Why FINIS FRIDAYS?

Most adult ballet beginners are exactly that: professional adults—lawyers, doctors, teachers, bankers—who live extremely busy lives and do not have the time to take regular ballet class. In fact, many of them either took ballet “lessons” when they were young children or are starting from scratch as adults. What they lack in aptitude and suitability is more than compensated for by their open minds and willingness to try their best.

Even so, they sometimes feel discouraged (or lost) in the most basic Absolute Beginner class. Initially, I thought the solution was to offer monthly intensives, but that did not seem like enough.

So, I have created “Finis Fridays.”

Starting this fall, adult beginners can improve their ballet technique in a new series called FINIS FRIDAYS: three different 2-hour classes to be held at the Pearl Studios in Midtown Manhattan.

The first class is titled LET’S DANCE! and will be exactly that. It begins with a short barre followed by exercises in center floor which teach correct body and arm positions; connecting footwork that travels in different directions; the waltz and balancé, and choreographed dances. If time permits, basic jumps will be included.

The second class is titled TURNOUT, EXTENSION, and begins with a warm-up jog, followed by seated and reclined stretches taken from my video Stretch, Turnout & Extension. After this, the students will come to the barre and work on selected barre exercises which will help stabilize turnout and extension. This class will end with relaxing floor stretches.

The third class is PIROUETTES, TURNS. After a short barre, students will practice preparing for and executing pirouettes en dehors and en dedans, châinés, and piqué turns. As always, the emphasis will be on teaching students the “untaught” preparations all good dancers use onstage, but which go unseen by the uneducated eye. We are going to enjoy unraveling the mysteries of turns!

These slowly paced, extremely detailed, step-by-step classes have proven to be remarkably effective. Not only do the students learn the material needed, they also develop self-esteem as they discover that they are capable of doing more challenging ballet work. Some of the more avid students further their knowledge by studying my instructional videos at home, and that too has proven effective.

The Return to Class.

Now, these “Adult Babies” are ready to move confidently with the rest of the class!

Ultimately, it’s the classroom experience where we are all together that makes the biggest difference in helping my “ballet babies” advance. It requires extreme patience and constant instruction on my part, and devoted concentration and muscular involvement on theirs. But time has proven that this is the best way to teach adult beginner ballet students what they need to know. FINIS FRIDAYS will help ballet newcomers learn how to move with graceful dignity and strength, both in the studio, and in the world.

Photo: Finis Jhung and demonstrator Mayumi Omagari show how it’s done. (photo by Stephen von der Launitz)

Adult Babies Down Under

Pictured above: Russell with two lovely partners, Claire and Christina.

I call my adult students my “ballet babies” because, like young children, they are so eager to learn, are “pure” in that they have no pre-conceived notions, and dance as if there is no tomorrow. Some of my babies are teachers and students who live in Australia. Some have attended my workshops; all use my videos and music; and most have my memoir Ballet for Life.  Russell Merriman lives in Bicton, Western Australia, and began studying with my streaming videos this year.

In his own words…

Streaming from Perth Western Australia is phenomenal. It is simple to log on and there are no delays in finding my videos. I am a ‘mature’ student. I turn 75 years of age on July 19. My ballet has improved dramatically since I started using your streaming videos. I have started pas de deux and my partner who was a professional ballet dancer thinks that I am a ‘natural.’ I purchased your Partnering Techniques DVD.

My first dance technique was contemporary dance. While a student at Flinders University of South Australia I attended a week-long workshop at Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide. I was aged 30 years and very stiff and inflexible. I was excited when, at the end, we performed a dance to the song of Buffy Sainte-Marie: God is alive, Magic is afoot. How prescient for my life!

I then joined a small group of dancers at Flinders University and after we performed, I was ‘hooked.’ I moved to Perth in 1974 and commenced contemporary dance classes with Ruth Osborne, wo taught the Graham Technique. After I turned 40, I found an introduction to ballet of eight free classes. After discovering pirouettes I never stopped.

Around the same time, I joined the Keszkeno Hungarian Dance group. I was mesmerized by the athleticism of the male dancers and remained with the group until 2016. We performed at concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Hungary. I had to stop Hungarian dance as an old ankle injury couldn’t cope with the stamping.

I continued ballet classes, and my first brief ballet performance in October 2017 included a ‘mini’ pas de deux which introduced me to the delights of partnering.

I am indebted to Heather Callander who has been my teacher for over 30 years. She told me about the videos of Finis Jhung which allowed my enthusiasm for ballet to expand. She uses his concepts in her teaching. Justin McNamara has been instrumental in his beginner classes in teaching me the fundamentals of posture and balance. Justin says he ‘Really found it so helpful the way Finis explains the way to approach teaching the use of arms for beginners in classical ballet and the example for pirouettes of the kids toy where to make it spin you push down to make it turn.’

