What is the most common correction that you get in ballet class? Chances are, it has something to do with your arms. Rather than just telling you “shoulders down” or “elbows up,” today I am going to show you the single most important exercise that you should be doing outside of the classroom. If you never want to hear your ballet teacher scream at you in front of the class about your arms ever again, please read on!
Addressing the real problem – Like I talk about in my other blog posts, strength is the limiting factor (in our extensions and our pirouettes). Sure, we can stand around in ballet class all day long with our arms out in second position but this tends to lead to two things; 1.) Tired, droopy elbows which leads to 2.) Incorrect muscle memory. Over time, after repeatedly holding the arms incorrectly day after day and hour after hour, our bodies (and our minds) get trained to do the wrong thing – to hold the wrong position. The best way to address this situation is outside of the studio.
Dancers often lack upper body strength. We spend so much of our time focusing on what the legs and feet are doing that we neglect the upper body. (Core is another neglected component but we’ll get into that at another time.) The dancers that I work with at my studio and online work diligently to balance their upper body strength with the rest of their ballet skills. Some workouts are even entirely for the upper body. Why, you might ask? Because our upper body is responsible for a lot that goes on in our dancing. A turn cannot successfully be completed with droopy elbows, for example, and your jumps clearly will not get far off the ground if you are tensing your shoulders and neck midair.
So what exercises should you be doing? I am going to show you one of the single most important upper body exercises that dancers should be doing outside of the ballet classroom.
The Pec Fly – The Pec Fly (often referred to as the dumbbell fly) is an exercise that emulates a ballet port de bras that goes from first to second position.
The pec fly targets the pectoralis major and minor muscles, the serratus muscles in the rib cage, in addition to the deltoids to help stabilize the movement. What does this mean in dancer terms? It means that it directly targets the muscles that you use to keep those elbows lifted and shoulders down when holding your arms in first position. This means great things for your dancing like stronger turning positions, free moving jumps, and effortless port de bras.
Directions: Start lying on the floor, knees bent, feet on the floor as pictured, holding 2 weights (3-5 lbs to start) in a rounded ballet second position. Keeping the arms rounded, slowly bring the arms in to a first position, touching the weights together. Repeat this for 15 repetitions, rest and do this again for a total of three sets. As always, make sure you warm-up prior to beginning any ballet or fitness routine.
Below is a video of the pec fly exercise as well:
Upper body is something that I have incorporated into all of my Ballet Strength online programs and DVD’s as it is a vital component to your progress as a dancer. I go over multiple exercises that will improve your port de bras, just like the pec fly exercise above. Give this a try and I can’t wait to hear how this exercise helps you improve as a dancer!
Today’s video is to help you improve your penché for ballet. The penché is one of the exercises in ballet class that dancers struggle with – it requires balance, proper alignment, flexibility, and a strong standing leg. In fact, directors often give penché in auditions to see who can handle it and who topples over.
So what can you do to improve your penché? This video demonstrates a Ballet Strength exercise that addresses all of the key factors that go into executing the perfect penché such as balance, flexibility, strength, and alignment. Give it a try!
What are your New Year’s ballet resolutions? Are you looking to improve your flexibility? Do you want to work on your turns and balance? How about your jumps?
I have launched multiple videos on You Tube for my followers and fans and I wanted to put them all in one place for you to watch. These videos will help improve many areas of your dancing such as core strength, port de bras, ankle strength, and inner thigh activation! Watch them, and as always, please comment below to let me know what you think!
Question: Hi Nikol! Love your facebook page and hoping to purchase your ebooks soon. I had a question regarding some acting difficulties in Nutcracker. I am Clara and my directors really want a strong “connection” between her and the nephew/nutcracker prince. There are times where I have to really look at him with “affection” and mean it! Its hard! Do you have any advice for connecting with your partner? Thanks! ~ Colleen
Partnering isn't one sided. It takes two!
Answer: Hello Colleen. First off, I would like to say congratulations to you on landing the part of Clara in The Nutcracker. As a young dancer, performing the role of Clara was one of those times that I remember the most vividly and had the most fun dancing on stage. Now we all know the story of The Nutcracker, but I want you to find the book (if you don’t already have it) and really read the story. While you are reading the story, I want you to take careful note of the emotions that Clara is feeling. She is delighted by the gift that Drosselmeyer gives her, overwhelmed at this magical land that she didn’t know existed, enchanted by the prince who so bravely battled the Mouse King, etc. Write down a list of these different emotions. Now, think of the different instances in the ballet where you have to convey these emotions through choreography.
