Dear CBT: Tendu Translation

Dear ClassicalBalletTeacher,

What does battement tendu mean?

– Anonymous Dance Student

Dear Dancer:

The literal translation is “beat stretch”. This describes the outstretched extension of the leg from the body with the toes á terre (on the ground) and in time with music. Battement tendu is an superb exercise for the body when done correctly.

Battement, or beat/beaten, is the word that precedes most ballet steps involving an extension of one leg while standing (as opposed to jumping). Examples are battement jeté, battement enveloppé and battement fondu. If you are interested in the translations and definitions of ballet technique terminology, you will really enjoy grabbing a copy of Gail Grant’s Dictionary of Classical Ballet. Happy Dancing!

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Technical Tricks of the Trade: Advice from an Amateur (via You Dance Funny, So Does Me)

How about some technical tricks and tips today, kiddos? Here is an excellent (and funny) article with a by a male dancer and amateur dance historian with a concise list of some of the best quick technique tips!

You’d be surprised what you can learn from a set of new eyes, even when they may not be the most experienced.  The fact that people read this blog has given me an inflated sense of ego, and I feel impudent enough to offer some advice when it comes to taking class.  I believe that our flaws shape our perceptions, and as someone with bad feet, bad turnout and no natural flexibility, I’m always looking at how people use such things.  One of the teac … Read More

via You Dance Funny, So Does Me

So is vamp short for … vampire?

Uh, that would be a no. Kiddos, if you want be a ballet dancer, recreationally or professionally, you gotta speak the lingo. So today, let’s talk about the language of pointe shoes. And to talk about that, we have to understand how they’re made.

To create a traditional paste shoe, the fabric, leather and other components need to be shaped on a form, or last. Layers of canvas, burlap or muslin with paste and sometimes flour are often hand-formed for the box, baked for hours, and dried for sometimes weeks. Often, shoes are formed from the inside and then turned right-side-out for the final touches like binding. Most pointe shoes have no left or right until they are broken in by the dancer. (Just to clarify for the real newbs out there: There is no wood tip or block in a pointe shoe!)

Each part of a pointe shoe, from the tip or platform on which the dancer balances when on pointe, to the thin and carefully sewn drawstring cover, or binding, has a name. So just for you, I’ve compiled this glossary of basic pointe shoe terms that you should know:

Binding: the fabric channel through which the drawstring runs

Box or Block: the stiff toe cup that encases the toes

Box liner: the soft fabric that lines the inside of the box

Crown: the vertical height between the vamp and the sole

Girth: the measurement around the widest part of the foot, at the metatarsals at the ball of the foot

High Profile: a pointe shoe box, often cylindrical, with a relatively large space between the outer sole and the top of the box, better for higher insteps.

Last: A last is designed to create a shape by replicating the form of a dancer’s foot. Every style, size and width requires its own last.

Low Profile: a pointe shoe box with a generally flat shape and a relatively small space between the outer sole and the top of the box, better for lower insteps

Metatarsals: the five bones between the ankle and the toes. Pointe shoe fitting is especially concerned with the area near the ball of the foot.

Outer Sole: the bottom part of the shoe, usually made of synthetic or leather, which is in contact with the floor when the dancer stands in the normal flat position

Platform: the part of the pointe shoe on which the dancer stands when en pointe

Pronation: the rolling inward of the foot so that when standing flat, more weight is on the ball of the foot than on the outside

Quarter: the part of the shoe covering the sides and heel of the foot

Shank: the stiff insole that provides support; Created from the leatherboard or redboard, this is the backbone of a pointe shoe. It is located under the socklining and provides support to the arch. A dancer’s strength and technical ability determine shank preference.

Side Wings: Side wings are an extension of the box and provide lateral support.

Side Quarters: the sections of satin from the side seams to the back of the stay

Sockliner: the soft fabric that lies directly underneath the foot and runs the length of the shoe

Sole: Made of either buffed or scored leather to provide traction, the sole is internally stitched to the upper.

Stay: fabric that covers the seam in the back of the shoe at the dancer’s heel

Throat: open area located between side seams at the center front of the shoe is the throat. It gives shape to the upper which accentuates a dancer’s arch.

Vamp: the section of the shoe “upper” measured from the platform back to and including the binding. A longer vamp can help draw the foot closer to the shank for more support on pointe, so that the foot doesn’t overextend.

Vamp Elastic: wide, firm elastic sewn at the throat of the shoe to extend the vamp and cover the top of the foot

Winged Box: a box with extra-long, stiff sides

The CBT wants to know:

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 3

If you are getting ready to take ballet for the first time, you might want a heads up on what to expect, from what the barre is really for to what the teachers expect from you.

