in a combination of several sissonnes (see today’s Link), some may close in fifth, some may not, hence the use of the two terms. Yet, sometimes neither term is used and instead the English words open and closed are substituted.

An important thing to remember about fermée is this: when the foot closes in fifth, the weight of the body must shift to be equally distributed over both feet.


From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Secret #21mm:
Fermée means closed.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert

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