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Today I Learned #2: Be A Fastback

Pinto-Runabout

Just maybe not a Pinto. Explosive gas isn’t a good look. (Via Wikimedia Commons, by Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden (Ford Pinto runaboutUploaded by Oxyman) [CC BY 2.0])

How do you power your turns?

If you said, “By winding up my arms and then flinging them,” erm … really, that’s an entirely different post. I mean, I’m not sure how to break this to you, but, like…

…I mean, that might be a thing in some kinds of modern, but really, you don’t need to do that in ballet, and your teacher will yell at you a lot less if you stop.

Moving right along!

If you answered, “By turning,” you’re probably someone like me, who is much better at doing physical things than at thinking about physical things (and, like me, you might be prone to the Centipede’s Dilemma). I mean … like, to be entirely honest, if you’d asked me  a while back how I power my turns, I would’ve A] done some kind of turn in an attempt to figure it out, then B] shrugged and said, “Honestly, I have no idea.”

I have since had the opportunity[1] to discuss this in class several times, and have realized that there are several factors involved, one of which is my shoulder and back.

  1. Which is to say, been forced on pain of receiving The Look…

I mean, think about it. How do you a fouetté[2]? You basically flip your back around. First it’s on one side; then it’s on the other side. Your legs just, like, basically stay where they are, though the free leg has to turn over. Neato[3]!

  1. Not the en tournant/Black Swan kind. Just the, “Your toe is a key; stick it in the lock and turn it without actually doing a flip” kind.
  2. Sauté fouetté uses the same mechanics, btw. Ideally, your free leg should maintain a steady altitude, which looks pretty dazzling when done correctly.

 

The video above isn’t the best possible example, since you don’t even remotely need to be on pointe to do this and the mechanics allow you to start from a static balance (which would make for a much clearer video), but it gets the basic point across.  TBH, though, I searched for like 30 whole seconds and all the other videos I turned up were for fouetté en tournant. 

Obviously, it’s a given that flipping your back around is going to happen in any turn.

The funny thing, though, is that many of us never really bother to think about it. We get as far as holding our bodies together and then just … let physics take care of things, I guess?

Anyway, Mr. Reuille pointed out today (or was it yesterday?) that you have to bring your back around, and more the point, you have to imagine bringing it around faster for every single rotation within any given turn. So if you’re doing a triple, you’re not thinking, “One … two … three…” so much as, “One … two,three!”

In ballet turns, the back, shoulder, and hip travel together. (This isn’t always the case in modern turns, precisely—if you’re turning and spiraling at the same time, for example, the principle continues to operate along similar lines, but it feels very different.)

They carry the momentum of the turn—if you think about it, there’s a whole lot of mass there.

In an en dehors turn, the inside of the standing leg actively resists that momentum: otherwise, the free knee will happily collapse in towards the center, and you’ll wind up with one of those parallel jazz turns.

Which … I mean. They’re great, but they’re not ballet.

 

 

fosse-fosse-fosse

What? You thought there wouldn’t be a meme for that? Of *course* there’s a meme for that!

In an en dedans turn, the inside of the standing leg goes with the momentum, so the free leg resists against it. This is, I realize, another reason I’m better at en dedans turns than en dehors turns. The adduction is not so strong with this one. I’m working on it, okay?

Anyway, in either case, if you think about bringing the shoulder-hip complex around ahead of your spot, you might find that you get more and better turns.

Predictably, I do this well at some times and horribly, terribly, or not at all at other times. This[4] is another part of the reason that my turns are so bleeding inconsistent.

  1. …Combined with my bizarre back-leaning posture, wacko spot, and apparently counter-evolutionary preference for falling backwards rather than forwards … is this possibly a People Who Wear Glasses Thing, or is this just me???

At any rate, I ended class only owing Mr. Reuille 5 push-ups (for hopping out of a turn), which he kindly did not collect, and in the midst of receiving a correction did a very nice fouetté from first arabesque to attitude devant that resulted in a dead stable balance. And that owed largely to just bringing my ding-dang-darn back around faster.

So, like, there’s hope for even the worst parts of my ballet technique, I guess.

Anyway, if you’re having issues with turns that wobble or wander or just don’t have enough moxie, and you’re not sure where to find more chutzpah (did you know that chutzpah can be translated as “audacity?”), maybe you could try starting with this thing and see if it helps. Assuming, of course, that A] you’re snapping your free leg to a turned-out passé and B] you’re not leaning back like certain idiots who write blogs about ballet on the innertubes.

Merde, and let me know if it works out.

