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 Post subject: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2001 2:49 pm 
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2000 11:01 pm
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
I had a most interesting e-mail the other day from a young, serious student. She wanted to know "how do I acquire grace?"<P>Not at all spurious a question. Actually rather an intriguing question. For me the beginning and the ending of that question rest in port de bras. When the arms are not used with grace (and yes, purpose LOL) the feet are inconsequential. As Plisetskaya has said (I have the tape) it is the arms that dance, the feet keep the time. An interesting, but I think, very true concept.<P>I told this young student that it is the synchronous movement of the arms, directed by the brain, enlarged by the heart that sends out the soul. It may sound too ephemeral to teach, but I don't think so.<P>While it is true that some of us have a natural grace, and some of us less so, to some extent it can be taught. And for me it begins in the port de bras.<P>I recommended that she find a piece of music that touched her heart, to find a room and close the door, to find a mirror within that room, and then express that music through her arms. To practice the synchronization of the movement from arm to arm, one going up, whilst one goes down. Continuous, almost sinuous movement. And, then to incorporate the head. It all begins together, it all ends together, fulfilling the music. I used to do this by the hour - and the hours went quickly by.<P>When someone compliments my arms - that is the compliment I treasure the most. It is an integral part of the teaching of the dance from the very first moment of the very first class - it is not pasted on later.<P>The arm opens from the first throb of the music - <P>What say you? <P>------------------<BR>Approach life as a dancer approaches the barre, with grace and purpose.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2001 5:38 pm 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
It surprises me that there are no follow up posts - how would you answer the e-mail question of the ballet student - "how do I acquire grace?"<p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited January 20, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 9:03 am 
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Joined: Fri Sep 22, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 130
Location: Pa, USA
Acquiring grace...in life...in dance.<P>One thing I always seem to see is that dancers don't always know how to walk across a room. Learn to walk, to run, to hold the upper body as if it could glide independently across the room.<P>This is obviously a different way to approach the problem of grace, but--learn to fall.<P>Learn to fall well. Not only in dance, but in life situations as well--when you fall--acknowledge the mistake and see what you can learn from it. <P>The beauty of port de bras is almost another thread *S* I once had an instructor who taught a complete adage (three minutes long!) of port de bras and cambres...our feet did not move from fifth position croise. Our goal was to "capture the audience" with the beauty of our bodies' placement and carriage of the arms.


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 12:42 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
From the point of view of a 'civilian', I agree entirely with the crucial role of 'port de bras'. The ballet dancers that I particularly appreciate, such as Viviana Durante, have many attributes, but most have graceful and expressive port de bras.<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 2:19 pm 
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Location: USA
Jan, your post reminds me of those same exercises I did in class. We also did these with our backs to the mirror or "audience." This was to remind us that, physically, the port de bras began in the back, and from there, continued through the arms and beyond the ends of the fingers.


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 2:40 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 28, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 73
Location: Canberra, Australia
This is a really interesting question - particularly as I'm quite new to ballet. At the end of last year our teacher began to concentrate on telling us to seprate the upper and lower body in terms of control and freedom of movement - that while the lower body was moving with precision and speed upper body needed to be free and expressive. When you think about it daily life does not teach us this at all. In fact, a lot of effort comes from the upper body - this often creates excess tension - and it's hard to be graceful if you're carrying excess tension in your upper body. <P>While I can't begin to answer the question about how one acquires grace this question has provoked some interesting thought.......When I began to study martial arts years ago, it was a revelation to discover that I used my upper body with a great deal of tension and failed to rely on the strength and power below my waist. In Aikido I learned to use the body as a whole, but never learned to release my upper body to move freely. <P>Ballet and pilates have given me a whole new (and very challenging) perspective, in this respect. Those beautiful 'ballerina arms' are not nearly so simple as I hoped they might be. My arms look like broken wings in the mirror even when they feel fine. I'd be very interested to hear people's suggestions on freeing the arms and upper body and working from the back. My teacher says I try too hard and it's much nicer when I just let it happen - any thoughts?<BR>Danni


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 3:40 pm 
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Location: IL, USA
This question used to be an over-coffee-after-class that I used to share with a teacher I studied with. We were in agreement that there is a level of grace that cannot be taught; the person, and frankly I can count on two hands the number of dancers I have known, who are ALWAYS graceful, whether at rest or in motion. There are many wonderful dancers who move well, who are well-trained, but that fantastic 'other level' is, in my opinion, quite rare (and no, I don't count myself as one of them...lol). Rather than cite colleagues (and risk offending someone not named), I think of two pro athletes, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, as two people who seem unable to be physically awkward. It is possible to be an athlete or dancer and still not be truly graceful. There are dancers who are quirky in their movement and yet are quite fascinating to watch and not by any traditional defintion, graceful.<P>As for acquiring/improving grace, the freedom to move as one wishes, comes from the confidence of balance. Balance, not just in its static form, but feeling balanced as weight is shifted from one foot to the other at any tempo, gives the dancer the ability to explore movement vocabulary to its fullest. Moving without strain or excess; using just what is needed, but no more than necessary. <P>------------------<BR>It is not knowing the answer that matters, but what question to ask...<P>[This message has been edited by Cabriole (edited January 21, 2001).]<p>[This message has been edited by Cabriole (edited January 21, 2001).]

