Monday, March 23, 2015

Do you speak ballet?

Recently I was teaching a pointe class to my adults and I watched how most of their ballet knowledge flew out the window as soon as they put their pointe shoes on. They "climbed" up to their pique; they forgot how to do a proper glissade.


Because they were not thinking in ballet.

Yes, the vocabulary of ballet is primarily written and spoken in French and Italian but beyond that, there is a language to it that is not just words but also visual images and physical movement. This is why we do the same exercises every single class. We do our barre the same way every week so that we drill into our brains what a tendu is, what a fondu means, how to connect our head and arms with our feet, and so on.

And just as it's much easier to learn and speak Spanish or German if we immerse ourselves in it, the same is true of ballet. Constantly translating English into Spanish is hard and prevents us from truly learning the language.

This brings me to an important point about pointe. "Am I ready for pointe?" students ask me. Well, are you fluent in ballet? Are you still translating what croise means? Are you still trying to recall what en croix refers to? Then no, you are not ready. You need to think in ballet so that when it comes to pointe work, you are not constantly translating. You know what pique means and you would never in a million years climb up to it with a bent knee. It's one thing if you don't know how to keep your knee straight when you are in pointe shoes but if you don't know that you have to keep it straight, you will have that much more to translate.

Happy dancing~

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pet peeve: Flyaways!

I'm not talking about those little wispy hairs that need to be gelled down before a performance.

I mean flyaway arms.

When I teach, especially students who are new to ballet, I emphasize clean lines and simple arms. But when I encounter more experienced dancers, even advanced dancers, they sometimes have flashy and ostentatious hands and arms which perform fancy little flourishes when they are at the barre.

Some examples:

--an arm that lifts far above the shoulder in second position and one that forms an undulating S-curve on a grand plie.
Flyaway arms in second

Proper arms in second
 --an arm that is raised high above the head in an arabesque, in which the hand is nearly straight up and down like a salute, rather than one that is placed in front of the nose, with eyes over the middle fingers.

--arms that cross as they are lifted from fifth en bas to fifth en haut, instead of keeping a circular arm.

--hands that break at the wrist when they are held in fifth en bas during small jumps.

Bad fifth en bas

Proper fifth en bas
Many dancers think flourishes such as these make them appear more delicate but instead, they look weak. Arms that are simple and clean emphasize the line of the body.

More important than the look, however, is how strong and simple arms help lift you during jumps, adagio, and turns. If your arms are weak, that usually means the back muscles are not engaged and if that is the case, you have that much more work to do with the rest of your body. Let your arms help you!

*Please note in the "bad" photos above that the young woman is not actually performing ballet but the photos are representative of the arm positions I am describing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Upcoming book chat at Dance Advantage: dancergirl by Carol Tanzman

On Friday, March 13, at 12:30PM PT, Dance Advantage's Book Troupe will be discussing the novel dancergirl by Carol Tanzman, live online and with Carol as a guest!  A quick summary of the story from Goodreads:

Ever feel like someone's watching you? Me, too. But lately it's been happening in my room.

When I'm alone.

A friend posted a video of me dancing online, and now I'm no longer Alicia Ruffino. I'm dancergirl. And suddenly it's like me against the world.— everyone's got opinions.

My admirers want more, the haters hate, my best friend Jacy,— even he's acting weird. And some stalker isn't content to just watch anymore.

Ali. Dancergirl. Whatever you know me as, however you've seen me online, I've trained my whole life to be the best dancer I can be. But if someone watching has their way, I could lose way more than just my love of dancing. I could lose my life.

If you don't have a copy and want to read and join in the discussion on Friday, March 13 at 12:30PM PT, go to Amazon and get it as an ebook!

The book is a fun, fast thrill ride - a real page-turner! But what's really exciting for me is to have Carol Tanzman herself there to chat with us. Here are some things I'd like to talk about:

1. People film everything these days – and in some cases, it’s almost expected (concerts, outdoor performances, speeches). How did you feel about Ali’s video being posted online the first time? Was it an invasion of privacy or an act of admiration?

2. Dancers love to be watched – and so do lots of people. Photos and videos are posted all the time just for the likes. Is that part of our culture now? Is it something that will go away? Will it get worse and if so, how?

3. Did you guess Ali’s stalker? Did you find yourself suspecting everyone as she did?

4. Cyberbullying is a big topic these days. Do you think the concerns are founded or is it simply a more visible way for people to be mean to each other? Is it really a major issue for kids and teens? (and even adults!)

5. Many dancers, like actors, adopt a persona on stage in order to separate themselves from criticism. This seems to be what many people do on social media. But what does that do to our sense of selves? Does that confuse who we are?

6. This book was written and published 4 years ago. Do you think things have changed online? Have people become more or less sensitive to others’?

7. As parents, what should we be on the lookout for? Should we let our kids handle things themselves? As teachers, should we be sensitive to videos that go online from dance competitions or recitals?

And for Carol:

1. Did a singular event inspire you to write this?

2. What was the process? Did you write from experience? Did you do a lot of research?

3. Why did you choose a dancer as your main character? Could Ali have been a musician or performance artist?

4. Social media moves very fast. Is there anything you would update in your book now? Have you seen things change or evolve since the book was published?

5. When you started writing, did you know who the stalker would be? Did you already have an ending in place? How do you write the “red herrings”?

6. Would you ever write a sequel? What would Ali’s next story be?

7. Do you have literary inspirations? Are there mystery writers you like? What are you working on now?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Imagining yourself to multiple pirouettes

How can I do more than one turn? Tips please!

Years ago I had a friend who would dream of doing triple pirouettes and then in class the next day, she would perform them flawlessly! The trouble was, she couldn't ever control her dreams so her triples felt like they were simply good luck.

But that doesn't mean you can't create successful multiple pirouettes through imagery. In fact, that is one of the best ways.

Picture yourself in the proper alignment:
--long spine and neck
--arms in a held position
--knee in a perfect retire 
--hips lifted
--back wide

Imagine that picture turning very fluidly. Your head spots rhythmically, once, twice, or more. You're not flinging yourself around using your arms or your knee, right? Nope! Not in your perfect picture!

Then create the picture in the studio. Stand in retire and see what the image of yourself looks like. Place your hips and arms and head correctly; get over your leg on a releve.

On the turn, take that one step further: actually look for that picture in the mirror each and every time you hit en face. If you see your arms to the side (you are leaving them behind in the turn) or your leg is below the knee or turned in, then you will have a harder time doing more than one turn consistently. Stop, readjust and try it again.

NB: This is simply ONE tip for multiple turns. There are hundreds more. But the number one piece of advice I give students who want to turn more fluidly and consistently? Breathe!

Happy dancing~

Monday, January 26, 2015

My first time collaborating with a professional company!

Beautiful dancers, teachers, choreographers and dance aficionados~

I'm so excited for the show with Nancy Evans Dance Theater this weekend (January 31 and February 1). A 9 minute section of my zombie ballet will be shown as part of the Friends/Family/Dance/Festival. It's a work-in-progress but I'm really thrilled at how good it looks already.

I wrote an article about collaborating with Nancy and her dancers at Dance Advantage. I interviewed Nancy herself about her work and working with outside choreographers and offered up my own list of helpful hints when you're working with other people. Here is a link to the article:

If you'd like to see the show this weekend, just go to Nancy's website to order tickets. And if you come on Sunday (which is Super Bowl Sunday, who knew?), simply say "What Bowl?" at the door and you'll get $5 off your ticket - for the Sunday matinee only.

Get show tickets here. Happy dancing!