- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- When you pirouette from the fourth position, be sure that you go to “the end of theplié.”
- A jump is a relevé in the air. Push the floor, stand in the air.
- Overcross the glissade précipitée, which leads into battement fondu developpé relevé, and jumping steps where the free leg is brushed into the air.
My memoir is written. Final edits and proofing are being made. Son Jason is laying it out online so we can see the book as it will actually be printed.
You can read an excerpt here.
Here’s what Andy Blankenbuehler, my former student at BDC and three-time Tony-winning Broadway choreographer (Hamilton, Bandstand, and In the Heights) says: “Thousands of lessons, hardships, joys, and triumphs . . . thousands of moments when generosity shapes the future. These are gifts along the journey of life! In this book, Finis Jhung honors those gifts, and shows through his words, teaching, and career, that the journey is not successfully navigated without a stunning love for the work and a great deal of inspiration. As a teenager, I walked into Finis’ class with my dance bag and countless hopes and dreams. Luckily for me, a stunning love for the work and a great deal of inspiration was waiting at the barre.”
And strangely enough, twenty years ago, when Andy first tried his hand at choreography for a regional theater, I interviewed him for my website. I knew then he was a special talent who had the makings of success—but never to the degree he has since attained! Busy as he is, Andy found time to write his thoughts about my memoir while flying to the UK to set his choreography on the London production of Hamilton which premieres this December.
Finally, my mind can relax, and I look forward to sleeping at night without memories of the past making me jump out of bed to write them down to add to the memoir. The hardest part of writing the book was not so much the writing—which I’ve always enjoyed (even as a cub reporter for the local newspaper in Honolulu when I was eighteen years old)—but hunting down the people who took photos of my dance activities from 1949 to 1986 and getting their permission to publish.
This has truly been a labor of love, and with the completion of each chapter, I have continually been reminded of how fortunate I am to have been able to enjoy the realization of all my once seemingly impossible childhood dreams.
Release date is December 1, but Ballet for Life is available to pre-order now.
Last Sunday, my adult babies & the Ailey Extension hosted a celebration for my forthcoming 80th birthday. I was overwhelmed! It was so wonderful to see so many lovely people—some of whom I couldn’t recognize because I’ve never seen them with their (street) clothes on and their hair down!
Special thanks to the those who put the event together: Caleena Chiang, Graham Daw, Noreen Figueroa, Mariko Fukuyama, Donna Ghelerter, Hilde Gore, Jin Kang, Donna Knipp, Adele Macintosh, Ari Miyagawa, MP Nunan, Mayumi Omagari, Sooji Pak, Ileana Luminita Ray, Amy Thomas, and Julie Wong. (If I’ve missed anyone, please accept my apologies.)
Making the occasion especially joyous was the presence of dear people from my dance journey who are still very much with me today:
- Judy Weiss, Master Pointe Shoe Fitter at Grishko NY (she was in my very first ballet class 45 years ago)
- Larry Rhodes, Director of Dance at Juilliard (we shared the stage in the Joffrey & Harkness Ballet companies 48 years ago)
- Christine Redpath, ballet master at NYCB (my first New York City Ballet dancer 44 years ago)
- Barbara Forbes, Feldenkrais practitioner and teacher of ballet at Sarah Lawrence College (the ballet mistress for my Chamber Ballet USA 1982-1985)
Recording the event for posterity was my video director/producer and business manager son Jason, and his expert cameraman, Gregory Washington. And let’s not forget the ever-present Stephen von der Launitz, who began studying with me in 1984 and has photographed most all my DVD & CD covers, designed earlier catalogs and has shot all the photos you love to see on Facebook. Adding family joy was my niece, Catherine Jhung Hickey, and her handsome son, Shannon.
Thank you all for your beautiful cards and gifts, and a special thank-you to Dana Evans for showing the spirit of aloha with her heart-felt hulas. In Hawaii, we have a special word for “thank you”—it’s MAHALO.
I gave my final Monday evening class for Absolute Beginners at the Ailey Extension this week.
After 45 years of teaching, I’ve decided I need another full day off so that I can focus on writing my memoir (and other books) and to create more short videos for those of you who can’t attend my NY classes.
Thank you to all my dedicated Monday students over the years. If you can’t make any of my other classes during the week, you should try my streaming single videos so you can continue your ballet education at home, at work, or on vacation.
I hope you will all attend the weekend workshops for Adult Students and Teachers this summer, as they will be the last. Much as I love doing them, they don’t come out of thin air—I spend hours scripting the workshops and then teach for almost 10 hours each weekend. It is true, I am turning 80 and my muscles are demanding rest and care.
Working on my memoir (working title: Ballet for Life)—is a challenging experience. You know I only like to live in the present and look forward to the future, which is why I’ve never tried to write my own biography—all those words! But, many of you have commented so often on the pictures I’ve posted on Facebook, so I thought “Ah ha!”—I’ll make a pictorial memoir. It’s all based on photos of events in my life that go all the way back to 1938.
