Using Ballet as a Tool in Your Pole Journey
The further you progress on our pole journeys the more you may notice your instructor is suddenly speaking French. She is throwing around words like “ronde de jambe” and “Passé.” You are being told to find your center and turnout. When you hear these terms maybe you’ve had years of dance and it all clicks. But, if you are in the majority of pole students you might just nod your head and pretend to know what she is talking about so you can move on to learn the new trick. When did pole class turn into a French lesson and why? Many of the terms your instructor uses in French are dance terms used in a variety of genres; born from ballet. We have learned over the years that learning and taking practices from different dance disciplines can greatly improve our pole dancing. Ballet can be one of the most beneficial forms of dance cross training for pole.
The Five Positions
The basic five ballet positions are the most important things to master because they are essential to the discipline. They are the first thing you will learn in any ballet class. When taking ballet they will always be part of your barre warm up. Every step in ballet begins and ends in one of these positions.
1. First position
First position of the arms is the most common position to begin. The arms are in a relaxed, oval shape. The elbows are slightly bent, with the fingers curved below the navel. This position can also be adjusted by raising the arms and fingers to the level of the breastbone, but no higher. Your feet are together but your toes are turned out.
2. Second position
Second position of the arms is often used as a transitional movement. From first position, raise your arms to breastbone level, and open. The arms should be slightly in front of your shoulders. Keep the arms lifted and stable. Your toes are still turned out but your legs are now hip width apart.
3. Third position
Third position of the arms is used in many combinations. From second position, bend the elbow and bring one hand in towards the center. For the third position of the feet, place one foot in front of the other. The front foot should be touching the midway point of the back foot.
4. Fourth position
Fourth position there is one arm is rounded above the head, while the other is rounded below the navel. In arabesque, the arms are extended straight in front of the chest while maintaining their respective placement. Move the front foot out a slight amount with about a foot of distance between them.
5. Fifth Position
Fifth position both arms are softly rounded above the head, with finger tips a hand-width apart. Fingertips do not touch. Place the toe of the back foot to the heel of the front foot. Keep the knees to the sides of the room, and turn out from the thighs.
What exactly is this turnout your instructor keeps talking about? The definition of turnout is when the rotation of the leg is at the hip causing the feet to turn outward from the body. This allows ballerinas to elongate their moves by allowing a greater extension of the leg. Everything is secured from the center of the body aka the core. The stronger your center is the more your turnout will improve and stay intact as you take one movement and lead it into the next. This will create long and clean lines when you dance. A beautiful and strong turnout can take your technique from beginner to all-star showcasing technical training. There are many exercises you can do at home to make your turnout even better just by visiting YouTube and looking up “turnout improvement.”
The Rond De Jambe and Passé
The real MVP’s of the friendship between pole dancing and ballet. Two things that once you understand will really make everything look just as elegant as your instructor promises. Let’s start with the Rond de jambe a terre (on the ground). First let’s make sure that you are turned out. Then you will extend the front foot making a half circle from the front, all the way around to the side in a half circle, through the center, and back to your starting position. The toes will always stay in contact with the ground. Alternatively, in Rond de jambe en l ’air the toes will be en pointe off of the ground. This rotation from the hips is a very important motion in pole. We have to use our Rond de Jambe in everything from torso switches to jade.
The Passé is to pass meaning that the working foot or leg passes the supporting leg, making quick contact with the supporting leg (in our case the pole is often our supporting leg), and yet never stops for a rest. It is that long sweep that we often see the Australian polers utilize for their big exaggerated climbs on the spin pole. It gives your dancing that extra wow factor.
Exercises and Stretches for Ballerina Feet
Do you love sky high heels? Do you want to master the art of dancing perfectly in them? Well it is going to take a lot of ankle strength and ballerinas are known to deify physics dancing in their pointe shoes. We need to learn all of their secrets and do what they do! One major tip I’ve received from several dance instructors is to grab a chair and do releve’s; which is simply rising to the ball of your foot and slowing lowering back down multiple times. I do 4 sets 15 times to complete my releve exercise.
Another tip is to use an exercise band and put your toes in the end it so they almost appear wrapped. Sit with your legs straight in front of you one end of the band in each hand on your side. Pull the band until it is tight then switch back and forth between pointing then flexing your foot. Ballerinas are also sticklers for going through all of the positions of ballet in every warm up before begging to dance. This ensures the ankles are warmed sufficiently to dance and take on the weight as they balance.
That French hopefully makes a lot more sense after you finish reading this blog. No worries, you do not have to become a ballerina or an expert on ballet. But, if it fancies you try an adult ballet class if you have the time and the budget. I tend to take one whenever I have some extra time and cash. Many studios around town allow drop in classes and punch cards. Is taking a class not in the cards for you? Not a problem at all; there are so many ballet warm ups and lessons on YouTube available for free that you can do from the privacy of your own home. You can also use a chair as a barre or DIY with PVC pipe for less than $30.00. If ballet isn’t part of your practice that is okay too; this is your journey. My homework for you is to get in touch with your inner ballerina. Put on some ballet music, close your eyes, and see where it takes you next time you pole; you might just discover something new about yourself.