Category Archives: uggghhh…technique
*(Or, really, hit that dimmer switch. )
Just a quickie today.
I’m sure someone has told me this before, but today something that Killer B said really struck home.
When you’re balancing en relevé (and at various other times; I’ll try to remember to explore this idea in much greater depth at some point), you can help your adductors and deep rotators with their job by letting the glutes (especially those pesky maximi that think they’re responsible for absolutely everything) relax a bit.
Turn on the adductors; dim the glutes.
The gluteals are huge and super strong–so they easily overpower the smaller muscles. Curiously, this makes it much harder to balance in turnout.
It makes a great deal of sense if you just think about sous-sus: if your glutes are firing all of their guns at once, they’re kind of pushing your legs away from the center line. The adductors aren’t strong enough to overcome them, so we tend to either be unstable or comprise our turnout to place our legs in a position from which the glutes can push them towards each-other.
If you relax the glutes substantially (but don’t completely let them go) while keeping the adductors, deep rotators, and pelvic floor powerfully engaged, you stabilize your hip without compromising your turnout.
In fact, you might find a few more degrees of turnout than you thought you had (no promises, but it happens).
Of course, all this depends on your nervous system having figured out how to consciously feel and activate (or deactivate) those various muscles.
Still, this was enlightening to the degree that L’Ancien’s “grand battement starts in your back” was. Relinquishing some of the fearsome grip of my glutes made my balances better instantly … and it also improved my plié, which led to better petit allegro. I did a random entrechat six today in a combination with dancers’ choice on the beats, and it felt like nothing.
Right now, I’m a glute-clencher by habit. I’ll be retraining this consciously for a while. Eventually it’ll replace my current habit … and then I’ll discover some other awful thing, because that’s ballet for you 😛
Anyway, if you, like I, am a bendy person with ridiculous hip mobility, I hope this helps.
L’Ancien often uses stories to illustrate key lessons. Today, he told us about a dancer who came to South Africa (where L’Ancien was dancing at the time) after the Chernobyl disaster because the world’s best research center for radiation sickness was there. This dancer from Kiev joined the company, and for six months L’Ancien watched his beautiful grand battements, mystified by how he was doing what he was doing.
And then one day it became clear: this man from Kiev, a principal dancer in his home country, initiated his grand battement from high in his back.
It didn’t begin, as all too horribly often it does, in the hip. It didn’t begin in the heel, or in the middle of the pinkie toe of the free leg (which is definitely NOT where your grand battement should begin).
It began in his back. The impetus pushed down from just below the shoulder blades, which both lent great energy to his legs and kept his back high and open.
Study this in second, L’Ancien told us, as he always does, Study everything in second; the en dehors and the balance are already there, so you never have to think about them.
Try it a couple of times, he said.
So we did.
It’s amazing what simply thinking about something a little differently can do. When you begin by sending your impulsion down through your back, not only does your chest stay high and free and open, but you don’t do abominable things with your pelvis.
I’ve realized I often short-change my own jumping power by dumping my pelvis and allowing my lower back to turn into a slinky, which absorbs some of the force that should drive me into the atmosphere. If I can jump pretty high whilst jumping that badly, I should be able to hit the ceiling if I just freaking well do it right.
I suspect that the same principle applies: begin with your back.
Now that I think about it, this reminds me of a principle in classical horsemanship: a horse can’t properly collect himself if he doesn’t know how lift his back.
We often think of this as bringing the hindquarters underneath, but it begins in the long muscles parallel to the spine, around the ribs, and in the core. In order for to collect his hindquarters beneath him (and to lighten his forehand and eventually lift it off the ground), a horse must lift his spine just a little—not so much he arches like a cat, but enough to make room and connect his whole body into a single piece.
In ballet, if we want our legs to go up, we must first send the impulse down through the back and through the heel.
I’m going to try to remember to ask L’Ancien about this next week—that is, whether I’m correct in guessing that this concept is also applicable to turns and jumps. Ballet is modular like that.
It’s an exciting thing: something that feels like a key to a few of my stubborn ballet problems (double tours, I’m looking at you).
Today L’Ancien said my posture is much better. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
Sometimes I feel like his goal as a teacher is to take us all apart, shake out the extra screws and pieces of gum and paperclips that accumulated while we were initially being assembled, and put us back together as more perfect dancers.
I, for one, am totally down with that.
Have I mentioned that this is a man who has been dancing for more than 50 years? He’s been dancing for more than 50 years.
