Technique Spotlight: Chassé

Chassé means “to chase” in French. The chassé is a typical traveling movement in which the lead foot is chased by the supporting foot. Chassé can be performed going forward, on a diagonal, or à la seconde (to the side). In this video, chassés from first to second position moving side-to-side are demonstrated, along with a chassé forward from 3rd to 4th position.

Chassés are a very simple and fun step to do, which is why they are typical taught in the first year of ballet classes (in the RAD syllabus, the French term “chassé” is replaced with the English term “gallops”). Chassés are used to quickly cross the stage, as well as performed as an intermediate step between other choreographic elements, including turns, jumps and arabesques. Chassés are always performed in the quick allegro rhythm.

We have been performing chassés in both Ballet Basics and the Intermediate class this semester, and balancing it with tendu par terre en croix (extensions of the leg keeping our pointed toes on the floor), sauté changement (upward jumps with changing feet) in 3rd positions in Basics, arabesques, and some quick footwork sur le cou de pieds (with one foot pointed at the ankle) in the Intermediate class. This versatile step is a great way to work the legs and travel the floor – and it’s just plain fun, too!

Though chasses always reminding me of something… 😉

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Technique Spotlight: All About Feet

As discussed in an earlier spotlight, there are five standard positions for the feet. In addition, there are several different techniques used to position the foot along the support leg during steps, turns, and exercises at the barre:

Cou-de-pieds: “cut the foot” – a position in which the toe is pointed at the ankle of the supporting leg. Used as a starting position for different movements en l’air (in the air), including the traditional battement fondu.

cou-de-pied

Coupé: “to cut” – an active transition step in which the foot is pointed at the supporting leg just above the ankle. The coupé step can be performed in front of the supporting leg (devant/en dehor) or behind the supporting leg (derriere/en dedans).

coupe

Something to be aware of – the different schools of classical ballet often have different names and conceptions for the same kinds of movements. Coupé is a good example of this: in some schools of ballet, the coupé is actually performed closer to the knee than the ankle, and in others, the coupé is synonymous with a cou-de-pieds. In our classes, coupé will refer to a position of the toe about 4 inches above the supporting leg’s ankle.

Passé: “passed through” – a position in which the pointed toe is passing the knee of the supporting leg. It is also sometimes just referred to as a retiré. As with the cou-de-pieds and coupé, the passé can be performed in front of the supporting leg (devant/en dehor) or behind the supporting leg (derriere/en dedans). A strong passé is extremely important for turns – especially the classic pirouette (turn on one foot). This very good article from BalletHub looks as the different elements of a proper passé and gives some great tips for dancer improvement.

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Each of these forms can be practiced either with the whole foot flat on the floor, or on the demi-pointe (en relevé). Passé especially is most often performed up on one’s toes, either on the demi-pointe in soft slippers, our on full pointe in toe shoes (as Laura DeLorenzo from the Ellison Ballet in New York is, below).

passepro

We will practice all of these different positions during our exercises at the barre, and will then utilize these fundamentals whilst performing steps and turns en centre.

Ballet, Weight(s), and Strength

So new research has come out showing the importance of continued (but not strenuous) strength training. Maintaining muscle is important for everyone as a way to stay healthy and fight excess weight gain, but it appears to be especially important for women, who generally live longer than men but are more prone to conditions that weaken the body, such as osteoporosis. NPR recently reported on how weight training can help women live stronger and better for longer. Strength conditioning is a common element of many different sports and fitness routines, and ballet is no exception!

Though ballet dancers may not hit the gym to work with barbells every day, the exercises that we practice in class help to maintain muscle condition and improve strength. In many ways, we use our own bodies as weights, especially to help strengthen hips, legs and feet. After all, that “toe lift” noted in the NPR article? It’s a rélévé! An important building block for turns and traveling steps, as well as a great way to condition and tone muscles from the toes on up.

