2 Tips for Ballet Teachers

February 2017 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | B-Plus and Gut Check

by David Arce

Tip 1: Remind students to take their time moving into B-plus, making sure to plié generously and present a fully turned-out heel before straightening the standing leg.

Tip 2: The circular port de bras, toward and away from the barre, is important for all students to practice, as it develops strength, flexibility, and musicality.

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January 2017 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Height and Control in Grand Jeté

by David Arce

Tip 1
The grand jeté is one of ballet’s most rewarding steps, for both the audience and the dancer. The ability to propel oneself from one foot into the air, reach a perfect split, then land on the other foot, all while showing grace and ease in the upper body, is a hallmark of excellent ballet technique.

Tip 2
Don’t overlook the grand jeté’s landing; in terms of student safety, it is the step’s most important aspect. Properly turned out placement of the standing leg is a must, as any turning in puts extra stress on the knee’s tendons.

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December 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Two Rules for Male Partners

by David Arce

Tip 1 In partnering classes, the first thing I tell male students is that their most important job is to make their partners look good. Only after their partners are comfortable and balanced should male dancers consider their own poses.

Tip 2 I tell male students to keep their hands low on their partners’ hips—the lower the better.

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October 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Pointe Shoe Drill and Fondu Footwork

Tip 1
It’s awe-inspiring how quickly professional dancers can get into and out of pointe shoes. When I started teaching, I noticed that my students took a long time to put on their shoes—minutes that cut into valuable class or rehearsal time. So I created the “Two-Minute Drill.”
Tip 2
In fondu combinations at the barre that begin in fifth position—for example, en croix, battement fondu développé to 45 degrees, place toe on the floor in tendu, close in fifth—place extra emphasis on the footwork in moving from fifth to coupé in plié. This is a great opportunity to strengthen the feet. Ask students to visualize the toes of the working foot as an ice cream scoop. Then, instead of simply picking up the foot and placing it in coupé, they should imagine scooping ice cream from several inches below the floor. Not only does using this image guarantee that the feet will be completely pointed when they arrive in coupé, it also improves the strength and dexterity of the toes and the muscles in the soles of the feet.

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September 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Jump Readiness and Ending on 7 (not 8)

Tip 1
Most students look forward to the transition in the center from adagio and turns to jumps. It’s usually the most exciting part of class, and dancers are at their warmest, with legs and arms feeling their fullest range of motion, and hand-eye coordination in full effect.
Tip 2
When I create a grand allegro, several factors come into play. I include the theme I’ve been using that class, day, or week, so that students finish class with one more opportunity to think about it. I take into consideration how hard I’ve pushed the students in class and their remaining workload that day or week (rehearsals, performances, etc.), then adjust accordingly the combination’s length and difficulty level. Finally, I set the combination so that the final pose or step comes on a music accent.

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August 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Facing the Barre and Lifted Balances

Tip 1
Beginning a class with students facing the barre in first position is a common practice; I often do this after a long weekend or extended time off. Doing simple, slow tendus, stretches, and even a balance in first or second position with both hands on the barre allows students to internalize their focus and to find their center and “ballet muscles” before starting pliés.
Tip 2
I find one constant among students balancing at the barre: those who lift the supporting side and maintain an aligned position achieve longer and more productive balances. Other students try what I call a “gamble balance”: they begin correctly but then release the core and supporting side, and to compensate, make massive adjustments with the torso.

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July 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Multiple Ronds de Jambe

Tip 1
When a barre combination includes multiple ronds de jambe, students frequently need to be reminded to draw a complete half circle on the floor with the working toe before starting the next rond de jambe.
Tip 2
Another mistake often seen in multiple ronds de jambe is cutting short the final one to close in fifth. To correct this, try giving one fewer rond de jambe than the music suggests.

