Improve Your Ballet: Take Modern

Today, I had a lot of opportunity to think about how taking modern has improved my ballet.

Specifically, B and I were working on a basic partnering exercise in which the girl (or boy, or otherly-gendered individual; doesn’t matter — I’m devolving upon the conventions of the genre, but that doesn’t mean I think that’s the only valid approach; not by a long shot) rises up to sous-sus en pointe and the boy (see above) gently tilts her to the front, the right, and the left*.

*I actually tend to do front – right – front – left (avant – a droigt – avant – a gauche) thus far. This gives B a chance to re-center herself between tilts, since she’s still working on keeping her core engaged.

The whole purpose of this exercise is to establish some of the key underpinnings of the partnering relationship: first, trust (as in, “Don’t worry, I won’t drop you!”); second, core engagement.

It turns out that, in partnering work, it is immensely important that both partners keep their cores together**.

If the girl lets her core go, she makes the boy’s job a bazillion times harder (seriously, you try partnering an uncooperative dolphin some time).

If the boy lets his core go, he is liable to fall over (ask me how I know) and that can lead to the ultimate sin in partnering, which is dropping your partner. Also possibly falling on her, which is probably a good way to get asked not to return to the studio, heh.

**Imagine that, right?!

Fortunately, I am still 0/whatever in that department. I have yet to drop anybody.

So what, you might be wondering, does this have to do with how modern dance can improve your ballet***?

***A reasonable question, all things considered.

Well, it turns out that nothing, bar nothing, is as good at teaching you to find and engage your core muscles as good ol’ modern dance.

Why? Because contractions (also because successive movement, and all of that rolling-around-on-the-floor that doesn’t seem to make much sense until you start doing modern, and then you’re always like OMG LET’S ROLL ON THE FLOOR RIGHT NOW!, because it’s actually kind of awesome … and, I suppose, while we’re at it, also good for learning to engage you core).

Basically, a solid head-tail contraction doesn’t just make you really great at being the letter “C” in every Human Alphabet photo ever. It also illuminates the secret workings of all those muscles in your core that you already thought you were using correctly, but weren’t (at least, that’s what happened for me).

In partnering work, that’s like magic.

Also tends to be good for the turns. And the balances.

Which brings me to the other thing we did about a million times a day in Cinci: you get into a relevé (or élevé) balance in first, second, fourth, sous-sus, whatevs, bring your arms to third/fifth (seriously, I’m just going to start calling this “thirty-fifth” … or I could just say “en haut,” but what fun would that be?^****). Get your core together; then notice how your scapulae are just, like, hanging from your arms.

****Plus, that would violate a centuries-long tradition of obfuscation. Ballet has been trolling n00bs some n00bs were, erm, n00.

And then DROP THEM.

Your arms, that is.

Just, boom. From 0 to “Spaghetti arms!” in .6 seconds.

You will immediately know if your core is together, because if it’s not, dropping your arms will knock you off your leg(s), and you will bourée like a corps dancer in Swan Lake who has suddenly been struck with choreographic amnesia and can’t do anything but desperately try to stay in line. (I bet that, in their mind’s ears, my ballet peeps are all totally hearing the sound of pointes desperately bourée-ing right now. Dog knows I am.)

This exercise is immensely useful and works in both turnout and parallel. It has, in fact, done more for freeing my arms, neck, and head in balances that any number of repetitions of “Sous-sus, arms float to thirty-fifth, change focus stage right, change focus stage left, focus center, détourné.” (Though that’s still a great exercise, and is useful for improving your spot.)

I worked in a few of these exercises today, and by then end of our brief practice session, B was able to keep her core sufficiently engaged to take a low à la seconde balance to each side.

I, meanwhile, was busy working on figuring out how much to engage at what point in order to counter-balance without appearing to do anything other that standing there and looking princely. I managed the counter-balancing part well enough, but I suspect that I liked more constipated than princely.

Alas, for my “thinking face” is far from regal.

So I’ll work on that.

Anyway, it’s now waaaaaay past my bedtime, so I’m going to close here. I’ll add these exercises to the list of videos I’ll probably remember to make someday. I think I’m also going to re-do my balancé video in some place with decent lighting, no carpet, and fewer helpful cats (but mostly because my balancé looks soooooooo much better than it did back in whenever that was).

Good night, everybody, and try not to drop your partners.

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About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2016/07/06, in balllet, class notes, dance, modern and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’ve been thinking about taking modern after the summer break, as soon as I get my knee to work again! I think this just made up my mind for me. The rolling around is really awesome. We’ve done it in jazz a couple of times and it feels amaaaazing. Besides, anything that improves core stability is a thing that I, as a beginner, should probably do. A lot.

    • Go for it!

      Weirdly, we just had a class that was mostly floorwork technique details – the last one before the summer break and the week after showing. At last I understand how those movements work…the ones I had to perform last week. Riiight.

      A thought, meanwhile. Maybe I should stop chewing my lower lip doing turns. Not only is it not the least bit princely, it’s not even brooding and serious.

      • Aaagh, I hate that. I had a similar experience with a movement I never quite caught in the corps part of our rep showing; came home, and one of my modern teachers demonstrated it in the next class and suddenly it clicked (which is slightly less frustrating, I suppose, than the same instructor clarifying it after the show).

        Lip-chewing is probably closer to princely than what I normally do, which apparently involves sucking my cheeks in and turning my upper lip into a break :/

        OTOH, I now totally understand why, as a kid, they constantly harp on you to SMILE! in class. I think the idea is to make a (pained) smile into your default effort face.

    • I think you’ll really enjoy modern and probably get a lot out of it! I wish I’d gotten back into it sooner, because I think a lot of the improvements to my mad ballet skillz are the direct result of good instruction in modern technique!

      • We do the push up to relevé with the hands in 5th, balance, and drop your arms (even throw them down) thing in every class, often as part of a warm-up sequence.

      • Oh, cool! We do that in Theresa’s class as well sometimes. I wonder if it’s fairly universal in modern — goodness knows it’s useful enough!

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