Archive | November 2012

Assessing Dancers – Body Types

Body types vary from dancer to dancer.

In a text book written by William Herbert Shelden, called The Atlas of Men, (1954) he designates three body types. He called this body classification; somatotype, and is defined as: The structure or build of a person

Shelden’s deffinitions of body types follow:

Ectomophic is characterized by long and thin muscles and limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim. Ectomorphs are not predisposed to store fat or build muscle.

Mesomorhpic  is characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular. Mesomorhs are predisposed to build muscle but not store fat.

Endomophic is characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat. Endomorphs are predisposed to storing fat.

Body tissue types are Sheldon’s foundation for his theory of classification. No one completely adheres to these three body types and I personally do not like categorizing people, but in a dance classroom, this little bit of knowledge may help, not only the dancer but the teacher, to see and realize what the difficulties may be in technique and allow correction. These categories can give a dance teacher useful insight to certain tendencies, or technique problems a dancer may have.

The Ectomorph dancer, with her long, narrow, lean and slender body has an almost delicate structure. This type dancer is usually very flexible and has great mobility. Beautiful arabesques, high grand battements and flexibility are typical with this body type. When she overstretches, though, there may be a loss of control, but she can perform quick movements well. Strength and muscular endurance activities are difficult for her but strength, endurance and relaxation exercises can improve her performance.

The Mesomorph dancer, has a solid square muscular arrangement, usually athletic in appearance. This type dancer usually excels in muscular strength and endurance activities. She can perform large energetic movements over a long period of time. Jumps and grande allegro are typically her strong points. Some of the major qualities of this type of dancers body are strength endurance and power. The degree of flexibility can present a constant struggle. The dancer needs to try extremely hard to maintain her flexibility through daily work out.

The Endomorphic dancer, has a rounded body shape with an excessive amount of fatty tissue. This dancer performs petit allegro combinations well because of the body type has the inclination to move quickly. This dancer possesses, strength, flexibility and endurance and can maintains this ability. Weight control is often a problem for an individual with this body type, so endurance exercises should be part of the daily workout routine.

From the 1930s to the 1960s the Mesomorph dancer was the most common body type in ballet. From the 1970s to today the Ectomorph dancer has been the popular choice of ballet choreographers.

Regardless of the dancer’s body type, ballet teachers must take into consideration the dancer’s other physical abilities. Each dancer has something special to give to an audience. Body types should not categorize your opinion of a dancer, you never know when she may surprise you. It happens quite often…….

Creating A Story Ballet

At the dance school where I am currently teaching, as in most area dance schools, there is a performance at the end of every year that includes all the styles of dance we teach at the school. The ballet classes are a bit separate from the other classes in the performance, where as, all the ballet classes from Novice level on up are part of a story ballet. This is one my favorite things about teaching there.

After I present my thoughts and ideas to the studio director, I am given full control over my creativity. I am able to select who I chose would be the most appropriate dancer for each character in the story. I am able to select my story and who the lead dancers will be. With this said, and my creativity usually working over time, the final performance of the story ballet each year, is about twenty minutes of stage time.

During my employment, the dancers and I created two story ballets. Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin. With the story line and musical scores from the Disney versions so as to make it easier for the audience to follow. The classes blend together without necessarily stopping for applause between each edited piece of music to allow for a smooth flow of the story. Editing the music is not my forte, that job goes and needs to be credited to my daughter, who is also a dancer in our story ballets. This year’s challenge is The Sleeping Beauty. We will also be presenting this year an additional ten minute story ballet called Oz.

Selecting the dancers for the lead characters is always a challenge. My hope each year is that I do not offend any of the dancers in my charge. The dancers are told from the beginning, that, the dancer needs to fit the character first and the choreography will fit the dancer. Another piece of criteria that aids in my selection of “who is who” in the ballet is the dancer’s technique and the dancer’s dedication to her art. Those are the dancers who I try to fit into the lead characters first. As at all dance schools, there are those who come because it is in their heart and soul to dance and there are those who come because dance is just something to do after school. This is where dedication plays its part.