I have found that the secret of ballet is that it is anti-gravity as the movement is all UP. This lengthens the spine and frees up space in the joints. Obviously this counteracts the normal effect of aging where people ‘shrink’ and their body contracts. The change in one’s posture from ballet can be dramatic (mine has) and it results in new breathing patterns. So, like Finis, I will never give up.

PS: My favorite video right now is The Art of Teaching Jumps. I’ve had double hip-surgery, but will persist with patience and determination for my share of air-time.

—Russell Merriman

NOTE FROM FINIS JHUNG: And I just recommended Ballet Barre Foot Strength Exercises to help Russell strengthen his feet and ankles so he can jump higher.

7 Keys to the Finis Jhung Ballet Technique

  1. The demi-plié is almost isometric. In both the downward and upward movements, the feet—rather than the knees—should initiate the movements. The feet grip the floor and pull the legs into the plié and then relax and push down to return the legs to the standing position. This also applies to pliés on one foot.
  2. Most dance movements are on one leg. What must be developed at the barre is the ability to balance on and move from one foot. Try to work at portable barre placed parallel to the mirror. Stand behind the barre, on the diagonal. This will allow you to keep an eye on your supporting side and encourage you to work correctly. Test your balance by frequently taking your hand off the barre during exercises. In addition, check your readiness to move. You should always be able to rise off your heel whenever you press down on the floor.
  3. The supporting leg controls the free leg, and initiates each movement. The timing of every movement is made by the supporting leg. The free leg (the foot that brushes or slides) never pulls or moves the body. Only the supporting foot that pushes the floor should move the body.
  4. In the center floor, every step you take must be balanced by an arm, or both arms, reaching in the opposite direction. At the barre, develop this sense of the “back arm” by reaching for the barre and pressing down it. Never pull on the barre.
  5. When you pirouette from the fourth position, be sure that you go to “the end of theplié.”
  6. A jump is a relevé in the air. Push the floor, stand in the air.
  7. Overcross the glissade précipitée, which leads into battement fondu developpé relevé, and jumping steps where the free leg is brushed into the air.

Burning Your Bridges As You Move To The Future

It’s that time of the year again – out with the old, in with the new. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone will want to do what I did, when I discovered that burning your bridges to the past can open doors you never knew existed.

In 1968, I was a principal dancer with The Harkness Ballet in Monte Carlo. My childhood dreams had been fulfilled—I only wore white tights and danced classical roles. I was also I a devout Buddhist (having converted 20 Company members), and, one day, had a realization: “I can’t be lying here at the swimming pool in Monte Carlo doing nothing”—while the world is in tumult following the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; Vietnam; hippies; LSD; women’s lib; racism; and college protests.

In January 1969, The Harkness Ballet performed in New York. Shortly after the season, I told Larry Rhodes, who was the director, that I had decided to stop dancing so that I could devote my life to achieving world peace through Buddhism. I had no idea what I was going to do for a living.

1969 – Final Bow with Harkness

After sitting in a hot tub and crying my heart out over what I then thought was the greatest mistake I had ever made, I pulled myself together and found a 9 to 5 job working in an office as secretary to a private investor. My evenings and weekends were now free to roam the streets looking for people to invite to our Buddhist conversion meetings.

For three years, every waking moment was happily devoted to Buddhist activities.  And then, the owner closed his office and I was out of a job. I asked my Buddhist leader what I should do, and he said “Why don’t you teach ballet?”

I contacted Wilson Morelli who said he would love to have me teach at his studio in downtown Manhattan. I went to look at his class and was shocked. I could not remember what the steps were called! I was seeing ballet through the eyes of a stranger. I was in a mild panic. How could I hope to teach professionals when I couldn’t make sense of what they were doing?

I was in trouble—after I quit ballet, I zealously burned all the ballet memorabilia: books on technique, beautiful photo books, and films I had taken of Erik Bruhn onstage—the man who was one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century and had mentored me. I purposely destroyed all the reminders of my ballet past so that I could prove I was completely happy being a “nobody” without any special identity.

And now, in order to make a living, I was about to re-enter the ballet world. In desperation, I ran to the book store and bought all the ballet books available. My first class was attended by four students. Clearly, I had made a dreadful mistake—how would I survive making such little money? And teaching every exercise in 3/4 since I was too insecure to try anything else.

As we now know, I did survive—and thrive—and am now in my 44th year of teaching.

