Doing Less and Being ‘Enough’

Starting the year with a good attitude! * Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

Happy New Year! It’s been awhile since I’ve posted so I’ve been agonizing about what to write about – trying to determine what would be good enough to start the New Year out on the right foot. (heh)

It occurred to me that one of the hardest issues we face as dancers (and other performers) is just that — not feeling good enough. We try so hard because we have internalized the message that we need to do more, be more, try harder, and in ballet — turn out more, lift our legs higher, pull up more, turn more, spot more, and on and on and on. Ballet — and life — are demanding things, and we are so hard on ourselves. For the rest of this month I challenge you to just take stock of where you are and see where you can do less.

Turn Out Less

As good ballet students, when the teacher says tendu to the side, you dutifully follow directions and slide your foot out directly to the side of your body. The problem with this is, without 180 degree turn out (which very few people have!) you won’t actually be turned out when you tendu that far to the side, and you won’t be able to engage the right muscles to actually turn out. What the teacher really means when she says “tendu side” is tendu to YOUR side not THE side, which is a crucial distinction.

Look down at the V shape of your first position. (However much your legs turn out at your hips is Your first position, and wherever that is ia perfect! Remember, turnout comes from way up in your hips, not from wrenching your feet and ruining your knees!)

When you slide your foot out exactly along the V of your personal first position, wherever that may be, the resulting position will be in front of true side. That is exactly correct. Now you can work to get your working leg heel forward while stabilizing your standing hip. I still want you to turn out to the best of your ability, but not more, which is absolutely good enough.

Lower Your Leg

Now that you are doing your tendus front of side, I want you to do your grand battements front of side as well. Don’t worry, as you begin to use the beautiful turn out you already possess, your turn out will increase, but you must be patient with yourself. For now, lower your leg and focus on keeping your hips steady. For the next two weeks, brush your leg only as high as you can and still keep your hips level and your bottom leg straight. This will give your body a chance to really feel the release in your hips from your turn out. Once your turnout muscles start working correctly, then you can add height. A low, beautifully turned out leg is perfectly good enough.

Less Effort

I know you want to pull up, engage, be stronger, but you also can’t move if you are so tense your body is stock stiff. Dancers need to be strong in our core, but supple and pliable and relaxed too. While I am dancing I often remind myself to relax my shoulders, release my jaw. Try this: pull in your lower abs. Lengthen the sides of your waist. Lengthen the back of your waist to release your tailbone towards the floor and relax your ribcage to make more space in your back. Widen your shoulders to the sides of the room, opening your chest. Lengthen your neck, dropping your shoulders down, Lift your head to the ceiling, pulling your spine up as long as you can. Are lifting and reaching? Good. Now keep the position you are in and let go of the effort. Release and soften everything. You still have everything you need. You just don’t have that tension. Sometimes less is more and it is perfectly good enough.

~ Sarah

Want to take a beginner ballet class? You are in luck! It’s starting soon and filling fast! I’m teaching a brand new beginner ballet series the four Sundays in February 10:30am to 12pm. The four week class is only $60. Want more information? Send me an email at scdoudna@gmail.com.

6 comments

  1. I would be first in line to take your class, if I were in New York! Even though I am not a dancer, I learn so much about life from what you teach me about dancing. There are more parallels that I had ever imagined. My friendship with you is a true gift, Sarah!!! Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, there’s a bit of a conflict in how ballet makes me feel. I absolutely love the way dancing in class keeps me entirely in the moment, just me, the music and my body. It’s always a boost to my mental health. At the same time, you’re right about the constant push for improval, and there have been times in the past where I was trying so hard to get something right that it would just frustrate me, and I think this has been part of the reasons for my lack of confidence in performance. Having been to dance classes for 18 years, my goals have changed over time, and now I just want to keep dancing, for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can totally relate to this. I love how you put it — the conflicts in how ballet makes you feel. For me too, I love that feeling of being in the moment—it’s glorious when I’m getting things right, sailing through the air, huge smile on my face. But it can be brutal when it isn’t going well. I see my students going though this same thing. That’s partly why I started this blog, to talk about the psychology behind ballet class —the love of it and yet the fears, and failures, that inevitably happen to everyone. I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking ballet with no ultimate goal of performing. I think ballet is extremely personal. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It’s heartening to know people are reading my words!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of your blog, and you’re so right that these discussions need to be had, particularly for an artform which has not always been inclusive or made people feel welcome. If I may suggest a future topic, I’d love to read more about racial diversity in ballet and what can be done to support POC dancers at all levels.

        Liked by 1 person

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