The French definition might translate to "shouldering," but épaulement is actually much more than that. "It's not just a superficial turn of the shoulders—it creates energy from the inside out," says Marisa Albee, faculty member at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. It's also what can elevate technically proficient dancing to something nuanced, dynamic and truly exciting. "Think of épaulement as the punctuation at the end of a sentence," says Brooke Moore, a faculty member for BalletMet's trainee program. "The head and the eyes are the exclamation point!"


"I think of épaulement as everything from the rib cage up," says Moore. "It's the whole upper body as a package—ribs, shoulders, neck, head, arms, hands, even the eyes."

Joseph Giacobbe, director of the Giacobbe Academy in New Orleans, likens épaulement to the famous ancient Greek Venus de Milo statue. "It has a curve to it," he says. Were you to remove the angling of the statue's torso and shoulders, its flattened front would be much less interesting. "Épaulement gives a third dimension to the dance—everything looks flat without it," says Giacobbe. "It shades what you're doing and gives it a coloration."

Brooke Moore demonstrates a position at the front of the classroom, exaggerating the \u00e9paulement.

Brooke Moore.

Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy Ballet Met

Upgrade your épaulement by avoiding these mistakes:

Don't overturn your body to the corner, especially when changing from one side to the other in a step like changement, says Albee. "When a student overturns, they look like an old-fashioned washing machine, throwing themselves from side to side," she says, "because there's no opposition of energy."

Don't let épaulement end at the neck. "One needs to have energy running throughout the entire torso—a lengthened waist and lifted chest," Albee says.

Albee in the front of the classroom, demonstrating tendue side. Her students are at the barre.

Marisa Albee.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Don't forget about petit allégro. That's when most dancers let it slip, says Albee, "making steps that have the potential to be exciting very bland."

Don't sacrifice épaulement for extension height. Moore has dancers stop, put their leg down and show her where the head and the arm should be. She tells them to memorize that position—"feel it, the muscle memory"—and then try the extension again.

Brooke Moore.

Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy Ballet Met

Don't let your collarbones be parallel with the floor, says Albee. Instead, strive for the collarbones to be diagonal. "This stems from having life in the waist, back and chest," she says.

Don't overturn your chin toward your downstage shoulders when in croisé, says Albee. It can cause the chin to tuck and pull back, creating what she calls a "harsh and static" look. Instead, with the body in croisé, first turn your head so that it's en face. From this position, then tilt the head, allowing the jaw to escape forward in space as the chest simultaneously lifts.

Ballet Stars

What do Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Kristina Shapran and Maria Khoreva all have in common? These women, among the most impressive talents to graduate from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recent years, all studied under legendary professor Lyudmila Kovaleva. Kovaleva, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), is beloved by her students and admired throughout the ballet world for her ability to pull individuality and artistry out of the dancers she trains. Like any great teacher, Kovaleva is remarkably generous with her wealth of knowledge; it seems perfect, then, that she appears as the Fairy of Generosity in this clip from a 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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Ali Cameron, Courtesy Queensland Ballet

An artistic director's position was far from Li Cunxin's mind when the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet came calling in 2012. Since his retirement from the stage in 1999, the Chinese-Australian dancer had embarked on a highly successful career at the helm of a stockbroking firm. His wife, former dancer and current Queensland ballet mistress Mary McKendry Li, changed his mind, Li remembers. "She said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to give something back to the art form that we both have benefited so much from?' "

Seven years later, Li's contribution has been dramatic. Queensland Ballet, once a struggling choreographer-led company, has become one of Australia's most exciting repertoire ensembles, with Liam Scarlett on board as artistic associate. The budget has more than quadrupled, to over $20 million USD, and Li has launched not one but three major construction projects, with world-class headquarters, a theater and a new academy all in progress.

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News
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

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