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It is not knowing the answer that matters, but what question to ask...<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2001 3:48 pm 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
I was taught - and I continue to teach - that the port de bras begins in the spine and spreads outward - even beyond the finger tips - to eternity..........<P>And I believe that. <P>I also never teach an arranged hand - I think the way the hand falls naturally is the most graceful. One "fault" I see continually is the placement of the thumb. This digit, in my opinion, is one which does have to be placed. <P> If you place your arms en haut (over the head) and let the thumbs hang down the line of the arc is destroyed, in my opinon. Also with the arms en avant (in front) if the thumbs stick up the circle is destroyed. But as for the rest of the hand, I think a natural position is best.<P>But it is in the synchronous movement of the arms from position to position, accompanied by the head, that lends grace to the entirety.<P>And don't you think the eyes are a great part of it? A slow smile........


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2001 7:17 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
The more I think of Cabriole's answer the more I like it. <P>Balance - confidence - very true, Cabriole.


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2001 12:25 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
I watched the U.S. Figure Skating finals over the weekend, and just couldn't rave about Sarah Hughes (silver medalist) the way many others have. Reason: arms. She was skating to music from "Don Quixote" and I felt it was almost insulting to 'pretend' to be dancing to it. Not at all like Jennifer Kirk who skated to Nutcracker excerpts and spent 6 years training with Boston Ballet. <P>It was once said, I believe by Dick Button, that Dorothy Hamill does less arm movement in over 4 minutes of skating than most skaters do in 15 seconds. To 'simply' hold one's arms takes tremendous strength. To demonstrate this to my neophyte fiance, I said, "Just try this. Open your arms to second position and hold them there. That's right, keep holding them. Now imagine skating at the same time." <P>That's why she's got the best back and arms in the business. And Yuka Sato is darned close behind her. <P>Perhaps then, to have real grace, one must develop real strength. And shame on all those teachers who give students the impression that arms are an afterthought, that can be worked on 5 or 10 years down the road -- just get the steps down first. Bah!<P>I had a teacher who said that a person's arms in ballet are very personal, in that their arms tell you who they are. They can be nervous, twitchy, weak, serene, wild, thoughtless, strong, etc. etc.<P>That teacher also said that when you mark, you should only mark the steps, but never mark the arms. The arms should be done the same way always.<P>I too have given long port de bras combinations and elicited comments about how hard that was. <P>I also choregraphed one year to a powerful piece of Celtic music for my pre-teens. I had them stand in a vertical line from which they simply moved their arms up or to the side in various combinations of people and also lean out into the arm and return to the center of the line. They had very grave expressions on their face when they did this and were really able to see what a tremendous visual effect this had. What was especially neat was that they had to work very closely with each other to collectively produce a sense of grace. <P>


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2001 1:46 pm 
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Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
Basheva -- may I add to some of your tips? When making en haut, I have been taught and also have passed this on to other students to think of reaching for a box (a light box, mind you) from an overhead shelf. This makes the arms reach a bit, and also creates a counter stretch down the back, which keeps the shoulders in place. To demonstrate this, I'll first do it wrong by reaching above my head with my shoulders hunched up, and then ask, "You wouldn't reach for something this way, would you?"<P>I like the idea of being cognizant of how even an errant digit can destroy the line. When I taught pre-schoolers, we sat in a circle and we practiced first making knotted up, claw-like brittle fingers and hands (a la Cinderella's wicked step-relatives) and then making perenially beautiful and young looking stretched fingers by stretching each finger separately to meet the thumb: <P>-- first one hand<BR>-- then both<BR>-- then backwards, starting with the pinkie.<P>Sometimes I teach people to really feel they're discovering their hands for the first time -- "wow, look at these wonderful things I've been blessed with, they're something, aren't they?" Even adults get a kick out of this. It kind of lights up their faces when doing port de bras to really look at and acknowledge their hands. <p>[This message has been edited by Christina (edited January 22, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2001 2:15 pm 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
Christina - your posts are always a wonderful addition - and welcomed - with open port de bras LOL <P>I agree there is a sense of reach in en haut - I can feel that engagement into my back. The legs don't come from the hips they come from the waist, the arms don't come from the shoulders, they come from the spine.


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2001 10:28 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
I guess I am not quite done with this - arms are so essential to me.......<P>One of the things that I think lends grace to port de bras is making the space around us visible. I used to tell my students that the space around them is not empty. The birds use it to good effect. We can see it when it blows against a tree. We can feel it against our skin.<P>The dancer makes the space around her visible. The arms don't go through space - they elaborate that space - carve it - shape it, define it. That space can be made to look light - or heavy - with all the shadings in between. The difference between the way a sparrow uses its wings and a big sea bird. Same construction, same space - different emphasis.


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2001 12:22 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 498
Location: neworleans, louisiana
I read more on this last night from your counterpart, Peff Modelski, who writes "Peff Talk." She said to think of cradling a tiny bird in your hand. I think the two of you should meet. (Maybe you did in another life).<P>Basheva, FYI:<BR> <A HREF="http://www.danceronline.com/htm/peff.html" TARGET=_blank>http://www.danceronline.com/htm/peff.html</A> <p>[This message has been edited by Christina (edited January 24, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Port de Bras - where the beauty begins......
PostPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2001 2:02 pm 
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 13071
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Christina - I have bookmarked that site - and thank you very much. <P>Why do you think of her as my counterpart? (she bravely asks LOL)<P>


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