No build up necessary. We all know how vital it is that our students grasp the concepts of croisé, écarté, effacé, and en face. The aesthetic of ballet is based in large part on these positions. Regardless of the labels any particular teacher applies to these positions, the fundamentals remain the same.
My Process for Teaching the Body Positions
Here I have outlined the general method and some tips I use to teach my students this important element of ballet:
- Ensure en face is well established. If they are unable to move side to side and extend the leg devant and derriere without the body swinging away from the front then they are not ready to take on any other positions. Remain en face until it is memorized.
- Move the en face. Make the back of the room en face. Or the right side. Or any part of the room. Have them do a simple exercise remaining en face. This helps them understand that their front can be anywhere.
- Introduce the “box”. Have them imagine they are in their own box. Discuss the 4 sides of the box along with the 4 corners of the box paying close attention to the front two corners.
- Dancing “cornered”. When they grasp the concept of the box, have them begin en face with feet together. They then adjust the feet to first position as they shift the body to the first corner. Pull everything back to en face. Repeat to the second corner. This simple exercise can be expanded to include port de bras, plié, tendu, temps lie, etc.
- Moving from one corner to another. Once they can move from en face to the cornered line they are ready to learn how to move from one cornered line to the other without stopping en face. Using a simple bourrée turn to make the transition is a great way to teach this.
- Carry the cornered line into the diagonal. Help them understand that when they dance forward or backward on the diagonal (ballet walks, runs, chassé, etc), they are dancing in the cornered line and therefore must keep their bodies facing the corner of their own box.
- Time for effacé. Have them stand cornered to the left and place their left foot in 3rd (or 5th) devant. Explain that this is called effacé. Further explain that if you are facing the left corner you must have the left leg in front for effacé. The right leg in front changes the position entirely. I choose to not introduce croisé just yet as I prefer to take it one thing at a time. Be sure to practice effacé on the right side as well.
- Applying effacé. Help them identify which steps are done in the effacé line. Perhaps when they finish a string of chainé turns in a first arabesque, or when they prepare for ballet walks in effacé devant. I don’t discuss the devant or derriere parts just yet. My goal is to help them fully understand only what effacé means.
- Time for croisé. Using the same method as effacé.
- Integrate devant and derriere. With effacé and croisé in place, they are ready to identify if a position is effacé devant or derriere and the same with croisé. If you have been using the terms throughout class then this concept should be fairly easy for them to understand.
- Add on a la quatrieme devant and derriere. This new term will take a while to remember as it is long and cumbersome to say, but the concept should be the easiest of all positions for them to grasp as they have been doing these positions for a while now and they are simplest to execute.
Écarté is the both the hardest position to execute and the hardest to comprehend. For this reason I save it for last. Three factors play the largest role in helping students succeed in conquering this position:
- A la seconde—They must understand in depth what the position a la seconde is. All the parts of this position must be in place.
- The box—The concept of the box and the corners of the box must be very clear in their head. This might mean taping out a box on the floor with an X through the middle. This way they can truly see the box.
- Devant and derriere—These concepts tend to throw the dancers off when being done in the écarté line because they instinctively apply these terms to their body as opposed to the general directions of front and back. It is important to help them know in écarté devant is referring to a front corner of the box and derriere is referring to a back corner of the box. Otherwise, the écarté line is thrown off by legs being pushed out of the a la seconde line.
*NOTE: Teach them, when they are moving sideways, down, or up the diagonal, that they are dancing in the écarté line. Ask them to identify if it is devant or derriere.
One Concept at a Time
There are a vast number of exercises, combinations, and games that can be used to teach these various stages of learning the body positions. I have found it best to allow ample time for the students to grasp one concept before moving on to the next. My method is to focus solely on one concept at a time. However, that is not to say the other stages cannot be used until all the previous ones have been mastered. If I wish to use other positions beyond the focused one, I simply will not introduce the terminology or technical aspects. I certainly will not expect the students to execute those positions with any degree of precision. The goal would be to merely expose them to the movement.
Overwhelming students with terms and technique typically is not a formula for success and these body positions have great potential to overwhelm. By breaking it down into bite sized pieces we create a much more palatable education for our students. The information will be more thoroughly absorbed and their dancing will become significantly cleaner and distinct. Plus, it takes pressure off us teachers and replaces it with peaceful focus. This can only be a good thing. For everyone!