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!

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

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!)

The Vaganova Technique: Fire & Ice from the East

One of the very first ballet teachers, Jean Baptiste Landé, had an enormous cultural impact on Russia when he took a group of French ballet students to perform for Empress Anna. The Empress was so delighted that she decided to open the first Russian ballet school, the Imperial Ballet School, in 1738. This was the first iteration of what was to become the famous Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.

Agrippina Vaganova was a student of the Imperial Ballet School and danced with its professional company, the Imperial Russian Ballet, until retiring to become a teacher in 1916. During her career, Vaganova strived to discover the best methods for classical movement. She carefully studied the French and Cecchetti methods as well as the theories of her Russian colleagues and fused together the best of what she found. Vaganova taught and developed her system over 30 years of teaching at the academy, which eventually was named for her. The technique she created became a physical and aesthetic masterpiece that joined the romanticism of the French, the virtuosity of the Italians and the fiery soulfulness of the Russians.

Vaganova ballet technique requires and trains a malleable back and limbs and a very strong trunk. Like Cecchetti before her, Vaganova created her own system of port de bras, arabesques, body poses, attitudes, and wall/corner numbering, but instead of adding to the French systems of each, she streamlined them.

The Vaganova Academy still exists today. Thousands of 9 and 10 year olds audition each year after taking music and dance classes in their hometowns. Only about 20 boys and 20 girls are chosen. Students are housed in dorms and provided training, education, meals and medical care. Similar to the Paris Opera Ballet School, students are examined each year to determine whether they are up to the physical and technical standard to be allowed to continue. Those that make it to graduation are eligible for a position with the Kirov Ballet Company. The scene is much the same for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, also known as the Moscow Choreographic Institute, which began in the late 1700s as a ballet class for an orphanage and is also firmly based in Vaganova technique.

The Vaganova and Bolshoi Academies have been responsible for the training of many if not most of the finest dancers the world has seen, including Anna Pavolva, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Natalia Dudinskaya, Yuri Grigorvich, Natalia Bessmertnova, Ekaterina Maximova, Vladimir Vasiliev, Diana Vishneva, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Galina Mezentseva, Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Uliana Lopatkina, and Svetlana Zakharova to name a few. In addition to these stars, the Kirov and Bolshoi companies are given credit for many of the greatest classical ballets ever created due to the residencies of legendary choreographers Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa and Petipa’s assistant Lev Ivanov, whose creations while in Russia included Paquita, Don Quixote, La Bayadére, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, and revivals of Giselle, Le Corsaire, Coppélia, La Esmeralda, La Sylphide, Swan Lake.

In the U.S., Vaganova technique is one of the most popular methods because of the popularity of its stars and because many Vaganova dancers settled in the U.S. where they opened their own ballet schools and brought the Vaganova method to American students. The Kirov and Bolshoi each have a presence in the U.S. through the Kirov Ballet Academy and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive.

The Cecchetti Method: A Singular Systemization

The Italians were the first to codify and systematize ballet training. Enrique Cecchetti, born in the dressing room of a theater in 1850, is considered the father of this method, though Cecchetti built on the principles of Carlo Blasis, who codified his own teaching method in 1820.

Known for its brilliancy and virtuosity, this method includes many unique modifications of steps. For example, an Italian changement is a change of the feet done in the same way as a traditional changment except that both legs come to a retiré position mid-changée. Other evolutions include interesting “off-balance” poses – think a lá secónde with the body tilted away from the leg. Additionally, new labels and executions were created for port de bras, arabesques, attitudes, body positions and wall/corner numbering. Perhaps the most widely-seen modification is the flexed-foot, floor-striking battement frappé, which is seen in the classes of other techniques quite frequently.

As a part of the systematization of this method, the Cecchetti technique is governed by a strict program of examinations, and classes for each level are actually pre-set for the particular day of the week, so that the teachers do not plan new barre exercises or centre enchainments each week. This helps the students to study and perfect examination exercises.

The Cecchetti Counsel of America is the accrediting institution in the U.S., but the true home of this technique is the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Italy. The Scala school is not just for dance but also includes music, stage, and performing arts management departments.

The ballet company of La Scala is one of the most revered in the world, and was and is home to many of the most famous dancers of today and yesterday including Maria Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Roberto Bolle and Alessandra Ferri. And although Svetlana Zakharova is a Vaganova ballerina, one of her current contracts is as a principal dancer étoile with La Scala.

The French School of Ballet: The Elegant Original

The very first ballet school was established in France in 1661 by Louis XIV, which is why France is credited for being the original ballet technique despite Italy’s earlier balletic court dances. French ballet is known for its elegance and refinement rather than its virtousity. Check out the two beautiful videos here to see if you can get a feeling for the precision and understated beauty of this method.