To L’Ancien, we’re all beginners.
I mean chaînés, of course. Everyone loves chaînés sooooooooo much, amirite?! They are The Actual Best!
- At least I assume that’s why everyone goes, “uuugghhhhhh, whyyyyyyy” when it’s time for chaînés. Because that’s the sound of joy … right?
I’ve spent the past year or two trying to make peace with chaînés. It has, in fact, largely worked. Two things—learning that dudes usually don’t piqué into chaînés and that it’s fine to do your chaînés in fifth—led to some dramatic improvements.
However, somewhere along the line, I started losing all my momentum going into any run of chaînés.
Not cranking the turnout-brakes (read: that thing you do to halt your momentum if you have to finish a soutenu turn in sous-sus) helped, as in it prevented me from actually grinding to a halt after one turn, but it didn’t solve the problem entirely.
Today, though, Killer B fixed the remaining bit of the problem: she said, “You can piqué or chassée into your chaînés, whichever works better for you … but right now you’re tombé-ing in, and it’s killing your momentum.”
So I tried the chassée–chaîné approach, and HOLY CRAP GUYS IT WORKED. Made my chaînés about twice as fast, in fact. (Which is good, because sometimes they were embarrassingly slow.)
AHHHHHH!!!! You guys, how did I go so wrong?!
Like, I remember BW giving me a lesson on chaînés as pertains to Men’s Technique, and that he taught me to not piqué into them … but at some point I decided explicitly that tombé was the One True Way.
(Evidently it is a correct approach, but not one that works particularly well for me: I tend to tombé into a deep demi-plié way over my front leg as if preparing for a sauté arabesque or something. Ultimately, that means that my momentum can go straight up or back the way it came, but not really forward except through pas de bourrée … I guess it would be useful if I needed to change directions straight into a series of chaînés, though.)
The waltz combination today was:
chaîné-chaîné-petit developpé to pas de bourrée
turn en dehors
turn en dehors (land 5th, right foot front, or coupé through)
petit developpé to pas de bourrée
rotation (fouetté à terre)
turn en dedans
I’m trying to figure out if I’m leaving out some waltz turns somewhere, or if they were in something else and I’m conflating my memories.
- very possible; this morning was a horrible slog through the swamps of badness: the struggle was all the way real.
- I even hosed up a simple sissone combination at the end of class, though at least I made it to the end of class without actually dissolving into a gibbering zombie. I almost checked out after the warm-up jumps, but I didn’t, because some part of my acknowledges that I work in dance now, which means there will be days that I have to get out there onstage even though I just can’t even.
Regardless, the chassée–chaîné approach is a freaking lifesaver.
I was going to drop a YouTube video that shows this in here, but my exhaustive* one-minute long search hasn’t found one, so it’ll have to wait.
*yeah, okay, totally not exhaustive
Anyway, there’s today’s gem from class.
Guys: if an approach via tombé is sending your chaînés to an early grave (get it? tomb … é … early grave … harhar), try chassée instead.
Wednesday evening, Señor BeastMode gave us a really useful note for improving our turns.
It goes like this:
Before your free foot (the one that gets pulled up to passé) leaves the ground, rotate the heel forward. (This works from 5th as well, but I thought that would make a very cluttered diagram.)
That’s all. Simples! Basic ballet technique, amirite?
…Only, it would seem that I wasn’t really doing it before—because as soon as I added that in consciously, my en dehors turn improved shockingly. It wasn’t bad before, really, but this detail makes for reliable, clean, controlled turns.
Also makes en dedans, already my stronger turn, even nicer.
In the diagram, I’ve drawn both rotation arrows for clarity, but you probably won’t have to think about the supporting leg (that’s the front leg, except when you’re turning from 2nd and everything gets kind of ambiguous). If you don’t keep rotating the front leg, you’ll wind up with some kind of crazy jazz turn.
If you do have to actively think about rotation of the front leg, think about rotating both heels forward as you launch.
In short, this approach makes you skip the weird bit where the free leg doesn’t have clear instructions beyond “open the knee; passé” and can become wibbly as it leaves the ground. It also forces you to actively engage all the turnout muscles.
This approach worked well enough that BW was actually impressed with my turns last night. Coincidentally, it also helps with passé balances that don’t turn, even from fifth.
Next up: brisées demystified, if not quite rendered
easy-brisée easy-brizayzay easy-breezy.
