I’m working on trying to dance with a relaxed upper body.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, relaxing the upper body makes it easier to lift out of the hips and so forth. It also ameliorates, to an extent, my tendency to over-engage the back muscles.
Last night, during barre, I had the weird and ultimately lovely experience of catching BW’s eye in the mirror must by chance. I was watching him (because his grand plié is breathtakingly beautiful and I was using it was a model) and he was watching me (because that’s part of the job when you’re teaching), and then we had this sort of, “Oh, fancy meeting you here!” moment.
We grinned at each-other and I sort of laughed, and rather magically my whole upper body just let go of itself in the best possible way. It didn’t fall apart, it just stopped being stiff.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this made a huge difference to the ease of my technique and the quality of my movement.
If I were to set a principle of movement as a goal for this year, I think it would be “freedom.” Central Casting Troubled Ballet Boy is a very tense individual. Oddly enough, this does not automatically beget free, expressive dance. Who would ever have imagined?
I’m not, however, actually going to nail a movement principle to my mental door. That would be essentially the equivalent of someone shouting, “Try to relax!” right in one’s ear.
On the other hand, I am going to try to be less afraid of lightness and laughter, and especially of meeting the gaze of my teacher or of another dancer(1). This has never yet ended badly for me, so why do I always behave as if it is going to result in some kind of unexpected Battle Ballet Ultimate Smackdown(2)?
- Am I the only one who does this? When The Instructor approaches, there’s like this little voice in my head that desperately mutters, “Eyes straight ahead! Don’t look! Oh, g-dohg-dohg-d…”
- Still pretty sure this is a viable idea for a TV show, though.
Anyway, I’m reminded of a conversation years ago in which a riding instructor described the kind of strength required for horseback riding as “a relaxed strength.” Even though we sometimes use our bodies in very different ways in ballet, the concept transfers well—especially in light of the fact that in both horsemanship and ballet, the upper body must be free and independent of the legs.
I thought about this principle halfway through class on Wednesday (in one of those rare moments when it happened of its own accord). I thought about it again yesterday, while spying on BW’s plié from the corner of my eye.
In other news, I have a student who has the polar opposite of my problem: she is forever dropping her upper body forward (from the hips, oddly enough). If any of you have good visualizations (like Modern L’s “your spine is like a roller-coaster” and, of course, the Summer Intensive classic, “cheetah eyes”) to help with this, I’d love to hear them!