I love working with dedicated dancers in their solo class times. It brings such a lift to my day working with a dancer who will keep going until she gets it right, using what has been pounded into her of correct dance technique. This is my prize, this is my trophy, to see a wonderful dance student trying her hardest to get it “perfect”!

The biggest challenge, for me, of putting together a story ballet versus just a 3 minute ballet piece, is costuming. Although we dance teachers receive countless costume catalogs each year, just the right costumes never seem to be in any of them! Well, at least what we can afford. When a choreographer puts together her story ballet she is thinking certain styles of costumes. Hours and hours are spent trying to find just the right ones. This chore begins in July and continues until mid October! With me, I am very fussy as to what my characters represent. They need to portray exactly what I am thinking or I don’t sleep at night! Sometimes, just that right costume is never found and needs to be made. Here is where I am just not that handy. Fortunately, the school director’s mom is. God bless her. She comes to the rescue every time!

The next challenge is scenery. Here is where I am worthless! I know what I want, but I don’t have the imagination to reproduce it. This is where my daughter jumps in, again. As a homeschooler, we used an art program called Meet The Masters. She learned, over the years, so many art techniques through this program that come in handy in the design of the props and scenery we need. She will be double busy this year with 2 story ballets planned for our 2013 revue! What she can’t due because of possible heavier construction needed, the school director’s dad comes to the rescue. Prop and scenery construction eventually takes over the back end, the storage end, of the dance school and we are soon very crowed back there. Especially this year with our Christmas show under way.

With all this said, a story ballet teaches the dancers what it can be like, on a small scale, to be in a ballet company. Talent, dedication and creativity is all it takes, from the choreographer, dancers, music editors, seamstresses and the prop and scenery designers and constructors. Even with a short twenty minute or ten minute story ballet, there are many hands involved, but those who are working at it are just so blessed when it is produced. To see the smiles on the stage and the smiles in the audience is the best part!

Christmas At A Country Dance School

Christmas is on the way. It is on the way everywhere! For us at L A Dance Academy it has been on its way since June. You see, many of the dancers and dedicated parents and all of the teachers, have been very busy, working hard, to produce a benefit Christmas show. A show to benefit the people of Edmeston and generally the surrounding area, to have just a little better Christmas. To possibly put some food or extra special help with comfort to those who may not be able to do so.

However, the best gift will be given right back to those who helped to put this show on. You see, this show was put together by with LOVE, dedication, and determination. Time given to the dancers from the teachers so they can learn the choreography necessary to get this show on the road. Time given from the dancers busy lives to learn the choreography. As you all know, kids these days are involved in everything! Time from the parents to shuffle their children back and forth to the studio for their rehearsals. Time from the parents who put in the effort to organize all those fundraisers to pay for costumes. Time is a very special gift to give.

But mostly, I believe, that this benefit Christmas performance, it teaching our dancers, that we have a special talent to give to someone. Dance should not only be thought of as a selfish talent.  A “Hey, look at me, I am gorgeous” or “ Hey, I am great, I won 1st place at a national dance competition”.  In other words, who cares? But when a dancer gives of the heart, and not for a “look at me attitude“, this is something special! Something to be proud of. This is what dance was meant to be. To give to others.

We at L A Dance Academy, call this special gift of dance, Dance To Make A Difference. This is the case. We put forth effort, hard work and talent to produce something of value. Something that just doesn’t only last a minute, but will be in someone’s heart forever . When we dance at Pathfinder Village each spring, using the same slogan Dance To Make A Difference, presenting some of our dance pieces of the previous Revue, there are smiles from our audience as they are drawn into our dance pieces and story ballet. And afterward is the best part….hugs. Hugs from our audience. The laughs and smiles that come from them is priceless. This is what dance is all about.

What I am trying to say is, teaching dance is not just the physicality of it. Not just the graded syllabus of ballet. Not just the costumes, lights and stage make up. It is giving your talent to others, to the dancers, to the parents, and to your audience.

Dance is an emotion, dance is heart felt …….and I feel blessed! Give your gift of dance…..

Correcting Knee Variances and Alignment

Dancers who are either knocked kneed or bowlegged usually exhibit some degree of hyperextension. With this said, these dancers normally do not have their weight properly set upon their “foot triangle”. That is, with the weight properly centered equally over the arches. Weight should be equally distributed in an imaginary triangle on the foot, from the heel to the ball of the foot under the big toe, to the end of the foot beneath the little toe, an imaginary triangle on the sole of your foot.

