Teacher’s Top Three: Books For Ballet Teachers

3 is a magic numberI’ve had the pleasure of regularly exchanging Tweets with a number of dance teachers – intelligent, insightful, and enthusiastic instructors out there doing what they do best. Believe it or not, you can get a real sense for a person via 140 character conversations!

Robin Mahboeb is one of these teachers. The word that’s always come to mind regarding Robin (@mahrobi) is classy. She proves it with these choices…

Robin’s Top Three Books For Ballet Teachers

1. The Art of Teaching Ballet – Ten Twentieth-Century Masters

by Gretchen Ward Warren

Robin says, “This is my easy favorite! The author spends time with ten of the most popular professional ballet teachers from around the world, watching classes and doing interviews. There is a chapter devoted to each teacher which starts with a short bio, followed by the authors’ experiences in observing the teachers in the studio and out. At the end of each chapter there is a list of quotes, a list of the order of barre and center combinations and a family tree style chart of pedagogical lineage.”

“I love this book,” continues Robin, “because it doesn’t just give combinations (though there are combinations from each teacher listed at the end of the book). It really brings insight on teaching artistry and simple joy of movement as well as tips on teaching turns and jumps, etc. Additionally, it is a fascinating read; the first time i read it i could hardly put it down.”

The Art of Teaching Ballet is available for purchase through the Dance Advantage aStore

2. Ballet Studio – An Inside View

Ballet Studio: An Inside View [image]by Anne Wooliams (coincidentally one of the teachers interviewed in the previous book!)

“This is a book i received as a gift in my late teens and i find it as wonderful now as i did nearly 30 years ago. It is a book that can be appreciated by teachers, students and professional dancers alike,” explains Robin. “There are chapters dedicated to practice clothes and health as well as barre and center work, pointe, mime, musicality, teaching and more. The author writes with warmth and humor, offering advice as well as the occasional ballet combination. The excellent text is accompanied by beautiful, candid, grainy black and white photographs.”

This book is out of print. Check out Goodreads to compare sellers.

3. Classical Ballet Technique

by Gretchen Ward Warren (again!)

“This book i find to be an excellent tool for teaching correct ballet technique as it breaks down all the steps photographically. There is little text but very clear photos of the positions one should go through in executing each step. It also frequently shows the difference between, say, the Russian version of a step vs. Cecchetti, for example. In addition, there are pictures showing incorrect vs. correct placement or execution. I like to keep this book in the classroom and may occasionally show my students what a new step is supposed to look like.”

Classical Ballet Technique is available in the Dance Advantage aStore

More About Robin

RobinRobin grew up in Colorado. Her early training was Cecchetti technique under Larry Boyette. She majored in dance at the Cornish Institute of Arts in Seattle, Washington under Franks Bays and Pat Hon and also trained in New York with Maggie Black. Robin has performed with several small companies but left the dance world temporarily to raise a family. She has 4 children between the ages of 8 and 20 and has been teaching ballet for about 15 years – “off and on a bit between kids!” For the last several years Robin has been teaching in Bergenfield, New Jersey at Nunnbetter Dance Theatre and choreographing for NBDT’s student company.

Do you have some favorite books for ballet teachers you’d like to recommend?

Let us know in the comments!

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What You Mean, What You Say: Get Up On Your Leg

Correcting Teacher Corrections

As teachers, we have the challenge of framing our corrections in a way that is concise, accurate, and effective. Certain catch phrases, quibbles and mantras have been told to us by our teachers, and, as we became teachers we use them in our turn.  I’ve been thinking a lot about correcting students and how effective some of the standard dance teacher vernacular really is.  One such correction is “Get up on your leg”

“Get up on your leg”…

Muscles involved in hip abduction

Teachers have a habit of saying this when students are “sinking” into their supporting leg while balanced on one leg. A lot of dancers do, in fact, demonstrate this, but is “get up on your leg” the best way to correct it?

When a dancer is supporting the body weight on one leg, either standing or en relevé, there is a tendency to release the gluteal muscles (maximus, medius and minimus) and abductors (tensor fasciae latae, piriformis, obturators, gemelli and sartorius). Whether this is due to laziness or lack of strength isn’t quite the point, but ultimately lax muscles that are meant to support the hip allow it to fall away from the midline and sink.

The big problem I have with saying “get up on your leg” is that students often overcompensate by raising their working hip.  Then you tell them to drop their hip, and they overcompensate by sinking into their supporting hip again.  Then you tell them to get up on their leg…. it’s a vicious cycle.

What To Do

Sinking in the hip is an error many student dancers (and, let’s face it, some professionals) experience that takes a while to correct, as it is likely the result of weak muscles in the ankle and hip (3) (specifically gluteus medius and minimus; tensor fascilae latae; and posterior tibialis, flexor digitorum longus, and flexor hallucis longus).

