Pomarenko coaches Boston Ballet's Ji Young Chae on her port de bras. Brooke Trisolini, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Master Tips for Perfecting Your Port de Bras

"Port de bras creates colors," says Larissa Ponomarenko, ballet mistress at Boston Ballet. "It gives vitality and vibrancy to dancing." Here, she shares how she coaches her dancers towards strength, coordination and artistry in the use of their arms.


First, Fix Your Posture

Many bad habits Larissa Ponomarenko sees in port de bras—like drooping elbows and flapping wrists—originate in the lack of a muscular connection between the arms and back. This often has a postural cause: "A concave chest, shoulder blades squeezed in close to the spine, or arching the back too much," she says. "Feel the sternum going forward and opening up but the ribs closing, and the scapulae pulling sideways and flat for a strong, wide ballerina back."

  • To help find that alignment and muscular connection to your back, Ponomarenko suggests trying a handstand against a wall (have a friend help). "Being stretched through the torso and the neck, almost like a violin string, helps to align the body from the tip of the head to the tailbone." Feel energy pushing down into the floor and push yourself away. "You will feel the sides of the back working automatically."
  • The dorsal muscles will also engage with a little gentle resistance. Stand facing a wall with your arms in first position. Invert your hands so they face out, and gently push against the wall until your feel your back muscles fire.
  • Ponomarenko learned this breathing technique at the Vaganova Ballet Academy: Keeping your rib cage closed and the sides of your back engaged, try to breathe into your upper chest, lengthening your spine with every inhale. "Move air up, without opening the ribs like an accordion. It is helpful to have the connection right away between the lungs, back, sternum and clavicles."

Move From Your Middle

Imagine your arms begin low in the back. "Often the port de bras moves because the back moves, and the back moves from the waist, with the internal and external obliques and the dorsals." The movement, initiating in the back, continues through the shoulder, upper arm and forearm, ending with a lightly breathing wrist.

Rehearse

To build up strength and fluidity, Ponomarenko advises practicing lots of isolated ports de bras, thinking continuously of lifting and opening your back. "Go through varieties of port de bras for at least 5 to 10 minutes every day."

Headshot of Pomarenko in a black top and green earrings. She tilts her head to the side.

Larissa Pomarenko

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Put It Together

"Coordination is important because the arms help so much in technical aspects of dancing," says Ponomarenko. The building blocks of coordination, she continues, begin at the barre. For example, if the arm is moving from second position to first, it must always anticipate by turning in to allongé with the movement right before. "The arms and head should be used at barre every day, a lot. Coordination is engraved throughout the barre."

Use Your Hands

"Hands and wrists can be the most expressive," says Ponomarenko. "By the way a hand is held we should know if the character is a noble or a peasant; if they are giving or begging, pointing, commanding, or praising; if they are tense or relaxed, affectionate or sensual; even if they are human or ethereal beings."

Give It Meaning

"A perfectly rehearsed passage of the arms should have reason behind every movement," Ponomarenko says. "Coordination of the hands and chin rising and lowering, use of the épaulement, angles of the head, tilts of the shoulders, extensive use of the back—all that should be organic and skillful, like eloquent speech."

Tip 

In jumps, imagine a tightrope walker's pole extending between your two elbows. "With that sturdy and helpful line, you can navigate balance, direction and elevation. And then from the elbow down, the arm reflects the movement like a silk scarf."

Latest Posts


Macau Photo Agency via Unsplash

Ask Amy: How to Find the Right Pointe Shoes if One Foot is More Flexible Than the Other

I'm 14, and I feel totally stable and on my box on my right foot on pointe. But my left foot? Not so much. How can I fix the problem of being on one box and not all the way on the other? —Summer

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

How Coming Back to Ballet After Years Away Has Saved Me During the Pandemic Shutdown

I was 4 years old when I took my first ballet lesson. My mom had dressed me in a pink leotard with matching tights, skirt and slippers. She drove me on a Saturday morning to a ballet academy in downtown Caguas, the town in Puerto Rico where I grew up. I don't remember much from the first lesson, but I do recall the reverence. My teacher Mónica asked the class if someone wanted to volunteer to lead. She was surprised I—the new girl—was the one to raise my hand.

I made up most of the steps, mimicking the ballerinas I had seen on TV and videos. At one point, Mónica stepped in and asked me to lead the class in a bow. I followed her directions and curtseyed in front of the mirror with one leg behind me and a gentle nod. I looked up to find myself in awe of what I had just done.

This was the same feeling I had when, after years away from dance, I finished my first YouTube ballet class at home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
La'Toya Princess Jackson, Courtesy MoBBallet

Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.

The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks