“The total picture of a dancer: legs, arms, head, hands, feet, expression, can be compared to a chord on the piano, with all of the correct notes striking at the same time.”
— Alan Hooper, former Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Dance
Ballet is a performing art. Just as one does not expect to walk into a pottery class and throw a perfect vase on the potter’s wheel the first time, so ballet takes several years of careful attention to every nuance and detail to become what it truly is meant to be: a work of art. Each and every part of the body is carefully placed, down to the direction of the eyeball, for a specific purpose. Capture all of those elements together, and you have a masterpiece, or as Alan Hooper used to call it, a harmonious chord on the piano.
So, what are specific elements we should be teaching our students to learn and capture in their muscle memory? Hooper gave a talk at a teachers workshop in 1986 that lays out 12 of them. Print out the worksheet for yourself if you’d like to use it to grade your students. It’s not all about fouetté turns and seeing how many pirouette rotations they can pull off; we are teachers of a very special movement art. These 12 elements will begin to instill in your students the key principles of artistry and poise.
Posture Checklist for Ballet Students
As presented by Alan Hooper at a teachers workshop in 1986:
- Stand evenly on the triangle of the foot, with weight evenly distributed between the two feet.
- Insteps must be lifted, and foot correctly aligned with the leg.
- Thigh muscles should be pulled up, especially across the hip joints in front, and above the knee.
- Thighs are turned by the use of the outward rotators; hamstring muscles are held firmly.
- Tailbone is pressed gently down; pelvic bone held level and square.
- Stomach (abdominal muscles) is gently lifted.
- Keep an open feeling between ribs and full pelvis.
- Shoulders are relaxed and sitting on top of the rib cage; shoulder blades are flat against the ribs in back.
- Arms are relaxed, but held in a position, not loose and floppy.
- Neck is relaxed; head is balanced over the neck and spine.
- Spine and head stretch gently upward.
- Eyes look ahead, with expression! They must have life!
Spend some time in your classes every so often just to talk about how your shoulders move, where to direct your eyes, how the arms are held, the softness of the fingers, etc. After a while, it will become a part of them and that is when the true artist emerges!
- Use of Feet and Turnout in Ballet
- Guidelines for Starting a Student on Pointe
- The Power of Teaching Progressions
- Quality in Performing