While some corrections are given due to negligence or laziness on the part of the dancer, if a student is continually being asked to get on their leg and simply can’t seem to maintain the proper alignment, try encouraging them to strengthen their abductors.  Though other muscle groups are implicated in a sinking hip, the abductors are not especially targeted by ballet technique, which makes them a likely culprit.  Working with the feet in a parallel position (by taking a jazz or modern class) can strengthen these muscles-especially exercises that extend the leg to the side in parallel.

Use a theraband wrapped around the legs, for dancers who can’t “get up on their leg”.  Although it is a trademark of dancers to walk through their daily lives in turnout, simply making it a point to walk in parallel can help keep these muscles active.  For dancers interested in Pilates, the hip abductor series is a great tool for this problem.

Related Injury

Weak hip abductors can also be implicated in a couple of common dance injuries. Runners with weak abductors experience increased knee abduction during the stance phase (which is essentially equivalent to dance positions placing the body weight on the supporting leg) (4).  In this case the femur is not stabilizing the hip and is not fully supported at the knee joint, causing abduction of the knee and the potential for the femur to rub against the patella (5). Patellofemoral stress syndrome has been also correlated with weak hip abductors as a result of this movement within the knee joint (2).

What To Say

So if “get on your leg” doesn’t work, what do you say to a dancer who sinks in her supporting hip?

Mollie tap

Courtesy of Menomonee Club

As I’m sure you already know, it depends on the student.

Some students respond better to metaphors that will encourage them to activate the muscles of the hip and ankle:

“Drive your leg into the ground like you are mounted in cement…”

or to engage the gluts and lower abdominals:

“Lift the upper body and perch it on to of the legs like a bird resting on a thin branch…”

Some students might respond better to physical manipulation. Back up your adjustments with verbal cues:

“Lift the lower tummy; feel a pinch under your bottom; engage your hip and feel it wrap around to your back…”

What do YOU say to a student who sinks in her hip?


  1. Calais-Gemain, B. (1993). Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press.
  2. Dierks, T. A., Manal, K. T., Hamill, I. S. (2008). Proximal and distal influences on hip and knee kinematics in runners with patellofemoral pain during a prolonged run. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 38, 448-456.
  3. Grieg, V. (1994). Inside Ballet Technique: Separating Anatomical Fact from Fiction in the Ballet Class. Hightstown, NJ: Princeton Book Company.
  4. Heinert, B. L., Kernozek, T. W., Greany, J. F. & Fater, D. C. (2008). Hip abductor weakness and lower extremity kinematics during running. J Sports Rehabil 17, 243-256.
  5. Schamberger, W. (2002). The malalignment syndrome. Oxford: Churchill Livingstone, 344-346.
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What You Can Do To Improve Tendu (and why it is crucial)


Image by Bichuas (E. Carton) via Flickr

It seems like such a small thing, really, that little second-place movement done at barre or in center.

But, no matter what type of concert dance technique you are studying (ballet, jazz, modern/contemporary), battement tendu — that’s the full name — is sure to make an appearance and with good reason!

A World Without Tendu

It is through tendu that dancers become conscious of directing and eventually expelling energy through a stretched (or pointed) foot. It is also where strength is developed in the foot for taking off and landing with cushion in jumps.

Without tendu (and its partner tendu jeté or dégagé) there would be no assemblé or grand jeté or entrechat quatre. Movements would lack the finish of a pointed foot and jumps would land awfully hard. But that’s not all that would be missing from classical or contemporary dance technique without tendu.

Though it may seem the working leg is the most important part of practicing tendu, you might be surprised to learn that the standing leg is equally critical.

Tendu is a dancer’s first experience standing on one leg (at least in a technical and conscientious way). It may not be instantly recognizable, but this is where preparation begins for poses like arabesque. Jazz and modern dancers practice tendu with both turned out and parallel rotation because they balance (or center themselves over a leg) in both turned out and parallel positions.

Pointe tendu - slipper and shoe

Photo by Chris Hays Photography is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

Tendu means stretched. The leg stretches to a point and then closes (that is the battement, or beating portion of the movement). In ballet and other dance forms, this stretched action (and the way the body reacts to it) is important preparation for just about everything, including rising to pointe, lifting, throwing, or balancing on a leg.

Who knew tendu was so important?

Your teachers. Maybe they haven’t always explained it this way but all those reasons above (and more) are why this little movement shows up in plenty of your barre and center exercises. So now that you are aware of its significance, let’s talk about…

What you can do to improve tendu.

Weight Shift – Standing Leg

Do This: As the working leg leaves its home base (1st or 5th position) there is a subtle, nearly undetectable shift of weight to one leg. During this shift…

  1. Maintain the turnout of your leg. If you feel strain and the need to decrease turnout in the standing leg as you shift your weight, reevaluate your turnout while standing on both legs, you may be over-rotating or forcing turnout.
  2. Balance your weight equally over the three points of the foot.
  3. Keep all 5 toes on the floor and be careful not to pronate or roll-in.
  4. When closing the tendu (especially when repeating), be aware of your weight. If you are lingering or leaning over the standing leg, you may be lifting your working hip and/or not properly creating resistance between the foot and floor in your tendu (more on that in a moment).

