Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Basic Ballet Positions - Tendu A La Seconde and A La Arriere - More French Ballet Words

Your positions a la seconde and a la arriere in battement tendu are the basis for building strength and good dance technique. Careful attention to these will give your ballet barre work excellent lines!

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The accuracy of these positions will carry over to your pre-pointe strengths, your adagio, to......everything you do in a ballet class!

Learning correct body placement and fine foot work in these exercises will also help prevent injury.

For a la seconde, the foot leaves fifth or first, the sole pressing into the floor, the metatarsals pressing as you extend the arch, and lastly, you lengthen the toes.

Hopefully nothing else has happened in the body or to the standing leg. You aim the tendu to the spot furthest to the side, where you can still hold your turnout in both legs. For most dancers, this is not straight to the side.

It doesn't matter.

Holding the turnout of the supporting leg and the placement of the body facing square to the front matters.

You need this stable position for developpe, turns in a la seconde, and jumps in or going through a la seconde postion (fouette saute, grand jete en tournant).

Closing the tendu, press the toes down, then relax the metatarsal joints. Press the ball of foot and sole of foot into the floor, creating resistance.

Make sure the whole foot is on the floor, so you can smoothly resume weight onto it. All the way into first or fifth behind, aim for the foot placement that allows maximum turnout of both legs from the hips, no wiggling, and minimal hip change.

A la arriere, behind, press down into the foot, changing the weight to the supporting leg. Lead out with the toes first, lengthening down the back of the leg, and continue to apply pressure in the sole of the foot as the arch stretches and then the toes lengthen.

At some point, your working hip will open from a square position, but the turnout of the supporting leg should not change, and your body from the waist up should be square to the front.

Also, you have to keep feeling length down through the leg. The leg must be extended all the way out, before the foot fully points, or you will force your torso to scrunch at the waist instead of staying long.

It's like a tug of war to lengthen the leg, and keep the body pulled up tall. Also that feeling prevents you from shifting the weight back off the supporting foot.

You should be able to lift your hand from the barre any time, and be tall on your standing leg.

Closing from the back is a gradual change from the heel leading back in, pressure on the sole of the foot, and bringing the toes forward again to where you can stand on your whole foot.

Also the working hip comes square again, smoothly, as the toes drop, the arch presses down, and the weight goes on to the foot.

Massage your feet with a golf ball or small hard rubber ball. Ice if your feet ache, and massage your feet when you're sitting watching a movie, or studying. Strengthen, stretch, and then relax too.

Learn basic ballet positions from The Perfect Pointe Book. It is a comprehensive manual which explains  use of the foot muscles, and basic ballet technique.

Your tendus will strengthen faster if you add these exercises to your daily routines.

Tendu devant (to the front) is covered in detail here

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Perfect Battement Tendu - French Ballet Word For Stretched

Tendu is one of the French words for ballet. It means "stretched". Usually, that means you have pointed your foot in a front, side, or backward direction from a closed position.

Whether in soft ballet shoes or pointe shoes, the technique is the same. Tendu prepares the muscles for releve and saute.

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Whether you pick up a ballet glossary at a ballet store, or find one on line, every new student needs one. Even if you speak French, the way the words are used can be different.

Battement tendu is a movement opening the foot and leg, keeping the pointe of the toes on the floor.

Assuming that your posture is correct, "spine neutral", your turnout is from the hips, your neck and shoulders are relaxed, and your hand on the barre is resting lightly, not too much happens!

True, and not true.

If your are in fifth position, you shift your weight gradually to the standing leg and slide the working heel forward, at the same time.

You press your heel forward, if you are going devant - to the front, or a la seconde, to the side. You can turn out your foot to the max because you are taking the weight off that leg, so there is no strain on the knee joint.

Here's a tricky part - as you extend the leg, you continue to press the foot into the floor. Not so as to strain the knee joint with having weight on the foot - no, but you are creating resistance.

You press the foot into the floor to build strength in the foot muscles. You do not curl your toes to do this, think of the whole foot. But as you are extending the foot to the position, this happens quickly.

After the metatarsal area has left the floor, be sure to stretch your toes out long, do not curl or bend them. The movement is over when the arch is fully stretched, and the toes simply come into line.

***This is the same movement you will do in pointe shoes, keeping the toes long, not bent over.***

Some techniques teach that you extend the foot so that the toes end up opposite the standing heel, in a devant position. Others teach that you cross the foot over so that the toe ends up opposite the center of the standing foot, or in line with the center of the torso.

You can lose turnout crossing over like this, or, keeping the turnout, you can end up losing the hip placement, turning the body slightly croise (toward the corner of the supporting side).

What matters most is that you do one or the other deliberately and accurately every time.

In the early years of training I see no reason not to stay with the extended toes in line with the supporting heel.

If nothing else has happened in the body, you have done a correct tendu devant.

To close, you relax your toe joints, pressing the toes slightly into the floor as the leg draws in, the toes pull back, the heel lowers, until the sole of the foot is pressing on the floor.

Here's the little tricky area again - you pull the leg in, but you must stop pulling the toes back as you get into fifth (or first) so as not be turning the foot out too much.

You have to stand on the whole foot, turned out from the hip rotators. Ballet is not anatomically correct, but you must compromise without injuring your knees, rolling your ankles, and being off balance.

At the end of the movement, your weight must be evenly on two feet, hips as square as possible, spine still neutral, neck relaxed. With the thousands of tendus you do in ballet training, there is no way you will not get strong and build good ballet footwork.