Like, seriously, after a lifetime of being horribly confused about brisées, I can now do them devant & derrière, closing to 5th or to coupé, thanks to BW’s explanation (and to the fact that he made us do literally a million … okay, literally at least 36 brizayzays at each of our most recent classes).
Last week, or maybe the week before, I was watching Killer B do turns in class and had this revelation about her back.
I don’t quite know how to explain it: her back, like, goes straight up and down, like the proverbial elevator car that probably everyone’s ballet teacher has harped on about at some point when teaching relevés. Nothing changes. Everything just spins together, lovely and open, on an invisible axis (seriously, she spins like Baryshnikov).
I thought about how that would feel, physically—the back open and traveling straight up and down—and decided to try to work on achieving that feeling.
But what really made me get it, to be honest, was last night’s modern class.
We did and improv at the beginning that was all about different qualities of movement. We began frozen in concrete, wiggled first one part, then another free, then the concrete slowly transformed into thick, heavy, sucking mud. Eventually the mud gave way to buoyant ocean water, where we could swim and float. Then, slowly, we reversed the process.
Later, LWF gave us a visual that related (in a way) back to that: she asked us to imagine holding two heavy buckets of wet sand, and to feel them pulling our arms and shoulders down and open even as we allowed the back-tops of our heads to grow taller.
This made perfect sense to me, because it’s exactly the way I accomplish that kind of thing in real life. There’s something in my nature that refuses to look downtrodden—so when I’m asked to carry heavy buckets (or suitcases, or what have you), I engage through the lats and traps and so forth but let my chest and shoulders stay open, and I reach for the sky with the place where my occipital and parietal bones come together while keeping my head level.
Anyway, I did that last night (though for some reason, in my mind’s eye, the buckets morphed into suitcases?), and suddenly everything started to make sense.
This morning, Killer B said halfway through our Fondagio®, “Wow, your back is completely different today! What are you thinking about there? Keep doing it!”
I was able to tell her that it was, in fact, her back I was thinking about (and managed to do so without losing track of the combination too badly).
She then said, “You have so much more freedom in your eyes, too!”
And I said, “Oh, that’s Bruce!”
…Which got a chuckle from everyone who’s ever taken class from L’Ancien.
So, anyway: for me, the best answer for my back has been a combination of Killer B’s amazingly beautiful turns, the suitcases-full-of-sand image, and also Señor BeastMode’s instructions to pull up my suspenders (which counters my tendency to stick mah booty out) and to be strong.
I think the suitcases-full-of-sand thing might have a pretty universal utility. We’ve all carried heavy stuff at one point or another.
The weird part was how strangely observable the difference was.
Usually, you change something critical to your technique, and it’s so infinitesimal that your teacher will only catch if it she’s using that special eye on the back of her head* under the light of a super blue blood moon and walking widdershins around the Grave of Giselle or something. Usually, it’s clear that you’re dancing better, but not quite as clear exactly a how.
So, anyway, there you go. If, like me, you’re a Leaner, a kind of Overaged Teenage Sloper, you might give the suitcases-full-of-sand image a try.
In other news, K and I worked through a partnering thing after class, and since BG was there he gave us some pointers. By the time we got done, it was looking really great.
I also pulled off this beautiful, controlled, super-high developpé à la seconde en relevé completely at random while thinking out loud with my body about a note that BG gave. He looked at me and said, “Just like that!”
I don’t actually do that developpé there, but I think I use it later in the piece, so I’ll have to keep it in my back pocket … Or stuffed into the waistband of my dance belt (wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve kept there :P).
For whatever reason, I feel like I’m growing by leaps and bounds (gahhhhhh, sorry) as a dancer right now. It’s a good feeling, after working so long just to come back from the surgery and regain what I lost while I was on the bench.
*Speaking of this … I’m teaching a workshop at PlayThink this year. Do you just wake up one day with that extra eyeball? Because I might need it.
“The dance is in the stillness between the steps.”
I’ve been trying to think of a way to think about this ever since I returned to dance.
That’s it, guys. Right there ^^
Without the stillness, dance is just chaos. In modern, sometimes chaos is the goal—but even in the most chaotic moment in the most chaotic ballet, you’re always showing the audience a series of living stillnesses.
This is why, even at the barre, the moment of full extension in tendu is important, but so is the moment when you stand in fifth.
The stillness between the steps is where ballet lives and breathes.
