Updated: Nov 16
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Have you ever wondered about the term "line" in the world of ballet? It's a term you might hear, but wonder what it means. You'll often hear it in the context of praising a dancer's grace or highlighting areas for improvement.
What is Ballet Line?
In the ballet lexicon, "line" refers to an imaginary line that runs from one end of the body to the other, sometimes extending beyond the physical form itself. Whether it stretches from the tips of the fingers to the toes or from the crown of the head to the heels, a good line is characterised by its smooth and unbroken appearance, with curves and straight lines equally welcome in this aesthetic discipline.
Why is Ballet Line so Important?
The importance of ballet line cannot be overstated. It is the foundation of classical adult ballet classes and an essential component of a captivating performance. It plays a vital role in creating the illusion of effortless grace and fluidity. When a dancer achieves a perfect line, it creates the illusion of effortless grace and fluidity, drawing the audience into the magic of the moment. Line also helps prevent injury by maintaining proper alignment and placement
The Line in Arabesque
The term "line" is often associated with the arabesque, a quintessential ballet position. Here, the line begins at the tip of the gesture leg, travels through the arched spine, and extends out through the crown of the head. However, there is another line in the arabesque, one that runs from the shoulder to the fingertips and beyond. The use of the eyeline, where the dancer looks beyond their fingertips, helps create the impression of a line extending outward. Common issues with the line include tilting the head too far back, "hinging" in the lumbar spine, and bending the wrist or elbow.
Common Habits That Can Distort Your Line
Be aware of common habits that can distort your lines and be vigilant in avoiding them.
Tilting the pelvis or hips
Popping the ribs
Bending the wrist and elbows too much
Turning your leg in or lifting one hip during leg extensions
Tilting the head too far back or looking down, breaking the line in the neck
Leaning forward in arabesque, which creates a straight line, rather than the desired curve
How to Achieve a Good Line in Ballet
If you aspire to improve your line in ballet, there are several techniques that you can try.
Use the mirror to check for smoothness and continuity of your line, and adjust accordingly. However, be cautious that excessive reliance on the mirror may distort your line, as you have to move your head to see.
Take photographs or film yourself to see your lines from various angles.
Watch ballet videos on YouTube or social media and looking at photos can help you begin to recognise what a good line looks like, so you'll be better equipped to imagine the lines in your own body when dancing.
Watch and learn from experienced dancers in your class or performances to observe how they create beautiful lines.
Power of proprioception
Take the opportunity to stand ready with good posture and alignment before and after each exercise or enchainment can help develop muscle memory for proper ballet posture, making it easier to maintain your line unconsciously.
Practice balance exercises to improve your proprioception and stability, which can enhance your ability to control your line.
Use tactile cues, such as touching your own body, to improve your awareness of your own movement and line.
Focus on placement
Focus on leg placement rather than height in leg extensions like développé or grand battement.
Know your true second position for leg extensions à la seconde (taking the leg directly to the side is too far back for most dancers, except for those few who possess 180 degree turnout)
Develop the ability to maintain neutral pelvis and spine (Neutral pelvis refers to a position where the hip bones and pubic bone are in a level plane, neither tilted forward nor backward. Neutral spine refers to a position where the natural curves of the spine are maintained, with the head, shoulders, and hips in alignment.)
Work on flexibility and strength
Work on back flexibility, mobility, and strength to create a smooth curve where both the thoracic (upper) and lumbar (lower) spine are curved (the thoracic spine is often less flexible than the lumbar, and a common problem is over working the lumbar spine, which creates a sharper bend in the spine).
Develop your core strength, including abdominal and back muscles.
Work on your turnout muscles to maintain proper placement in various positions.
Work on flexibility as well as the strength to hold positions at the end of your range of motion.
Stretch and warm up properly before dancing to prevent injury and to ensure that your muscles are ready to perform at their best.
Cultivate your imagination by visualizing the lines your body is creating, as this can improve your proprioception and your line.
Visualize a string pulling you up from the crown of your head. This will help you maintain a lifted posture and prevent sinking or collapsing.
Imagine a small ball behind your neck that supports your head when you are in a position where the spine is arched.
Use your eyeline to complement and extend the lines created in your body.
Imagine the movement of air around your body, which can help you create a sense of flow and continuity in your line.
By slowing down your movements, you can focus more on your technique and make the necessary adjustments to improve your form and alignment:
develop muscle memory, which means that your body will start to remember the correct movements and positions. This is especially important when it comes to developing a beautiful line in ballet, as it requires precise movements and placement.
work on your balance and stability, which are essential for maintaining a clean and beautiful line. By focusing on slow, controlled movements, you can work on building strength in the muscles that help you to balance and stabilize.
focus on your alignment, which is critical for developing a beautiful line in ballet. By slowing down and taking the time to ensure that your body is properly aligned, you can make adjustments to your technique and improve your line.
So let's recap. Line is an essential component of ballet, forming the foundation of classical ballet technique and contributing to the creation of the illusion of grace and fluidity. The arabesque is a quintessential ballet position that emphasises the importance of line, and dancers must be vigilant in avoiding common habits that can distort their lines. Improving line requires a combination of observation, proprioception, focus, flexibility and strength, visualisation, and slow practice. Developing a beautiful line is a challenging and ongoing process, but with practice and dedication, dancers can achieve an unbroken and fluid appearance that captures the magic of ballet.