Rigidity in Ballet Class

The Chewing Gum-Theory

August, 2013

Sometimes students in ballet classes seem rigid to the outsider. Or as my father once put it "people pay for not moving?"
 
Let's say rigidity is at one end of the scale and jellyfish-like floppiness at the other end. Ideally, you want to move in the middle if this scale; let's call it the place of equilibrium. A point of
fluid strength, of perfectly balanced extension and contraction, like an elastic band with just the right amount of tension and elasticity. As a child, have you ever played with your chewing gum? Holding it taut at one end and pulling on the other or stretching it in opposite directions at the same time? If you remember, at a certain moment the gum was neither slack nor rigid.
Aged six I "experimented" this way on my way to ballet class with my gum ending up all over my hands and jacket. Showing up like this, I can't remember who was more afraid of my stern ballet teacher, my mother or I. Yet it may have sown the seed for my teaching today. 


How to go about this?

 

Generally, your abdominal muscles, your core (lower abdominals and pelvic floor) should contract or draw in (more or less gently depending on your level of floppiness/ stiffness) whilst your limbs extend away from your core. If you get the balance right, you will be suspended in the middle and your balance feels like many micro movements and not like a static position of tightened muscles and the inability to breathe.
If you approach balance as a movement, you can "respond". Should you start to fall forward, you can change your weight slightly backwards; should you collapse towards the right, you can counter with your left side, etc.
 
The result is an aliveness and gracefulness that seems effortlessly under control.
To train and dance like this all the time, under any circumstances would be complete mastery of ballet technique and achievable by only a few. And even these few would say they achieved it only on the rare occasion.
However, what matters is to work towards it and the small improvements along the way. Not only is this a much more enjoyable experience in class but you will also feel a greater difference in ordinary life; the way you walk in the streets, how you move at a party....you will be further from the schlepping around end and closer to the levitating end of the scale.