The ballet term ‘port de bras’ refers to the carriage of arms, which includes the head and sometimes the body. Well-placed, expressive port de bras is perhaps the most beautiful element of classical ballet, and something that we all strive for. The following strategies will enhance your port de bras, developing strength as well as style.
The rounded arm position for ballet is one of contradictions! It’s a gently curved shape that has no sharp angles or broken lines. The upper arm rotates inwards, whilst the lower arms rotates outwards. The elbow is not overly bent, nor is it fully extended. The arms have a feeling of embracing the air, rather than just hanging from the shoulders. In other words, your muscles are actively working all the time!
Enchaînements at the barre often have arm positions that are held (especially in second position), and these moments are the perfect opportunity to think about shape and developing strength. When you are holding an arm position for an extended length of time, you might feel fatigue in your arm muscles, as they work to hold the position. Rather than giving in to the fatigue (in other words letting your arm droop!), hold the position so that you continue to develop strength in your arm muscles. A strong, well-placed arm position will also benefit your upper body. Your arms directly affect your torso – if you allow your upper arms to drop down close to your body, you will immediately feel the loss of control around your ribcage, so hold your position.
Now that you are developing strength and improved shape in your held arm positions, it’s time to move! Beautiful port de bras is fluid and graceful, not clunky and cumbersome. Your port de bras supports your technique and coordination with power from the upper body, as well as giving expression through dynamics and dance quality.
Using the newly developed strength in your arms and upper body, move your arms as though you are standing in a swimming pool. Even better, get into a pool and try it! The resistance that is created from moving through the water is the quality that you need for your port de bras – strong yet fluid, weightless yet connected. As you move through your ballet positions, think about the line of each arm. It’s important to move gracefully – no clunky elbows, or flowery wrists. Your joints should glide to create your ballet shapes, and never fling them or plonk them into a new position!
Dancing is a journey of expression. Coordinating your arms with the rest of your body is vital for your artistry, as even the shortest enchaînement tells a story. The dancers that are the most exciting to watch are the ones that express themselves through every part of their body. There is no thinking “oh, and now they’re doing a port de bras!” Their movements are seamless, helping to create the bigger picture.
Maintain the strength and lift in your upper arms and allow your lower arms to flow, with your fingertips taking the lead. When you move your arm from the fingertips, you create energy and expression through your port de bras. The energy of your lines will extend, continuing beyond your body, which will enhance your artistry. This extension of energy creates strength, guides your balance and makes you exciting to watch.
If you think of your arms as integral to your ballet technique, and not just as an add-on, you will be well on your way to beautiful, expressive port de bras.