With these knees variances indicated, you as the dancer, will need to shift your weight from the heel, where it falls naturally, to the center of your foot triangle. Dancers who are bowlegged roll out on their feet and dancers who are knocked kneed roll in on their feet. Both these knee types should keep this in mind.

The dancer needs to keep in mind her total body alignment. The hips in relationship to the feet, the rib cage and it relationship to the hips and the legs. Most often the entire alignment needs to be adjusted all due to the variance of your knee. The dancer needs to remember that the hips need to be over the arch of the foot and avoid concentrating on the knees.

Another way to correct alignment due to a knee variance is to execute a demi plie. You should stand in a parallel 1st position. All the while keeping in mind that the weight is distributed correctly over the “foot triangle”. Keep the back long, so that the hips do not change position before the you execute the demi plie. After the demi plie, straighten the knees, is your weight still centered in the “foot triangle” ? From here, releve to demi pointe aligning the weight over the “foot triangle”. This exercise is then practiced in a turned out first position, still concentrating on your weight.

 The knees aren’t always the problem…..

Rolling in with the feet is not just frequent in dancers with knocked knees. This is a common error in beginning dancers as they learn to properly distribute their weight, especially when they are practicing their demi plie combinations at the barre. This error then follows them to the center floor, creating unbalance when practicing center barre exercises, or any step center or traveling.

To practice correcting your alignment and learn to transfer your weight properly, stand with your weight on both feet. Begin executing the 5 basic foot positions of the feet. When passing through each of the positions, you should execute proper stance each time you approach the next position. The body weight should be centered equally on the arches. Learn to assume proper stance immediately, with weight equally centered on both feet. The beginning dancer practices the classical foot positions to learn the position to rest and to regain balance before shifting their weight to one foot or in a different direction.

Remember that a knee variance is not a hindrance and can be corrected, but improper weight distribution can become a bad habit that will stay with you always. Practice to keep weight properly set on your feet. Dance as if you are weightless……

Assessing Dancers – The Knee

Normally at the beginning of the dance season the teacher makes a mental assessment of each the dancers in her class. This assessment helps the teacher to see what areas the dancers will need the most help in future classes. This pre assessment becomes the basis for the teacher’s mental image of the each dancer in the class. A profile that will identify the dancer’s body type and any physical problems, skill level and later will include a performance profile as to where the dancer needs to be in a piece of choreography or full scale ballet.

To teach dance effectively, the teacher must keep a clear picture in mind of each dancer’s body type and work as they progress though the class and achieve good technique. This information is important since it predicts how dancers with various body and knee types will move in relation to the content of the class and the work that is put before them,

Today we will discuss knee variances……

Several differences in the structure of the knee affect the performance of the dancer and the artistic line that the dancer’s body tries to create. The shape of the pelvis and position of the thigh determined the straightness of the leg.

There are several variances in the shape of the knees. These variances are commonly known as knock knees, bowlegs, tibial torsion and hyperextension. Dancers with these knee variances need to adjust their body alignment so they may move quickly and with control. These minor adjustments focus on straightening and aligning the body and legs to create a line upright from the hip though the leg and the foot. The entire body alignment needs to work together to become balanced to create that classic ballet line that gives the dancer that professional quality in movement.

Knock-Knees (Jarrette)

Jean Georges Noverre, an 18th century theoretician of ballet technique, translated Jarrette as “closed knees” or “ knocked-kneed“. When the dancer stands in 1st position, with the calves touching or nearly touching, the heels separate. The knock kneed dancer is typically loose limbed and supple. To determine if a dancer is knocked-kneed, view the dancer from the back in 1st position. There should be no more than one to two inches between the heels. If more than two inches between the heels the dancer is considered knock-kneed.

