Yesterday, we worked on piqué turns with our Sunday class.
Teaching piqué turns, it turns out (sorry again), is a finicky business.
There are a lot of little details that are actually fairly important—open the whole body, and not just the supporting leg, from éffacé to croisée; don’t fling the baby; bring the hips along with the shoulders; keep the hips level; find the right amount of attack (with adult beginners, I’ve noticed that too little attack is more common than too much); keep the turnouts engaged; etc.
I found myself wondering whether we were overwhelming our students with information, and whether my input wasn’t just sort of making things harder. I sometimes forget, in the moment, that human beings learn ballet in tiny increments that build up over the course of many years.
As we progress as dancers, we get used to absorbing corrections on the fly. We add their content to—or subtract it from—layers of existing information. We build and modify habits over years and years. Now and then, a “eureka!” moment leads to a swift and significant change, but mostly we learn by a thousand cuts; a million steps compounded one atop the other.
We forget what it’s like to be completely new; to be learning not only an entirely new movement vocabulary, but an entirely new language vocabulary.
This is part of what makes teaching ballet hard.
After a while, it all begins to make sense—sure, turnout (for example) began as pure artifice, but ballet technique evolved around it and depends upon it. A good tour lent/promenade depends on the turnouts remaining engaged—as do piqués and chaînes and all those other turns.
You can do turns in parallel, but they’re different. They look different and rely on different body mechanics. They can be nice, but they’re not ballet.
Ballet begins with engaging the turnout—so we harp on about it endlessly.
In the beginning, though, it probably feels arbitrary and baffling (not to mention a bit unnatural).
You don’t really “get” it until you learn to feel your deep rotators well enough to understand, for example, that you fell out of that otherwise-nice tour lent because your turnouts unspooled themselves and destabilized the hip of your supporting leg and everything attached to it.
That can take years.
Our AD Emeritus once called me out on failing to really engage my supporting leg before driving on through Adagio or turns. That moment is a bit of a watershed for me, because it made me really think about how I was using my deep rotators. Prior to that, I accepted turnout as a part of ballet without really thinking about it—which meant that I also wasn’t feeling about it.
I’ve noticed that understanding why helps people remember things. The challenge is to impart the reasoning without drowning students in a frothing sea of information.
It occurs to me that perhaps figuring out how to impart that sense of feeling might help—to set some time aside during each class to consciously work on getting to know the body mechanics of ballet by feel.
Of course, this is ruddy hard to measure: asking students to report back on sensations deep within their hip sockets is inherently subjective and prone to the same kinds of reporting errors that researchers encounter. Perhaps it would be best to ask them to explore their turnout, then describe how it feels at the point at which it’s most correct and solid?
I’m going to have to remember to talk this over with ABM. She’s a gifted teacher, and I think her insights could be helpful.