by David Arce
To help beginners remember the difference between first and second arabesque, try using this tip: “Two limbs equals second arabesque; one limb equals first.”
Have students face the mirror in tendu to the back; help them place their arms in second arabesque. Point out the leg pointing back and the arm stretching front, and that these two limbs are on the same side of the body (right or left); touching the dancers’ toes and fingers at the same time can help them feel this. Tell them that this position, with two limbs stretching away from each other on the same side, equals second arabesque.
Now place the arms in first arabesque and go through the same process. The leg pointing back and the arm stretching front are now on different sides of the body. Tell students that this position, with one limb pointing away on one side, equals first arabesque.
Every day, in every class, with every exercise, we must correct our students. In advanced-level classes, we often tell dancers what not to do—don’t slouch, don’t sickle, don’t turn in—which works well for delivering your thoughts quickly in the moment. In beginner classes, however, make a point of always telling students what you want them to do.
Beginners don’t yet have the luxury of muscle memory. When you tell them, “Don’t slouch,” they must go through a two-step mental process to comply. First, they must visualize slouching; second, they must think about how not to slouch. But if you say, “Stand tall” or “Pull up,” complying is a one-step process. Dancers can visualize correctly pulling up, then replicate that image.
You will notice much faster reaction times and have more productive classes if you follow this simple rule: always correct beginners positively.
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.