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May-June 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Leg Stretches on the Barre

Tip 1
I love walking into a studio where dancers are busy stretching quietly before class or rehearsal. Encourage students to leave conversations outside. When they pass through the studio door, they should enter a quiet and peaceful dance space.
Tip 2
When stretching the leg in devant on the barre, it’s helpful to think of keeping the supporting hip as close to the barre as possible and the working hip perpendicular to the barre. As dancers transition in devant from attitude to a fully extended leg, to relevé, to stretching the split, they must concentrate on keeping the legs crossed. The stretch should be felt equally in the supporting hip and the working inner thigh. Make sure students don’t add stress to the supporting knee by not pulling up or by leaving too much weight in the heel.

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March-April 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Pivot Points and Partner Walks

Tip 1
After male students understand the basics of a partnered promenade (keeping the female dancer well balanced over her supporting leg, his hands as contact points on her hips), it’s time to work on their footwork in arabesque promenades.
Tip 2
In classical ballet pas de deux, the male dancer typically leads the female onstage in a hand-and-waist position. When entering, assuming starting positions, moving through transitions, or exiting, the male dancer “drives” when partners walk or run together. Younger dancers need to be told this early and often to avoid battles over which dancer leads.

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February 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Starting Barefoot, and Stretching With Ronds de Jambe

Tip 1
From time to time, it helps to have students take off their flat shoes to start class. Try this after long breaks, or when students are doing lots of pointe work, or when you notice they’re not using foot muscles to the fullest.
Tip 2
By the time you give a rond de jambe combination, students should be well on their way to reaching their full warmed-up potential, and class should be at the 20- to 30-minute mark—the perfect time for a long stretch.

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January 2016 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Cabriole Fouetté and One-Legged Finishes

Tip 1
There are two ways to do a grand cabriole fouetté sauté landing in arabesque, and the beginning of the jump is identical for both: a 90-degree battement devant upon takeoff. The dancer can either cabriole the leg devant, then fouetté and land in arabesque; or (the more advanced version) fouetté, then cabriole in arabesque before landing.
Tip 2
It’s critical for advanced students to be able to finish pirouettes en dehors in positions other than fourth-position lunge or fifth position. One-legged finishes, such as soutenu attitude derrière or devant, showcase a dancer’s balance, control, and strength.

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December 2015 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Tombé Pas de Bourrée and Royale

Tip 1
Tombé pas de bourrée is one of classical ballet’s most common connecting steps, and it lends itself to all forms of center work. Yet its importance is often overlooked, and it can wind up being a combination’s sloppiest-looking step. Students may spend most of their mental energy on preparing for the trick that follows the tombé pas de bourrée, forgetting that in dance, every step counts.
Tip 2
Graduating from changements to royales can leave even the most talented students feeling “toe-tied.” A simple way for them to feel the correct sensation in a royale is to break down the step.

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November 2015 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | When Rond de Jambe Is Wrong

Tip 1
Periodically I have to revisit the mechanics of soutenu détourné, because students want to rond de jambe their working leg slightly when closing to sous-sus. This is easiest to correct at the barre, slowed way down, to make sure technique is not compromised.

Without music, have students execute and hold each step in the sequence: a well-placed and square tendu soutenu à la seconde, a tight and lifted sous-sus, and détourné with a crisp spot and tidy finish. Watch how each student closes to sous-sus; the leg should travel in a direct line, with no hint of a rond de jambe. Once students do it cleanly, practice with slow-tempo music, then work up to a brisker speed. If at any point you see students returning to their rond de jambe habit, slow the exercise down again. Make sure to practice soutenu détourné both en dedans and en dehors.

Tip 2
Chassé en tournant can be a striking step in performance, because it has exciting elements—a jump, a turning step, and a traveling step—and plenty of room to add extra dynamics with port de bras. A common mistake is adding a quarter rond de jambe before taking off in the jump. Forced to compensate for the extra inertia, students may sway their backs and/or let their core muscles go.

Remind students that, with or without the turn, the only leg traffic for this step is: plié in fifth position, chassé to sous-sus in the air, plié in fifth. Have students master this sequence before adding the turn in the air, and make sure they don’t try to bring the leg to à la seconde before closing to sous-sus derrière.