Teaching Adult Babies at Ailey Extension

Because I had burned my ballet bridges, I was free to create my own ballet technique, based on teaching  the way I wish I had always been taught – with sensible exercises that warmed you up slowly and thoroughly, built strength and artistry, and even more, with explanations on HOW and WHY we ballet dancers do what we do.

Through the years, I’ve graduated to teaching adult beginners in classes at The Ailey Extension in New York, written a Technique book, and sold over 54,000 instructional videos. Another book and more videos are on the way. 2017, here we come!

The Demi-plié & Your Feet

It is important to remember that the demi-plié in ballet dancing differs from the plié in contemporary dance. In ballet, our movements are usually upward, quick, and light—the dancer must rise from a plié into a pose, turn, or jump and therefore a high center of gravity is required. In contemporary dance the movements are usually horizontal or downward, and weighted—the dancer works with a low center of gravity since there are frequent descents into prone or sitting positions on the floor.

Please don’t relax your demi-plié during your barre exercises. When you have a deep relaxed plié, this will force you to pull yourself up out of it and in doing so this will tend to set you back on your heels and make you behind the music.

At the ballet barre, and as much as possible in center floor when working slowly, always remember you are going to do something with that demi-plié whether it be a pose, turn, or jump. Therefore, when you demi-plié in each exercise, initiate the plié by clawing the floor with your toes and gripping the floor. You want to connect with the floor. You want to feel the muscles in your toes, instep and ankle fully engaged. You are preparing the ball of your foot and your toes to extend, spread, and take all of your weight when you relevé. Make sure you feel a muscular connection from the tips of your toes to your hip—you are spring-loading your feet so that you can push down on the floor and propel your body upwards.

Start and end each demi-plié with your toes and you will improve rapidly. As much as possible (if music and the choreography allow), use this kind of plié in center floor before you pirouette as well as to initiate jumps from two feet.

TEACHER TALK

TEACHER TALK

Yesterday at the Ailey Extension I gave the adult absolute beginners the Ballet Barre for the Adult Absolute Beginner followed by one of the short dances from The Ten-Minute Ballet Break.

We used Exercise 1 from the Ballet Break #2. (There are four different ten-minute breaks, each with four different dances.)

You can catch a glimpse of this in the video trailer: http://finisjhung.com/shop/ten-minute-ballet-break/

Fast forward to 1:29 and you’ll see Antonio Carmena, NYCB soloist demonstrate it. I love this music!

The class was full with 35 students, so it was a challenge to teach them all how to do this dance which reinforces the idea of using opposition. For most, it was a totally new experience to tombé in second position on half-toe, so I I used Sophie Ono, who is a regular and continues to improve like a house afire, but who at first did not understand the movement. To help her balance the tombé to the right, I pulled her left arm and shoulder away from her right foot, and told her to keep the weight of her head on her left shoulder. Voila! That demonstration of opposition helped most of the class understand how to work their bodies and after that most could do the exercise with grace and fluidity. We also worked this idea forward and back. I love to see dancers dance!

If you are a teacher, this video will give you lots of short dances you can use in class. If you are an adult student, get the video and do06_10MBB these simple dances in your living room. On with the dance!

 

 

You are a Star!

A star has 5 points. You have 5 points: Energy flows from the center of your body down through both legs and feet; up through your chest and out through both shoulders and arms; and up to your head and out of your eyes.

You are a star forever!

TURNS HAVE 2 COUNTS

Last night after class Ari practiced her outside pirouettes to the right. She was able to do at least two or three but then fell off. I pointed to my left knee and said “One” and then to my eyes and said “Two.” (All turns have 2 counts: plié on the 1, spot on the 2) She smiled, followed my instructions, and performed 5 beautifully placed controlled pirouettes finishing on half-toe. On-looking students were amazed. (So was she, as she was jet-lagged, having just returned from 10 days in Japan). ONWARD—WITHOUT A DOUBT!

Nail Those Turns!

You Can Turn!

In class last night, every center combination was based on the pirouette en dehors from the fourth position. We began with a slow promenade in retire followed by single pirouettes, upping the tempo gradually. As the exercises progressed and advanced, we combined the pirouettes with pas de bourrées, passé par terre, piqué arabesque, a tombé pose, changements, and sissone fermé. By the end of class, all I had to do was remind some of the students to keep both hips forward over the supporting foot and —voila!—they finished their turns perfectly balanced on half-toe. They were quite surprised to learn that in seconds they could correct a faulty turn simply by standing in “number one” with hips forward over the toe, pushing down into the floor, spotting sharply, and then closing the arms.

If you’re having trouble with your outside turns, you will improve with my video Pirouette Class 2 which breaks down all the component parts step-by-step.

http://finisjhung.com/shop/pirouette-class-2/