Coming to Michigan: Ballet 5:8

Chicago-based company Ballet 5:8 will be performing at the Michigan Theatre in nearby Jackson on Saturday, 15 April 2017 at 7:00 PM. Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for students/seniors, and $12 for children 12 and under.

Stories of You & Me

The performance is a collection of choreographed works entitled The Stor(ies) of You and Me, and “features five works that explore love, the power of words, unexpected joy, perspectives, and the stories of everyday people. Choreography by Ballet 5:8 Artistic Director Julianna Slager and Guest Choreographer Caleb Mitchell.”

You can learn more about Ballet 5:8 on their website or Facebook page. Check it out!


Final Ballet Basics for Spring: 7 April 2017

Hello Spartan dancers,

Bad news, I’m afraid – because of the low participation rate for Ballet Basics in March, our class is being canceled after this Friday’s session. I’ll continue to post updates to this blog, and we will hopefully have another class next fall. Additionally, many of the other class options will continue to be available through the MSU Group Exercise Program until the end of the semester.

In case I don’t see you, I wish you all the best of luck with your final exams, and a wonderful summer!


Coming to MSU: Moscow Festival Ballet

As part of the Wharton Center’s dance series this semester, MSU will be hosting the Moscow Festival Ballet for a one-night-only performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, Swan Lake. The performance will take place on Tuesday, 14 March 2017 in the Cobb Great Hall at the Wharton Center, beginning at 7:30 PM (arrive by 7:00 PM). Student tickets are only $18 with your MSU ID or APID, and can be purchased either through the Wharton Center’s website or on-site at the box office.


This is a wonderful opportunity to see a professional classical ballet company in action, performing one of the most well-known and well-loved works in the Russian ballet repertoire. Swan Lake is known not only for its beautiful music and captivating story, but also for its incredible technical requirements – the prima ballerina portrays both Odette, the beautiful princess turned into the White Swan, and Odile, the evil witch who captivates the prince as the Black Swan. As such, she must be able to perform at the highest caliber in the ballet world, including performing 32 fouetté turns (a very fast spin on one foot en pointe) in a row at point one in the story! This is one of the aspects that makes Swan Lake such a challenging work to perform, and also a stunning piece to witness.

(And yes, I was once one of those swans in the background – they are known as the corps de cygnets, the group of little swans. I know from experience just how grueling this work can be!)

Enjoy the show!

On TV – tonight! NYC Ballet in Paris

Great news, Spartan dancers! Tonight on WKAR (the MSU-based PBS television station), Great Performances will feature two full hours of professional ballet! Beginning at 9:00 PM EST, Great Performances will show highlights from the New York City Ballet’s recent tour in Paris, featuring pieces choreographed by the late, great George Balachine set to the music of French composers. This is a wonderful opportunity to see professional ballet in action – tune in!


Above: dancers from the New York City Ballet perform George Balachine’s choreography to Maurice Ravel’s La Valse at the historic Théâtre du Châteletin in Paris. Photo credit: WNET/PBS Thirteen, Michael Lidvac. 

For more information about tonight’s two-part NYC ballet special, including an interview with balletmaster Peter Martins, check out this website:

The schedule and internet highlights can also be found at the local WKAR website,



Coming to MSU: Jessica Lang Dance

Attention Spartan dancers!

There are a lot of great opportunities to see professional dance companies this semester, starting with the Jessica Lang Dance company, which will be performing at the Wharton Center on Tuesday, 28 February 2017 at 7:30 PM. This New York City-based contemporary dance company uses dance to create “visual compositions.”


Student tickets are only $18, and there will be an Insight Preview before the performance. Please take this opportunity to see an amazing contemporary dance company right here on campus! You can get tickets on the Wharton Center website, or by stopping by the box office at the Wharton Center itself.

Check it out!

Technique Spotlight: Momentum

Now that we have covered alignments in a standing position, and know our direction, it’s time to discuss momentum. After all, dance is movement – and we need to know in which way we are going!

Momentum on the stage is indicated through stage directions, which are given not based on where the dancer is standing, but on what the audience sees. As such, stage left is actually to the right, and stage right – it’s the left! This can be very confusing, but once memorized, makes for simple instruction to dancers (or actors, or anyone performing on a standard proscenium stage).


Ballet uses up the whole of the stage – this is one of the reasons that ballets are usually performed in the biggest and deepest theatres possible, such as the main theatre of the Wharton Center. In class, we use the whole of the studio floor – our stage – to perform en centre. Commonly, centre exercises are performed moving from one corner of the floor to the other, in a diagonal direction. In theatre parlance, you would begin the exercise upstage right, and dance through to downstage left (or vice versa). Many classical ballets also use circular choreography (especially in pieces that emphasize turns), which make full use of the floor. When dancing on a stage, it is also very common to use the wings – the sides of the stage hidden by curtains, and make a number of entrances and exits throughout a single piece of choreography. Of course, our studio spaces at MSU do not have wings, so we instead use the space along the wall to give our centre exercises a similar feel.