 

 

One More Weird Trick That Will Shock You When You See What Happens

(OMG CLICKBAIT!!!)

Wednesday evening, Señor BeastMode gave us a really useful note for improving our turns.

It goes like this:

Before your free foot leaves the ground, rotate the heel forward.

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.

You’re welcome.

Mmmh … tender, flaky rotation…

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).

Advanced Class: Wear Your Giant Hat 

I’ve been busy cleaning and organizing today, but I finally have time to write up a useful note from this morning’s class. 

As you may know, I’m not great at detecting where in space my arms are. Today, I apparently kept throwing them behind my head in turns. HD caught it and gave me a visual demo, and—I suppose because I live in Louisville and Big Hats are a thing on Derby Day—I immediately exclaimed, “Oh, so if I just pretend I’m wearing a giant hat—!” 

And it was all like:

Tombé, pdb, other tombé, pdb, piqué soutenu, tombé pdb-chasée, 4th, HAT!, really clean single, pdb under to 4th, HAT!, really clean single en dedans…

You guys, the hilarious thing is that IT ACTUALLY WORKED. 

I imagined a big, giant, frilly, yellow wide-brimmed ladies’ hat (Why yellow? Who knows?), and of a sudden my arms were like, “Cool, we’ve got this!”

Visualization is a powerful tool … and apparently in my case, the more ridiculous, the better. 

Technique: Don’t Fling The Baby

The second in a series of posts on the details of technique that focuses primarily on steps I’m struggling with. Take it with a grain of salt.

I find it helpful to write things out in an effort to get a grip on them. These aren’t so much instructions (though if they work for you, awesome!) as observations.


Hi. My name is Asher, and I’m a baby-flinger.

Wait, wait, wait! I don’t mean it like that.

I have never literally flung a baby. Hell, I’ve (still) never even held a baby. Those things are terrifying. I reserve my child-handling efforts for those at least one year of age, and by then, they’re toddlers already.

What I mean is that I do crazy stuff with my arms when I’m doing turns. Sometimes, anyway.

And this isn’t your standard crazy stuff, like the traditional “winding up for the fast-ball pitch” method or the beginners’ special “just not even having any idea what to do with the arms in the first place” method. I’ve (mostly) overcome the fast-ball method and I don’t think I ever suffered from the “not having any idea” method(1).

  1. At least not with turns; with everything else, on the other hand…

No, this is something else. Something, erm, special.

So here’s the thing:

When you do turns, your supporting-side arm opens in preparation, then closes as you initiate the turn.

Your shoulders and hips stay together.

Your working-side arm does not then lead the supporting-side arm in a breakaway that basically resembles attempting to rock-a-bye baby right into space.

Me? I’m a baby-flinger.

Apparently, just as I get excited about piqué turns and sometimes wind up doing them as if they were some kind of insane piqué-jeté en tournant, I get excited about pirouettes and try to launch babies into orbit.

chinese-space-baby

Clearly, they don’t need my help(2).

  1. Vintage Chinese Space Program poster, via Ricardo Goulart, via Tumblr, via shameless internet thievery. You’re welcome.

My supporting-side arm closes to meet the working-side arm, and then they both continue merrily along on a trajectory that throws the whole thing off kilter(3).

  1. The fact that I have ever managed a triple turn is particularly astounding in light of this revelation.

Obviously, this is a problem—and it’s one I never noticed before JP subbed for advanced class (because Nutcracker) and called me out on it.

Oddly enough, when I control it, turns are so much easier.

Now, if I was a Real Grown-Up™, I might just remember that my arms should stay with my body and not go sailing off on their own mission.

But I’m not. So instead, when it’s time for turns, I tell myself:

Don’t fling the baby!

It’s probably worth noting that I do a lot more of this when I’m turning from fourth or second. Why? Because those are POWER TURNS!!!!!!!!1111oneoneone1one

And apparently I am maddened by power. But with great power comes great responsibility—specifically, the more powerful the turn, the more responsible you are for NOT FLINGING THE BABY, for goodness’ sake.

If you’re having trouble with turns and you’ve already checked and found that you’re:

  • not winding up for a fast-ball pitch
  • not letting your shoulders twist away from your hips, and
  • not just completely uncertain how to do turns in the first place,

consider asking yourself, “Am I flinging the baby?”

Parents everywhere will thank you.

Or maybe they won’t, as previously noted:babies—those things are terrifying(4).

  1. Though this doesn’t mean I don’t want one of my very own sometimes. I have noticed that they’ve grown less terrifying in recent years, culminating in the birth of O, the Actually-Adorable Poster Baby, to one of the Aerials Goddesses who owns my studio.

