Port de Bras: Basics and Generosity
By David Arce
The first port de bras in class is usually the arm traffic from low fifth (en bas) to first position. This preparation happens before every exercise at the barre and in center practice. As with any basic, repetitious movement, it’s important to check periodically to make sure the dancers are doing it correctly.
Whether attempting to be over-expressive or “just going through the motions,” students often start the arm’s movement in the elbow joint. Have students do the port de bras slowly while leading with the elbows and point out the result: lifted shoulders. Then have them lead with the fingers, first incorrectly, and then correctly. Remind students to “present the arm” from the fingertips. This mental image keeps the energy going through the entire arm to the tips of the fingers, helps correct the arm’s curve, and keeps tension out of the shoulder joint.
A universal truth in any dance form, and especially in ballet, is that a dancer’s arms must be expressive and show generosity to the audience.
All ballet dancers have lower-body strengths and weaknesses due to natural turnout, leg shape, arch of the feet, or extension, and must continue to strive for perfection in those areas. But in the upper body (arms, hands, shoulders, neck), dancers are on a fairly equal playing field in terms of their ability to give that generosity to port de bras and épaulement.
Remind your students—no matter how hard they are working on lower-body technique—always to be true, in their port de bras, to themselves, the art form, the music, and the audience. Then the genuine gift of generosity will shine through in their dancing.
David Arce is artistic director of Juline Regional Youth Ballet and a teacher at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California. He trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School and danced 12 seasons with SF Ballet.