Where’s Your Head At?

So, it turns out that—believe it or not—modern is not ballet (or, if we’re going to put that in programming terms: modern != ballet). Or, well, it’s not ballet most of the time. So, basically, modern is not ballet, except when intermittently it is ballet.



Today in modern class, we were doing those swirly arm things that result from making circles from high contraction to side curve through high release through the other side curve.

If you don’t modern, this probably makes exactly no sense to you. If you do modern, though, there’s a good chance that you know what I’m talking about. Basically, you don’t really move your arms; you move your sternum and upper back, and that moves your arms.

Anyway! They were sort of the Topic of the Day, and early on they appeared in a nifty tendu/rond-de-jambe/travely combination.

I was having trouble with it. Not with the legs, not with the arms, not with the body or shoulders, but with the head.

No matter what I did, it wanted to point the wrong way. That made the whole thing just feel … eeeee.

Then S, my classmate, figured it out: my body was busily trying to ballet when it was supposed to modern. Or, well, my head was.

Later, my body also rebelled against the entire concept of this sort of side-curve/under-curve chassé thing we were doing. It kept turning into an arabesque. Needless to say, this made for an awkward transition to the next step, which actually was an arabesque (albeit a modern one).

In both cases, once I understood what was happening, I really had to concentrate to correct it, which was challenging—but correcting the glitch in question made the whole movement easier.

I think this explains some of the difficulties I consistently encounter in modern dance. I failed to account for the power of the ballet wiring; the wiring that says when your arm is doing this, your head does this

Since all of the ballet stuff is pretty much automatic, I don’t even notice that I’m doing it … which is fine, when I’m supposed to be doing ballet.

Ballet—especially classical ballet—has pretty specific rules about how the head and the body go together. These rules result in the establishment of motor patterns: this is how technique becomes more automatic over time.

Modern uses those patterns, too, but it also uses other patterns. Some modern motor patterns are essentially the opposite of patterns that are essentially hard-wired into anyone who has accumulated years of ballet training.

The funny part is that I still tend to think of my head as having no idea what to do with itself in ballet, but that’s not exactly true. For the most part, my head does what it’s supposed to these days, with a few glaring exceptions. When it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, I just don’t notice it. I only notice it when it’s doing something wrong and weird, because usually that either screws up my lines or throws off my balance.

Since the body tends to follow the head, if your head is pointing the wrong way in a given combination, there’s a fairly reasonable likelihood that you’re going to do the combination backwards in some way or another. I feel that I’m rather amazingly good at getting things backwards in modern class, and this gives me a bit of insight into why.

Anyway, so that was today’s Insight of the Day: if things are going wrong, check and see what’s going on with your head.

In case you need something to help you remember, here:

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2017/02/14, in balllet, class notes, modern and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. “Lost….in the incomprehensible maze…”

    Hey, class is tomorrow!

    • Also, pace Hunter Thompson: Kill the head and the body will die.

      • Though, ironically, the body is perfectly capable of deciding to call it quits whilst the head goes on yelling at it (WTF ARE YOU DOING! GLISSADE JETE CHANGEMENT COME ON!!!)

    • Killer class definitely had “incomprehensible maze” moments today 😛

      I missed it last week, and thus missed all the mind games that Killer B likes to make us play 😀 (BW gives me puzzles at the barre, too, but they’re completely different … aauugh!)

  2. Yes, it’s very different often.

    Additional, out teacher does a little bit of Pina Bausch style – this leads to dirty movements. Yeah, exactle this, eat it ballet boy, dirty movements (I have ballet before modern class…). A kind of grand battement, but with upper body thrown back and pullback the leg before it is finished as if you would have reconsidered the movement while executing and want to do something other.

    It’s great, but after ballet this is difficult. And after modern/contemporary ballet is difficult.

    • Wow, yeah, that sounds like exactly the kind of thing that makes my body go, “But wait! I thought…!” (Though I love Bausch’s style.)

      I seem to have less trouble going from modern to ballet than the other way, though that might be because I don’t do them on the same days right now, and the ballet wiring is better-established.

  3. Ballet has a way of insunuating itself into other dance styles! I do exactly the same amounts of ballet, jazz and modern and yet it is always ballet that invades the other two. Like when I always close tendus in fifth regardless of what the jazz teacher just demonstrated…

    • OMG, yes. I am horrible about that sort of thing.

      Likewise, my Sunday class, being very new to ballet technique, often uses 3rd position, and it drives me crazy trying to demonstrate in 3rd because I *never* use it the rest of the time.

      My legs are always like, “Um, but, don’t you want fifth?” and I’m like, “NO ERMAGERD STAHP!”

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