Friday, June 10, 2016

Can Teachers Be Wrong?

What a great question! A dancer asked me this at recently. And this was my answer:

"Having trained with Royal Academy, Cecchetti, French and Russian teachers I experienced contradictions in training. Yet I never felt any of my teachers were wrong.

When I started to teach myself, I chose whatever worked for each student, according to their physique. Unless, of course I was teaching Cecchetti for an exam."

I went on to remind her that classical technique defies anatomical norms. It is important that ballet instructors understand (whatever style) basic technique well enough to show students, individually, how to prevent injury on their physique.

Student can lose trust in a teacher because of the misperception that a teacher doesn't know how to teach properly.

Some teachers are happy to state that their competitors teach technique incorrectly.

A kinesiologist will say most of ballet is downright harmful!

Another factor is that teachers may not express what they really mean very well.

Any student (of professional or recreational dance)can study the different ballet styles, and decide how they would apply the instruction to their physical type.

I advised her to get:

  The Perfect Pointe Book - which demonstrates basic ballet movements

Tune Up Your Turnout - from a kinesiology perspective

Inside Ballet Technique -Separating Anatomical Fact from Fiction in the Ballet Class

Written by therapists and kinesiologists these are excellent guides as to what is "right", sans any style.

Every body is different, even the ones that are "creme de la creme" models chosen from among the "rest of us" at professional school auditions.

You need to know, and can find out, what is best for you.  You want to achieve strength and grace which I wrote about in my article "Ballet - Ocean Waves - Fluidity".(It has a great video of fluid movement).

Enjoy your dancing!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Arabesque Means A Line

Arabesque the line in classical ballet.

noun: arabesque; plural noun: arabesques
  1. 1.
    an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration.
    "arabesque scrolls"
    • Music
      a passage or composition with fanciful ornamentation of the melody.
  2. 2.
    a posture in which the body is supported on one leg, with the other leg extended horizontally backward.

How did 1. get to 2.?

Many years ago I read in a dance dictionary that arabesque was so called because it was "a line". In art, arabesque - from the Arabic - was a style of lines, because in the practice of Islam artists could not draw images of the human form.

In ballet the leg is behind - and arms have a variety of placements. Yet, they should continue the line of the leg and the back and the neck.

ballerina arabesque

Ballet has the best of both worlds - the lines, and the human form. 

In grand jete - most often a 180 degree line to the legs (a split), the upper body can be lined in first second or third arabesque, or rounded arm positions.

ballerina jete arms rounded

The dancer can arch backwards and bend the back leg with arms arcing back toward the back foot, almost making a circle. It's a beautiful line.

Yet, the back thigh is still in a 180 degree line continuing from the front leg.

Extreme overstretching exercises.

If the front leg can raise upwards breaking that straight line, and the back leg 

does as well, there is now a shallow V shape. Or bow shape.

If the front and back arm are not parallel to the legs, it looks very odd.

In fact if they are parallel to the front and back leg, it still looks very odd!

It doesn't fit in any classical ballet!

Do I just sound like I'm complaining because I don't like it?

Yes, that's what I'm doing.I mean...take a look! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Ballet - Ocean Waves - Fluidity

I was watching ocean waves recently and tuned into the rhythm of the flow.

I started to think about dance movement and the ebb and flow of tension.

Perfect control is the control of tension.

A dancer learns how to be tense...then not tense.

There is a pas de deux between positions and movement. Ballet positions are practised for years!

Whether they are Vaganova, Cecchetti, R.A.D., or some other newer system, they are positions integrated into almost every class, exam, choreography...

The student dancer imitates, for years, the positions.

Yet ultimately all those positions are -- movement! In adagio, allegro, grand allegro -- it's all movement.

I learned the most about ballet from non-dancers.

True! I learned the most about dance from a friend whom I'd given tickets (back in the days when I could) to not only ballets but to a few progressive choreographic workshops danced by professionals and senior students.

"She moves like water." A remark about Karen Kain way back. This dance observer saw her in Swan Lake, and then in a workshop where she danced "Emily" choreographed by Anne Ditchburn.

Years later I got a good review from critic Deidre Kelly who remarked that in my choreography the dancers' arm movements never came to rest, but defied positioning in a constant flow.

When I started to write this blog, and found myself describing plies, tendus, and ronde de jambe exercises, I found myself careful to repeat that tension in barre exercises, is fluid.

Muscles must be held, as strong as a muscle can. At the top of a jump, at the height of an arabesque.

