I wanted to write a helpful guide for any outsider that might one day find themselves watching a ballet class and wondering what the hell the teacher is talking about, and how the hell all the dancers seem to understand. So I’ve created a list of ballet related phrases to help out those in need:
- “Think up to go down”. This usually refers to when a dancer basically just bends their knees. There’s no such thing as just bending your knees in any given position “einfach so”. Once you’re in a position and you are ready to descend you have to think of pulling up, then, and only then can you bend your knees. Oh and every ballet teacher knows if you’re thinking it or not. It’s a super power. There’s no bull shitting them with this one.
- “Feel the floor” and “the floor is your friend”. Because no one else is. No, that’s not true. This usually means that you need to keep your heels on the floor while you’re dancing and use your plié (the up-to-go-down knee bend thing). Not to be confused with physically lying on the floor and stroking it mid exercise. The floor isn’t actually your friend. No need to feel it up. That would be weird.
- “Energy! Presence!” I think these are pretty obvious. No one likes a dead face or a limp corpse dancing around the room.
- “Finish up.” Finish the combination with your stomach in and chin up.
- “Feel the music”. Just listen to the music and be on the friggen counts. It’s really not that hard. Just do it.
- “Head, head, head. Yes.” The dancer probably just did 3 turns in a row and landed it, hence the “Yes”. The “head, head” thing is just a reminder to spot as you turn.
- “Opposition”. I guess this goes back to the up-to-go-down thing. Opposition. Opposites. Get it?
- “Lengthen through the knee”. Stretch your knee. It’s probably bent. Simple as that.
- “No sickles. Fish the foot”. I don’t even know how to explain this. Ask me to demonstrate next time you’re watching class. It has something to do with the correct positioning of the foot.
- “Soft arms”. Make your arms less tense looking. I know you’re probably tensing every single muscle in your body just to get through the exercise but make your arms look like your frolicking through a meadow of flowers. It’s all about smoke and mirrors.
- “Shit off the shoe”. This one might just be a Stuttgart Ballet original but it basically just means “push the floor really hard with your foot as if you’re wiping a piece of shit off your shoe”. Others might say “strike a match on the ground”, see where I’m going with this? No? Me either.
- “Slice it.” “Work it.” “Feel it”. No this is not a Daft Punk song, it’s a ballet-ism.
- “Don’t throw it away!” Meaning; finish the combination well. Don’t just fall out of it and give up. Try to save what you can out of the spazzy movement you just did because on stage there are no “do-overs”.
- “Articulate the feet”. The way we use our feet is a huge part of dance and especially ballet. We have to always have them under control and strong to support all of the movement we do. “Articulating the feet” means being in total control of your feet and using them thoroughly.
- “Get out of the mirror.” This one refers to how we shouldn’t constantly be watching ourselves in the mirror as we dance. Dancers love to watch themselves in the mirror. But it’s mostly because we are constantly correcting ourselves and finding things that we don’t like and need to correct. It’s less in a narcissistic kind of way and more in a self-loathing kind of way. You know, the healthy kind.
There are many other “Ballet-isms” or corrections that we hear all the time. We all know what we have to do but sometimes we just need a little reminder, and sometimes that reminder can make all the difference. Sometimes a simple “fish the foot” is all it takes.