Positioning Of The Head
I explained in my article Placement of Weight last month, different schools teach different techniques. The positioning of the head is just another example.
I see many of my students rotating, tilting, and inclining their heads and entire neckline during the barre work, often without realising it. It has been so engrained by their ballet teachers when they were young children or teenagers as part of their technique that they cannot “undo” it. As much as it may seem essential to the proper execution of ballet exercises, it very often disturbs the correct alignment of the student. How we place the head impacts the posture of our entire body; the spine, the placement of the pelvis, the rotation of the legs (the turn out) etc.
In Holistic Ballet we put great emphasis on creating a strong and healthy foundation during the barre work before we progress to work in the centre. The function of the head is to help to stabilise the body, which means holding the head/neck still helps us to connect to our core (to strengthen the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles) and to keep our spine upright. Since the neck is part of the spine, its position must be continuous with the alignment of the spine.
Unless you are a very accomplished dancer, tilting or inclining the head during a battement tendu to the back, for example, invites the pelvis to tilt as well, resulting in a rather unsightly alignment (see pictures below).
By practising how to keep our head balanced and straight at the barre, we learn to understand and feel its connection with the neck and spine below. Once that connection has been established, the subtly and expressiveness of the head position flows naturally through the spine as a result of this learned and ingrained alignment.
battement tendu with aligned head, neck, and pelvis
battement tendu with misaligned head, neck, and pelvis
The moment we start to work in épaulement in the centre where we spiral the spine, the head (and neck) will either continue or oppose the movement of the spine, i.e. in battement tendu back you can look over either shoulder. Further, the awareness of an elongated straight neck is also crucial for turning. Often students throw themselves off balance or become dizzy because they turn their heads in an angle or their head wobbles whilst turning.
It should be mentioned that the Russian school teaches a rotation of the head with no tilt involved. This does not disturb the alignment of the spine. However, as always with these scenarios, few people are flexible enough to do this. Trying to place the chin directly over the shoulder whilst keeping the ears level when you have an average range of neck motion is no easy achievement. I can remember girls in my ballet school being screamed at because they simply could not manage to do it.
In Holistic Ballet, we approach barre work in the purest and simplest manner by concentrating inwardly without any personal inflexion or mannerism. You must first understand the functioning of your body in order to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie before you can add style and personality.
As my teacher Renato Paroni once said: 'You have to shower before you put on the perfume'.