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How technique has changed?


Sheila Beelam
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Very interesting clip, but then turnout should be as far as you can naturally go, but not sloppy. I have a real problem with some teachers demonstrations of plies in fourth, mostly they don’t qualify if its open or crossed, it often looks like a bad fourth opposite third and difficult to distinguish. I usually end up asking as it too late looking to see if the heels are raised on a grand plie at the bottom.  I can understand many classes choosing to teach third rather than fifth especially for beginners, but many so called fifth (offset) look more like third, so I prefer heals and toes together even though mine are not as parallel as I would like.

 

Another move I find controversial is Port de Bras, one of my teachers has a number of slang saying for particular errors, like plucked chicken for elbows drooping down, drooping hands, for hands themselves drooping downwards as if they are wet. I also remember one girl having to hold a pencil rubber (eraser) between he thumb and palm of her hand to hold the thumbs in the correct position. A different teacher this time has a thing about the hands; they should never and closer to each other than the width of your face. I have often asked which finger should lead, I tend to use the little finger but I know some professional dancers have in certain circumstances used the first finger, but if overdone I know that carries the slang derogatory term “telephone finger”

 

I think a lot of this is down to teachers own preference and style.

 

 

As for how things have changed, I think you have modern communication technology to thank for that. Mainly in the availability of video recordings, not only from the World Wide Web with examples from some of the worlds most famous ballet schools, DVD’s of Ballet performances,  but also the ability for most dancers to record themselves for critical analysis and correction. Even though some schools are still reluctant to video teachers demonstrations.

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I tend to take a fourth direction as crossed, unless my teacher tells me open fourth - not sure if this is normal?

 

3rd position is taught in the younger grades and to adult beginners until the turnout muscles can sustain a 5th. I'm sure Anjuli and others will agree it's better to have a correctly executed 3rd than a 5th where the feet are correct but the turnout does not continue up the legs - cue knee damage :( Anjuli wrote a great article on turnout on our website - take a peek if you get 5 mins x

 

My teacher shouts no coat hangers when arms begin to sag in 2nd or if my elbows drop in 3rd arabesque. We get told to paint the picture with our fingers and follow it with our eyes - I think I lead with my middle finger, but I'm now sitting here at 1am waving my arms around wondering what I do "normally"...time for bed :D

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I can understand many classes choosing to teach third rather than fifth especially for beginners, but many so called fifth (offset) look more like third, so I prefer heals and toes together even though mine are not as parallel as I would like.

Interesting, I know what you mean. Incidentally though, a fair few people with swayback knees find it quite difficult to get into a tight fifth with their heels together, without it feeling as though they have to bend their knees.

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Technique (degree of turnout, sharpness of the pointed foot, etc.) over the years has changed but so also has the importance of it.  Up until fairly recently it was not considered as important as it is now.   There is a famous picture of Prima Ballerina Assoluta Mathilde Kschessinskaya in the ballet Esmeralda posing with a small goat in which she is absolutely NOT turned out.  When asked why, she replied that a goat herder would not be turned out.  You can also see that in the pose in which men took their bows, the foot pointed to the side is purposely turned forward.  Another difference is the importance of mime.  At one time - not that long ago - a dancer was judged on the quality of his/her mime as much as on the dance.

 

In the Romantic Era etherialitiy - emotional content - was considered much more important than turnout or sharpness of the back/leg angle in arabesque.  In fact, sharp lines could destroy the effect of a nymph, sylphide, etc. And, of course, leg height was much lower as line was more important than height.  Not only was it considered unseemly to have a high leg, but there is no way for the arms and head to complete the line of a leg pointing to the sky.

 

I've never known of a school in the USA to teach third posiition.  However, that in fact is what it is whilst a beginner (child or adult) is gaining the strength to fully take on 5th position in the hip. 

 

There are three different 5th positions and three different fourth positions. 

 

Fourth position:  One is completely closed (crossed) heel of one foot in line with the toe of the second foot..  The second is completely open (uncrossed) heel of one foot in line to the heel of the second foot.  The third is: heel of one foot is in line with the instep of the second foot.

 

Fifth position:  Crossed - heel to toe. Open: heel to instep. Midway: heel to the knuckle of the other foot.

 

My Russian - pre-Vaganova - teacher - a student of Alexandra Baldina (Fokine's original Waltz Girl in Les Sylphides) and Theodore Koslov - taught that when the arms are held correctly in second posiition all the "pulse points" line up:- underarm, inside of elbow, inside of wrist and the palm of the hand.   She also taught that when the arms are en haut (over the head - en corrone) the width between them  is the width of the eyes - this would place them slightly closer than the style of "the width of the head."  Just different styles.

 

Prima Ballerina Gelsey Kirkland says that when the arm/s are in front - as in arabesque - they should point the way - and the eyes should follow - look into the distance and SEE something - and the audience will want to see it, too.

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I've never known of a school in the USA to teach third posiition.  However, that in fact is what it is whilst a beginner (child or adult) is gaining the strength to fully take on 5th position in the hip. 

 

There are three different 5th positions and three different fourth positions. 

 

Fourth position:  One is completely closed (crossed) heel of one foot in line with the toe of the second foot..  The second is completely open (uncrossed) heel of one foot in line to the heel of the second foot.  The third is: heel of one foot is in line with the instep of the second foot.

