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ADVICE TO THOSE CONTEMPLATING THE STUDY OF DANCING
Pause—and think a score, fifty, a hundred times before you devote yourself to the study of the dance.
Do you realise the difficulty of this art, at once so beautiful and so ungrateful? Do you realise how many obstacles must be surmounted before you can become a dancer, even of average ability? Think, then, of the labour that must be expended, the injustices, intrigues, and jealousies that must be supported before you can become an artist of distinction. If you are still undaunted by these disagreeable facts, you have proved yourself to possess enthusiasm and determination, qualities indispensable to success.
Consider your physical, personal, and mental qualifications. If you are too young to do this for yourself, let your parents or guardians give their thought to so vital a matter.
Do not imagine that you can become a dancer in six months. Terpsichore is a jealous goddess, and those who seek fame among her votaries must sacrifice at her altar years of patient study and hours of physical labour. Weigh carefully these words, and if after due consideration you still find yourself consumed with a passion for the dance, the first question that arises is the choice of a master.
Now success or failure in all studies depends chiefly on the manner in which they are commenced. It is impossible to devote too much care to the selection of a master, for your career depends to a very great extent upon the qualifications of your instructor. There are hundreds of so-called teachers, few of whom have distinguished themselves in the art they profess to teach. There are some of moderate abilities whose careless manner of instruction tends to develop in the pupil a habit of careless execution which in time becomes so fixed that it is extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, to eradicate. There are others, good theorists, but incapable of practical demonstration. Similarly, there are excellent demonstrators who understand nothing of the theoretical principles of their art. Finally, there is in dancing, as in other professions, a band of impostors and charlatans whose only qualifications are a sprinkling of technical terms of which they do not understand the meaning, a purely superficial acquaintance with the steps of a few easy dances, a grand manner, and an unbounded assurance.
Think, therefore, before you entrust yourself to such teachers and thus assist to preserve their existence. Again, do not run to a master because his academy is within easy distance of your abode, because he dazzles your eyes with prospects of social splendours or boasts of aristocratic connections. These can have no bearing on his capabilities as a teacher.
Remember also that a distinguished dancer is not necessarily a good teacher, particularly if he still performs in public, because he may not possess the gift of imparting his knowledge in a clear and simple manner. Again, because he may have neither the time nor the desire to study seriously the good and bad points of his pupils. Lastly, because he may consider his class as a whole and, therefore, is indifferent to the fact that each pupil is constructed differently, both physically and temperamentally, so that each requires adaptations of the lesson in order to supply his own particular needs.
What then are the qualifications of an experienced professor? First, his school—the sources of his own knowledge. Second, his reputation as a teacher and his distinction as a dancer. Third, his personal qualities ; he should be conscientious, patient, and a good disciplinarian. Fourth, his capacity both as a practical demonstrator and theoretical exponent. Fifth, the distinction achieved by his pupils. Sixth, the number of years he has been teaching. Again, do not select one master in preference to another because his fees are more moderate. A guinea spent on a lesson which results in a guineasworth of knowledge is a profitable investment, but fifteen shillings spent on a lesson which is unproductive is a waste of money.
Having definitely made your choice of a master, give him your whole confidence. Strive diligently to follow his instructions and ponder deeply on the reasons given for the execution of such and such a movement. A knowledge of the why and wherefore produces confidence and reliability.
If you feel that you are not making progress do not hastily leave your teacher. There is a trite epigram which states that one mediocre master is worth more than three good ones. A mediocre teacher, however limited his knowledge, will teach all he knows. Let us suppose that you are in the care of teacher A, you are dissatisfied with your progress and pass to the care of teacher B. Now there is nothing upon which a good teacher prides himself so much as the superiority of his own method. The first question you will be asked is: "From whom did you receive your previous training ?" You will naturally reply: "A." Your reply will immediately arouse B's animosity towards A, and he will tell you that A's method is of no value, and that the sooner you forget his principles the better it will be for your knowledge of your art. But in course of time you may find that even with B you do not make the progress expected. Again you change your mind and pass to the care of C. In a very short time you will be so confused with the new method of C and the lingering remnants of the teaching of A and B, that you will know nothing of either the methods of A, B, or C.
