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.

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‘Would You Rather’: Ballet Edition #1

Responding to the “Adult Ballerina Project“‘s first ballet edition of “Would you Rather!”, here are my answers to her five questions:

#1 Would you rather be incredibly naturally flexible or have endless stamina?–By Kyla

At my age, neither can be easily attainable, but if I’m only give one choice, I’d choose incredible flexibility–it would create the great looks on stage–provided I don’t have to dance very long!

#2 Would you rather take an early morning class (6am) or a late evening class (9pm)?

Early morning class. Late evening classes mean cortisol build-up at a time of the day when the body should be winding down. Not great for health.

#3 Would you rather do 32 changements or 32 fouettés?–By Beth

I could do 32 changements but I’d rather be able to do 32 fouettés, for the obvious reason that I can’t actually do even one! And fouettés are like the ultimate yardstick of technical virtuosity. Oh well, perhaps another life time!

#4 Would you rather do a développé with proper technique or a higher développé suspecting your instructor doesn´t see you cheat?–By FGH

Oh, please allow me the vanity of doing higher développés 😛

#5 Would you rather have beautifully arched feet or perfect legs?–By Kyla

Another question that reveals I have neither. And here is another vain answer: Beautifully arched feet.

If you are interested in posting your own questions on your blog, do so and go to Adult Ballerina Project‘s page to post your blog’s link.

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!

Natural Born Ballet Gifts or…?

Isabelle CiaravolaI believe most balletomanes marvel at Isabelle Ciaravola’s feet. They are just unreal! While some of you may have derided her merits in dancing by thinking that she wins through her natural-born “gifts,” how many of you are aware that she has worked and continues to work so very very hard every day to get to where she is at l’Opéra de Paris. According to Sonia Melo, a Brazillian-Swiss ballet teacher, who has once coached her (and with whom I have had the great fortune to be briefly coached), Isabelle goes home every day to her water bed and there she starts to stretch herself rigorously even after a whole day’s work behind her. It is amazing to hear that such an accomplished and gifted dancer does not for one moment sit on her laurels. And Sonia, who is such a wonderful coach herself, could not restrain her big smile whenever talking about Ciaravola, and I know the reason why 🙂