Imagine This: Imagine pouring your weight like sand into the standing leg, rather than dumping it all at once. Imagine your standing leg as a barbershop pole with stripes moving upward and wrapping outward to keep the rotation in your leg.  And I like this one, courtesy Eric Franklin’s Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance — Imagine having a third “ghost leg” that remains in its standing position even while your working leg moves away.

Weight Shift – Disengaging the Working Leg

Do This: Create resistance between the foot and the floor. This is less forceful than a press but does require some directed energy through the leg and foot. Articulate (or “work through”) the foot – peeling off the heel, ball, and finally stretching through the toes (also articulating in the reverse). Keep the toes long, there is no weight on the toe and you should be able to lift the leg from here without further shifting onto the standing leg.

Imagine This: Imagine the relatively light/easy press and bend of a paint brush that allows the painter to evenly distribute paint but still glide the brush smoothly. Imagine a layer of velvet or velour beneath your foot and enjoy the feeling of your foot moving through the plush carpet, leaving a trail in the fibers as the foot moves outward and returns. Imagine light or streaming air radiating from the hip and out through the toe, as well as upward and out through the top of the head.

The Hip Joint

Do This: Maintain rotation in both legs and keep the hips level and “quiet” with no extraneous movement.

Imagine This: Imagine a horizontal line between the sitz bones that stays level, as well as lines dangling from the sitz bones straight into the floor. Imagine that your flesh and muscles have disappeared and your skeleton is doing a tendu — picture the femur moving easily forward, back, or side in the acetabulum (socket). Imagine the ball joint of a pen holder – the holder portion (the leg) has freedom to move all over but the socket (the hip) is still.

For additional thoughts, check out Dianne’s blow-by-blow of battement tendu at Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes.


In dance technique some of the most important movements are found at the start of the class or ballet barre. They help to warm up the body, yes, but these are also the base upon which all other movements are built.

Tendu and plié are two movements we often take for granted as we learn them so early in our dancing life. The above suggestions are certainly not ALL of the things to be considered in battement tendu but they are more than enough to think about right now.

What corrections do you typically receive from your teacher during battement tendu?

Can you share any images or advice that have helped you master this important movement?

En Dehors, Out the Door

Frequently misspelled and endlessly confused, let’s go over these important dance directions!

There are typically two situations for which en dehors and en dedans are used in ballet and throughout most theatrical dance training.

  1. When indicating the direction of rotation in a pirouette, or turn.
  2. When describing the circular pathway of the leg in movements such as rond de jambe à terre or en l’air.

A bird’s eye view helps to illustrate the sometimes puzzling concepts:

En dehors

In dance, this term means outward. When turning, as the figure on the right above is showing, this outward rotation is relative to the supporting (sometimes called standing) leg. The dancer is thought of as moving “outward” toward whichever leg is lifted in the turn or, in other words, “away” from the supporting leg. Either way, the concept can be confusing for a new dancer. Sometimes thinking too hard about the explanation can confuse things further.

Wrapping one’s head around the idea of pathway is somehow easier. In rond de jambe à terre (on the ground), for instance, you would consider the pathway of the toe as it creates a semi-circle on the floor which, in en dehors, would trace from the front of the body to the back. When “working” or gesturing with the right leg, the action moves clockwise. With the left, counterclockwise.

Going back to pirouettes, it helps to apply this concept of pathway to the lifted knee. For pirouette en dehors, when “working” or gesturing with the right leg, the knee traces a clockwise pattern. When the left leg is lifted, the rotation is counterclockwise.

En dedans

As in right versus left, if it isn’t en dehors then it must be en dedans. Simply reversing the concept above will explain en dedans, which means inward in ballet. The toe in rond de jambe would begin to the back (or behind the body) and travel in a circular pathway toward the front. This time, when the right leg is working the toe orbits counterclockwise. The left moves clockwise from 6 o’clock to 12. Similarly, pirouettes with the right leg lifted rotate counterclockwise and visa versa when the left leg is up.

A few things to keep in mind:

It may help you to think of the knee drawing a circle around the axis of your body in your pirouette en dedans. However, be careful! In a classical turn, do not think of the knee as leading the body around. The leg must remain fully turned-out regardless of the direction you are turning.

Yes, this same terminology applies to fouetté turns, piqué turns (the most common of which are en dedans – read more on piqué turns here), turns à la seconde, grand rond de jambe, and rond de jambe en l’air. I won’t go into their explanations this time. If the concepts of en dehors and en dedans are not yet cemented in your mind, it is likely you aren’t ready to try all of these more advanced movements anyway!

The title of the post is an oft-used memory device reminding the dancer that en dehors means outward. Have you or your teachers used other tactics to remember the difference between en dehors and en dedans? Share them in the comments below the post!