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The First Suggestion I Give When Teaching Ballet Class (usually)

I love getting to guest teach! I am always very excited to share what I can and I always leave inspired by the wonderful dancing I was able to witness. Over the years I have noticed that I almost always give the same first suggestion:

"Imagine your hip bones as balloons and let them float upwards towards your ribcage."

This one suggestion accomplishes a lot.

  • allowing the hip bones (the front of the pelvis) to float upwards helps correct any posterior tilting that may be going on

  • encouraging this neutral pelvis alignment (and by "neutral" I mean how the body was designed to stand without excess muscular engagement) releases clenched muscles that limit turnout

  • the word "float" is low-stress so students adjust their alignment without increasing muscular tension

    • less tension = greater freedom in movement

    • less tension usually helps students find and engage deeper, more efficient postural control muscles

  • bringing attention to the front of their body helps students release overworking gluteal and lower back muscles

    • when the gluteal muscles release a little it allows the deeper external rotator muscles to engage (remember that the gluteals are primarily hip extensors, with rotation as a secondary action)

    • when the lower back muscles release tension it helps correct mild rib flaring in the front

  • this prompt is usually interpreted as a release of tension, which sets the tone for a more pleasant class learning experience

the cover of Human Movement Potential by Lulu Sweigard

This suggestion came from my research into Lulu Sweigard's 9 Lines of Movement. Her book Human Movement Potential has been around for 50 years and it baffles me that it hasn't been integrated into ballet teaching yet. When I started experimenting with her ideas on myself I was able to think about ballet technique on a much deeper level and offer corrections to my students that "clicked."

I'm old enough that I was trained in the "no pain, no gain" model, where every muscle must be gripping in order to approximate the ballet aesthetic and if you didn't hurt that meant you must not be really trying. And correct placement meant force your turnout from the knees just a little (so it would improve) + pinch the penny + close the ribcage in the front + shoulder blades flat across the back + shoulder blades also pulling towards each other + no visible movement during breathing + relaxed shoulders. Other than the turnout from the knees (that should always be a no), "Imagine your hip bones as balloons and let them float upwards towards your ribcage" would have gently nudged all of that towards the ultimate aesthetic goal. (And that shoulder blades thing? I have never made sense of that, which is probably what started me down the whole "how to be a better teacher" path in the first place.)

Give it a try over the next week. Whenever you see a postural correction you would normally give/poke into place, encourage your students to imagine their hip bones (hip points, if it drives you nuts that I'm calling a joint a bone) gently rising towards their rib cage. If balloons aren't your students' thing, try imagining tiny suspenders lifting the hip bones up.

And if you're into anatomy, I highly recommend Human Movement Potential. It's an amazing resource!


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