 

Fifth position:  Crossed - heel to toe. Open: heel to instep. Midway: heel to the knuckle of the other foot.

 

 

Prima Ballerina Gelsey Kirkland says that when the arm/s are in front - as in arabesque - they should point the way - and the eyes should follow - look into the distance and SEE something - and the audience will want to see it, too.

 

Dear Anjuli

Do I take it that as third position is not taught in US schools there fore no definition of third position exists over there?

 

Your description of fifth (highlighted) is that of third over here. Fourth opposite fifth for fourth crossed, and fourth opposite first for fourth open or uncrossed, but I am not aware that fourth opposite third is taught over here, others may correct me on that.

 

Another point I have found common, is a reluctance to do a full grand plié in fourth crossed where the heels lift, it’s often left as in fourth open where the heels remain on the floor. For the girls that come back to my self help group after our local class, we do both fourth position plié’s for completeness, even though plié’s are not taught in fourth there.

 

I completely agree with your last paragraph, I remember reading something on this forum and it may have been from yourself. Which said something to the effect that your eyes are looking in the distance at a little bird that has just flown of your out-stretched finger tips, I will always remember that.

 

 

Just Ballet: Yes I am aware of Cue Knee damage, I think Changements on landing in fifth sorts out where the hip rotation is, as its virtually impossible to twist the feet during this movement, or at least that’s what I have found, However in a standing position, I must confess I do allow just a little leg rotation. However I know I sometimes do over do it when the preparation for an arabesque is conducive to “planting” the supporting leg, particularly in a slow moving (adagio) sequence, then I do use I guess a little more leg rotation than I should, as it achieves good lines and only a degree or two off 90degrees to the direction of the body (ideal turnout). Most of my teacher's turnout in this position is not much better than 45degrees which I find disappointing.

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Yes I agree anjuli's description of open 5th sound like third position to me!

 

As for grand plies in 4th. Personally I'm not a fan of them, they put a lot of unnecessary strain on the hips. Nothing is really gained from them that can't be achieved in 5th and 2nd ( which cause far less stress). Of course some exam syllabi still require them so students have to do them - but they're young and their bodies can take it better than us adults at least!

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Why do you find your teachers turnout disappointing Michelle? If that's her natural turnout then so be it, you don't necessarily need to have the perfect ballet physique to be a good teacher, as long as you explain the concepts to your students. Or is it that she DOES have the turnout and just doesn't use it when demonstrating that movement?

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Aurora: Of course you are right, even teachers are human. I guess a little bit of how teacher are revered on this forum has rubbed off on me, especially as I am somewhat older and far less experienced than them. But in reality I don’t think there is one teacher that I cannot fault at least some of there technique, as I say they are only human like the rest of us, but I do like to achieve the best I can, especially if I am to perform in public.

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My technique is quite simply appalling now due to age, arthritis and the fact I never really had the facility of a ballet dancer- I was a professional contemporary dancer.

 

But the successes of my students speak for themselves- I've pretty much covered all the big vocational schools, the only one I've never has  a pupil at  is Elmhurst.

 

When you get to a certain age you have to say do as I say, not as I do!

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My first teacher (the one who was a student of Baldina) never got out of her chair.  She was elderly and arthritic.  But - oh - her arms were lovely.

 

Come to think of it- none of my teachers demonstrated full out. There was one, however, Robert Rodham - principal dancer NYCB - who was so exquisite that when he demonstrated we were so entranced that we quite forgot the sequence he wanted!  This was NOT a class of beginners, but included Keith Martin, Soloist Royal Ballet, Jillana, principal dancer NYCB, and everyone else a professional dancer. 

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Hfbrew: I understand your point completely and I’m not heartless either. Last Thursday I had a one to one with such a lady, it was fantastic, I learned so much, not only from the feedback but also on a personal level too.

 

However I do work with 8 different teachers, two of them have impeccable turn out (ROH) the rest less so. My local teacher that I have a lot of friendly repartee with, often comes out with “I’m the teacher so I can get away with it, you’re the student and you can’t”, we both exchange big smiles and the point is taken. At the end of the day I’m there to learn and actively seek feedback, she most definitely provides me with that, but with enthusiasm and I love it, my motive is often quite different to the other adults in that class.

 

 

Anjuli: One of my teachers cannot demonstrate at all which is almost essential for our show sequence. She has pulled some ligaments and is on crutches, everything is described and yes it is hard going and painfully slow. Fortunately I have a copy of her crib notes for practice as I will miss this week (at a performance).

 

I also believe it’s a great confidence builder when a sequence is danced to the music independently from the teacher; this is true of other dance styles too.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The AD's are trying to satisfy the audience.

 

The audience of today is into "more is better."

I think Ballet companies in general need to educate their new and/or younger audience so they know and appreciate that "more doesn't mean better". The ROH is very good at this. 

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Thank you, Nina G - delightful.

 

The gown/costume worn by Ms. Hageli is interesting, too.  (The wristwatch has to go, though:))

In defence of Ms Hageli's watch... I give talks in many venues and hardly ever is there a clock on the wall, so if one is hosting an event or giving a lecture, you have to wear a watch yourself to keep an eye on the time, baroque outfit notwithstanding!

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