If you can immerse yourself completely in the role of Clara and focus on the story you are trying to convey, you shouldn’t have any awkward moments with the Prince. What I used to do is imagine the Prince to be a boy that I had a crush on. I know it sounds silly, but it works. So whether it’s Justin Bieber or Taylor Lautner, pretend like the “Prince” standing in front of you is him and feel what an honor it is to be led through the Kingdom of the Sweets by such a “superstar.” (Just don’t tell the prince that you are doing this! lol)
The other thing that can make you feel more comfortable around your partner is getting to know him a little better. If you two can become friends and have an awesome open communication that will also transfer well on stage.
Most of all, don’t be shy. Just as you should feel honored to be dancing with the Nutcracker Prince, you should feel even more honored to have been chosen to dance the role of Clara! Cherish the next two months in your “reign” as Clara and most importantly, have fun! Oh, and don’t forget to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let me know how it goes!
Now that you have identified the type of performance nervousness you are feeling from Part 1 of my Performance Nervousness series, it is time to come up with a solution. In the book I wrote, The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide, (www.balletaudition.com) I outline the types of techniques that can be used to get rid of Audition nerves. The same concepts can be applied to backstage nerves.
Here are some of the long-term things you can do prior to the show to ensure that you are feeling confident going into theatre week.
Set Goals- Write out your goals ahead of time, starting with your first rehearsal. If you set realistic performance goals and work on them throughout the weeks of rehearsals leading up to the show, you will feel more confident.
Mental Preparation- Mentally prepare yourself through imagery. This is something that I have gone into extensively in The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide. If you can visualize yourself performing a role perfectly, you can take that same feeling into the real performing situation.
Here are some of the short-term things that you can do to help with pre-performance butterflies.
Avoid Caffeine & Sugar- I remember sugaring up before shows when I was in school and it always turned out disastrous. Either you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin while you’re onstage or your sugar high crashes right before the show and you are left feeling tired and lethargic.
Eat and Hydrate- No one performs at his or her best on an empty stomach. To ensure that you won’t energy bonk before the show, eat at least 1 hour prior to call. Sip on an electrolyte enhanced beverage throughout the day.
Listen to Music- Listening to your favorite tunes on your iPod before the show can have a huge calming effect on your nerves. Most Professional Dancers practice this technique pre-performance.
Warm-up- Warming-up before the show will give your body the peace of mind it needs to successfully execute choreographic demands.
Focus in the Wings- Think positive before you are about to make your stage entrance.
Breathe- Don’t forget to breathe and relax before going onstage. If you’re holding your breath, all of the movements that you have been working so hard on in rehearsal will feel lot harder and more taxing on the body.
Try some of these techniques before your Nutcracker performances this month! If you are looking for more techniques to try pre-performance, check out the eBook I wrote at www.balletaudition.com. The techniques outlined in that book aren’t just for auditioners!
As a Professional Ballet Dancer, I know that preparing for a dance audition can be a stressful task. I remember going to auditions nervous and uncertain as a young girl. I remember sizing up the competition based on silly things like what they looked like or what leotard they were wearing.
What I didn’t know was that focusing on what other people looked like and comparing myself to them wasn’t helping. It was actually setting me up for failure.
I’m sure you have done this before…compare yourself to someone else.
Through simple goal setting and confidence boosting exercises, you can rise above the competition and focus on what truly matters. Yourself.
When I was a young girl, there were no resources for Dancers who needed advice about auditioning. This is why I have put together a wonderful manual called The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide to help you through a smooth audition process.
Whether you are trying out for a Summer Dance program, a new school, or a Professional Company, these tips will help you feel confident in the audition! All types of dancers can benefit from audition preparation from Ballet all the way to Jazz, Modern and Theatre.
You can trust these tips and secrets because they have been working for successful dancers for years!
So go to balletaudition.com and download your copy of The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide to start getting noticed in auditions!