Other commons balletic elements can help to improve strength: port de bras, especially in adage combinations and practiced slowly at the barre, builds muscles in the arms, shoulders, and upper body. Proper comportment (the carriage of the body) improves core muscles, especially abdominal muscles. Tendu and fondu condition the legs, and all those pliés? Great for hips, thighs, and the lower abdominals.

Many dancers (from beginners to the pros) will do additional strength training to help build and sustain muscle through the body, including workouts with light free weights, Pilates (which is great for both strength, coordination and flexibility) and additional forms of exercise, like swimming or jogging. The MSU Group Exercise and Recreational Fitness programs offer many different classes that complement ballet very well, so for those wishing to move a bit more, I highly recommend checking out the class options on campus. I find that working with small free weights at home for about 15-20 minutes each day helps improve my personal fitness and makes it easier to transition to more challenging exercises at the barre or en centre (especially when performing adage). That may seem like a short amount of time, but it builds up to better fitness in the long run. As Joan Crockford of the American Council on Exercise notes in the NPR article, “for general muscular fitness, one to two sets of 12-15 reps with a weight that feels challenging at the end is a good rule of thumb.”

An important thing to remember when conditioning (or really doing any exercise) is not to overdo it. This is one of the reasons we spend a lot of class at the barre: it allows the dancer to fully warm the muscles up while being supported. The barre is also an important tool to use while building strength incrementally through the application of proper technique. Slow and steady wins this race: practiced conditioning, done on a regular schedule and at a comfortable pace, will lead to a stronger body (and lessen the possibility of injury).

Bottom line: train often, train comfortably, and keep those muscles strong for as long as possible! 🙂

Autumn happy dance!

Autumn is my favourite time of the year – there’s something so uplifting about the chill in the air and the changing colours, especially in the many beautiful trees on campus. Just had to share this post from the American Ballet Theatre:

“What better way to celebrate the first day of fall than with Principal Dancer Marcelo Gomes alongside former Principal Dancer Julie Kent in Antony Tudor’s “The Leaves Are Fading.”

leaves-are-fading

Just beautiful! See you in Basics at 12:30 PM. 🙂

~ Kitty

Technique Spotlight: Plié

The word plié in French means “to bend.” A plié in ballet is a movement where the body dips towards the floor by bending the knees. It may sound simple, but performing a plié properly means carefully aligning the body and utilizing not only one’s knees, but also the muscles in the core, thighs, and feet.

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A proper plié is a fully vertical movement – the bending of the knees makes the body go up and down. One of the trickiest aspects about pliés is not to allow the body to sway either forward or backwards, but to use the abdominal muscles to hold the body from the waist-up so that it is fully erect. The thigh muscles must be strong enough to bend the knees without pushing the body forward (or causing the dancer’s bottom to stick out!) This is one of the reasons that all dancers, from beginners to prima ballerinas, begin their exercises at the barre with a series of pliés in all of the different positions.

In our classes, we work to perform two types of pliés: the demi-plié, or half-bend (a small dip at the knees), and the grand plié, or big bend, wherein the body sinks downwards (sometimes causing the shoulders to dip below the level of the barre). We move through the demi-plié when progressing to perform a grand plié. With demi-pliés and grand pliés in 2nd position, we have an additional obstacle – working to keep our heels on the floor! In all forms of the plié, we must also remember to utilize the turn-out from our hip joints to keep our knees over our toes (a phrase that will be repeated in more than one ballet class).

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The plié is one of the most important movements in ballet – it is the basis for a number of jumps and turns, as well as a way to perform rélévés (coming up and down from our toes). Pliés provide strength to jumps and cushion to landings, as well as power to the beginnings of turns and spinning movements. As such, we’ll continue to open every class with a full round of pliés, and work together to make sure that this important fundamental is practiced in each class.

Beautiful Tuesday!