When you arrive, find out where to put your dance bag and purse. If you need to change, find out where dressing or restrooms are available. You should be in your dancewear with hair pulled back and completely ready to walk into class five minutes before the start time.

Exercises in ballet follow a certain general order. The class is begun at the barre, which you are probably familiar with from movies and TV as a railing that is used by dancers for warm-up. The barre is intended to be a light support. You should always practice at the barre as if you will eventually perform the exercises without it – because you will! Hanging on the barre or gripping it are huge no-nos.

When you walk into class, the first thing to do is introduce yourself to the teacher. Even if you met her during your enrollment, it is helpful for her if you re-introduce yourself.

Next, find a spot at the barre about four to five feet away from anyone else so that you can perform your exercises without kicking or bumping someone else accidentally. There’s definitely an unspoken rule about who gets what spot at the barre. Students who have some seniority usually have favorite spots that are considered theirs. Wait a few seconds before choosing your spot so you can avoid “stealing” one from one of these students.

If it’s the first day of class for a number of students or if it’s the first day of the year, the teacher might go over some class rules. In case she doesn’t though, here’s the basic rundown of what’s expected:

  1. When you are in the studio, speak only when prompted or raise your hand when you have a question, even if class is over or hasn’t yet begun.
  2. Ask for permission to leave the room or leave early, and ask in advance if at all possible. Never arrive late. If you absolutely must, enter the room as quietly as possible. Do not enter or exit the studio during a combination.
  3. Adhere to the dress code. Be neat and clean. Do not wear ill-fitting items or those in disrepair.
  4. At the barre and in the center, do not get so close to others that you kick or bump into them.
  5. Do not compare yourself to others. Work towards your personal best.
  6. Do not leave the room without a thank you, small curtsy or both to the teacher and accompanist. (This is very dependant on culture. Watch the other students.)
  7. No gum chewing.
  8. No jewelry.
  9. Water is the only drink allowed in class.
  10. You are responsible for reading notices, cast lists and keeping track of important dates and events.

The barre exercises will begin with knee-bends and extensions of the leg away from the body. At first, your toes will stay touching the floor, but as the exercises progress, the leg will be extended off the floor in increasing heights. You might also practice balancing on two legs and eventually on one.

After the barre exercises, students work on center practice. As a beginner, these exercises will be similar to the work performed at the barre and may also include small jumps. As you progress, turns will be added and jumps will increase in height and complexity.

Throughout the exercises, the teacher may call out corrections to the class. You are expected to listen and apply them. She may also direct her attention to an individual student and might use her hands to physically move the student’s body into the shape that’s needed. If you are that student, don’t get anxious. Just listen and try to put into practice what she is asking. If its your first day, this might happen quite a bit as the teacher works to get you to understand the steps.

For the last exercise, the teacher might guide the students through a slow bow or curtsy combination called reverance. Once class is over, all students should clap for the teacher as a thank you. They may also then thank the teacher individually with a curtsy. Watch the other students in the class and follow their lead on this. Some teachers do not prefer an individual curtsy and thank you because they need to get to another class and move on with the day.

Don’t be concerned at all if you did not understand a lot of the words used for the steps or if you were limited in what you could do. If you keep going to class, that will change quickly. This is my final post in this three-part series – All that is left is for you to go and take that first class!

Congratulations on trying something new and entering the beautiful world of strength and creativity that is ballet. Enjoy it and good luck!

Choices, Choices – Plus Some Great Ballet Videos!

So now you have the basic scoop on the most popular techniques in this U.S. But there’s more! The other major methods that you should know of are:

Bournonville (pronounced BOR-non-vill) technique is a lovely iteration that evolved through the Royal Danish Ballet and is known for its quick footwork, kind expression and minimized show of effort. Bournonville ballets can be easy to spot from the pairing of busy feet and a calmly graceful port de bras. While the technique is not often taught in the U.S., the choreography is. Many Bournonville ballets are still performed regularly, including La Sylphide, Flower Festival in Genzano and Napoli.

Royal Academy of Dancing from England is an amalgam of French, Cecchetti, Vaganova and Bournonville styles and is known for its purity of line. RAD students are examined yearly and are recognizable by the strict dress code with belts and satin ribbons on girls’ soft satin ballet shoes. RAD cannot be taught by dancers not certified and schools not accredited. It is not as popular in the U.S. as some other techniques but is enormously popular in Europe and other continents.

Cuban ballet is also a blend other techniques but with a strong Vaganova influence and is noted for its joyful sensuality. Until very recently, Cuba was the only country where you could learn this technique, but a few schools have opened in the Miami area. The home of Cuban ballet is the Cuban Ballet School.

It is also worth mentioning that while not recognized widely yet, American Ballet Theatre is creating its own through the ABT National Training Curriculum. They recently settled on there own system of arabesques, which appear similar to the Cecchetti versions.

