Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2019 is The Year of the Derriere!

Happy New Year!

So much ahead for 2019: new company members, new show, new choreography and music and theaters and classes and outreach and--

Hold onto your derrieres, people! Don't get ahead of yourself - get behind yourself!
(Ha! See what I did there?)

That's right, I want to talk about behinds, butts, derrieres. That fleshy part on your backside that is ever-important for ballet is also called your gluteus maximus. Above it and off to the side is your gluteus minimus and on top, closer to the spine is your gluteus medius. The maximus is the one we use most often and we casually call it (them because there are two of them) your glutes. Along with your hamstrings (those long ropy muscles at the back your thighs) and your quadriceps (the big-bellied muscles at the front of your thighs), your glutes are responsible for all kinds of things in ballet, the most important of which is stability.

Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain. or By Mikael Häggström, used with permission. - Image:Gray434.png

When you engage the muscles of your glutes, hamstrings and quads, you become an incredibly stable force, whether that stability is being used for adagio balances, multiple turns, or general pointe/releve work.

In the average everyday world, we use our quads a lot: when we walk down the street, climb the stairs, drive a car. We are most often engaging those muscles, which makes a lot of sense. They're big and they're in front. They take control. But when we do that, we don't develop our hamstrings as well as they could be developed so in exercises that require equal engagement, we find ourselves weak in the back of the thighs. That weakness translates into poor stability.

Are you weak in the hamstrings? Try this:
Stand on two feet in parallel.
Lift one foot off the ground.
Can you balance?

Want to challenge yourself further? Try this:
Stand on a pillow on two feet in parallel.
Lift one foot off the pillow.
Can you balance?

Now let's look further back, into our glutes. Those muscles are big but they might not be as strong as they could be because you are engaging your hip flexors too much (those are the muscles at the front of the hip that crease our legs at the hip joint). We use those a lot when we walk and when we drive and frankly, when we sit at our computers for hours at a time. The muscles underneath don't get used as much so when we need them to engage and be strong, they are weak and wobbly.

Are you weak in the glutes? Try this:
Stand in first position turned out.
Bring one leg up to retire and hold it.
Are you wobbling? How long can you hold that position without wobbling?

Want to challenge yourself further? Try this:
Stand in fifth position.
Releve to passe and close the leg to the back; repeat and bring it to the front.
How many times can you do this without collapsing?

Hey, I'm as guilty of this weakness as anyone else! I have to tell my brain to activate my glutes just about every time I go for a releve. It's a hard muscle to use consistently. But when I do, oh boy, can I balance!

There are loads of exercises for strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Some of you may choose to go to the gym and use machines there. Some of you might cross train with yoga, Pilates or Gyrotonics. If you don't want to do anything like that, just be mindful of those muscles when you are at the barre. You can engage them as soon as you hit your warmup stretch and plies.

Whatever you do, just be sure to incorporate some exercises for those muscles or they won't be there when you need them.

Happy dancing~

Monday, December 31, 2018

Common dance terminology: "ballet French" explained

There's a popular t-shirt in the dance-o-sphere that says, "I speak ballet French." If you dance, you have to LOL at that. Ballet students, especially in the US, know that so much of our vocabulary is a fractured French. We also call things by different names depending on the method, whether it's Vaganova, Cecchetti, French, English, and so on. And to be honest, many European-trained dancers scoff at "American style" nomenclature.

(Lame duck, anyone?)

But there are certain words that we all use and that we all use incorrectly.

(Hey, no one's perfect!)

Here are a few terms and words that are often misused, mistranslated, or misstated grammatically. I want you all to be ballet French fluent in 2019!

en croix - "in the shape of a cross"; regardless of whether you do a step en avant, a la seconde, en arriere and a la seconde or just en avant, a la seconde and en arriere, you are still forming the shape of a cross on the floor or in the air with your leg, foot or arm.
Courtesy State Library of Queensland
sissonne - nope, it's not "scissors"; that would be ciseaux. Sissonne is the name of the man who invented the jump, which unfortunately also looks like a pair of scissors opening and closing.

rond de jambe - the plural of this follows the French grammar: ronds de jambe and hewing to the correct French pronunciation, you do not pronounce the "s". So basically, more than one rond de jambe also sounds like a singular rond de jambe. But no, it's not rond de jambes unless you are moving both legs simultaneously.
Courtesy State Library of Queensland

cou-de-pied - this is not coupe which is a movement ("cutting" or "cut") but the position of one foot on or at the ankle of the other (en avant  or en arriere); when it is wrapped, it's sur le cou-de-pied. It is literally translated as "neck of the foot" which we know as "ankle" or "instep." Don't neglect the "de" or else it will sound like a combination of coupe and cou-de-pied.

Got any burning French questions? Shoot 'em on over to me in an email or comment. Happy dancing into the New Year, beautiful dancers!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Holiday ballet! Special "Eve" classes to get you in a celebratory mood!

Are you ready for the holidays? No? Then come to class with me this week and on Christmas Eve morning and New Year's Eve morning to boost your spirit!

All of my classes will happen as usual this week and next weekend. I will be out of town 12/25-12/30. Check out my calendar below for information on each specific class and as always, contact me if you have any questions.