Bowlegs (Arque)

The term Arque, was also identified by Noverre, and it translates “arched” or bowlegged”. This knee condition is usually occurring in men. When a dancer is bowlegged, the tendency is to roll forward on the feet. With this misalignment, the dancer is more prone to injury on the inside of the knee. When a dancer with bowlegs stands in 1st position, the knees have a space between them. To determine if a dancer has bow legs, view the dancer from the back in parallel 1st position and then turned out 1st position. If a dancer is bowlegged, the knees have a space between them and is hyperextended. Usually the hip joint turns inward as a result of the bowlegged condition. This type of knee variance sometimes interferes with the technical ability of the dancer. This type dancer is usually strong and swift but extensions are never high.

Tibial Torsion (Cross Eyed)

Tibial Torsion is when the patella (knee cap) is shifted toward the inside of the knee. This condition causes incorrect alignment of the foot and changes the angle at which the legs push from the foot. This type of knee gives the dancer problems with balance and elevation in their jumps. To determine if a dancer has Tibial Torsion, ask the dancer to stand in parallel 1st position and look at the dancer’s knees from the front. Notice if the knee caps are off center, this would indicate Tibial Torsion.


Hyperextension occurs when the knees press too far back and the ligaments behind the knee permanently stretch, making the front of the knee appear flat. This results in a hollow in the back of the knee, with a bulge above the knee. A dancer with this type of knee will carry her weight on her heels. This type of knee can affect speed and elevation in jumps. Some teachers find this type of knee aesthetically pleasing. However, the dancer must be aware of possible injury. Hyperextension often causes a chain reaction of the way the dancer holds her body. Most often there is misalignment that can be dangerous when landing from jumps or leaps. There is a spinal misalignment caused by hyperextension.

-the head is forward

-the shoulders are back due to misalignment arising out of the hips

-the hips are back and the lower back sways forward

-the upper shoulders are rounded

-the scapula (shoulder blade) bows outward

To test if a dancer has hyperextension, view the dancer in parallel 1st position from both the side and the back . Notice if the knees touch and if the legs are swayed back.

Assessing your dancer will help you, the teacher mold the dancer properly and the dancer to improve even with slight handicaps. For the dancer to be assessed, will inform her of what her handicaps are and how to work with them.

We will discuss dancing with knee variances next post……..

Dance For How You Feel Inside

When my soul is hurting, dance makes me feel better.                                                                                       
When I am overwhelmed, dance helps me forget for a while.
When I face struggles, dance inspires me to keep going.
When I lose confidence, dance gives it back to me.
I have been given one of the greatest gifts in the world – dance!

~Author Unknown~

Dance is a physical outlet where the dancer, can express themselves each time they step onto the dance room. When the music starts, their inner most being begins to move rhythmically. Their thoughts of the day diminish and their true heart felt feelings emerge.

In a ballet classroom, as the first chords play for the beginning barre work, the dancer automatically recalls the plie choreography that has been drilled into their brain. It suddenly becomes second nature and the thoughts and troubles that filled their mind before they walked into the dance room have vanished, only to be exchanged with the music and choreography that is set before them. As the class continues to the center floor work with adagio choreography, concentration becomes of the utmost importance. Then the quickness of the allegro and across the floor work brings the emotion of joy and excitement, as leaps and jumps cause the dancers to use all the energy they have left to produce beautiful images in the mirror. The cares of the outside world is gone, only the music and their movement remain.

With thoughts focused, the dancer feels the music. Their emotions change with each different exercise or piece of choreography that is taught and practiced. The music and the steps take over take their normal everyday routine frame of mind and they enter a different world. A world in which they find comfort and peace. A world in which the dancers can become themselves. They have reached a place where everything in the world is….. ok.

What better activity can there be for a child? What better after school activity is there where a child can find release, focus, discipline, and possibly a future career. Dance is it! It is physically demanding, so it is good for the body, but it is also creative. Sports is no way a comparison. Sports is physically challenging but by no means creative. Creativity is so important for a child as well as an adult. It brings forth the true person.

When you are happy, dance. When you are sad, dance, you will instantly feel better. Dance is a release of emotion and stress.

Dance for how you feel inside…….





Pointe Those Feet!



 According to Enrico Cecchetti, whose method of classical ballet we follow at our studio, there are five positions of the foot (not to be confused with the five basic positions of the feet) and they are included in the ten movements of the foot, as listed below.