Incidentally, this is why my group had to do the first grand allegro twice: we didn’t really show the arabesque in the air in our temps-levée arabesque.
We thought we were getting there, but we weren’t. We were still moving through from point A to point B instead of reaching through the stillness of the arabesque as we soared
We also got called out for not really jumping: I have begun to suspect that L’Ancien would rather see me really jump and be a little late than not really jump and be exactly on time. I’m built for big jumps. I should really use them.
Anyway, we fixed ourselves on the repeat. I have no idea what my TLA looked like because, for once, I was using my eyes correctly.
After class, L’Ancien said to us, “You’re completely different dancers than you were even two weeks ago.”
And then he said these three beautiful words:
“Very, very good.”
That is the best possible way to close out a ballet class on your birthday.
This afternoon and evening: trapeze class, audition, dinner, party.
I tried to write a post this morning.
In fact, I wrote a post this morning. Like, 1,500 words’ worth of post.
And it was, honestly, probably a little boring.
I mean, it was exciting to me. I wrote about the fact that I seem to be getting over this sinus thing now (huzzah!). I wrote about last night’s class (great correction for my arms: elbows in front of shoulders; fixes things a lot, w00t!). I wrote about last night’s rehearsal (BG set more of our dance! I get a cool solo bit!).
I wrote about this weird ballet dream I … actually, there’s no way I’m going to compress Post-Apocolyptic Warehouse Summer Intensive and the ensuing Dance Belt Crisis into a parenthetical phrase. I think that’s probably an entire post in and of itself, but I’m not writing that one right now.
See, I realized that I really wanted to get around to writing about some BOSU videos, and my earlier draft was just WAY TOO LONG, even for me. So it will very possibly languish in my Drafts box forever, and in its stead, here’s the post I promised you with some BOSU arabesques.
This video begins with a very slow rise at coupé.
It’s not terrible: my elbows could stand to be a little more lifted, and my chin is drawn back a little—in short, I’m drawing back into myself as I fight for my balance instead of drawing up and forward.
If you give it a pause at 0:16, you can see this. I’ve just started to sort of get with the program, press forward, and lift the back of my neck a little bit, but my my jaw is still drawn back.
I’m lifting my arms, here, in a way that draws my shoulders forward, which pushes my sternum back. There’s definitely room for this particular movement pathway—but it’s in modern dance, rather than in ballet, and you use it when you want to contract rather than lifting.
Because my weight is distributed in a kind of weird, snaky pattern, I can’t bring my free leg up slowly and with control.
This costs me when I begin to unfold around 0:22. Between 0:22 and 0:24 I’m forced to redistribute my weight rather abruptly. As such, this phase takes about half as long as it should: I kind of throw my leg and catch it, instead of carrying it smoothly. My arms can’t keep up without unbalancing me, so they’re late to the party, sweeping through to first arabesque when the free leg has, in effect, already arrived.
At 0:26 – 0:28, however, I sort myself out fairly substantially. My right arm is a bit far back and a bit high, but I manage to carry my sternum forward, untuck my chin, lift the crown of my head, and the free leg floats up just above 90 degrees.
The interesting thing about this recovery is how effectively it restores control. I’m able to recover my weight evenly and return to and hold a the first arabesque at 45 degrees on relevé. As I reach to allongé, though, I lift my gaze by lifting my head back, which unbalances me. It doesn’t exactly knock me off my leg, but I do think the close and dismount could have been better-controlled had I lifted my gaze up and forward instead.
This all illustrates one of the really important points L’Ancien frequently mentions: your head is one of the heaviest parts of your body. Its placement matters immensely to the success of your balances.
There’s more wiggle room, so to speak, in first arabesque at 90 degrees because of the way your weight is distributed. In fact, it can be helpful to pull the upper body back a bit when you’re working at 90 degrees en relevé. This particular arabesque is successful because I’m drawing my back and my leg towards one another, allowing the leg and body to pivot freely around the hip of the supporting leg.
This is the result:
Progress from here on arabesques will depend, for me, largely on figuring out how to engage my core and back in such a way as to allow more freedom to lift my sternum.
Progress on balances in general—especially those that aren’t counter-balanced—will require me to keep working on carriage of my head, arms, and chest.
This second video is shot from a slightly different angle and involves a different approach: I step into coupé derièrre, then immediately begin to rise to retiré.
