What dancer wouldn’t want to improve their ballet technique? Okay, well maybe some hip hop dancers. And then there are tap dancers and hula dancers and rain dancers… wait, let’s get back to the point – many dancers want and need better ballet technique and they need it now not later, right? When I say “ballet technique” I am not just talking about feet or turnout or even core strength. I am talking about the big picture – from the tip of your toes to the tips of your fingers to the top of your head. It is easy for dancers and teachers to focus on one or two things (i.e. feet and turns).
Here is an anecdote: Balanchine (famous choreographer, 1904-1983, New York City ballet co-founder) focused like mad on his dancer’s feet and the speed of their feet and legs. One of his dancers, Merrill Ashley I believe, said that he looked up one day and watched his dancer’s hands and arms for a moment and was horrified. They were awful! He then began to work like mad on their hands and arms as well. See, it makes more sense to build your technique from the ground all the way up, so to speak.
Alright, you want to know how to improve your ballet technique fast and I am going to give you the know how. Wait, not so fast. A good teacher tries to get the students to elicit the right answer themselves. Now, how do we get a lot done efficiently? We use a check list!! Well, when you take a ballet class you should have a check list. You should write it down first and then memorize it. You can modify the list and customize it but you should use your check list and run through each item, from top to bottom, about every 10 to 20 seconds. Of course this list works best with barre and slower center exercises, but, if you use this method and persist with it you should see improvement quickly. Here are a few examples of check lists:
List Number 1
- Standing foot
- Standing ankle
- Standing knee
- Standing hip
- Working foot
- Working ankle
- Working knee
- Working hip
- Lower abdomen
- Lower back
- Upper back
- Hands (thumbs and fingers)
List Number 2
- Chest and Shoulder Blades
- Elbows, Wrists, Thumbs and Fingers
- Neck and Head
This list is easier and fits with the standard 8 count that dancers use. With practice you could run through this list every 8 to 16 counts.
The check list will not do much good unless one word or group of words triggers an immediate response, for instance, feet – stretched, winged (arabesque, devant), arch lifted, ankle, high demi pointe, toes, pointe. Thinking the word feet should trigger action with your muscles working quickly to correct any problems that relate to the exercise or combination that you are doing. Now, let me do list number 2 again with “trigger responses”:
- Feet – stretch, point, wing, lift arch, ankle, demi pointe, pointe, toes
- Knees – stretch, knees over toes, thigh pulled up
- Hips – rotation, turnout, pulled up
- Core – abs engaged, lower back strong, spine lengthened, obliqes engaged
- Chest and Shoulder Blades – shoulders broad, upper back strong, chest open and relaxed
- Shoulders – shoulders down and relaxed, lats engaged
- Elbows, Wrists, Thumbs and Fingers – elbow back (seconde position), rounded, wrists not too hinged, thumbs in, finger placed, not limp, not tense
- Neck and Head – relaxed, loose (turns), head position, epaulement
Again, let me emphasize that these lists are just examples. You could use them, add or delete items, copy and paste the lists and change the font color to pink But, the bottom line is that you should use a check list to improve your technique. Keep dancing!!!