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"On Her Leg"

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In his recent review of Mark Morris's Sylvia*, Paul Parish used the expression on her leg as follows:

(the ballerina)

was not quite on her leg that night, and she let it bother her — nothing that a non-dancer would notice – but it did put her just enough off the music so that her variation did not sing.

Not being a dancer, I am not familiar with the expression, but it sounds wonderfully descriptive and I'd be most grateful for any help in understanding and using the term:

1. Is this something involved in attaining or feeling balance?

2. Does it apply specifically to pointe, or is it more general?

3. If it puts a dancer off the music, why wouldn't a non-dancer notice? Or is it that only a dancer would notice this as the particular reason for being off-time?

* http://www.danceviewtimes.com/2006/Spring/04/sylvia.html

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Actually, I've never heard that expression used the way Paul does in your quote above (maybe it's a west coast thing). In my experience, it is used regarding technique and balance in a particular position. It does not apply specifically to pointe. Either you are on your leg (that is, on balance on one leg) or you aren't. If you're not on your leg, you would probably come off (demi-)pointe but not actually fall in the sense most non-dancing people think of falling. However, I'm not sure how a dancer could perform an entire variation without being on balance once. If you're not on your leg, you assuredly can't relevé to pointe. Perhaps Paul means the ballerina had trouble finding her balance and was just mildly "off" in the sense an opera singer might be just a tiny hair sharp or flat--not enough for most people in the audience to notice or to seriously affect the quality of the performance, but enough to annoy and distract the dancer.

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I think Hans and Paul are talking about the same thing, but maybe Paul's meaning wasn't as absolute as Hans' reading. You can be slightly off your leg, but you can compensate by using other (usually abdominal muscles). Maybe Paul will elaborate here (hint, hint).

"Can you feel it?"Don't be mean! Theoretically, yes. That's probably why I never got out of Advanced Beginner-Intermediate :) I could usually feel it pretty well on my right leg, but hardly at all on my left.

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In my own head, there are shades of "on your leg" - a dancer can make it through a performance without being perfectly on his/her leg, but then there's that nirvana of being perfectly turned out, pulled up and isolated so that the leg is working freely in the hip socket. It's an anatomical metaphor, not a reality.

Look at dancers from the Paris Opera in retiré (passé) position. No one is more "on their legs" than them.

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We've just finsihed a two week run of Sleeping Beauty here, so I've been thinking quite a lot about being on and off -- I agree with Leigh that you can be off your leg and still dance competently, but the confidence that comes with everything being in just the right place is what we all hope for, dancers and dance watchers alike.

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I don't know...I wouldn't consider someone who couldn't consistently be on his/her leg to be much of a dancer.

I've also thought for some time now that there are diverging viewpoints on this as far as training goes. Russians (not just Vaganova-trained) seem to have a take-charge attitude regarding balance--they will be on, and if they're not, they'll fight to the death to get there. Western-trained dancers tend to think more along the lines of "if it happens, it happens"--you're either on or you aren't, not much you can do about it. That's not to say that Russians never have off nights in class or performance, but I do find that their attitude makes one more aware of what balancing involves and how to control it.

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I don't know...I wouldn't consider someone who couldn't consistently be on his/her leg to be much of a dancer.
Please don't get upset with me, Hans, but . . .

Suzanne Farrell, at the peak of her profession, spent most of her career off her leg.

I think the issue, as with most other balance-related techniques, is knowing how to get it back when you've lost it. Everyone loses their leg or center at some point. Some of us think one of the most thrilling things an audience can behold is the ballerina, on fouette number 10, tilted fifteen degrees off her axis, then pulling herself right, getting back to center stage, and finishing the turns -- ta-DAH! -- with nary more ado.

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Oh, I don't doubt it re: Farrell, but I'm also convinced that instead of the tiny tubes of fluid that most people have in their inner ears that help them balance, Farrell has gyroscopes! She was truly a master of knowing exactly where her balance was and just how "off" she had to be in order to create the effect she was going for, and that is rare indeed*.

I also think we're in agreement about getting one's balance back after losing it. For this reason, a natural balancer may be completely thrown if s/he has an off moment or night whereas someone who has had to work at it would know exactly what s/he has to do to get back on.

*Note that I said "couldn't," not "didn't on purpose." :)

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Hey guys,

Sorry to be coming in on this discussion so late, but I actually didn't know that drb had started this thread till today--

I guess maybe the "view new posts" function isn't showing ALL the new posts? Because I've kinda been looking for a thread since I suggested it to drb after he queried me directly as to what I meant when I wrote that..... As I suspected would hapen, you all have said a lot of interesting things.

It's curious to see what looks like a divide between the Soviet school (Hans-- please forgive me for caricaturing you thus) and the American school. Of course under the Soviets there would be no room for play in an issue like being on your leg -- you can't be heroic without it, though you CAN be "cool" without it. SO much of the American style is based on "take a chance" musicality that comes from jazz, which requires finding your alignment by swinging the bones into place rather than "total placement anxiety." Under Balanchine, a dancer like Stephanie Saland could get all the way to the top without really having a solid standing leg. Like Leigh and Carbro and the other Balanchine-school dance-students, I think of "on your leg" as a relative thing. Some dancers can't be knocked off their legs, and Cynthia Gregory I think took that to the point of bad taste.