The language of ballet terminology is French and is somewhat different in France than the version that is used in other methods. Take a quick peek at Gail Grant’s Dictionary and you’ll see many definitions annotated with, “A term of the French School.” Many of these phrases and words, such as sissone en descendant, are not used in any other method. The French School also has its own system ofarabesques, port de bras and wall/corner numbering.

L’École de Danse de I’Opéra de Paris is the modern day home of French ballet technique. Admission is extremely selective, and students at the Paris Opera Ballet School endure rigorous training and yearly eliminations. Apprentices and corps de ballet dancers are selected from those students that make it to graduation, which often makes training at this feeder school competitive and solitary.

The company, Paris Opera Ballet, currently numbers 191 ballet dancers total, and has a heirarchy system unique in the ballet world. POB has emerged as a leader not only in classical and contemporary ballet, but also in modern dance.

The French method is not often taught in the U.S., but it’s the direct parent school of all other ballet schools in the world. You can’t take a plié without having to credit the French!

How do you say “Cecchetti” anyway?

There are many different styles of ballet taught around the world. Each is usually named after its founder and that person’s country: Cecchetti for Italian ballet, for example. But what are the differences between them? Which one came first? Does it matter which one you are trained in? How can you choose which one is best for you? How can you figure out which one you’re currently training in?

The four most popular styles of ballet in the U.S. are:

  1. French Technique – This is the original style of ballet and the foundation for its vocabulary. All other ballet techniques can be traced to the French style.
  2. Cecchetti Technique – (Pronounced like “check-ET-ee”) A style created by ballet master Enrique Cecchetti in Italy as a revision of the French technique.
  3. Vaganova Technique – (Pronounced like “va-GAH-no-va”) A technique created by Agrippina Vaganova in Russia as a hybrid revision of the French and Cecchetti styles.
  4. Balanchine Technique – (Pronounced like “BA-lan-sheen”) Created in the U.S. by Russian-born George Balanchine as a revision of the Vaganova technique.

Other popular styles include Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), Cuban method and Bournonville (Danish ballet). Each technique has its own special philosophy on what kinds of movements look best on the body and are best mechanically-speaking. The vocabularies can vary quite a bit as well. I’ll be posting soon to tell you more about what makes each style unique and what would make a dancer choose one technique over another.

You can usually figure out what technique you are being taught by simply reading the brochures or website of your school or asking your teacher. Especially in the U.S. however, ballet teachers may be trained in a mix of styles and end up teaching their students different things from different techniques. This can create confusion for the student, especially the student thinks she is being trained in only one technique.

It can be great for your versatility to explore different ballet styles, but only once you have reached a somewhat advanced level in your dancing. Doing so too early can confuse your muscle memory and your brain! Until you are ready, its usually best to find a teacher who articulates what technique is being taught and who specifies when you are presented with a step or vocabulary from a different style.

Back to Ballet Class

Fall is nearly here – Are you ready physically and mentally to get back to dance class? Here is some excellent advice by venerated classical ballet teacher Victoria Leigh on how to digest your summer training, set goals and prepare yourself to be at the top of your game this fall.

Batman Tandoo? You mean Battement Tendu!

Ever wanted to write, better pronounce, or better understand a term in ballet? Then you must grab yourself a copy of Gail Grant’s Technical Manual & Dictionary of Classical Ballet. This small book is an absolute must-have for anyone interested ballet professionally or for college.

Considered in the dance world to unquestionably be the best reference for ballet terms, this little tome is fairly inexpensive (just about $10 in the listing on Amazon) and is simply an A-Z reference for virtually every ballet term used or in use.

Part of what makes the Gail Grant Dictionary such a standby is its inclusion and cross-reference of terminology across ballet techniques. For instance, if you go to a summer intensive and hear the word raccourci, looking it up in Grant’s Dictionary would tell you that it is as a term of the French School. The definition then cross-references you to the Russian term retiré, so you will learn the interchangeability of the terms. (I’m sure you know that ballet originated in France and was exported to other countries where it further evolved. Thus the development of varying techniques from the Italians, the Danes, the Russians, the Americans and the Cubans. These have all made their way to the United States. With so many techniques here, it is common to hear different terms from different teachers, even within the same school.) You would also learn that it means shortened – referring to the bend at the knee which “shortens” the leg – because this position is actually a variation on a développé a lá seconde!

If you are looking for books to support your training and develop you into a knowledgeable dancer, Gail Grant’s Dictionary just can’t be beat. There are quite a few other books that are invaluable for dancers, but you’ll find that this one stands firm at the top of the list for professional dancers, serious students and seasoned teachers.