It may be asked, "What is the most advisable age for a pupil to commence the study of dancing?" This depends on the nationality of the pupil and the country in which the lessons are received. In northern countries like Great Britain and Russia, children develop slowly; whereas in southern countries like Italy and Spain, development is so rapid that at the age of eighteen a girl is already a woman. Such an authority as Maestro Cecchetti considers that in northern countries the most suitable age to begin to take lessons in dancing is from nine to twelve years ; but in southern countries, from eight to ten years. He is opposed to the practice of training a child before the age of eight for he does not consider the limbs strong enough to bear the by no means slight exertions of the first exercises at the bar.
In your work you will be ever confronted with difficulties, but do not despair, every obstacle can be surmounted by perseverance and assiduous practice. Remember the painter's advice to his pupils : Nulla dies sine linea—No day without a line. Nothing is of greater importance than constant practice. It is necessary even to teachers, therefore indispensable to pupils. No other art demands so strict an attention in this respect, it is only by practice that one may attain proficiency, and it is only by practice that one may preserve it. A brief period of idleness or indifference regarding this essential of dancing causes the pupil to lose what it has cost him so much labour to acquire—his equilibrium becomes faulty, his muscles hard, his joints stiff, and his "springs" lose their elasticity. To repair a week's indifference requires a month's labour, whereas by daily practice the pupil acquires and maintains that nice poise, facility of movement, and elasticity of spring, which are a joy to the eye. On the other hand do not work to excess, for then the muscles become strained, the joints weakened so that you can hardly stand. Concentration of thought and diligent careful practice, tempered with moderation, are the foundations of success.
Be sure that you thoroughly understand a movement before you proceed to its execution, for the limbs are the servants of the mind.
In conclusion, as your experience increases, you may with advantage study the sister arts of mime, music, painting, drawing, and sculpture.
The first will enable you to compose your features in accordance with the sentiments expressed in your dance. The second will train your ear to distinguish the rhythm and cadence of the accompaniment so that your movements will be in strict harmony with the measure. The third, fourth, and fifth will acquaint you with the style and manners of an epoch and will reveal to you the beauty of line, form, and composition.
Visit the famous art galleries of the world. If this is not possible, study any of the innumerable books which contain reproductions of those works which have inspired the admiration of all peoples of all ages. Seek to discover why these works afford you pleasure. Thus you will learn what is meant by grace and beauty. Endeavour to apply these same principles to your own art.
THE ESSENTIAL THEORETICAL PRINCIPLES OF CLASSICAL THEATRICAL DANCING
I. THE POSITIONS OF FEET.
There are five positions of the feet :—
(i) First Position (see Fig. 1).
(ii) Second Position (see Fig. 2a).
(iii) Third Position (see Fig. 3).
(iv) Fourth Position (see Fig. 4).
(v) Fifth Position (see Fig. 5a).
Note that in the second and fourth positions, the feet are separated by the distance of one foot. Note also that in the fifth position the first joint of the big toe projects beyond either heel. It is a fault for the toe to coincide with the heel, for there is then visible an unsightly space between the two feet (see Fig. 5b).
These positions are subject to many variations. The principal of these are qualified by the terms à terre (that is, on the ground), pointe tendue (that is, with the toe stretched), en l'air (that is, in the air), and en l'air, demi- position, (that is, in the air, half-way position).
When the entire base of the foot touches the ground, the foot is said to be à terre. If we speak simply of the second position, third position, etc., it is understood that the position is à terre, that is, with both feet flat on the ground. Similarly, if we say open the right foot to the second position, it is understood that the pupil will slide his right foot along the ground to the second position, and then lower the heel to the ground (see Fig. 2a).
If, however, we say open the right foot to the second position, pointe tendue, the pupil will slide the right foot to the second position, keeping the knee straight and forcing the instep well outwards, so that the sole is raised to such a degree that only the tips of the toes rest on the floor. The foot is then said to be in the second position, pointe tendue (see Fig. 2b).
Again, if the foot is maintained, for example, in the second position, pointe tendue, and then slowly raised until the foot is at right angles to the hip, the foot is said to be in the second position, en l'air (see Fig. 2c), because, though raised in the air, the foot is still in the second position.
Finally, if the foot be in the second position, pointe tendue, and is then slowly raised until the foot is halfway between the second position, pointe tendue, and the second position, en l'air, the foot is said to be in the second position, en l'air(demiposition) (see Fig. 2d). Similarly, the foot may be placed in the fourth position, pointe tendue, fourth position, en l'air, and fourth position, en l'air (demi-position). The foot may be opened to the fourth position front or the fourth position back.
In order to ascertain the position of a foot, it should be noted that the supporting foot is always in the first position, hence it is only the free or active foot that may pass to one of the five positions. These positions can be taken by either the right or the left foot, accordingly as the left or right foot is maintained in the first position.