Farrell is my favorite example of a dancer who knows how to stay cool while daring to be off her leg, and she and Mr B experimented with what she could do -- and Hans is probably right in that she COULD have been on her leg if the choreography had called for that. My SECOND-favorite, though, is Russian, Marina Semyonova, whose White Swan variation ("Magic of the Bolshoi") deserves study by everybody who cares about ballet, for she sails through it with absorbed poetic delicacy while never being on her leg once. The double ronde de jambes, the tiny bourrees, all of it, she's never quite up on it and it doesn't bother her, she keeps on dancing. it's just fabulous dancing.

lt seems that like everybody who's posting on this subject has taken at least ten years of ballet, but maybe some people are reading it who don't think they are familiar with the feeling of being on your leg. But in fact it's something we've all known, we were all infants once and all learned to sit up, to stand, and to take our first steps.

"On your leg' is what dancers call it when your alignment is perfect and youre fabulously on your balance -- it's a combination of having the bones aligned properly and the right muscles holding. it's a visible thing, since the confidence it gives you can make your turns much more relaxed, your balances calm and long-lasting.... It's basically the same thing that children are looking for when they first learn to stand and walk, stability, so everybody has experienced it looking for it....

But some dancers' personalities (Saland comes to mind, also Ferri) or musicality are so strong that their imagination can over-ride a less-than-solid technique and create an image that holds up for us....

Sorry, I've kinda overstated this -- I don't have time right now to go back through and nuance it....

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Actually, I was Balanchine-trained for 11 years, and Russian-trained for only one! But although the Kirov Academy had a profound influence on me, I'm afraid I'm not a worthy representative of the Soviet school, and I make only the smallest claims as far as my knowledge of the Vaganova syllabus goes. I'm not offended, Paul--in fact, I'm flattered!--just trying to make a "full disclosure!" :thanks: VRSfanatic would be able to authoritatively state the Vaganova point of view for anyone who's interested.

I actually see the divide (based on my limited knowledge) as between Russian (not necessarily Soviet) schooling and pretty much everyone else, as I have not encountered a similar attitude from either American (Balanchine and otherwise), RBS, RAD, or French (both POB-trained and otherwise) teachers. I don't have experience with Bournonville. The European styles and techniques generally pay more attention to the issue of balance, but the same forceful willpower and detailed analysis, both in terms of what goes into being on and controlling one's balance, and the ability to assess what is going wrong in a balance and how to fix it while remaining on (demi-)pointe are just not there.

Furthermore, I think it is important to keep in mind that people of Suzanne Farrell's generation (as well as many people currently dancing with NYCB), though they may have attended SAB, had many years of training that did not involve the Balanchine style. They therefore most likely knew how to be "on" their legs before Balanchine's company classes and choreography required them to be judiciously "off" them.

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Lampwick, back on May, 11, 2004 on the Kowroski thread under Dancers, dicussed Maria's being on her leg and how it is done that seems to relate somewhat to what Paul Parish was saying, I think (but purely as a layman). Lampwick:

Her knees ARE hyperextended but they're not as extreme as they appear on TV I think.. .And her bones are straight and aligned. It's so important to really align yourself over the working hip with hyperextension and Maria does this very well. Instead of pulling away from the working leg in an extension and placing undue stress on the joints, she puts herself right on her leg, and allows the skeleton to support itself, with minimal "pulling"effort from the muscles. Watch the section in Barocco where she does the developpee over the people kneeling down. She goes right onto the supporting hip and rotates the working leg right in the socket for turnout, barely any lift to the hip on the working leg side. This is very good technique, it has to come from a ton of support in the abdominals. Effortless. That's why she appears so "curvy" when she dances, even though she's a very thin woman. She uses her body in a very anatomical, straightforward fashion.

Kowroski's lumbar spine is very curved, which helps give her those amazing arabesques, and I'd be more apt to think her back would be prone to injury, rather than the knees. She's so very strong though, and I'm sure gets constant attention from staff physical therapists and pilates and so on. Sports medicine/dance medicine has gotten so good. Total guesswork though, I have absolutely no idea if she is prone to injury or not or what her "issues" are.

There is more material there, before and after what I quoted.

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I made that post so long ago! It's so strange to read it...

Maria is amazing. She's *quite* a special talent.

I'm working in a company now (well...as a lowly apprentice). After experiencing a lot more, I'd NEVER presume to predict what area of a dancer's body is prone to injury. At least...without knowing them personally and knowing thier patterns of pain, history, etc....

But back to the topic at hand...

A dancer like Farrell appeared, to me...from what I see on tapes...to have a focus that allowed her to muscle through her turns, while off her leg. It appears to have something to do with her commitment to the music. She doesn't seem to adjust, and put herself back on...she can simply get throught he turn while "off".

From what I've seen from Kowroski (on stage and in classes), she appears to have a control over finding her "plumb line". I've seen her go off in multiple turns, but has such control that she adjusts her body into the correct alignment...even while doing multiple turns. She can go "off her leg", but has the control to correct it. She can put herself right "on".

In either case, the mental focus is remarkable. Tall, loose bodies are difficult to control. They have really amazing talent

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Oh, thanks. I LOVE the opportunity to learn and dance this repertory. But believe me, I'm lowly.

But I only meant to say that because I didn't want to seem presumptuous about Maria's knees and back! I've seen a few things now...and you can't judge based on what you *think* you know about someone's body, based on thier technique. Too many factors.

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