To test your foot strength,  use exercises from The Perfect Pointe Book - get it HERE. 

There are many more exercises for pre-pointe and all your ballet footwork here on the left sidebar.

Monday, December 3, 2007

7 Additional Effective Habits To Improve Ballet Technique

 How would you like a short list of dance training tips to help you improve ballet technique for pointe or pre-pointe.

Every exercise you do up until you get into pointe shoes, is basically pre-pointe.

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However, using the term to focus on the basics that will help you work well in pointe shoes, is how we currently emphasize that there IS a regimen for improving your strength build-up towards pointe work.

For boys, these exercises will improve your technique too.And for all, they will improve your footwork and allegro.

Ballet - Basic Moves


Check your postural plumb line when doing your first demi plie of the class. Your postural plumb line is the line that goes straight down through your body, through the curve of your spine and your other natural shapes.

Also called "neutral spine", when you are not straining to straighten the spine, nor are you slacking in your ab muscles, and curving excessively at the at back of the waist,

Check your turnout.

Turn out as much as you can from your rotator muscles in the back of your pelvis. Your feet should be turned out as much as your thighs are, but not more to the degree that they pronate (rolling the front of the ankles toward the floor), or tense excessively, under the arches and toes.

Ballet is not anatomically correct. The fact that you will ultimately have to produce a "heel to toe" fifth position (as viewed from the audience, if you get my drift), does not mean you should be doing that in early training.

Move your head easily from side to side. Check that your neck is relaxed, and your shoulders move easily with your breathing. You should not press your shoulders down to compensate for a non-neutral spine, feet not completely contacting the floor, or anything else indicating that you are off balance.

You should not have to press your shoulders down to hide the fact that they are constantly pulling up from effort. If this happens, you need to work on your abdominal and back "core" muscles, and your turnout and thigh muscles, so your shoulders can stop working.

You may need to be in a more basic class.

During your plie exercise, note that your arm can move without the shoulders following. In other words, the shoulder joint is free, and your shoulders and arms are not working to hold your balance in any way.

More important than many would think, is the focus of your eyes.

When you look ahead, look at something and be aware of what you are looking at.

When you incline your head, look at something. Your attention to the environment is necessary. A class or a stage can be a busy place!

You must be able to focus and see what is around you even when you are concentrating on your own movement. You also must seem, to an audience, that you are focusing outward, to them, even in moments when you are not, and even when you cannot see them.

Check that you are holding the barre lightly. Place your hand on the barre and use a slight pressure down when you feel your balance shifting. Gripping constantly tells you one thing - you cannot do what you are trying to do!

You need to cut back to an easier version of the exercise and practice.

You may need to increase your ab and back exercises. Ask your teacher for help. Teachers don't see everything in class, no matter how hard they may try.

If you are altering ANYTHING at the depth of your grande plie, or during the first inch coming up out of it, you need to find what is weak. As soon as your heels come off the floor, start watching and feeling. Have a friend help too.

If it just a matter of strength at the bottom of the plie, do shallower grande plies for a few classes.

Tell your teacher you are trying to improve this way, and that you are deepening your plie little by little, so as not to lose posture or turnout, whichever it is.

If you are among boys in ballet and you've noticed the girls talking excitedly about new pre-pointe regimens, pay attention!

All those exercises and assessments in The Perfect Pointe Book are perfect for men in ballet too.

The strength and finesse of foot work is just as necessary for you. Your jumps, your landings, controlling your descent from multiple turns, will have that cat-like quality if you develop your feet as you would for pointe work.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

In Pointe Shoes - Preventing Injury at Performance Time

Get a wonderful dancer's guide by Lisa Howell, dance medicine specialist, who wrote the following about dancing in pointe shoes. I heartily agree with every point. All the best for your performance season!

"Warm Up! While you may only be 'marking' steps, always make sure
you do a full warm up before class, and this is NOT just sitting in
side splits! Aim to get all of your muscles warm and the heart
pumping a bit!

Make Sure You Stay Warm! Lots of injuries happen in rehearsals,
as we are moving around, then sit and rest for a bit, and then
suddenly get up and move again! Make sure that you wrap up warm if
you are going to be not dancing for more than 5 - 10 minutes.

Keep Hydrated. We sweat a lot more than we realize in dancing, so
make sure that you keep sipping water at regular intervals. Room
temperature water is better than ice cold, and while it is good to
keep your electrolytes up, sports drinks tend to have a little too
much sugar in them. Dilute them if you simply must have them.

Keep Your Energy Levels High. Make sure that you have good "Slow
Release" carbohydrate snacks to keep your energy going through long
rehearsals. This is not chocolate! A little every now and then is
okay, but not as your main source of energy!

Get Lots Of Sleep! Healing happens when we sleep, so give your
body the best chance by getting to bed early.

Ice Your Feet! Especially when doing a lot of pointe work, your
feet are sustaining micro injuries every day. Put them in a bucket
of ice water for 15 minutes after stopping dancing for the day
(make sure your feet are flat on the bottom) to help settle any
little bits of inflammation. This is horrible in the beginning but
you get used to it, and it really does make a huge difference! Then
pop them up a wall or on the end of the couch to further reduce any
inflammation in the joints.

Keep Up With Your Exercises! While lots of dancers struggle with
having the time, it is REALLY important that you keep up with any
strengthening exercises while you are in performance mode. Make the
time."

Build the best foot muscles for dancing in pointe shoes
with professional guidance, and prevent dance injuries.