II. THE MOVEMENTS OF THE FOOT.
There are ten movements of the foot:—
(i) Pied â terre, or the foot flat on the ground (see Fig. 6).
(ii) Pied a quart, or with the heel slightly raised from the ground (see Fig. 7).
(iii) Pied â demi, also termed sur la demi-pointe, or with the heel raised from the ground so that the foot is supported on the ball of the foot (see Fig. 8).
(iv) Pied a trois quarts, or with the heel raised considerably from the ground (see Fig. 9).
(v) Pied à pointe, also termed sur la pointe, the foot supported on the extremity of the toes (see Fig. 10).
(vi) The foot raised in the air and extended as much as possible, with the instep forced well outwards and the pointe forced well downwards (see Fig. 11).
(vii) The foot raised in the air and extended as much as possible, with the instep forced well outwards and the pointe forced well downwards and backwards, so that the heel is brought well forwards (see Fig. 12).
(viii) and (ix) (see Figs. 13 and 14) are common faults.
Fig. 13 shows the wrong execution of (vi) where instead of forcing the point downwards and the instep well outwards, the pupil clenches the toes under the sole of the foot.
Fig. 14 shows the wrong execution of (vii) where the pupil forces the foot inwards instead of outwards, thus the pointe is forwards and the heel backwards, which is a fault.
Fig. 15 is a position of the foot that occurs in Russian national dances, but which is opposed to the laws of classical theatrical dancing. In certain exercises Fig. 9 is a fault, above all in the execution of pirouettes and pliés.
III. THE STUDY OF THE LEGS.
In the management of your legs, your chief concern must be to acquire a facility of turning them well outwards. Therefore your hips must be free so that your thighs move with ease and your knees turn well outwards. By this means the openings of your legs are rendered easy and graceful.
Pay great attention to your insteps. Do not let them relax either in strength or elasticity. The principal use of the instep is to raise or lower the heel. For this reason, in your battements tendus, battements dégagés, battements relevés, and battements frappés sur le cou-de-pied, press strongly on the pointe so that the instep is forced well outwards.
In forcing out your instep, keep the pointe extended (see Fig. 11). Do not clench the toes inwards (see Fig. 13), or force the pointe forwards (see Fig. 14). These are grave faults. Remember that the heel should be pressed forwards and the points forced backwards (see Fig. 12). Strive to make your instep easy and strong, for the whole equilibrium of the body depends upon it. Again, as you come to the ground in your pas sautés (jumping steps), it is the instep which sustains your weight and by a rapid movement permits you to alight on your toes.
The movement of the knee is inseparable from that of the instep and differs from it in being perfect only when the leg is extended and the pointe low as in ronds de jambe en l'air.
Lastly, never try to make your limbs supple by taking them in your hands and bending, twisting, and turning them in all directions. There is no need for you to suffer such martyrdom. It may be necessary for acrobats but not for dancers. The only manner in which to render the limbs and muscles supple is by the diligent and careful practice of the exercises described in Book Two.
IV. THE STUDY OF THE HAND.
There are three principal positions of the hand :—
(i) The manner of holding the hand in the Exercices à la Barre and Exercices au Milieu (see Fig. 16). The fingers are grouped together so that the first and fourth are straight while the second and third are slightly rounded. The thumb rests on the first joint of the second finger and presses against the first joint of the first finger. Notice that the wrist is very slightly bent. By holding the hand in this manner during the first exercises, the pupil acquires a facility of rounding the fingers so that they do not point in all directions, a fault which, if persisted in, soon becomes very difficult to eradicate.
(ii) The manner of holding the hand during the execution of exercises in Adage and Allégro (see Fig. 17). The position is similar to that of Fig. 16, except that the fingers are more open. Do not permit the fingers to become separated, this is a fault.
(iii) The manner of holding the hand in arabesques (see Fig. 18a). This position is similar to that of Fig. 17, except that the wrist is bent a little more. Thus, by keeping the hand in the same position and turning it on the pivot of the wrist until it is palm downwards, the hand arrives in the position for arabesque (see Fig. 18b). Note, therefore, that when the hand is extended en arabesque, it is always turned slightly outwards and never turned inwards or extended in a straight horizontal line with the arm.
Excerpted from The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet by Cyril W. Beaumont, Stanislas Idzikowski, Randolphe Schwabe. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted February 24, 2012