Where am I standing? How should I stand? And in which way am I going?
Alignment in dance is crucial, but it can be extremely confusing. I’ve been struggling with how best to introduce this material in our very short class periods, especially as the French terms used for alignment positions all sound somewhat alike (écarté, éffacé, épaulé…) and the actual difference between the positions can be difficult to grasp when one is first starting out.
As such, I’ve decided it best to break the topic up into three different elements: alignment, which indicates how and where you stand; direction, which indicates the incline of the body in a particular stance, and momentum, which indicates where you place your feet, extend your legs, and move. We’ll start in this post with alignment.
Ballet is a 3-D art. It uses the full space of the stage, and balletic movements are performed in a specific alignment of the body. Most of what we have done in class has been performed facing directly forward towards the mirror (en face). However, that is just one of the alignments that is available to the dancer. Many ballet schools use a series of specific terms to describe the alignment of the body during performance (though the terms differ dependent on the school or technique being taught). Most have eight distinct alignments of the body, practiced in a box or square manner with each point being numbered. The alignments that we will utilize most often in class are as follows:
- Croisé means “crossed” in French, and can describe both crossed position of the feet (such as P3 and P5) as well as the alignment in which the leg is extended across the body.
- En face means that the dancer is facing completely forward.
- Écarté is an opening of the body, with the leg extended outward instead of across.
- Effacé means “shaded,” and indicates that one arm is shading the body while the legs are opened. It’s sometimes described at the opposite of croisé.
- Épaulé is “shouldered” (such as an epaulette on a military jacket, which covers the shoulders). Épaulement, in which the dancer looks towards or over one shoulder, is a common expressive technique which helps to heighten the emotional quality of the dance. In épaulé positions, the arm extends forward while the dancer faces over one shoulder. I will ask advanced students already familiar with épaulement to use it at the barre or en centre when working the corresponding form, but it will not be necessary for those in Basics or those beginning Intermediate with no previous training.
Many ballet academies will use a square or box marked on the studio floor to help students learn the different alignments, as is shown in this video from the Royal Ballet in the UK. I have seen some classes that use a large square of foam or linoleum in order to show students the different corners to reach with their feet.
Imagining a box on the floor can help the dancer to both correctly align the torso as well as maintain the proper direction for the leg and foot when performing movements such as the tendu.
For those looking for more detailed information, I highly recommend this great blog post from The Ballet Bag.
Next time, we’ll talk about direction!