I forgot to note that, on Saturday, I finally got the thing where you tour lent/promenade just by scooting the heel.

Seriously, I thought I had this, but evidently I didn’t. When you’re doing it right, you really don’t have to bounce up onto semi-demi point.

On the other hand, you do have to engage the living daylights out of your turnouts and keep everything square.

Obviously, this is a topic for another post, but I thought I’d write myself (and you) a note about it so I don’t forget.

Thursday Class: On the Spot

We were back to BW’s Thursday class tonight after a two week break (one week for Swan Lake, one week while I was watching Pilobolus).

It was a good class. Just BB and me, so we got to do a fairly complex (and long!) barre. I tried to remember to relax my upper body, since I realized on Wednesday that when my upper body is tense, I tend to lose the ability to really control my deep rotators.

Sometimes that’s a losing battle, the upper-body-relaxing bit. Tonight, it went fairly well. Sometimes a little too well, at which point my hands when from Don Quixote! to Dead Birds 😦

handy-guide

…Unless, of course, you are actually in “Don Quixote,” or dancing a character role that calls for Emphatic Flamenco Matador Hands. But there is no place in ballet for Dead Birds, unless they’re the Dying Swan, and even she doesn’t get to have Dead Bird Hands because, I mean, like … birds don’t even have hands, man.

Anyway, at barre, BW corrected my grand battement à côte, which I was allowing to drift too far backwards (and, like everyone else this week, got on me about my working knee not being straight in arabesque; for some reason, it has decided to choose this week to give me … ahem … attitude :V).

Curiously, I think this is a new-ish development. I’ve started doing them mostly with the arm in 3rd, because it forces me to keep my shoulders down and, frankly, just gets the danged arm out of the way. Before I adopted that approach, I used my arm as a handy-dandy guide: as long as I shot my leg to the front of my arm, I was fine. Now I need to, like, actually feel where it’s supposed to go.

Speaking of attitude, he also sorted my attitude balance-to-allongé. For some reason, I kept doing it to second arabesque. Have I always done that? Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think that I have. That said, I have no idea when I started doing it or why. For all I know, I’ve been doing it like that for a year and it originated as a way to get my arm out of the way without cracking the back of my hand on the wall or the mirror.

We also did a kajillion turns. BW noticed something weird about my spot: I was, in essence, spotting twice — like, getting stuck briefly in the mirror on the way to the actual spot. Apparently, this problem is contagious, because BB was doing it, too.

I very much get how this came about: I’m attempting to watch my turns in the mirror.

Specifically, my wonky proprioception makes it really hard for me to feel whether or not I’m actually snapping my leg to a proper open passé (or retiré, as is sometimes required), and I’ve developed the habit of attempting to catch a glimpse on the fly.

Apparently, that plays havoc with your spot, even though the hesitation it produces is minuscule.

The really annoying part of all this is that it really probably isn’t necessary. Snapping to a proper, open passé/retiré is one of the things I do naturally. There is absolutely no reason for me to be checking that in the mirror when I’m doing turns.

Keeping my foot attached at the knee until I really finish my turn, on the other hand… Eerrrrm, yeahhhhh. Sometimes I start stepping out of my turns a little early. It’s a thing.

That said, I mostly managed to stay attached tonight. Maybe the mini-spot in the middle was the problem?

Anyway, with regard to your working leg in turns, it’s fairly easy to tell whether you’re staying placed: if you can finish in a clean fifth when you do turns to fifth, you’re probably keeping your foot attached. For me, this works for turns from fifth, fourth, or second(1).

  1. Are turns from third  even a thing?

On the other hand, if you find yourself finishing everything in a sort of sloppy 4.5th position, your foot is probably wandering. Or, at least, that’s how it works for me.

So here’s the rundown:

  1. Allongé from attitude: it is not the same thing as an extended second arabesque.
  2. Grand battement à côte: don’t let your leg drift behind you, and if you have trouble feeling where it is, do it in the mirror a whole bunch of times and figure out how to feel it.
  3. Turns: don’t get stuck in the mirror; the extra mini-spot just screws it all up.

Oh, and one more bonus: when you’re doing a simple combination of piqué turn – piqué turn – soutenu  turn – soutenu turn – piqué turn – piqué turn – step-over turn – step-over turn, don’t get so into it that you nearly crash into the wall at the opposite corner.

Pro Tip: crashing into the corner is not how you ballet (though IIRC Nureyev totally launched himself off a stage once, in front of like all the people).

 

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