Having good balance in ballet is as essential as breathing. However unlike breathing, it doesn’t just happen! Your body needs to learn specific techniques to develop a strong sense of balance that you can rely on in your adult ballet classes. Once you have mastered the basic principles of balancing for ballet, you will be able to put them into practice knowing they will sustain you in any balanced position that your teacher might request.
To balance effectively we need to think in a rational manner – it’s like checking off an internal to-do list. Hoping that your balance will magically appear at the necessary moment is not an effective balancing technique!
There are three important considerations when attempting to balance in your adult ballet class. The first is body positioning including weight placement, followed by lines of energy and creating useful tension, and finally the importance of breathing. These elements combine to create the whole picture, which is of course, a beautifully held balance that feels fantastic!
Having your body in correctly aligned is the key to balancing well. It is the same as stacking blocks to build a tower. Each block is squarely placed upon the one beneath, as it increased the stability of the structure.
Firstly, it is important to have your weight positioned in the correct place, right over the ball of the foot with the toes pressing down on the floor. The foot is the point of contact with the floor, so it is vital to have a strong connection. If it is a struggle to press your toes down, then your weight still needs to shift a little further to your supporting side.
Allow your thoughts to travel upward through your body. You should sense that all muscles are engaged and drawing towards your centre. This means that your legs muscles are pulling up, your turnout muscles are wrapping around to maintain stability and your pelvis is collecting up towards your belly button.
The top of your body should also be working towards your centre. Your shoulders are pressing down and your ribcage has a connection to your pelvis. It helps to think of your waist as the point of connection, like two plugs of an extension cord in the moment when they are pushed together. When this connection is strong and solid, bonding though the centre of the body, balance is achievable.
Your focus should be just above eye level with the chin slightly lifted. This position should have a regal quality to it, calm yet completely engaged. This feeling is one that should be carried with you throughout your entire ballet class!
The line of energy through your body should be overwhelmingly “up”, albeit with a strong connection to the floor. This is not to be confused with allowing your shoulders or ribcage to rise; their position should be maintained, strong and bonded to your centre. This is about visualizing a central line that runs directly through the body like a golden thread. This line of energy, which has a continual two-way pull, means that you will balance at the top of your position, being the tallest that you can be without compromise, yet remaining firmly connected to the floor. This upwards force helps to enhance correct ballet “line”.
Whilst it’s important to stay calm in a balance there are some places in your body where tension is required. This tension is malleable rather than static and feels as though it almost has a pulse to it, not a grab and clench of muscles. Your core, which includes all of the muscles from your lower ribcage to your turnout muscles in your derrière, should radiate this tension. Your upper arms and your shoulder blades should also have a strong two-way pull. The upper arms are lifted to create breadth, yet the shoulders and shoulder blades are drawing down, giving you the sense of almost manipulating the space around you with your arms.
Last (but definitely not least!) is breathing. When you breathe in and hold your breath you can immediately feel how your body becomes tense and there is a heightened sense of anxiety. As soon as you breathe out it is easier to work your body and focus your mind. Approaching a balance with a sense of calm will help keep a rational perspective and allow your muscles to work correctly rather than fearing failure. A calm mind and a strong body are essential for the adult ballet dancer to develop a secure sense of balance.
Finally, learning to balance is a process that takes time. If you implement these techniques, you’ll certainly notice an immediate improvement. If you fall off a balance, take a moment to analyse which element may not have been applied. A very famous teacher once said to me, “The best way to learn to balance is by falling off a lot of balances! If you come down, go back up!” Good advice indeed.