Autumn decided to arrive over the weekend, and I for one am grateful for the cooler weather and soft breezes of September! When I was working out my lessons last night, a friend of mine shared this image with me – what a perfect way to describe why we dance!

move-with-love

Intermediate Ballet begins tomorrow at 5:30 PM in IM Circle. Enjoy this lovely Tuesday – see you in class tomorrow! 🙂

Ballet Basics: First Class Review

Welcome back, Spartan dancers! It was great to see so many new faces in today’s Ballet Basics class at IM East.

Each of the fundamentals that we explored in class today has its own blog post, which I encourage all new dancers to read as a way to get to know these techniques:

Additionally, we introduced these core ballet elements:

Plié: to bend; a dip at the knees

  • Demi-plié: bending half-way at the knees – careful not to allow heels to come off the floor in P2!
  • Grand-plié: full bend at the knees – careful not to sit on your heels!

Relevé: “to rise” – lift oneself on one’s toes (the demi-pointe)

Battement: “to beat/strike” – to extend the leg out from the body, either with feet on the floor or in the air

  • Battement tendu: extension of the leg with the pointed foot kept on the floor
  • Battement tendu avec piqué: extension of the leg with quick tapping of the pointed foot on the floor (“pricking” the floor); often just shortened to piqué
  • Battement tendu dégagé: extension of the working leg with pointed foot leaving the floor up to 45°.
  • Grand Battement: “big strike” – extension of the leg with pointed foot starting on the floor, moving through a tendu dégagé to a rise of at least 90° (parallel with the floor), and sometimes as high as 130°

Each of these movements will be explored further in future Technique Spotlights, so stay tuned!

See you next Friday!

Welcome back, Spartans!

I hope that everyone had a great summer, and are ready to hit the books – and the studio floor!

I’m very pleased to announce that we will have two sessions of ballet available this semester as part of the MSU Group Exercise Program:

Ballet Basics will resume its regular Friday lunch hour spot at IM East. Class begins at 12:30 PM and closes at 1:15 PM. Participants will learn the fundamental forms of ballet including an introduction to the core positions for the feet and arms, the basic movements of the body core, basic jumps, turns and cross-stage movements. The class is designed for participants who have no former dance training or experience. The focus is to dance for fitness and health: to use the fundamentals of ballet to improve posture, muscle tone, balance, coordination, flexibility, and body awareness. Participants will work both on the floor and at the barre, and receive an introduction to choreography. Classes will be tailored to the abilities, goals and desires of the students.

Back by popular demand, Intermediate Ballet will be offered every Wednesday evening from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM at IM Circle! This level will focus on more intensive techniques, patterns and longer pieces of choreography.  This class will also include a more intensive workout, with a greater emphasis on multi-technique combinations.  Some experience is preferred but not required and as always, classes will be tailored to the abilities, goals, and desires of the students.  No tutus are required, but leather-footed ballet slippers are highly recommended.

Ballet Basics will begin on Friday, 9 September 2016, and Intermediate Ballet will have its first class the week after, on Wednesday, 14 September 2016. As always, the Group Ex participant rates apply. Please check out their website, or stop by the membership office at IM East or IM Circle to purchase a class pass/membership.

Everyone is invited to attend – whether you’re an old pro trying to stay limber, or a first-time dancer just learning to point your toes. Not sure about ballet? I also welcome new participants to do a class observation for free. Please just let the door monitor know that you would like to watch the class (but are not planning to dance).

And just in time for a new school year – Bottom’s Up in Okemos is having a back-to-school sale! For those who would like to purchase slippers, I highly suggest dropping in at Bottom’s Up to be measured and fitted for your shoes. Proper fit is extremely important, even for canvas slippers – too small, and your toes will be pinched; too big, and they’re like to flop around as you move. And if you need help sewing your bands, please just let me know!

BottomsUp

I look forward to seeing everyone back in the studio this fall! Spartans WILL… DANCE!

All the best,

Kitty