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.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: When you work from the outside in—moving one shoulder forward toward the other—you will fall; you are bringing all of your energy and weight to the same side of the body at the same time. As long as you work from the inside out—keeping your body split down the middle and moving one side of the body away from the other—you will balance. The rule of balance for en dedans movements is this: never move both sides of your body in the same direction at the same time
ARE YOU ON YOUR LEG? Stand in front of the mirror in first position. Stand on your left foot and perform four 2-count battements tendu à la seconde without tilting or moving your pelvis, without wiggling your supporting foot, and without changing the alignment of the supporting side. Do it on the other leg. Repeat both sides. Rest. Repeat with battements dégagé. Can you do it?
TRY THIS: Stand sideways in front of the mirror in first position. Perform four 2-Count demi-plié-relevés as fast as possible (as though you are jumping) without tilting your pelvis, pumping with your head and chest, or pulling your toes under you. Rest a few seconds. Repeat the four relevés. Can you do it?
The demi-plié is the preparation for, and the end of, almost every movement we make in ballet dancing. Therefore, it must be done with strength and control. This is the first and most important lesson I teach all students.
Get in front of the mirror and stand in a wide second position (at least two foot-lengths apart). Your body should resemble a triangle. You are going to stretch up through your head with energy that equals what you put into your feet and legs.
I don’t want you to relax into a picture position. Your knees will bend into the plié position because your feet are going to grip the floor and pull your legs.
To get the feeling of this, curl your fingers over each other. Now grip and pull as hard as you can without letting go. Can you feel the muscles in your fingers, hands, arms and shoulders?
Now do this with your feet to make your plié.
Your toes claw and your feet grip the floor, and slowly pulling your legs into the plié. Reach for the ceiling with your head. You should not see an abrupt drop in height or any jerky movements. Your knees are moving outward, but you barely see a downward movement. That’s because the energy you are using to stretch up is equal to the energy you are putting into your feet and legs.
You are stretching up the back of your neck and trying not to bend your knees. You feel a stretch in your hips as your legs move away from each other. You are pulling in your stomach muscles tightly. You are trying to keep your pelvis up.
The almost-isometric plié is hard work! You can feel that all of your muscles are engaged—from your toes through the foot to your ankles, the outside of your lower legs, your knees, your thighs, your hips, up the front of your body and the back of your neck.
It’s not how low you go; it’s HOW you go. What is important is that the plié begins and ends with your toes.
Now change your thoughts. You relax your feet and spread your toes. You are pressing down on the floor with your feet. Slowly, imperceptibly, your legs are in motion, and you realize you are standing as you began, in the triangle position.
The almost-isometric plié is an “invisible” movement. On count 1, you are standing with straight legs, and on count 8, you are in plié, but you never saw the downward movement. The ascending movement is also “invisible.” You are in plié, and eight counts later, you are standing in the triangle, but when did it happen?
Especially at the barre, try to make all of your pliés—large and small, two feet or one foot, slow or fast—almost isometric. Try to do this in center floor as well, tempo permitting. Then you will always have a plié which will enable you to move with strength and control.
If you are going to pirouette, you usually begin from a plié in fourth or fifth position. If you are going to relevé to a pose, you begin with plié on one leg, or fondu. If you are going to jump, there’s a plié before and after. We can’t dance without the plié. The demi-plié initiates and completes almost every movement we make. Consequently, the plié is the most important and the most difficult movement to execute properly. The plié is ballet.
My first serious ballet teacher, Willam F. Christensen (affectionately called Mr. C.) often said, “You know, your legs bend, and they straighten. They bend, and they straighten. That’s it.”
How right he was. Adding on to Mr. C.’s straight talk, I teach pliés emphasizing how the legs bend and straighten. It is important for students to grasp the mechanics of the plié so that they will strengthen their feet, legs, and bodies as they work.
When you dance, you: 1. bend your knees so that you can /2. push the floor with your feet, which will / 3. cause you to either stand with a straight leg on a flat foot, on relevé, or leave the floor and spring up into the air as you / 4. execute a balance, turn, or jump.
We all want to have a plié that will power us strongly and safely as we begin and end our movements. With correctly executed pliés, we can dance with ease and avoid injuries to the feet, ankles, and knees. (To be continued) (Excerpted from The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students)
An upright posture indicates good health and strength. Keep your ears up and back above your shoulders. Stretch up the back of your neck. Keep your eyes and ears as far from the floor as possible. Keep your head centered above a high chest. Feel the light on your cheekbones and chest. Lead with your hips. Walk proudly. Look good for the rest of your life.
Whenever you change directions, use your arms. For instance, if you are facing corner 8 with your arms open in second position and must turn to face corner 2, swing your right arm back to corner 4 and reach your left arm to corner 8. Keep your head on your left shoulder. And, vice versa. http://finisjhung.com/shop/use-your-arms-and-dance/