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October 2015 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Port de Bras for Jumps

Tip 1
A coordinated port de bras during a jump preparation is key to reaching full potential in the air. Often arms aren’t being allowed to help achieve big jumps because students aren’t timing their arms’ momentum to coordinate with “lift-off.”

To help students grasp this concept, even before attempting small jumps in center, have them stand with feet parallel and slightly separated. Ask them to bend their knees, keeping the feet flat on the ground, then jump as far forward as possible without using their arms. Next have them swing their arms back and forth. Have them jump forward as their arms swing back—that will feel wrong. Then have them jump forward as their arms swing forward—that will propel them into a longer jump.

This exercise demonstrates how helpful arms can be (when swinging with correct coordination) in propelling our movements; a well-coordinated port de bras is the balletic equivalent.

Tip 2
Try this exercise to correct students who, in coupé jeté manèges, are cutting short the port de bras in the coupé. Have dancers extend the arms in first arabesque, right arm in front. Ask them to make the right middle fingertip the starting point, and also the anchor, of an imaginary circle.

Next, have them move the left hand and arm to connect to the anchored fingertip, completing the circle—as they would do in a coupé turn. Insist that the right fingertip stay still in space and the left middle fingertip reach to complete the circle. Students will have to move their upper and lower bodies toward the anchored fingertip to achieve this. Then have them attempt a coupé jeté using the same principle.

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September 2015 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Inside Pirouettes

A common mistake with inside pirouettes is turning in the passé leg during the turn. To correct this, have your students start in a straight-leg lunge preparation.

The straight leg in the lunge preparation for an inside pirouette harnesses a great deal of the energy and force needed to get a dancer on balance and turning. Yet students often rely too heavily on their upper bodies during the preparation, swinging their arms to acquire momentum.

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March-April 2015 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Finger Turns

For successful finger turns, it’s important for the female partner to ronde de jambe her working leg a full 90 degrees, from devant to à la seconde, before pulling it back into a turned-out passé.

As pairs practice, have them work together to find equal opposing force between the female dancer’s supporting arm and the male dancer’s push-off arm.

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November 2014 |2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Souped-Up Sauts de Basque

One of the biggest problems when learning a saut de basque is that students tend to do a rond de jambe with the working leg instead of brushing it through à la seconde and maintaining it on the same axis as the torso throughout the jump. It is difficult to hold the passé position in the air while spotting and turning; the extra torque from the rond de jambe makes it even harder.

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October 2014 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Flexed Feet

A flexed foot is rarely used in ballet technique (one exception is frappé, depending on which style you teach), but is extremely important for any student to be aware of, for many reasons. One of the most important is to allow the dancer to isolate and fully utilize the hamstring muscles. When doing a slow, controlled, flexed-foot lift of the fully extended leg to a tendu height, students can feel maximum turnout without having to think about pointing the foot.

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September 2014 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Cambré Devant and Dèrriere

Cambré devant, done between barre exercises, stretches fatigued muscles. The muscles most in need of a break are the gluteus maximus. Cambré derrière is a stretch of the back, not a compression of the spine. In addition, the dancers should pull up in the leg and gluteus maximus muscles and find more turnout through the entire motion.

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May-June 2014 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Polished Pirouettes

When broken down to its simplest form, a pirouette is a quick passé with a relevé and a spot—period. It doesn’t matter how many spots are done. Doing fewer pirouettes with a proper classical ballet finish is always preferable to multiple pirouettes with a sloppy finish.

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March-April 2014 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Prepping for Partnering

In partnering, the male student’s primary responsibility is to make sure his partner looks her best at all times. Often the boys/men are too concerned about how they look as they pose behind the girl, and her position becomes compromised. They must make sure the girl is on her leg and in a comfortable position before posing behind her.

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January 2014 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Airborne

The most basic rule in ballet is that whenever the foot leaves the floor it must point immediately and completely. The dancer peels the foot off the floor starting from the heel, then the ball, and finally the toes. Although this applies to everything from tendu to grand battement, this rule is extremely important when jumping. Students tend to lose the foot’s connection to the floor in even simple jumps like sauté and changement. Instead, they move this much-needed energy into the upper parts of the body, where it creates tension in the neck, shoulders, and arms. Emphasize the action of the feet pointing hard in the first warm-up jump combination to set them up for petit and grand allegro exercises later.