My placement looks a little better here: if you watch my arms, you can see that I begin by rotating the humerus—in other words, lifting the elbow—without disengaging my lats. My neck, sternum, and back remain lifted and open. After 6 seconds floating in retiré, I begin to extend.
This is where things fall apart a bit. I start to carry my knee back, but then I lose control of my turnout and the knee briefly dips.
If you pause the video at 0:20, you can see part of the cause of the problem: my right shoulder is no longer connected to my left hip, so to speak. Instead, I’m extended along a long diagonal that begins to pull my weight towards the outside of my supporting leg. The free leg scoops downwards, then lifts again, in an attempt to compensate.
The resulting balance (though it’s really pretty) is really looks more like the middle of a reversé: I suspect that if I drew my knee in to attitude, the balance would be forced to pivot.
On the upside, I’ve done a much better job keeping my back up, here, Partly, that’s because I was “warmer” in this video; but it’s partly also the result of experience. I’d been experimenting with these for roughly half an hour when I shot this, as opposed to maybe five or ten minutes when I shot the first one.
Because of the angle of my back, the arabesque in this video looks a prettier than the one in the first video. That said, I’m not entirely sure it’s actually a better balance. I thought it was until I sat down and really looked at these in depth.
Now, I’ve concluded that the first one, though it’s more awkward at the outset and never quite matches this one in terms of beauty, is probably technically better: in short, my control is better through the latter half of the exercise.
So there you have it: my nitpicky examination of a couple of BOSU arabesque videos. What did I say I’d do next, fondus?
*Now with music!
When you’re a kid, you might experience adults as mostly functional, mostly giant walking disasters, or some combination of the two—but you probably don’t experience them as people quite the same way you experience yourself and your friends as people.
- There are some exceptions: my riding instructor was one of those rare adults who are phenomenal at connecting with kids on a very human level without being a total wishy-washy pushover, which you can’t be when you’re teaching 50-pound 7-year-olds how to handle half-ton beasties front-loaded for panic.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. It so happens that kids and adults in most of the Western world move in fairly separate spheres, and that the developmental worldview of childhood tends to be a bit solipsistic for entirely developmentally-appropriate reasons.
But, anyway, the upshot of this is that an awful lot of us reach adulthood without having the faintest idea how to, like, adult.
…Which is evidenced by the fact that “adult” is now a verb as well as a noun.
I think maybe this wasn’t always the case. Like, up until pretty recently, people were pretty explicit about training up a child in the way he (or she) should wash the ding-dang-darn dishes for crying out loud (and turn down that racket).
Then my generation came along, close on the heels of Gen X but a bit more computer-y, learning from day one that we were supposed to, like, Follow Our Dreams and self-actualize our unique snowflakitude, but also learn math and science a whole lot, and how to do things with technology, and also how to ballet or football/soccer or handegg or violin or speak seventeen languages or be a Mathlete and a representative in the Model UN or pwn all the Mock Trials.
In short, we were so busy getting a First-Class Education and becoming (in many cases, anyway) Well-Rounded that we never had time to absorb some of the critical secrets to Adulting.
Like, to be honest, COFFEE.
I’m just gonna admit up front that even my Mom will tell you she’s almost never sick. I think germs are just way too scared of her. I remember her being actually sick exactly once during my childhood, and it was totally miserable for about a week, and she confirms the same.
HOWEVER. Given that she worked a billion hours a week and sang in at least one choir at any given time and was (for several years) also working on a Master’s degree and somehow found time to design, plant, and maintain an absolutely lovely garden and did at least some of the carting around of a ridiculous kid who somehow thought it was a good idea to jam ballet and horses and gymnastics and choir and skiing and ice skating and the violin into any one week … anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my Mom was almost certainly crazy tired at least part of the time (though she also has the “can sleep any time, anywhere” super power).
And, somehow, I never quite grokked how spectacularly helpful coffee can be in those circumstances.
At least, not until now, when I’m definitely ill but probably on the mend, and I can’t stand the fact that there are three days worth of dishes piled up in the kitchen, but also not sure I can just plain stand long enough to wash them, because frankly one of the major symptoms of Whatever I Have (probably yet another sinus infection) is knock-you-on-your-keister fatigue.
I don’t usually drink COFFEE after noon, because frankly it’s a terrible idea if you’re already a night owl but you’re also a dancer and you regularly have to be able to function in class at 9 AM. In fact, I usually drink exactly one coffee per day, in the morning, less for the caffeine (though that helps when I’ve had to take a sleeping pill, because see above re: night owl) than for the ritual of it.