You should be prepared now, baby ballerinas, to recognized the techniques when they are named and understand some of their differences. Most good teachers are usually specialized in teaching one or two specific techniques and are educated on the existence of the others. Can you tell the differences in style? Which one is your favorite?

ABT Sample Video (Scroll to page bottom.)

Balanchine Sample Video

Bournonville Sample Video

Cecchetti Sample Video

French Sample Video

RAD Sample Video

Vaganova Sample Video

The Balanchine Technique: An Unprecedented Innovation

New York City Ballet – it is perhaps the most famous U.S. ballet company, rivaled only by American Ballet Theatre. Balanchine ballet technique and NYCB are true American creations. And through their evolution, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein completely changed the course of dance history.

George Balanchine, originally Georgy Balanchivadze, came to the U.S. from Russia in the 1930s. From a young age, he trained in ballet at the Imperial Theatre School and in music at the Petrograd Conservatory of Music. Balanchine began choreographing in his teens, and in 1924 was included in a small group that was allowed to tour outside of the Soviet Union, a very rare privilege at that time. The dancers did not return home but instead joined Serge Diaghilev’s famous Ballet Russes.

Balanchine left Ballet Russes eventually and took various other positions over the next few years. While in London, Balanchine met Lincoln Kirstein, whose dream was to open an American company with its own repertoire distinct from the Europeans’. And Balanchine wanted a ballet school for this company. Balanchine and Kirstein together created the esteemed School of American Ballet in 1934, arguably the finest ballet school in America today. Known simply as SAB to most dancers, this school is the main feeder for Balanchine and Kirstein’s company, New York City Ballet. The first ballet Balanchine created there, Serenade, was choreographed on the SAB students and is now downright legendary. Graduating SAB students are some of the only ballet students in the country who are nearly guaranteed to find professional dance work.

Balanchine’s contemporary choreography and manner of movement evolved into its own technique. Based on the Russian (pre-Vaganova influence) method, Balanchine took basic movements like tendus, pirouettes, port de bras and arabesques and reworked them in ways that he felt best presented the form and movement to the audience. Even a simple port de corp devant was not to be considered a stretch but a fully artistic movement where the aesthetic of the body’s journey through space was the most important thing. Petit allegro was sped up, exaggerated in places and given modern touches. Landings from jumps were with heels barely or not at all touching the floor. Some of Balachine’s choreography is easy to spot with hips sweeping forward and arms outstretched in a jazzy style never before seen in classical ballet. Balanchine port de bras work is also easy to spot with its arms crossing over one another during position changes and fingers each with their own specific placement.

Balanchine created some of the most famous neoclassical ballets. These were often called “leotard ballets” because the dancers performed in simple outfits of tights and a leotard with just a short skirt or slim belt. He preferred dancers that were very long and lean with girls’ hair kept high to elongate the neck. Balanchine urged some of is best dancers to teach his technique to others and some of the most revered schools and companies resulted, including the Pennsylvania Ballet with the Rock School for Dance Education and the Miami City Ballet with its school.

Balanchine’s technique is certainly not without controversy. Traditionalists often cite the jumping technique as unsafe. Many others find that the port de bras are overly flowery and the alignment for arabesques and such are too angular and harsh. Suki Schorer, who Balanchine trained to teach, wrote a book on the technique, but many arguments have followed from other Balanchine students on the correctness of her instruction.

In order to maintain the integrity of at least the dances he created, the George Balanchine Trust was founded as a licensing system. Balanchine’s ballets cannot be changed, performed or broadcast without authorization. It sounds like a good idea until you realize that Balanchine was a champion of evolution and innovation. And while the Trust has certainly protected Balanchine’s work from the being skewed or performed by simply bad dancers, it has also acted as a roadblock to sharing his genius with the world and building on it. Many arguments have been made about the prudence of the Trust’s legacy protection actions, considering today’s useful access to videos and data through the internet. Just last year, a very popular YouTube ballet channel, Ketinoa, was suspended because of a Trust violation.

What do you think, kiddos? Should Balanchine’s legacy be protected at all costs? Or does performing art belong to humanity?

Update: I just want to make two quick notes on this post. First, I want to clarify that I do understand the argument that says that Balanchine’s was a style, not a technique. However I refer to it as a technique out of a) loyalty to Ms. Suki Schorer after my few classes with her and at the Rock and b) my study of Balanchine work and understanding of it, however limited, compared to other techniques. Personally, I feel that the whole question in and of itself is divisively irrelevant and mostly symantical. Second, I want to thank D for his/her comment below which pointed out that Balanchine’s work was based on the pre-Vaganova version of Russian technique. I have made the requisite change in the above text. Thanks for your contribution!)