It has been found from a dancers point of view that the positioning and carriage of the arms are most often found to be the most difficult things to apply in dance and choreography. With this in mind, as dancers we should pay special attention to our arms. It is a common mistake that the only aim of a dancer is to work on what she does with her legs. Dancers concentrate so heavily on pulling up, turning out from their hips and that beautiful leg extension that all ballet dancers so wish to have, that often the dancer forgets to study her arms.
Carlo Blasis was an Italian dancer, choreographer and teacher. He was well known for his very exhausting dance classes, sometimes lasting four hours long. He was the first who published an analysis on the ballet techniques in 1820, in a manual titled “Elementary, Theoretical, and Practical Treatise on the Art of the Dance”. He is most known for the pose “Attitude” that he picked up from the famous statue Mercury. Carlo Blasis’s methods were expanded by Enrico Cecchetti. Carlos Blasis’ theory on por de bras was “When the arms accompany each movement of the body with exactitude, they may be compared to the frame that sets off a picture. But if the frame is so constructed as not to suit the painting, however well executed the latter may be, its whole effect is unquestionably destroyed So it is with the dancer; for his steps, unless his arms be lithesome and in strict harmony with his legs, his dance can have no spirit or liveliness, and he presents the same insipid appearance as a paint our out its frame or in one not at all adapted to it.” I felt that I needed to print Carlo Blasis’s quote on port de bras since he has put it all together in a nutshell.
In raising the arms from one position to an other, the fifth position en avant (Cecchetti method) is the most important. It is sometimes termed the “door“, because just as a door is the entrance into a room, or from one room to another, so the fifth position an avant is generally the pose through which the arms have to pass when raised from one position to another.
When you are concentrating on your port de bras, keep in mind that the arms should move from the shoulder and not from the elbow and the movement should be smooth and flowing. The arms should be softly rounded so that the points of the elbows are hardly noticeable and the hands should be simple, graceful and in a continuous line from the arm and never showy.
Some tips for improving port de bras
- Always maintain proper placement throughout the entire body
- Make sure your shoulders are naturally placed in their sockets; and your shoulder blades spread, not pinched together
- Never start the movement of your arm from your wrist
- Avoid tension in the shoulders
- Your arms shouldn’t be exaggerated or weak or they will reduce what’s happening in the rest of your body
- When doing pointe work, don’t tighten up and change your approach to the port de bras. Remember basics from demi pointe work.
- Lengthen and free the hands as an extension of the whole arm
- Practice combinations, especially petit and grand allegro, using only the arms
You should always strive to make your arms nicely curved that the point of the elbows are hardly noticeable. Beauty of line is one to the dancer’s greatest assets. Correct and flowing port de bras is essential!