And, let go immediately! If needed, or if not, gradually, according to the need of a safe landing, or to stay in time with the music, or for a dramatic moment.

The ocean reminded me of this. Every wave is unique. The tension of the waves interact with other waves flowing in or out from different directions. Intercepted by undercurrents, blocked or augmented.

And dance is like that. Every performance is different with new energies, new tensions, new joys. Ditto for the musicians.

And isn't that great? Every show is like "you had to be there".

The audience is not aware of the dancer's incredible control. The audience is mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the tension, and release, in the technique and the artistry of its presentation.

I don't know why I'm thinking all this tonight. Maybe it was the booming crashing thunderstorm I woke up to this morning.

Here is one (in a million) example of that fluidity.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Concussion And Dancers

When I think of concussions, I think of football players. Who, to non sports fans, are kind of crazy guys (some of whom earn millions a year) who slam themselves into other crazy guys to forward a ball...a few yards?

I was stopped in my digital tracks when I read the article on The Dance Current about dancers and concussion injury. 

Recently I've talked to two people who saw the movie "Concussion:" with Will Smith. One loved it and the other didn't like it. But it is an important issue.

It's football. I get it. And casting Will Smith.

But what about dance? And concussion? I've worked in a chiropractic office, and yes, concussion IS a big deal.

I can't add anything to the movie trailer or the article in Dance Current.

Whether you are a ballet dancer, break dancer, ballet teacher, adult ballet beginner -- or a high school football player, I hope you'll read this article and expand your awareness.

I searched "ballet concussions" and came up with nothing. But please don't let that discourage you from thinking about this.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trapezius Muscle Pain

And wow did I ever have that yesterday -- trapezius muscle pain and stinging -- like a swarm of bees stung me!

I don't know how else to describe it. Burning, smarting stinging in my left trapezius!

I had never experienced that in a muscle before. Usually a strained muscle would ache, spasm a bit, and respond if I used a sports ball or roller. Relief!

Not this time! I was in the middle of a task - with some repetitive motion involved. And I'd had a sensation of tightness in the muscle for few days -- or is that weeks?

You know how time flies when you're busy!

I put some Bio Freeze on it - I had the roll on or I couldn't have reached. I contemplated getting ice, but I didn't want to stop what I was doing. I could have!

Yeah, I'll fix it later right? Typical dancer think?

Anyway today I got the chance to get a half hour massage for the stinging -- which was a little better than yesterday's killer bee swarm affect - and while I was telling Shirley Martin about it I reflected on my ergonomic computer workstation at home.

O.K., I confess right now it's the couch. The Ouch Couch. I have a table set up too -- but isn't the couch more inviting most evenings?

And the ergonomic workstation design at the office? The area was built in 1999 when no one had any idea what would be required for a good layout once everything was digitalized. I've reconfigured it as best I can. But the rebuild of the room hasn't been approved lol.

So back to the couch -- I am now supported by a Sobakawa pillow and am facing forward (eliminating the twist to the thoracic spine) (oh, and neck!) and thinking how silly I am to let it get to the point where I got such trapezius muscle pain!

Here's a video by Kai Wheeler showing how to relax the trapezius - using a ball.

This type of tension release is for experienced dancers and athletes. It is not meant to replace a person consulting a chiropractor, physiotherapist or medical doctor.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Misty Copeland Ballerina

"African American ballerina" -- "Misty Copeland Ballerina" -- raw talent live some say!

As a phenomena, yes, but raw talent - no, that never applies to ballet! Even the twice a week recreational dancer knows that!

"Ballet" and "raw" do not go together - not with the five to ten years training required. Yet there are exceptional talents, those "born to dance" but they too have to work very hard to perform classical ballet.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Reverence Is More Than A Curtsy

Any dancer will tell you that reverence is more than a curtsy, or bow, done at the end of class.

The reverence acknowledges all the good work, the sweat, the effort put forth by the dancers, the teacher, and the pianist too. This easy and powerful read by a young ballet student in the 1940's, who is both taught and dances with the "ski's" and "ova's" from the Ballet Russes, Balanchine and American Ballet Theater is a page turner.

I read it well into the wee hours, eyes burning and feet pointing in my dreams all night. Sometimes I wake up with the Charley Horse calf cramps, which means I've been dreaming about ballet - again! (I have just come back here to add -- if you're not able to even spend $3 on a Kindle book --yes dancers go through that -- check your local library. Often books are in ebook form and you can read through your free Kindle app on computer or other device!)