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« Les mains, prémices d’une expression »
The hands are not the end of an arm,
they are the beginning of an expression

« Créer par le regard vie et présence »
Exaltants moments de contemplation
Interroger l’obscurité
Dépasser la barrière du langage
Vu depuis Londres
Leonardo, Noverre, Volinine
L’immobilité du maître
La classe de perfection de Christian Johansson en 1898

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The hands are not the end of an arm,
they are the beginning of an expression
by Nanette Glushak

16 June 2012

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The use of the eyes is never discussed in the actual training process of a classical dancer. A dancer will have either have a natural talent and sensitivity, or they will eventually be coached to use their eyes in a specific way for a role. Often, it can be the arrival of a choreographer, who is able to bring out of a dancer, a hidden talent. The dancer will somehow, with this particular individual, relate to his or her choreography and personality, and become
more expressive.

As a teacher, who concentrates so much on the correct use of muscles in ballet training, I have found that with stiffer and more inexpressive dancers, if they work with their shoulder-blades down and use their bum muscles, they are more sure to feel their balance, and can allow the face (eyes) and hands to be freer.

The eyes project the inner feeling of a person, regardless of the movement. The only technical approach in teaching is in regard to the level of vision. A different angle of vision can change the dancer’s expression from a distance. This "look" creates the invisible line for a dancer that can also extend the body lines, and also give the impression of enlarging or reducing the space.

« Les mains... prémices d’une expression »
Hans Brenna et Mona Vangsaae,
dans La veuve au miroir, 1934

As the present generation is obsessed with technique (which is not bad, either !), I find myself more and more having to beg dancers to "allow" themselves to feel - even in class when they are tired from a performance the night before. I recently said while teaching company class, "you all look like you work in a bank"! The pianist had just played a beautiful piece of Chopin, and all I saw were empty eyes.

Personally, I feel that the use of eyes in adagio, petit allegro or anything else, is based on the musical sensitivity of the dancers themselves. You can’t teach someone to react to music - they do or they don’t.

Running and walking-should be the first thing students learn to do when they begin serious training. The head weighs five to six kilos, so try to run forward with your head straight: completely turned-in is all you’ll get! Running must be taught with the correct épaulement, then to insure speed and turn out in the feet... and always have a tight bum (sorry, no other way to say it). This way your calves will not absorb too much stress, and you will be less tired during a variation.

For me the best upper-body training is Russian. All the well-trained Russian dancers have beautiful hands. If one works one’s arms from the back muscles, the hands are freer. Again, I speak of the shoulder-blade being down so all port de bras starts from the middle of the back. The dancers you will see with unbending arms and rigid fingers are only moving from the front of their torsos. 

In general, dancers with very stiff expressions, or rigid hands, are that way because they are trying desperately to keep their balance. The balance is no mystery for classical dance. With shoulders really down and the bum strong, even on a dancer’s "bad" side, he will stay in place. The hands are not the end of an arm, they are the beginning of an expression.

Nanette Glushak is a Former soloist, New York City Ballet, and Director, Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse (1994-2012)