1. Pied a terre -literally foot on the floor, the foot flat on the floor

2. Pied a quart – literally foot on the quarter, the heel slightly raised from the floor

3. Pied a demi – literally foot on the half, or also termed sur la demi pointe, the heel raised from the floor so that the foot is supported on the ball of the foot

4. Pied a trois quarts – literally on the three quarters, the heel is raised considerably from the floor

5. Pied a pointe – literally foot on the point, also termed sur la pointe, the foot supported on the extremity of the toes

6. The foot raised in the air and extended as much as possible, with the instep forced well outwards and the pointe forced well downwards

7. The foot raised in the air and extended as much as possible, with the instep forced well outwards and the pointe forced well downwards and backwards, that the heel is brought well forwards, (my interpretation of a winged foot)

8. Is an incorrect execution of #6 where the dancer instead of forcing the pointe downwards and the instep well outwards, the dancer clenches the toes under the sole of the foot

9. Is an incorrect execution of #7 where the dancer forces the foot inward instead of outwards so the pointe is forwards and the heel is backwards, also known as sickeling.

10. A completely flexed foot, a position of the foot that occurs in Russian national dances, and other folk dances, but seldom has a place in classical ballet choreography, unless in a character position.

In ballet, the pointed or flexed foot is an important artistic thought. Once the foot leaves the floor, it must be pointed. How the dancer pointes the foot is important for the dancer’s technique.

Your foot begins pointing from the ankle and is extending the lower leg. Your pointed foot forms a line from the knee right down through to your toes. When correctly pointing your foot, the front of the foot should be long and away from your leg, at the same time, you should be lifting the arch and heel upward towards the front of your lower leg. As your foot points, your toes stretch, so that when your foot releases from the floor, either by brushing, as in a degage, rising, as in releve, or jumping, as in a changement, the entire bottom of your foot activates to execute that step or exercise.

When your fully pointed foot rests on the floor in posed positions or directions, it called a pointe tendu. Essential in any pose, a fully stretched foot in a pointe tendu proves the line more smoothly and un-distracted by an abrupt broken line of an un-pointed foot. Learning how to point the foot without tension gives it more flexibility and ability to handle quick weight changes on and of the floor.

There are two basic types of foot actions in ballet;

-brushing from a full foot position to a pointe and returning again

-the other is releasing your foot from a full foot to a three quarter foot (pied a trios quarts) releve to a fully pointed foot on or off the floor (as in a jump) and returning again.

In both of these foot actions the sequence begins with:

-a release though your heel,

-a release though your foot, the metatarsals (the bones between the toes and the ankles),

-and then tips of the toes

-with an ending in touching the floor or pointing barely off of the floor.

On your return:

-first the tips of the toes touch the floor, if they have been off the floor,

-then the toes flex continuing though the metatarsals

-and on through the foot until the heel returns to the floor.

These two actions are the primary components of all exercises and steps you as a dancer will work with in ballet.

After a dramatic explanation above, of how your foot pointes, we need to make your foot more expressive as it releases or brushes to a pointe. You as a dancer need to work on a series of foot exercises. Your foot must be flexible and quick to respond in all movements and pieces of choreography. We will discuss a few.

Pointing and flexing;

Standing in 1st position, the working foot brushes through a battement tendu either devante, derriere, or a la seconde. From this fully stretched pointe, flex the foot, pointe again. All the while, keeping the working leg fully extended. Repeat the pointe – flex process several times then close to 1st position again.

Foot Presses

Standing in 1st position, release the heel and follow through the metatarsals until only the toes remain on the floor. The object of this exercise is so that the heel is lifted to a perpendicular to the floor with the toes remaining on the floor. This is considered a three quarter releve position. Return the heel to the floor pressing slowly downward.

Foot Pedals

These are extensions of the foot press. In the foot pedal, the entire foot releases from a full foot to a pointed foot. The tipsof the toes either rest on the floor or just above the floor. In performing the foot pedal, it is important that the foot initiates the action not the leg. The foot resists the release causing the knee to bend and the leg to rise slightly. On the return, the ankle flexes quickly complete the final action of the foot stretching down toward the floor.

Beautiful feet are essential for beautiful ballet work. Keep in mind to work them as you do your legs and arms……