Mixing It Up
At my studio, we’re ostensibly proponents of the Paris Opera school — which isn’t to say that we think Paris Opera is The One True Ballet, just that that’s the style that the company employs, so that’s (technically*) what we study in class.
That said, I owe much of the improvement in my turns to Balanchine’s technique, and I feel that’s worth ruminating on a bit.
I am not the world’s greatest natural turner — not the worst, either, but in a world where we tend to be stronger either in jumps or in turns, I am definitely in the “jumper” group.
In short, my problem is that I tend to approach turns in the same way that I approach jumps — that is, with rather a lot of athleticism (read: power and momentum). When jumping, it’s easy to translate that power and momentum and make it do what it’s supposed to do (most of the time, anyway) — curiously where even jumps that involve turns (tours en l’air and jetés entrelacés, for example) are concerned.
I suspect that it comes down to elasticity — when you begin a jump with too much force and momentum, you can pretty easily channel the excess without losing grace and élan and all that stuff. When you execute a turn with too much force and momentum, there’s less wiggle room — more or less literally.
When turning, I tend to apply way, way more force than is entirely necessary — and I tend to apply it in a way that knocks me off my axis.
It’s easy to power through a fast single turn — or even, once you get the hang of it, a fast double turn — that way**. You won’t look as good as the best turners in the class (because you’ll probably be turning with your back arched and you’ll be slightly off your axis) but you’ll look all right if your basic technique is clean and you have good legs and feet. You can complete the turn before things go terribly awry, so you probably won’t fall out of your turn or, worse, fall over.
When it comes to adagio turns, though, an excess of power and force — especially an excess of power and force that throws you off your axis even a little can really hose things up for you.
This is where Balanchine technique comes in.
Mr. B’s technique is famous for its emphasis on the UP.
When you see Balanchine choreography done well, the jumps tend to be very vertical, whilst the turns are precise, tight, and … um … tall, I guess?
Not that almost any turn, ever, should fall away from the vertical in ballet — but the strict emphasis Balanchine’s technique places on the vertical forces dancers to pull straight up, the way you’re technically supposed to anyway, without the shoulders breaking back from the central axis***.
I will be the first to admit that my worst fault in turns is still (STILL!!!) a tendency to throw my head and shoulders back in my preparation. In short, that’s part of what I do with the excess of force and momentum.
I give it a big ol’ DERP HO! and try to eject it through the top of my head by throwing everything back from the shoulderblades up.
Needless to say, this is not what one might call Best Practice.
The funny thing is that, when I’m thinking about (and attempting to emulate, because sometimes ballet instructors like to mess with us) Balanchine technique, I don’t.
Instead, I keep my core pulled together and pull UP — which, coincidentally, makes it much easier to turn, since I’m not then creating a situation in which the very laws of physics are going to knock me off my leg.
Oddly enough, under those conditions, it’s suddenly quite easy to execute lovely, precise turns — even adagio turns (true fact: ever since I figured out how to do adagio turns without falling apart, I do them all the dingdangdarn time, because they’re impressive — they even feel impressive).
So, anyway. This is a thing I discovered during one of our brief excursions into Balanchine technique, and I think that’s worth noting.
A lot of us get really invested in studying one method or another (though this is less common for adult students, who often wind up taking a grab bag of classes at different studios), but each method offers something we can use.
Of course, there’s something to be said for developing a sound foundation in one method — it makes learning the basics easier (remember that thing about third position arms versus fifth position arms?).
There’s probably also an important Life Lesson here about Diversity and Learning From Unexpected Teachers and so forth, but I’ll let you glean that bit yourself.
As for this post — it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Once you’ve got the basics down, branching out and taking a class that’s couched in a different method (or even, gasp, a different discipline, like modern dance! *swoon*) might be a good way to patch up some of the holes in your technique.
Just, you know, make sure your instructor knows what she’s talking about, and stuff, the way you normally would.
That’s it for now.