After hours of barre, relentless plies and tendus, and working up strength in pointe shoes, a dancer then faces ballet partnering. Whether your first opportunity comes from a summer intensive or from your home studio, partnering can be a rarity due to the surfeit of ballerinas and deficit of ballerinos. But, partnering is valuable training, and feels just a step away from flying.
Here are my top three tips when beginning ballet partnering:
1. Trust is Everything
This is megaly, hugely, primarily, the key to success. Beginning partnering will sometimes cause a lack of trust in girls. It may seem totally lame, but if you are someone who has trust issues, this is when you have to deal with it. I remember having to spin around ten times to get dizzy, go on pointe (barely able to balance from the spinning), cross my arms over my chest, close my eyes, and fall back into a partner’s arms who I barely knew and whose name I had completely forgotten. There was shrieking. My partner brazenly bent low so that he caught me just a couple feet above the ground. I survived, but if I had flinched, or relaxed my body from being stiff as a board, I would have surprised my partner and could have been dropped. Throughout class, I always reminded myself that my partner has as much at stake in dropping me as I do in not being dropped. Remember: no boy wants to drop a girl and become the partner with whom no one wants to dance.
2. Communicate with your Partner
Along with trust, communication with your partner is critical. When dancing with boys who are new to ballet partnering, experiment with different methods and placements until one works. With experienced partners, I love to ask, “How can I make this easier for you?” “How should we approach this move?” “How should I jump?” etc. I once had a discussion on which styles of leotard and which fabrics were better for grip. (I have heard polar opposites on this question and cannot find a universal solution.) Each boy is different in style.
Once in a week-long intensive I had a very nitpicky partner, who made me practice the penché with him, and he would tell me to give him more weight, then tell me to straighten my working leg more, then grab my foot and wing it beyond what I thought was possible for me, then go back to correcting my hands on his arm. It felt completely unnecessary, but then the teacher called us up to demonstrate our form for the class. In the first week of the intensive, surrounded by people I barely knew, this recognition made my day. I learned to welcome friendly corrections.
After all, we all just want to get better.
Lastly, what if you have issues with your partner? Does he seem agonizingly incompetent? Is he annoying? Does he smell? Is he sweating too much to even have a grip on you? Two things: If in the interest of improving, help him with the combo and tell him to wipe his sweat on a towel. If in the interest in complaining, suck it up. You smell, he smells, everyone is sweating. Dance is gross. Get over it. He won’t be your partner for eternity, even if it feels that way. Though it is good to get along with your partner, don’t feel like every partner has to be your best friend. If you do find a friend in your partner, congrats and enjoy it, you have found a great person for dance and fun.
3. Technique is Key
Remember that your partner is a living, breathing, humanoid version of a barre. When using your partner for balance, there is a bit of resistance that must occur. If hand in hand, the boy should be pushing up into your hand while you push down onto it. Firmly, but not like arm wrestling. The resistance is to create stability. If you ever feel unstable, just remember to press down without affecting your form, much like you would with a barre.
It’s all about those abs…
At all times you need to support yourself, engage your abs, and create a solid supporting leg. You want to be a solid board, not a noodle. It is simply easier for a partner to lift a singular form, rather than a floppy-limbed body.
Often in ballet partnering, a girl forgets all the technique she has learned for so much of her life. Don’t let the fear of hitting your partner or falling compromise form. It will just cause problems for everyone involved. This can be hard to remember when you are turning and trying to avoid slapping your partner, but just close your arms a bit and do not let your hips get lopsided in retiré.
Always stay on pointe and have a solid supporting leg. In my first partnering class, I remember the teacher telling the boys that if they dropped the girls, they would be kicked out of class, but if we go off pointe we are done. Seems weird, but for boys, they are relying on constants like a predictably solid leg. When girls are scared, the reaction is to go off pointe, but this just causes more problems for boys trying to keep us balanced. If we go off pointe, they could lose their grip and drop us.Know that boys are different in strengths, skills, and experience—be ready to experiment to find what works, especially with boys newer to ballet partnering.
Partnering work can also be transferred back to technique class. In partnering, I have found placements that felt off balance only to discover that the placement let me balance way better once I got used to it. Partnering reminds you how important it is to have a solid base and points out the areas in which you may be lacking strength.
Though partnering may seem uncertain, dreadful, or even alien, just remember to embrace the spectacular strength and grace that is ballet partnering.
Author Samantha Loui is a 17-year old dancer/actor/singer who is home schooled in Los Angeles, CA. Sammy first put on a tutu at the age of three. Her ballet studies included summer intensives at Kaatsbaan Extreme Ballet in upstate New York and the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago. Sammy also enjoys contemporary, lyrical and jazz dance and has been a competition dancer for several years and is pursuing a professional career in the performing arts.