However, when one is definitely not well enough to go to class (blargh) but also not ill enough to remain in bed without going crazy, one cup of coffee will help one wash some dishes.
So there it is. COFFEE is tasty, but—used judiciously—also one of the secrets of adulting.
I feel like I really should’ve figured this out before.
It’s probably not a secret at all to vast legions of people my own age and younger than my own age who are simply less, like, insular. I am also the kind of idiot who insists on using a hand-cranked kitchen mixer partly because the electric ones are fecking loud, partly because my inner hipster finds it satisfying, and partly out of sheer cussedness, so draw your own conclusions.
But, anyway, I guess this is a thing I know, now. If you need just a little help adulting, a cup of coffee might do the job. So there you have it.
Anyway, if you came for teh balletz but you’ve had to sit through my long digression into the magic that is COFFEE, my apologies. Anyway, here comes the bit with teh balletz in.
A couple weekends back, I shot a bunch of video of balances on the BOSU balance trainer at Suspend. I posted a couple of them to the Instas, then promptly failed to get around to uploading them to the YouTubes so I could toss some music in and easily post them here and critique my own technique.
Belatedly, I have now uploaded a handful (which is to say, three) videos and slapped a little music on them. The actual soundtrack of gleeful cackling from people working on stuff nearby was pretty amusing, but also pretty distracting.
Now they’re running loose on the Tubes. Sort of. (Okay, so they’re currently unlisted, because people like to be mean—by which I do not mean ‘critical, but fair,’ but instead ‘douchy jerks’—in the comments, and I’m mean enough to myself for about five people, thanks).
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the first one:
…This one hasn’t been on the Instas yet.
Here, I’m working left, which is currently my stronger side balance-wise—which is to say that my right leg is better at the “supporting leg” role and my left leg is better at the “free leg” role.
- L’Ancien favors these translations from the Russian over the usual English “supporting leg/working leg” dichotomy: he points out that the supporting leg, really, is the one doing most of the work, and says things like, “And which leg do you imagine flamingos think about?”
If you watch closely, when I first step onto the BOSU trainer (and then promptly step off), you’ll notice one of my most constant and worst ballet habits: I lead with my freaking hips, like I think I’m on a catwalk in Milan or something.
Ballet is not a catwalk in Milan, you guys.
The shirt I’m wearing (half my costume from Death Defying Acts) makes it hard to see, but at the very beginning my sternum is behind the point of my hip. This is so problematic (and, on the BOSU trainer, so bleeding obvious) that, at 0:05, I step back down so I can basically fix my entire approach.
If you pause the player at 0:07, you’ll notice that I’ve corrected pretty reasonably. I haven’t really turned on my turnout yet (it’s easier to mount the BOSU trainer, then turn on the turnout), but I’m much more squarely balanced over my supporting leg.
At the same point in time, you can also see that my knee is roughly over the arch of my foot: I’m shifting my weight towards the ball of my foot on the supporting side by shifting through the entire leg as well as my body. This allows me to keep my hips level from side to side (at 0:10, I actually tap them with my hands to remind myself to stay level and pull up).
Given that I’m still working in kind of a half-baked turnout, the passé balance that follows is pretty decent. You can see me actively resisting the urge to pull up and back (one of the things that makes passé easier for me than coupé is that you typically bring your arms up to third/en haut, which—as long as you keep your elbows lifted—helps keep your weight forward).
I also correct the height of my passé in the midst of the balance—it still wouldn’t be high enough for BW, and neither would my relevé, but in this video I’m still getting used to the BOSU trainer, here, so I’ll give myself a pass on those. It’s high enough for just about any application, anyway, and lifted correctly from behind and beneath, allowing for increased height without a hip-hike.
It’s when I begin to extend that things go a bit pear-shaped.
The legs themselves are rather nice, I think: I carry the working knee up and out, as one should, and though I lose a couple of degrees and wind up at full extension just a little above ninety (for a split second), the overall mechanical process is fine.
I totally fail to adjust my upper body to counterbalance the weight of my leg, which is considerable (the average human leg apparently weighs 40 pounds, which is nearly 1/3 of my entire weight). This actually has a lot to do with the loss of elevation on my extension: any extension requires a fair bit of counter-balancing, and those above 90 degrees require quite a bit more counter-balancing than we tend to realize.
