February 9, 2014

Time to Play

Pointe class. We're all facing the barre, doing really slow relevés. I let go as often as possible, because I like the added challenge of trying to stay in balance. Anyway, it's hard work and I'm totally focused, like there's nothing else in the world. My teacher approaches me to give a correction, or so I assume... Instead she tells me that I can now play with it, specifically with my head. I know she is talking about port de tête, or the carriage of the head, but I do not know what to do with mine during that particular exercise. Should I incline it, look left or right, or what? My sole focus has been on my feet, on keeping the popo in line, the back and neck long, the shoulders relaxed and myself breathing. It did not seem like playtime. But I did get the feeling that there has been some sort of achievement, and I was being challenged to step it up.

Later on, I got the feedback: there has indeed been progress. According to Madame, my dancing has improved. The port de bras is more confident, as is my overall technique. She even pointed out the alignment of the passé retiré I'm working on, telling me how much better it has become. I told her that I haven't really noticed. Which is not entirely true. I have noticed that my dancing feels different. Stronger, more balanced, perhaps even more fluid. But when you are not seeing yourself, how can you tell? Feeling good does not automatically mean that you also look good. Ballet can be tricky like that. Of course, there are some things which are more obvious. Like pirouettes. You cannot not know when you have turned three instead of one. You know when you're right on your axis, because it feels awesome. And you know when you've landed in style. Just as you know when you've failed. At my current rate, it's fifty-fifty. I get half right, and the other half is negotiable at best. Pirouettes tend to be a dealbraker for me. If I fail too many, class doesn't feel like progress. Yes, I know I'm giving way too much importance to turns. After all, our art is called ballet, not pirouette.

Then there are extensions. Why do we get caught up in degrees anyway? It might have something to do with all those sky-high extension you see posted and pinned on the internet. But bringing your leg into a developpé is dance, not a competition. It was already my first teacher who stressed the journey, not the destination. My current teacher speaks of caressing your (standing) leg as you bring the foot up. Then, raise the knee as high as possible (without compromising proper alignment), and draw a line with your pointed toes as you unfold your leg. The height of your extension is not the point, the quality of movement is. There's a bonus: quantity often follows quality. I've been told that my extensions have been getting higher since I started working with Madame. And this after dancing for twenty years! Funny how these things escape your attention...

So, what is next? We all know that ballet never gets easier, you just get better. For me, this means shifting my focus to the port de tête. My teacher knows that I get shy in class, which is why I tend to dance too much to the front, looking "flat" in the process. Now she is asking me to "play" with my head, and I have to admit that if feels more difficult than any fouetté pirouette I have ever attempted. At the same time, it's also way more exciting! Playing means there's room for self-expression, for making up my own mind (and head) about how I want to dance. Well, not in the sense that I get to change the exercises. I don't even want to do that! No, it's more subtle than that. Nuances and shades - that's what it is.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with my port de tête. I told Madame as much, that I don't really know (unless it's clearly part of the given exercise). She told me that if that's the case, I should just copy her. My dear readers, if you've ever seen our teacher dance, you know that is an near impossible task! Everything she does, looks natural and elegant. But I will try my best to absorb something and make it my own. I don't know what will come of it, but I want to find out. 

3 comments:

  1. "My current teacher speaks of caressing your (standing) leg as you bring the foot up. Then, raise the knee as high as possible (without compromising proper alignment), and draw a line with your pointed toes as you unfold your leg. The height of your extension is not the point, the quality of movement is." ~I love that! I definitely feel like I'm doing better when I go through that process even though my extensions are not high :)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it's all about the process! If you focus only on height, you miss out on the dancing... My extensions aren't high either (although getting better), so I feel that this approach gives me something of value. Instead of looking at the low extension as some sort of flaw.. :)

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  2. Hi Johanna!
    My name is Sararose, I'm nearly 16 and have been dancing for 3 years.
    I have the opposite problem to you in port de tête. I think I "over" use my head. I try to never look straight front (partly as I hate looking at myself in the mirror)
    do you mind I follow your blog?
    Love Sararose

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