December 12, 2012

Get Your Face On

I'm pretty good with my port de bras. At times I have to watch out for the droopy elbows, and take care that fingers don't freeze into positions. Oh, and make sure that arms are not too high in first, and not too far back in couronne. But, all in all, I think that my port de bras is one of my stonger suits. This, however, is not the case with my port de tête. I know to look sideways when the steps call for it, or front when it's first arabesque - you know, the basic directions. But other than that, my face and eyes tend to stay too much straight ahead. It makes my dancing look static, like I'm just going through the motions.

"Present yourself!" It's perhaps the most frequent guidelines we get to hear in class - and personally speaking, one of the hardest. I get shy in front of an audience, even if it's just the teacher and my classmates watching. Not the kind of shy where I blush and retreat to the corner, but the kind that has me dancing smaller than I could. Like a wallflower, instead of a blooming rose.. I hesitate to put myself out there, to get my face on and dance full out, expressions and all. I'd rather keep my poker face, check my alignment in the mirror and smile mostly on the inside.

Somewhere along I forgot that dancing involves the entire body, literally from head to toes. Partly it's because the performing aspect is fairly new to me. Before, ballet class was something I did for myself only - in the sense that an (imaginary) audience was never part of class. I enjoyed dancing as such, and did not give much thought to what my face looked like or when and how I should tilt my head. Or how to project and present myself. But I'm getting there.

Seeing myself on video has definitely helped. After you get over the cringe-factor, it's an excellent learning experience. I could see that while my chaînés turned alright, my head was too slow to spot. It made my turning look sluggish. I could also see that the lack of port de tête makes my dancing look boring, which is not the quality I'm looking for! One of my teachers (Marie-Pierre) saw our spring show, and noted the same (the static head - not the boring aspect). Yesterday, she told me that she had planned to work on this with me, but during the long summer break kind of forgot about it (we have been focusing on other things). Anyway, we had a short chat before class about the upcoming show, and then she made me work like I was on stage already. Marie-Pierre reminded me to use my head and eyes and gave me exact directions, even through pointe class. When to tilt my head in pas de bourré, change directions, or how to present myself - not just the basic academics, but the dancing. There is so much to learn, so much to express! A subtle movement here, a big pose there. Nuances, shades and colours. Time to get my face on.


  1. Wonderful post! This is what makes dance DANCE. This is what I want to learn.
    You are so lucky to have such great teachers!

    1. Thank you, Aliénor! You're right, I'm crazy lucky to have such great teachers. Just watching Marie-Pierre give class is wonderful experience each time, I have honestly never seen anybody dance the simplest movements like she does. So beautiful & inspiring! And the best part: she is so generous about sharing her "secrets" <3

      And yes, this is what makes dance. The artistry, the refinement, the intellect, the quality, the musicality, the love for dance..

  2. Great post, Johanna! I have a very bad stage face. I have the terrible habit of showing the level of difficulty that I am having all over my face. That is very bad :(

    I was watching a Super Ballet Lesson with Manuel Legris (of course). Manuel speaks in French and it's dubbed in Japanese, since my French is dismal and my Japanese is non-existence, I only get bits and pieces but one can learn a lot from that and just watching the action. In one of the episodes he is coaching a dancer in a variation from Sleeping Beauty that includes a double pirouette. The dancer furrows his brow and frowns when he turns. Manuel keeps stopping him each time he does it and says "Jolie pirouette, jolie! Non..." and then makes the frowny face that he kid keeps making. It's funny but it's also a great lesson. And I thought it was interesting that it was important enough to Manuel to stop and correct the dancer's facial expression! It definitely made me check my own expression in the mirror and discover I pretty much do the same thing! Non! Oh la la, not good.

    I'm still not back to class yet, but during this time off, I've continued to take note about so many things that I really want to work on when I get back. This is definitely one of them!


    1. Lorry, thanks for sharing Manuel's corrections! Of course, we want to look jolie on stage, no matter what. Unless the choreography calls for soemthing else. But even then you have to stay in the role. ;)

      My problem is not so much having a "bad stage face" as is having no face at all, LOL. Too neutral in my expressions, too safe. Tomorrow I'm going to warm up fy face muscles too, and smile all the way through :)

      The other thing I was writing about, is not about facial expressions, but about using your epaulement - which includes the head as well. This is something I frequently forget to do, especially when I'm fixing my lines via the mirror. It should not become a habit!

      Last Thursday I really focused on this, and had a few nice moments. Even my teacher noticed, and with some suprise I might add. But this is what I love about ballet. You can express so much without ever having to extend your legs to 6 o'clock or do other amazing athletic feats.

  3. Hahaha...this discussion certainly resonate with me as well. I either have "bitch face"/blank face, which is genetic (I blame my parents and THEIR parents) because I'm concentrating and my default look is very stern or I am gritting my teeth and TRYING HARD or silently cursing to myself. I find that schooling my facial expressions may be the hardest part of dance/ballet. I must add this to my holiday practice list, which is growing by the day :/

    1. Kaija, I think we share some of our genetic pool.. The default stern look seems to be a Finnish trait, and one that I've inherited from my mother. I wish I could have "pretty face" in all circumstances (and lighting), but I really have to be consciously "pretty". Watching myself on video has helped. I've even used my macbook's camera to check if what feels lovely looks like it too. Often to hilarious results! But hey, even models work on their best angles, relaxed smiles and looks.

      I once observed a class where the master teacher told all students to smile through the exercises, and it made a huge difference! Even though I can't see myself smiling non-stop for 90 minutes of class.. Maybe here and there, that would be a good start :)

      We can beat the Blank Bitch Face! ;)

    2. Yes Johanna, I think you are spot on that some of it is genetic/cultural :) I have a very good Chinese-American friend with whom I bonded over a shared appreciation for "blank face" and "comfortable silence", two things that seem at odds with North America culture. It was eye-opening to have that realisation AND see that other cultures share similar values (my friend's old-country grandmother was very bothered by the expectation that her granddaughter become "Americanized" by "going around grinning like an idiot all day"...LOL!).

      That's also a good point about models/actresses/dancers all having to practice their smiles and pretty looks!

      P.S. Your photo is lovely and I adore your lip color :)


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...