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December 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Better Balance

When on relevé using one or two feet, the weight should be equally balanced between all toes and the ball of the foot. Remind your students to think of spreading out their toes in their shoes, because this gives a more stable platform on which to perform sustained balances.

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November 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Super Stretches

To passively stretch the hamstrings, I give a parallel fourth-position hamstring stretch at the beginning of class. While holding onto the barre with one hand, and with the other arm in fifth, students bend forward from the hip. While pliéing on the back leg, they pull the front foot’s toes back with their hand. Then they return to upright and cambré back. Repeat on the other side.

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October 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Upper Body Awareness

I tell my students that the most important “real estate” for dancers is the area of the body that encompasses the neck line, the head, and the arms. It is what the audience looks at first and what the spotlight emphasizes. Remind your students to let all port de bras and épaulement emanate from a relaxed and tension-free sternum.

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September 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Fine-Tuning Performances

During performances the audience looks at the dancers’ faces first, and then moves on to the choreography and technique. To encourage students to explore facial expressiveness without feeling embarrassed, try this between barre exercises: have them close their eyes and then call out expressions for them to try.

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August 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | A+ Arabesques

In arabesque, often dancers do not place their working leg behind them in a closed position, and then they try to correct it. Ample time should be given at the barre for students to feel cross-body tension before attempting higher arabesques. Balancing in dégagé on flat and then on relevé after the first tendu exercises works well.

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July 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Barre Basics

A good way to make sure your students are properly aligned at the beginning of any barre exercise is to have them demi-plié in first or fifth. Make sure their shoulders are over their hips and their backs are long and not tucking or hunching. Then have them slowly straighten their legs while keeping their turnout.

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May-June 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Weight and Balance

I always give a slow tendu exercise in first position, facing the barre, before starting pliés. In this exercise, encourage your students to transfer their weight from two feet to one and back again. It is just as important to engage the supporting side from the very beginning of class as it is to warm up the working leg with slow tendus. Make sure to emphasize that they should move their weight over the ball of the supporting foot and back to two feet with each close.

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March-April 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | At the Barre

Dancers often stand too close to the barre when doing tendus from first position after pliés. Once they move their weight from first position (weight over the balls of both feet) to tendu (all weight over the ball of the standing leg), the supporting arm at the barre bends more than it should. Have them stand far enough away that they can only touch the barre with their fingertips. When they perform a tendu correctly, they can now rest the hand on the barre at the correct distance.

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February 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Rigor and Nuance

When dancers say they are not being challenged in class, what that really means is that they aren’t working hard enough. Ballet is the art of exactness. For a dancer to perform a simple glissade correctly, the demi-plié, stretched feet, and upper body must be correct. From the basic elements of ballet, complex steps can follow—but only if the basics are correct.

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January 2013 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Pas de Cheval

My training as a very young child included a step that is seldom done now. A favorite of mine, it was “the horsey step” (pas de cheval, or “step of the horse”). The foot is pointed devant and the arm is extended in front, in line with the foot, palm down, and eyes looking at the hand. The foot is then brought toward the supporting leg in a circular movement to approximately ankle height and returns to the pointed position, and at the same time the wrist and head lift.

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October 2012 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Developing Trust

Tip 1
Please trust your students. If you are clear about what you expect from them and they understand and know their dances, there is no need to stand in the wings and vigorously perform the dances. This distracts the dancers and makes it hard for them to concentrate, which prevents them from performing at their best.

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May-June 2012 | 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers | Stretched Feet and Legs

Feet, feet, feet! I have written before about the importance of the use of the feet. But after seeing unstretched legs and feet literally hanging from them, as well as young dancers stepping onto unstretched feet or even onto the heel, I feel strongly that this important part of training is so often overlooked or not insisted upon.

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