Usually, we effect the counter-balance by shifting the weight away form the free leg. Often, this means performing the complex ritual of simultaneously pulling towards the free leg (to engage the muscles that will help it stay up) and away from the free leg (to counter-balance its weight).
In this video, I do absolutely nothing to counter-balance my free leg. I’m thinking too hard about keeping my weight forward, and so I fail to shift it back just a little. As soon as my free leg begins to move through croisée, I am powerless to resist the pull of gravity, and it “knocks me off my leg,” as we say.
In this case, I should have allowed my shoulders to open slightly in opposition as my arms transitioned to allongé. This is accomplished, more or less, with the breath: you breathe in and allow the breath to lift your sternum until it can’t go any higher, so it has to go back a bit, and while this happens you stay engaged so you don’t turn into a sway-backed cow.
Instead, I kept them exactly as they were.
While, to be honest, I find that fairly impressive in and of itself (I’m forever doing crazy stuff with my upper body and actively, rather than passively, putting it where it shouldn’t be), it’s not very effective if you want to balance that extension.
So there you have it.
Also, rather a nice sustained passé balance (or, well, technically retiré, since I’m not really changing my leg from back to front; it seems that way, but really it’s an artifact of mounting the BOSU).
What works best, here, is the lower-body transition into the extension: I keep the hip open as I extend, rather than allowing it to turn in, then extending from parallel. Also, it blows my mind how flat-out steady I am through much of this. Placement: it works.
What doesn’t work is the failure to counter-balance the extension, which in turn costs me both the height of the extension (which I begin to lose immediately) and the duration of the extended balance. Also, my free-side hand:
I do finish my rather graceful emergency dismount with a nice, deep, turned-out, knee-over-toe plié, at least, though I immediately let go of my turnout as I swing my right leg around and step toward the camera.
Next time: a comparison of two first arabesques, followed by a comparison of two penchés (one that kinda works; one that kinda knocks me off the BOSU).
Yesterday, I posted this picture of my “Itty Bitty Cambré Committee” cambré derrière:
I shot it in our bathroom, and I wasn’t exactly attempting excellent technique, but I figured I’d go ahead and make an example of myself anyway.
- My usual cambré derrière is pretty deep—like, shoulderblades-parallel-to-floor deep, basically. This is, more techically, a really bad high release. My modern teacher would poke me in the ribs.
- To wit: it’s surprisingly hard, actually, to hold the mobi in one hand and execute cambré derrière with the other arm en bas, or wherever the hell my arm actually was (maybe I left it in the other room?). I should at least have gone for what BG calls the “Margot Fonteyn,” with the free arm in a nice, languid romantic fourth.
You can’t see much of my back, here, but I can tell you based on the fact that my ribs aren’t locked down that I’m doin’ it rong.
That said, I’m not going to focus on my back (in no small part because so little of it is visible): instead, I’m going to focus on One Weird Trick… erm, I mean, one key point about cambré back that I’m demonstrating all the way wrong, here, and that’s this:
Avoid The Dreaded Noodle Neck =:O
When you first start learning cambré back (formally: cambré derrière), your teacher will almost certainly tell you to bring your working arm to fifty-third … I mean third … I mean fifth … ah, feck it, en haut and to turn your face towards its elbow before you begin to bend your back.
This is not solely because it looks cool, though it does. In fact, turning the head towards the working arm serves a practical purpose—it’s mostly a preventive measure.
What, then, does it prevent?
Glad you asked. What it prevents, my gentle reader, is the dreaded Noodle Neck.
“Noodle neck” may or may not be a technical term I laboriously translated from the Russian (шея лапшой … okay, okay, so I just ran “noodle” and “neck” through Google Translate and swapped the order because Assumptions About Grammar). Regardless, it’s a kind of “indicator species” fault that suggests a whole litany of problems further down the chain.
Simply put, it refers to the habit of letting one’s neck arch (or “crunch”) when performing the cambré back.
As you can now easily see thanks to my use of Ultra-Modern Technology, in the photograph above, my neck is definitely arched (Even though my head is turned! I’m talented, y’all.).
- AKA MSPain(t)
Instead of continuing to pull up through the crown of my head, I’m flopping languidly about like the heroine of some outdated romance novel, presumably waiting for the nobell laird to decide he’s had enough of murdering the MacAuleys and come ravage me instead. Or, um. Something like that.
