Tips for Ballet Teachers

Tips for Ballet Teachers | “Music Is the Boss” and Ballet Knees

by David Arce Tip 1 Young dancers often don’t follow the music’s tempo during an exercise. This is usually either because they can’t perform the steps at that tempo, or because they are speeding ahead of the music. In either scenario, it’s helpful to say or sing the steps on the music. I also have…

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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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