Ask Amy

Advice for getting out of a rut, plus tips on fouettés and practice tutus.
Published in the October/November 2011 issue.

Photo by Nathan Sayers

 

Have a question? Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.


I used to be the most advanced dancer in my class, but recently I feel like my technique has stopped improving while everyone else is getting better. What do I do? —Carrie
This is a good thing—you finally have some competition! It’s easy to feel comfortable when you’re the best dancer in your class. But sometimes that leads to complacency because you don’t have the extra incentive to push yourself. It’s time to reevaluate your approach to class and step it up a notch. Are you focused and listening to corrections, or are you phoning in familiar combinations? Do you use down time between groups to practice or do you take a break? Identify where your self-discipline wanes and make improvements.

It’s normal to experience a plateau every now and again. It may last for a few weeks or a few months, but it’s usually followed by a breakthrough and flurry of improvement. Body conditioning classes (like Pilates, yoga or weight training) can help you reconnect with your body in different ways and provide new ideas to apply to your technique. Inspiration helps, too—go to a performance, listen to ballet music or watch videos of your favorite dancer to recharge.


I practice my fouetté turns every day but they don’t improve. I travel so much, and it’s frustrating me! Do you have any tips for building strength and consistency? —Heather
Several things might be affecting your fouetté turns, such as poorly controlled relevés or wild arms. But according to Lupe Serrano, a faculty member at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre, dancers usually travel when they’re lifting their working hip. “Your hips need to remain the same height,” she says. “Otherwise you create a tilt of the spine, which will throw you off balance.” You can practice fouettés endlessly, but they’ll never improve if your alignment is off.
There’s no need to go back to the barre—since you’re losing your balance in the center, that’s where you should tackle the problem. “Practice the movement properly in the center without turning,” says Serrano. Relevé passé, then slowly plié the leg front, open side and relevé passé to find your placement and balance. “Keep your hips at the same height,” she says. “Be careful not to lose your turnout on the supporting leg as you open the working leg to the side.”

When you can consistently find your balance and proper placement, try turning. Shoot for 16 clean, well-placed fouettés. Once your traveling is under control, you can aim for more.
 

What’s the best way to store and take care of practice tutus so that they don’t stick up at weird angles? —Kathryn
You should hang a tutu upside down when you store it. Gravity will naturally cause the tulle to droop, so keeping it upside down helps the skirt stay pancake-flat. However, don’t just stick a hanger through the panty; the elastic will stretch out and provide—ahem—inadequate bottom coverage.

Instead, sew hanging tape (those loops that are sewn on the inside of skirts and strapless dresses) to the inside of the waistband, says Holly Hynes, resident costume designer for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and costume consultant for The George Balanchine Trust. “Pull the loops through the leg holes and hook those on the hanger,” she says. Make sure you leave enough space around your tutu so that the tulle doesn’t get crinkled.

Several companies make circular tutu garment bags, which are perfect for when you’re traveling to the theater. “These are great for gigs, but not for long-term storing,” says Hynes. The tulle can get crushed along the edges if the tutu is not perfectly flat inside the bag, so take it out and hang  it upside down once you get to your destination.

If your tutu looks wrinkled, treat it the old-fashioned way. “Tutu net does well with an iron and ironing board,” says Hynes. “This means untacking and retacking the layers, but it’s the best method.” How do you know when it’s time for a new one? “If you can roll it up and stick it in a suitcase,” she says, “it probably needs to be replaced.”