But that also has not been easy: sifting through photos I haven’t bothered to look at in years; trying to find the photographers who recorded my professional career to ask their permission to publish—and sometimes going into blind alleys—and sometimes finding pots of gold such as unpublished photos of me in the Joffrey and Harkness Ballets by master photographers like Jack Mitchell.
The upshot is that I realize I’ve led a blessed life—which you will see when you read the book—I was born under lucky stars—or as we say in Buddhism, I’ve had very good karma. One thing has always led to another, each better than the one before, and at age 80 I have so many wonderful people like you, who make my life worth living—and serving.
Mahalo and a Happy Memorial Day Weekend to everyone!
Today we remember one of America’s greatest heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. This wise and courageous leader left us with many inspiring thoughts. One of them is my daily mantra:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
When I first started teaching 44 years ago, I mainly taught professionals who were skilled dancers that required barre exercises that developed slowly in complexity and speed, and center combinations that were choreographed like short dances. The classes always ended at performance level with dancers flying and turning across the floor with dazzling speed and expertise.
Today, I no longer teach advanced professionals. Instead, at The Ailey Extension (and around the world with my streaming videos and DVDs) my focus is on teaching amateur adult beginners.
Because most of these adults are non-dancing professionals (doctors, lawyers, administrators, office workers) moving forward for them happens slowly. But steadily.
My personal challenge each day is to continue moving forward by thinking backwards – distilling ballet technique to its most simple and learnable elements so that regardless of a person’s age, anatomy, background, or aptitude, it is possible to learn how to stand and move with balance, strength, and grace.
As I watch my “adult babies” learn each exercise with childlike wonder and practice each exercise with rapt concentration, they reaffirm my deep belief that the art of ballet teaches one not only how to dance, but, more importantly, how to continue moving forward in the journey that is life.
RISING ABOVE – OVERCOMING SETBACKS ON YOUR UPWARD TRAJECTORY
A life devoted to ballet offers many chances to be graceful – just not always in the ways you might imagine
My spirits should have been soaring. It was 1965 and The Harkness Ballet of New York was making its official debut in Cannes, France. I was a soloist in a company of 40 dancers, fulfilling my humble dreams as a small child in WWII Hawaii. Even so, I was not a happy camper. Of the 18 works in our repertory, only three were classical – my passion and forte. Worse still, I never got to dance them onstage.
Much of ballet is centered on strength and grace. I found it hard to exhibit either limited to supporting roles as “exotic” characters. In fact, it was hard for me to take ballet seriously at a time when much of my time on stage was spent on the floor wearing knee pads rather than soaring through the air. It was particularly difficult to exhibit grace as the better parts went to other dancers. While I had great respect for their abilities, I felt with proper rehearsing I could do as well as they.
Luckily for me, our guest star was the great Danish dancer Erik Bruhn. He was the recognized “King of Ballet”— a living legend with phenomenal technique and extraordinary grace and beauty. He helped me to understand that what separated the elite performers from the merely remarkable was not ability, but approach. Great stars always work overtime. Erik took me under his wing and became a mentor – let me sit in his dressing room while he made up his god-like face (and hair); let me do the pre-show warm-up with him; and coached me during rehearsals. In all things, he showed me how to do my best.
Erik also taught me the importance of repetition – applying the same process to achieve the same result – day after day. Essentially, how you practice is how you play. After working with Erik, I was no longer concerned with what roles I had, but concentrated on perfecting my technique in preparation for better parts. Which did come with changes in our repertory the following year.
Since then, my own experiences as a teacher have taught me that the world is a better place when every individual is inspired to reach his or her fullest potential. Working with adult novice beginners is especially gratifying, as our sessions aren’t only about improving technique but also enhance the quality of life.
Whether you are a banker, doctor, lawyer, stay-at-home parent or billionaire CEO – the principles apply: discoveries in ballet lead to discoveries in life. Deeply immersing yourself in the movement process can lead to new life-changing thoughts in daily life.
With dedicated repetition of the fundamentals, both student and teacher steadily move forward with knowledge, grace, vitality and strength.
How to place the first arabesque
The beauty of the arabesque depends on the correct placement of the head. The head must be centered on a high chest with energy going up the back of the neck. Stand in front of the mirror in first arabesque on the right foot. Your left arm is in second position, your right arm is extended forward defining the first arabesque position. Do not tilt your head to the right towards your right shoulder and arm. This is why you fall forward when you attempt a piqué arabesque (stepping directly on the half-toe). When you pose in arabesque on your right foot, use your left arm for balance. Reach out and towards the back with your left arm as you extend your R arm forward. Keep your shoulders level with the floor as you press down on the air with both arms. Standing on the right foot, think of listening to the music with your left ear. The rule of balance: Ears Back!
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.
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!
It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s just that you’re doing it incorrectly.
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.