The following question came up amongst some colleagues: “Is it possible to teach ballet lines to a student with less than the ideal body to achieve those lines.” This is one of those topics on which I have a lot to say. I thought I would share my thoughts with you here, in an attempt to start a discussion and perhaps hear some other opinions on this topic.
So to address the question: Is it possible to produce a “ballet line” without a “ballet body type” (and I’m not trying to be “smart” or funny here) would depend on what your definition of what a “ballet line” is. If your definition includes a 180 degree turn-out, a 135 degree extension and a retire knee that is perfectly to the side (and many people believe this to be the definition), then the answer is “No, you can not create a ballet line without a ballet body.” However, that is NOT my definition of a ballet line and I have never taught ballet from the standpoint of trying to achieve those perfect positions; even when I have a student with excellent physical equipment. I have never believed that ballet is about shapes or positions or lines. Ballet is about MOVEMENT.
So of course there are textbook lines. I never studied with Maggie Black (I wish I had) but I have taken class from Griff Braun, Kim Abel and Lisa Lockwood (whose class I take a few times a week) and they are all disciples of Ms. Black. She taught how to work with the body that you have, and I believe that this was somewhat revolutionary at the time she started teaching. My mentor in Jazz, Luigi, always said “Dance within the limits of your body” and that has always stayed with me. Text books, on the whole, are designed to show teachers how to take a 9 year old with perfect genetics and fabricate a ballet dancer. So the drawings and photos are of the “ideal”. As professionals, it is our job to asses our students physical capabilities and limitations and teach them to dance within the limits of their body (to quote Luigi). So the line that the less than perfect body will make, when executed properly, is a PERFECT BALLET LINE, for that body. In my opinion, each body has its own perfect ballet line.
Each “line” or “shape” or “position” in the ballet vocabulary is not a static pose. It is a growing, expanding, living, vibrating package of energy. As an example: It isn’t the height of the leg that makes for a “ballet Ecarte” “line” (to use the language of this post) in my opinion. It isn’t the amount of turn-out in the standing leg, or how far to the side the raised leg Is positioned. What makes for a beautiful BALLET Ecarte line (in my opinion) is a standing leg that properly uses the amount of turn-out available. Hips and shoulders correctly and squarely facing the corner. A torso this is both lifted and pulled down simultaneously (the subject of another post all together). A “down stage” leg that is lifted to the side- as far side as the student’s rotation will allow. (The height of the lifted leg is not important to me in the least). Not only is the leg lifted to the side, but it energetically grows, spirals, lengthens and reaches away from the body while the hip resists the lengthening. The toes point and lengthen (not hook), as much as they can. Energy originating in the spine courses through that raised leg, through the toes, shooting out into the audience. The downstage arm is raised over the head-reaching as far away from the body as possible while the shoulcers actively pull down onto the back. The upstage arm, connected to the back, extends to the side and presses down onto the space around it. Energy from the back courses through the arms and out the fingers. The neck lengthens and the head angles up into the raised hand. And all the while, the whole body, with all its parts connected in this position, pulses, expands, explodes – on the inside; while on the outside, the dancer is daringly still. And that, in my opinion, regardless of the amount of rotation and height of the leg, makes for a beautiful ballet line.
Will that dancer, with less than perfect genetics, working this way get a job? Maybe. Will the dancer with perfect genetics and textbook lines get a job? Maybe. From what I have seen, great genetics and “perfect line” helps, but it isn’t the whole picture. I have seen many ARTISTS, with less than perfect genetics, do just fine.I have built my career on teaching that kind of “ballet line” to students with less than perfect bodies. The results can be thrilling. The study of ballet is the relentless pursuit of an unachievable perfection.