Now for the fun stuff: holiday classes with super fun music and loads of great energy!

pc: State Library of Queensland "Seven Swans"
Monday, Christmas Eve, 12/24 Morning! 
Makes a great gift to yourself!
Open level
Inspire Dance Studio, 457 Foothill Blvd, La Canada CA 91011
pc: State Library of Queensland "Clowns"
Monday, New Year's Eve, 12/31 Morning! 
A perfect way to end 2018 and start 2019!
Open level
Inspire Dance Studio, 457 Foothill Blvd, La Canada CA 91011
Sunday, January 6, Pirouette Workshop, 1-3PM, Inspire Dance Studio
"Turn" your year around with this workshop to improve your pirouettes (see what I did there?)
Sign up at the link at the top of this blog on the left hand side. Limited to 15.

Saturday, January 12, Company Intent to Join, 9AM and 10AM, Inspire Dance Studio
Make your intentions known if you want to be in the Leigh Purtill Ballet Company this year.
We have lots of wonderful things planned but be sure to know what we do before you commit. Check out the website!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Want to Join a Ballet Company?

Come dance with us!
The Leigh Purtill Ballet Company wants YOU!

That's right, we do. LPBC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is an amateur ballet company for adults in the Los Angeles area. We are excited to announced our 2019 season will begin with a Company Intent to Join on Saturday, January 12, 2019.

What the heck is that? you may ask.

Well, let me explain...most dance companies require an audition in order to join their ranks. Often this consists of a ballet class, at which you nervously show up with a head shot and resume and get a spot at the barre. At various points in the class, you may be asked to leave (some companies eliminate people during a barre, sometimes between sides!). Some companies will wait until the class is over and then email you or not.

It's so frightening! Isn't it? I sure think so. And so much competition! Everyone around you is trying to earn a spot - and you know there are very few of them per season. Not exactly the way you want to begin a relationship with other dancers and an artistic director.

At LPBC, we don't believe in competition like that. You should always strive to do your best because, well, don't you want to do your best?

We also don't believe in eliminating people like that. We want to build a community, not divide it. We want dancers who support each other and you can't encourage others if you're only thinking about yourself.

Instead of an audition, we are holding an Intent to Join on January 12, 2019. You choose which class is suitable for your level, either the 9AM Beginner or 10AM Intermediate (be on time please! or early so you can sign in!) and then you...take the class. That's it.

Well, not exactly it. We want to see you be part of the community, friendly with others, supportive and encouraging. We want to see you love ballet and that you are ready to do the kind of outreach the company does. We want to see that you believe, like we do, that Ballet is for Everyone. It's not about body type, size, shape, color, etc. It's not about perfect technique (although we work toward the best technique we each have). It's about what YOU bring to US.

So come to class on January 12, 2019 at Inspire Dance Studio and show us your Intention! 

It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with what the company's mission is, what our plans are for the season, and what our schedule for performances is. Know before you commit. And then do it. You know you've always wanted to join a ballet company and LPBC is a great community of ballet souls to join. We love ballet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Glissade tips

One of my very favorite steps is glissade.

It didn't used to be, though, especially when it was performed with petit allegro steps like jete or assemble. I would watch other dancers (usually more petite dancers than myself since conventional wisdom says taller dancers are less likely to be fast with their feet - a MYTH! - and older dancers are slower - another MYTH!) and be envious of their sharp glissade a la seconde.

In ballet, the term glissade is a "linking step," one that is performed between other steps, as in the aforementioned allegro.

(Did you know "glissade" also means to slide down an ice slope? Yes, this is true! But please don't go backpacking or ice-slope climbing if you're a dancer - too dangerous! Thank you from your teacher and artistic director.)

How do we perform a glissade?

When we do a glissade, we begin in a fifth position (typically), demi-plie, then degage the back foot to the side. We push up and off the floor with the front foot and straighten both knees at the same time. For a split-second we are airborne! Both legs are straight and off the ground and we look like a triangle in the air.

At this point, things get tricky.

To come down, we land on the first foot (toe, ball, heel and en fondue) and then pull the second foot into fifth position as if returning from a degage. The timing is important because we don't want to land on the first foot with the second foot sticking up in the air. Not only is that awkward but it is also incorrect. That would be more like a jete instead of a glissade.

We also need to land in demi-plie so it's a soft finish. Please don't straighten the first knee before finishing the jump in fifth position, either en avant or en arriere.

And finally, the most challenging part of all, the toe-ball-heel slide of the second foot. One of the things I give the most corrections on is the second foot. We forget about it. We leave it dangling. We don't push from it to a pointed foot. We don't drag it in smoothly. Instead we often place the foot into fifth position as if putting it down (like a normal non-dancer person would!) while we are walking. It's vitally important that you replace the foot as if you were returning from a battement degage. That can be a quick toe-ball-heel or a slow, gooey one but it must be a glide and cannot be a "placing down."

So that's glissade.

What are some tips and tricks to make this an easier step?

1. Think about the suspension in the air. Spring both feet off the floor to get that second position straight and sharp.
2. Use your "underbutt" muscles to keep you off the ground. A good practice for this is balancing in second position en releve. The muscles you need for this are the same for the glissade.
3. Practice sautes in second position. Again, these same muscles under your derriere are the ones you need to engage to keep you off the ground.
4. Focus on your inner thighs when you perform tendu and degage exercises at the barre. Strong adductor muscles will increase your speed.
5. Work the articulation of the your feet with Therabands or other exercises. Feet that are more pliable will have a more aesthetically pleasing appearance and also be easier to spring off the floor.
6. Practice. Seriously. Practice them as much as you can. Alternate front and back or all front or all back. Watch yourself in the mirror and be critical about the suspension in the air. Use your torso and core muscles to lift you off the ground. Easier glissades make all allegro easier.

Hope this helps! Happy dancing~

And Happy Thanksgiving!
The beautiful and talented Vera-Ellen!