I understand that all of these terms and movements can be extremely confusing, especially to those who are new to ballet. I will always demonstrate momentum for a piece when giving instructions for any particular exercise, so if you can’t remember the terminology, just follow along with the demonstration – and feel free to ask me lots of questions!

Technique Spotlight: Direction

In the blog post on 20 January 2017, I introduced the first movement concept in ballet: body alignment. Now that we understand alignment, it’s time to think about direction. One of the main questions to consider is: is my body position open or closed?

To assess whether a position is open or closed, the best indicator is to look at a dancer’s legs. If the legs are outstretched from each other (such as a battement tendu from P1 to P2), then the direction is ouvert – open. If the legs cross over one another (a battement tendu from P5 that crosses the body), then that position is croisé, and would be considered “closed.”


Direction is the first step into making a movement. It is the facing of the body at rest, just before taking a step. As such, it is extremely important to understand direction, since it affects the movement of the body as the dancing begins.

In addition to the eight body alignments, positions may be performed either moving forward (devant) or backwards (derriere), which indicates the direction in which the working leg is moving. For lateral positions (such as a tendu from P1) wherein the leg is extended directly from the hip without crossing or opening diagonally from the body, this is often termed as a position à la seconde (quite literally, “as in second position”). Additionally, positions performed en face (directly facing the audience) are sometimes also described as à la quatrième, or “on the fourths,” as indicated in the image above.

There is a lot of French vocabulary applied to direction – more than is needed, in my opinion. For simplification in class, I will usually just indicate forward or back – à la devant or derriere – to the students.

With our alignment set and our direction understood, we can move! Next stop: momentum!

Class Questions: January & February 2017

Hello Spartan dancers! I wanted to follow up on some questions that I’ve received since the semester started…

Q: What music have we been listening to in class?

I work with a lot of CDs for class music, but the two most common ones are Reimagined for Ballet: Classical Edition by Andrew Holdsworth and Ballet Class Music, Volume 3: Advanced by Elena Baliakhova. Both are available for purchase online.

Q: Are there any big differences between full-soled ballet slippers, and split-soled ones?

Not in my experience. Most canvas ballet slippers made for adults are split-soled (wherein leather pads are placed just under the toes and the heel of the foot). All-leather slippers tend to be full-soled.


I use both regularly and have never really noticed a difference in performance or comfort, though all-leather slippers do tend to last longer than the canvas variety.

Q: Are satin ballet slippers OK to wear?

So long as they are actually ballet slippers (with the leather sole) and not a fashionable shoe meant to look like ballet slippers. Satin ballet slippers meant for dancing will have a soft leather sole (no heels or rigid shanks). They usually have ribbons, and sometimes will have both elastics and ribbons (though you may have to sew these on yourself).


These types of shoes are more common outside of the United States, though I have occasionally seen them in stores and catalogues in the U.S. as well.

Q: What about pointe shoes?

It takes years of continuous practice and exercise to become strong enough for pointe work. Though I have known adults who have progressed in their training to start on pointe, it’s very, very rare. So unless you are planning to spend more than 20 hours a week in dance classes and training along with additional exercise to strengthen the ankles and feet, I’m afraid that pointe is likely a no-go.

Q: What resources do you recommend for ballet practice at home?

You can do barre exercises at home using a sturdy chair to help support you (for many years, I used a heavy kitchen chair as my “barre”). There are a number of barre videos out there, from the New York City Ballet’s barre workouts to livestreams posted by various ballet companies and schools. One of my go-to YouTube channels is hosted by popular ballet vlogger and NYC Ballet soloist Kathryn Morgan, who has a ton of videos ranging from stretching tips and barre workouts to make-up and hair advice. Her videos are informative and a lot of fun, so check that out. J

If you are working out at home, just make sure to follow the same rules that we observe in the studio:

  • stretch fully and completely before beginning barre
  • work from slow to quick tempos to make sure that your muscles are well-warmed before extending your technical practice
  • allow yourself a cool-down period after practicing
  • listen to your body! Make sure to stay well-hydrated and not to over-exert yourself to avoid potential injury

Q: Are there other types of exercise that can help me get better at ballet?

Cross-training is a great way to stay fit between classes and improve coordination and strength outside of ballet. Yoga, Pilates, swimming and jogging/running are all great ways to stay in shape when it’s time to return to the barre. In addition to my own ballet practice, I take water fitness and yoga classes to keep in shape. MSU offers a host of different classes and forms as part of the Group Exercise program, so definitely check out their calendar for more fitness options!

Please keep the questions coming – I will do my best to answer all of them! Until next Friday’s class, have a great weekend!