Flexibility at the Expense of Grace

Browsing the social media for dance pictures can become a mind-numbing habit, so much as that certain traits start to become a main theme that they are being taken for granted as the “must-have’s” if one is to become a great dancer. One of such traits is flexibility.

I don’t know about you, but some oversplits just look downright ugly to me.

Have a look at this Instagram account Godatu Dance (https://www.instagram.com/godatu.dance). While many of the photos show beautiful poses, the majority of the dancers featured are flauting how flexible they are. I can’t help but lament the overemphasis of this quality. True, flexibility does give dance a certain “wow” factor. It is a show stopper. But it is not the only thing that counts when it comes to dance quality. I’m afraid so much of today’s training focus has been put on flexibility, such as the ability to do the oversplit, that the element of grace is being compromised, not to mention that many young dancers have actually sustained severe injuries to their hips or back that would have a detrimental effect on their future career.

Have a look at dance physiotherapist Lisa Howell’s article on this subject:

Oversplits in Second — What are the Risks?

Here is another very good article about oversplits. Are they necessary? Are they desirable? Have a look.

Oversplits — Overdoing It?

Because of the overemphasis on flexibility, an occasional sighting of a ballet pose with a low extension done with grace has become extra refreshing. Have a look at this one:

Dancer: Rachel Richardson, corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Luis Pons Photography.

Dancer: Rachel Richardson, corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Luis Pons Photography.

Fredrik Ashton’s choreography is a great example of how ballet can be extraordinarily beautiful and entertaining without the high extensions. Enjoy this delightful Rhapsody pas de deux.

Actually, ballets like Ashton’s are inspiring for us adult ballet students as not all of us can achieve the kind of flexibility and high extensions that are considered ideal. But what we can do is to try and achieve a beautiful line by extending our body to cover as much space as possible. Working with the upperbody using épaulement is a good way to achieve a beautiful line.


See the Music, Hear the Dance

George_Balanchine_See the Music

“See the music, hear the dance.” ~George Balanchine

Nobody has described the relationship between dance and music better than the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. In just six words, he has painted the essence of how dance visually expresses music, and what dancers should always bear in mind when they perform.

Simple statements often beguile great wisdom. In this case, behind what appears to be a catch phrase lies a great deal of sophistication, sensitivity and a lifelong dedication to the ephemeral art of movement in time and space.

One of the main reasons that I am so drawn to the art of ballet is the music—and to a great extent, it is classical music that is the ultimate charmer. Long before ballet fell into my adult consciousness, I was already enchanted by the world of classical music. The fact that my husband is an aficionado of classical music, a one-time cellist in an orchestra and a neoclassical music composer, means that I am constantly exposed to beautiful music and the history behind it.

It is no surprise, then, that I immediately became smitten by the music used in class when I started taking ballet lessons as an adult. Classical music just makes dancing so much easier for me, and it gives me the generous illusion that I am actually dancing more gracefully than I actually am. No matter how I look, it makes me feel graceful and feminine, and that’s what really matters.

There are, however, times when the music in class does not inspire me to dance. The worst case is when the music actually turns me off as if a switch has been flipped and my muscles no longer respond. Am I too picky? I have seen fellow students who do not react to music the same way I do. Basically, whatever music is being played seems to be fine for them. Granted, the taste for music is a highly personal thing. For me, certain types of music just makes me cringe or feel blasé. The No. 1 inspiration killer for me, is cheesy Christmas melodies adapted for ballet class, played during the entire December month. Second in line is Broadway musicals converted into class music. Third is petite allegro music that is too cute or pretentious. Call me old fashioned or whatever you like. Just give me some good-old classical music—some adapted from the classical ballet repertoire, or neo-classical music, and I am a happy dancer!

Music for Dance_Karen Salmansohn

Of course, we can’t always choose what music we dance to. In that case we might have to follow Karen Salmansohn’s advice of adapting our way of dancing to the music.

What are  your pet peeves when it comes to ballet class music?

What kind of music gets you into the “zone”?

Do you have any favorite CDs that you use for your own practice? Please leave me a comment. I’d like to hear what you like!

Here is my top favorite ballet class music CD: Dmitri Roudnev’s “Favorite Classics of Ballet for Ballet Class”

Let me end this post with another quote by Balanchine:

“Dance is music made visible.”

Let’s dance to and, more importantly, in music!

Anna Pavlova and Turned-in Legs

Anna Pavlova

Ballet dancers have this obsession about turnout… or worse, that “perfect” 180-degree turnout that is so elusive and unattainable for most of us. But has anybody ever noticed how turned in the legendary Anna Pavlova was? And none of that diminished her artistry and dramatic appeal by even a tiny bit. Just read this passage which describes how Rudolph Nureyev liked the turned-in aesthetics:

“Rudolph has always admired the beauty of Merle [Park]’s legs — slim and turned in like Pavlova’s, with the same highly arched insteps…” (“Rudolph Nureyev, The Life” by Julie Kavanagh, Penguin 2007).

In the following video, you will be able to see some rare footage of Pavlova dancing solos. Listen to what the program host, Margot Fonteyn, said about Pavlova’s dancing: “Pavlova disregarded pure ballet technique. When it suited her it was only because she was interested in being expressive. Virtuosity had no purpose unless it served the purpose of dance. And yet at the same time, she had the speed and strength which would be hard to equal today.”

Cheers to turned-in legs and expressive dancing!