Not to say languidity doesn’t have a place in the art of ballet. It totally does. If you’re not sure, the next time the Bolshoi does La Dame aux Camélias in its HD broadcast series, you should really go see it. The Bolshoi really knows how to get its languid on, and there’s a lot of opportunity for “languiding” (as a friend of mine from CirqueLouis calls it) in that particular ballet.
However! In cambré derrière, one must languid judiciously. It’s poor form to let the head dangle, and besides, it usually means you’re not really engaged all the way down (QV my embarassingly-splayed ribs).
Noodle Neck is also often a sign that one is attempting to initiate or artificially deepen one’s cambré by crunching the neck rather than lifting up through the full range of motion—which, in my experience, usually results from not actually knowing how to execute cambré derrière in the first place.
If you’re wondering what cambré derrière should actually look like, here:
There may be some small measure of Noodle Neck happening, there, but overall it’s quite a good cambré derrière.
You’ll notice that our intrepid danseur‘s ribs aren’t sticking out like jocks at a fandom convention, and that you can draw a smooth arc from his hip through the top of his head with no precipitous drop-off near the top. There is no “crunching” at any point along the way—speaking of which, a “crunch” most often shows up in the lower back or the neck (or, distressingly, both at the same time). I, on the other hand, like to crunch at the point right where the ribs end, because I’m special.
Both BG and BW would, of course, yell at notre danseur mystérieux for letting his hips drift forward of his feet—but it’s better, in cambrés as a whole, to drift forward than backward.
Ultimately, although turning the head to look at the elbow is a useful shortcut when one is beginning to learn cambré derrière, only technique will prevent Noodle Neck.
What, then, is the technique in question?
Simple (HA! note that I did NOT say “easy”):
You should not, at any point, cease to lift through the very tippity-top of your head (or, if you will, your “cheetah eyes“). Sure, if you’re flexible, you can do a full-on back bend just by flopping over backwards—but a floppy backbend is a recipe for injury in the long run. It also isn’t ballet.
“Lift,” by the way, is really shorthand for “Engage All The Things!”
Cambré derrière looks like it happens from the top of the head, but the engagement involved runs all the way down to the floor.
The action of lifting comes primarily from the muscles of the core. (Sadly, though mine continue to try, the eyebrows have little to do with it.) There is not, in fact, an invisible hook in the top of your head; rather, you’re technically pushing up rather than pulling up. It just looks and feels like pulling up. As such, I find it helpful to think in terms of lifting rather than pulling.
LWF describes the action of high-releases and cambrés derrières in terms of roller-coaster cars on a climb: the are lifted smoothly, each car drawing the next in its wake. All the cars remain connected, and they move together smoothly up the track.
You definitely do not want the lead car (that is, your head) to fall off the track. That’s a good way to get sued.
How, exactly, you wrangle all of this mentally in order to achieve the right process may vary—but I’ll be happy to blether on about the mental image that works for me (the one that I patently did not execute in the picture above):
- Lift through the top of the skull whilst sending the weight down through the heels (or, if on demi-pointe, through the appropriate metatarsals and toes)
- Lift the sternum (without letting the shoulders creep up)
- Keep lifting THROUGH THE CORE until there is nowhere to go but back
- Convincing the sternum to act independently of the shoulders is one of the most difficult challenges for many new dancers. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out an effective way to explain in words exactly how to achieve this feat of human dexterity.
Because the human body is shaped the way it is, if you try to lift UP as you send your weight down, you will eventually be forced to bend your back through a smooth curve.
It’s that or tear yourself into two pieces, which never actually happens in ballet classes. Or, well … hardly ever.
So, in review, here are some things to know about cambré derrière:
- Connect from the top of the head right down to the flooor
- Send the weight DOWN
- Lift the spine UP starting from the top of the head (NOT the back of the head)
- Allow the body to carry itself over an imaginary roller-coaster climb
- If you notice a point where you’re “crunched” in your spine, it usually reflects a point at which you’re disengaged in your core
One last note: a really deep cambré derrière demands both flexibility and strength. If you’re bendy by nature, but not particularly strong, do not be surprised if your cambré derrière is quite shallow at first.
This doesn’t mean you’ve lost your flexibility; just that you have a good teacher who allows you to take your cambré derrière only as far as you can support it correctly.
Don’t despair. Depth will come with time, as you develop the strength to support your inborn suppleness.
If, on the other hand, you’re strong but stiff, you will probably develop greater flexibility over time, but you probably won’t be surprised if your initial cambré derrière is nothing to write home about.