Torija coaches BalletMet Dance Academy summer intensive student Polina Myers. Photos by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.
It's the complex transfer of weight that makes piqué turns en dehors—commonly called "step-overs"—so tricky. Maria Torija, director of the BalletMet Dance Academy, shares her ideas on how to successfully navigate these inevitable variation-ending turns.
What's in a name: " 'Step-over' is the American way," Maria Torija explains. But the turn has many names. "Vaganova calls it 'tour dégagé.' 'Lame-duck'—that's the English! Maybe we should go to the French. The Paris Opéra calls it 'tour piqué en dehors.' "
Walk the line: Whether you tombé front or side, Torija stresses the importance of precision in consecutive piqués en dehors. "Hold the passé until you finish the turn, and then tombé right in the path you're going, like on a tightrope." The leg doesn't extend to the front or side. That's a different step. "Tombé means you fall into it. It's a very quick motion."
Anna Greenberg of ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.
All dancers have their go-to tension area: shoulders that creep up towards the ears, a hand that becomes a claw, or feet and ankles that grip. Yet "Just relax" can be the hardest correction to apply. We spoke with four teachers for their tips on releasing tension throughout the body—and how it's all connected.
A dancer's face is a frequent tension trouble spot, as eyebrows lift or furrow, jaws clench and tongues peek out. Hilary Cartwright, international guest teacher and creator of Yoga Narada, notices that, for many students, "all the tension goes into the face in their effort to achieve and please their teacher." Similarly, Seattle-based ballet instructor Stephanie Saland observes that dancers "demonstrate" their focus with their face instead of actually being attentive. "Does 'focus' mean bug your eyes and shove your chin forward to show interest, enthusiasm, volition?" she asks. "Or can you just be present and take the information in?"
Cartwright recommends taking a moment to "turn it around" and find your inner smile. "When you're feeling tense, think of something—a smiley face, your dog or cat—that brings back reality a little bit. Remember the good things in the rest of your life." If your inner smile turns into an outward one, even better. Smiling is a simple way to alleviate tension in your face and convey your joy of dancing.
Saland suggests visualizing a mask that's painted onto your face dripping off "almost in puddles down the front of your body." This relaxes facial tension and sends your focus inward. Remember that in class, sometimes, you can just make the effort without feeling that you have to project out.
Itzkan Barbosa in Dances Patrelle's The Yorkville Nutcracker. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy Dances Patrelle.
The waltz turn, says Ballet Academy East teacher and Dances Patrelle artistic director Francis Patrelle, must be distinguished from a dainty balancé en tournant. Here, he shares how he encourages his students to bring "American largesse" to this luscious, sweeping movement.
Keep moving: "In the waltz turn, every step you take is forward," says Francis Patrelle. "Brush or développé to croisé en avant, then two steps on relevé—wait, don't turn yet!" In one beat, turn and brush or développé back, and then step forward again through fourth position.
"Push the walls away": Many small errors, Patrelle notes, inhibit dancers' ability to travel. "The most common correction I give is that there is no rond de jambe in your waltz turn. Find the way to make it the freest and smoothest, make it bigger, flow through it!"
How was training at the Cuban National Ballet School different from what you see in the U.S.? It was free education, so it was very hard to get in, and there was a cut every year. We had academics alongside art, and we had to take a lot of different things: modern, character, ballroom, choreography composition, history of dance, music, French, makeup—everything you need for this profession.
Why did you defect? I always wanted to have an international career. But also, I was 19, and I had a boyfriend. We were dating in Cuba when he won the lottery visa to come to the United States. When I was on tour here with the National Ballet he came to see me and I thought, I'm in love! So I stayed with him.
Has the political opening of Cuba affected you? Before, if you defected, you had to wait five years to go back. That was pretty rough. Things have changed so much. It's about time; we're neighbors! Last year I was able to go back and perform at the Grand Theater in Havana—with my family, my teachers and my friends there.
Beloserkovsky and Dvorovenko perform a variation of the classic fish dive. Photo by Dave Friedman, Courtesy Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky.
Married couple and former American Ballet Theatre principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky share their advice for an essential partnering element: fish dives.
Handle with care: Holding the ballerina in the wrong place can cause her a lot of pain. "I learned that the hard way with Irina," Maxim Beloserkovsky laughs. "I suggest wrapping the right arm around her hips, feel the bones. As low as possible, because by lifting, the arm will slide up." Depending on choreography, the left arm can go either over or under the arabesque leg.
Don't splay: It's the partner's responsibility to stay as square as possible. "If I turn en face," Beloserkovsky explains, "she twists open; it's no longer arabesque, and it completely distorts the shape of the fish." Dvorovenko adds: "Then the ballerina is leaning on her side, and she can't hold the position."
Gargouillade was a trademark step for Margaret Tracey. Now, the Boston Ballet School director helps the next generation of dancers acquire this "magical little movement." Here's how.
Technical prerequisites: To prepare for gargouillade, Margaret Tracey recommends practicing petit battement battu on pointe ("particularly serré," she says) and fast double ronds de jambe en l'air, especially in the center with a relevé or a jump. In pas de chat, focus on getting off the ground quickly. Then, says Tracey, "there's hope that gargouillade will fall into place."
Rapid-fire feet: "It's helpful to have a big jump," Tracey admits. "But I've seen dancers without that who figured out the coordination and speed." Even though one leg begins, and the other follows slightly after (same deal for the landing), think about it happening together. "That's how the gargouillade looks suspended in the air."
What comes naturally to you? My emotion onstage. I don't have the ideal ballerina body, so I have to move to prove myself. My strength is that I can work hard and I don't think it's hard; I enjoy it.
You went to the School of American Ballet after your apprenticeship at San Francisco Ballet. Did that experience change you? Hugely. I had coordination and could do some tricks, but no basic technique. I came to the United States from Japan and hit the wall. What do you do? You have to fix it. SAB gave me confidence to be a dancer because I was able to fix myself.
Berdo with Charlotte Ballet apprentice Elisabeth Baehman. Photo Courtesy Charlotte Ballet.
Many dancers struggle with brisé, says Laszlo Berdo, associate director of the Charlotte Ballet Academy. "But once you've mastered it, it's not that difficult." Here's how he helps his students beat the brisé blues.
Hold your turnout: Laszlo Berdo says a common mistake is stepping forward on a turned-in leg in anticipation of the brisé. "You lose the support of that standing leg. Then you have no power to jump," he says. "That plié is your saving grace and control."
Create a line: Berdo notices that some dancers dégagé à la seconde instead of effacé. "It's really difficult to chase that leg into second when you're trying to move forward." He teaches brisé with an open shoulder blade. "The back arm's extension is a reference to the front leg's dégagé. Keep that energy stretching out."