Friday, April 24, 2015

2 more technique videos - Pique and Saute!

A few years ago I shot a number of technique videos, many of which you have probably seen since they were on the blog a while ago. But I still had two more that my ninja webmaster didn't edit: pique and saute.

In the first, I demonstrate a degage pique so students can see how the toes hit the floor and the knee stays very straight. This is something you can practice at home.

In the second, I break down a saute in first position, from demi-plie through releve and saute. You can also do this at home; it's a very good strengthening exercise for dancers working flat and en pointe.

These are the final videos in this series called Fit Ballet with Leigh. From now on, any videos I do will be under the name, Leigh Purtill Ballet. (Same Leigh Purtill, just a bit older I suppose!)

NB: For those of you interested in the pirouette workshops, the Beginner on 4/30 has sold out. If you missed this one, you have 2 options:
1. If you are very new to turns, you can contact me to be placed on a list for a possible second Beginner workshop in late May or June.
2. If you have some experience and know the basics of turning, you can take the Advanced workshop on 5/14 and work on single turns.

Happy dancing~

Monday, April 20, 2015

Pirouette workshops!!

My life is not ALL about zombies! In fact, I very much enjoy teaching and hanging around the living, especially those who love to learn.

Upcoming Pirouette Workshops!

It's been 3 years since I've done a workshop for pirouettes but I love them. This time I will be doing 2 workshops, one for Beginners and one for Advanced.

Beginner Pirouette Workshop: Thursday, April 30th, 8-9PM
In this workshop, students will learn how to start, maintain and complete a single en dehors turn. We will focus on spotting, holding arms and retire, momentum, and balance.

Advanced Pirouette Workshop: Thursday, May 14th, 8-9PM
In this workshop, students will work on multiple en dehors turns. This will be more of a diagnostic class where I get to look at individual students and address their problems.

Each class is $16 and each is limited to 10 students, with a minimum of 5 students. If you are interested, please go to my website and sign-up: The link is at the top of the page, in the center. Click the level you want and then go to the PayPal link directly below that. If the minimum is not met, your money will be refunded.

The workshops will be held in Studio D at
Dance Arts Academy
731 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles 90036

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Crowdfunding and Sweet Sorrow: Bringing Zombie Ballet to Life!

Design by Jennifer Logan/NEDT
It's nerve-wracking to put your personal stuff - your thoughts, your dreams, your hopes - in front of other people and await their response.

As a writer, I spend many hours in front of my computer and living in my head that when I finally send a book or short story out to others for feedback, I want to crawl into a hole and eat Fritos.

As a teacher, I create dance on a regular basis and see nearly immediately whether something works or not, if a student can't handle the material or the combination is too awkward.

But as a choreographer (and I'm a newbie to the modern/contemporary ballet world), you have to wait until the show, when lighting and music and costumes all come together to support your choreography. You watch the audience for their response: do they laugh when they should or shouldn't? do they think your choreography is interesting or pedestrian? do they understand the story or are they confused by what's happening? All dance is a work in progress, so when the audience gives you feedback, you can makes changes for next time.

So how does crowdfunding fit in?'s somewhere in between. It's not a performance so your audience can only see bits and pieces of what you're doing. In this case, it's costume sketches, a written description of the project, and some cool photos from a previous performance. You tell people what you need, what you hope to do, what you want to provide and then you wait.

It's nerve-wracking. Did I mention that?

A little history:

Me with the Zombies of 2013
"Sweet Sorrow" began quite humbly, when I "zombified" an adagio to use with Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from "Romeo & Juliet." It looked really cool and was fun to do so I gave it to some teen students at a summer ballet intensive. That looked cool too so I made it a bit bigger and then got a great group of students to perform it at ARC in Pasadena for ArtNight Pasadena. We got a huge audience response so we did it again the following year with more people. And then I added on to it. And on again.

I realized there was a much bigger story to this. I came up with the backstory to the piece and then fleshed it out (so to speak) until it was a full-length ballet. Then I wrote a novel.

Courtesy Cortney Armitage
About a year later I approached Nancy Evans Dance Theatre about collaboration. They are a really creative and exciting company, small and young and eager to try just about anything. We seemed to be a good fit for each other. After a few months of working together, we showed a couple of pieces in late January. Encouraged by the response and eager to get more of the story out there, we kept working. Very very hard. We expanded the story and the cast. We re-worked some things that were awkward or confusing last time around. We clarified the story and the characters, the motivation for movement, the connection to the music and the development from one scene to the next.

Courtesy Karina Jones
On May 29-31, we will present the first act. From a few phrases to a full act! I can't believe it! It's scary and amazing but I don't feel alone in doing this. I feel supported and encouraged. I love how the dancers have taken ownership of the characters and made adjustments because they know their roles inside and out. I love how Nancy Evans Doede has helped me direct the performance, how she sees the big picture and has encouraged me to try different things, to trust the dancers, to give them the tools and let them see what they come up with. It's been a tremendous growth opportunity for me - one I am extremely blessed to have. Not everyone gets a chance to spread their wings.

The ultimate goal is a full-length ballet, which we hope to put on next Spring. Whaaaaat? That's crazy! And super exciting.

To support the May performance, NEDT has launched an IndieGoGo campaign. We're trying to raise $10K to fund the production of the show, including costumes, marketing, dancer pay, and so on. If you can donate, fantastic! If you can share the link with others, awesome! If you can attend the show in May, wonderful!  Any contribution of any kind will be immensely helpful.

So please help get the word out and bring Zombie Ballet to life!  Thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my Undead Heart.

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.