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Balanchine the Teacher

Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of New York City Ballet Dancers

Barbara Walczak and Una Kai

Publication Year: 2008

Widely regarded as the foremost choreographer of contemporary ballet, George Balanchine was, and continues to be, an institution and major inspiration in the world of dance.

Balanchine the Teacher is a technical explanation of the stylistic approaches that he taught in New York City between 1940 and 1960, as recorded by two prominent dancers who studied with him at that time. This phenomenal resource replicates moments in the studio with the influential teacher, vividly and meticulously describing his instructions and corrections for twenty-four classes.

These lessons not only introduce Balanchine’s methods for executing steps but also discuss the organization and development of his classes, shedding light on the aesthetics of his unique and celebrated style of movement. This is an indispensable ballet resource and a must-read for dancers, musicians, researchers, and balletomanes.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. xi-xii

I am grateful to so many friends who have made this work possible. Marybeth Horton did all the drudgery of helping me start to put these classes down. Evan Horst has been wonderful in deciphering my off-tune singing into something readable and usable. ...

Part 1. 20 Balanchine Classes from the 1950s 4 Classes from the 1960s and 1970s Commentary and Corrections

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pp. 1-2

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Introduction to Part 1

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pp. 3-6

As a young dancer, I had the need to notate Balanchine’s classes and corrections in order to better assimilate, remember, and understand what he wanted us to achieve. I have collected these lessons into a manuscript because I believe that these notes should not be lost but could be used as one more voice attesting to how Balanchine enriched and changed the world of dance. ...

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1.1. Suggestions to Teachers

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pp. 7-8

In writing down these Balanchine classes, and in conversing with dancers of my generation, I am now convinced that Balanchine’s classes should not be given to most dancers. Balanchine was not concerned with warming up the muscles gradually, or giving classes that were “dancey,” or using combinations that slowly prepared the body for more difficult movements. ...

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1.2. Teachers

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pp. 9-11

Remembering the difficulty of some of these classes and the physical fatigue we felt from the previous evening’s performance, I tried to remember what motivated us to get up each morning and into the studio. Undoubtedly, one main factor was Balanchine himself. The visceral excitement and pleasure that Balanchine projected upon entering the studio was palpable. ...

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1.3. Dancing in the Early 1950s

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pp. 12-14

Balanchine’s barre did not follow the usual format, which would warm the muscles up gradually. We may have done innumerable versions of tendu and battement followed by grand développé holding the leg up for several counts at a time. Sometimes, while our legs were still up, he would “forget” and start a discourse on how the step should resemble some delicious culinary extravaganza, ...

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1.4. Components of a Balanchine Class

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p. 15-15

As I have stated before, anyone studying these classes will have found that each exercise uses only one or two basic steps. There are few longer combinations and almost no grand allegro. I firmly believe that these classes can only be beneficial to dancers who are thoroughly trained in the entire syllabus. ..

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1.5. Introduction to the Music

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pp. 16-19

I have put a considerable amount of thought into how to write down what my body has done instinctively because of Balanchine’s training. Perhaps a good way of explaining the difference in approach between Balanchine’s use of music and the more traditional way of moving musically is to consider how Fokine’s Prelude from Les Sylphides is danced. ...

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1.6. Terminology

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pp. 20-56

Balanchine did not use terminology often; he would simply indicate what he wanted by marking it out for us. There are many schools and systems of teaching, each with its own positions and port de bras, and to avoid confusion I have chosen the simplest way to indicate positions. Where I have not been specific about a step such as croisé front, I mean it to be done in Balanchine’s version. ...

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1.7. How Center Exercises Are Done

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pp. 57-63


When doing fondue in the center, Balanchine had a very imaginative description of how he wanted the step done. If one is doing fondue to écarté front with the right foot, on the preparation in coupé, the head and body are turned slightly left and the eyes look slightly down. ...

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1.8. Corrections That Recur

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pp. 64-65

Here are corrections that recur in many of Balanchine’s classes:
(1) Don’t look like a dwarf. Pull up, look up and out, and straight- en knees completely.
(2) Women should always keep their legs together on changement and entrechat quatre.
(3) On cabriole fouetté, from effacé front to first arabesque, remember to keep the back up on the landing, and plié softly with the knee over the toes of the supporting leg....

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1.9. Classes from the 1950s

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pp. 66-164

This first class is taken from my earliest notes, dating back to 1949.
1. Grand Battement
Fifth position, right foot front: [ON&] One grand battement directly front. [CT1] Closing fifth. [ON&] Grand battement to the side. [CT2] Closing fifth. [ON&] Grand battement to the back. On [CT3] end in demi-plié in fifth. [ON&] Outside soutenu. ...

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1.10. Classes from the 1960s

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pp. 165-179

In 1968 I had the opportunity to observe several of Balanchine’s company classes and to note a few of them down. It was a pleasure to see these wonderful dancers in class. Balanchine had truly achieved a company of the body type that he had envisioned, and the technical level was thrilling. ...

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1.11. Classes from the 1970s: April 1, 1970

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pp. 180-190

1. Plié
First position:
Each plié will be done in three counts—two grand pliés in first position, two in second position, two in fifth position right foot front, and two in fifth position left foot front. ...

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1.12. Music Suggested for Balanchine Classes

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pp. 191-224

Music for the barre and first four classes should be simple with a good beat. However, the students may be singing along rather than focusing on the execution of the step. The perfect solution would be a pianist who could use the music suggested below as a source and then improvise. ...

Part 2. Balanchine’s Way Basic Principles of Balanchine’s Method Exercises and Steps Pointe Class 1960 Company Class 1978

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pp. 225-226

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Introduction to Part 2

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p. 227-227

The notes for this book were begun in 1963 while I was traveling in Europe staging Balanchine’s ballets. I wanted to explain the technique I learned during the twelve years that I trained daily with him. He gave explicit explanations of how to produce beautiful movement, and he was also a man who understood the possibilities and limitations of pointe work. ...

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2.1. In the Beginning

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pp. 228-229

Barbara “Basia” Walczak and I were students at the School of American Ballet when Balanchine needed dancers to form his company, and we will always remember how lucky we were to be in the right place at the right time. It was wonderful to be working with Balanchine during the early years when he was creating so many ballets. ...

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2.2. Balanchine’s Way

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pp. 230-243

Balanchine was always attempting to produce beautiful gestures, and all of his teaching was directed to that end. The legs must achieve utmost turnout, and jumps must be light and soundless. Probably the two most controversial elements in Balanchine training are the open placement of the hips in all positions of the leg to the back and jumping so that the heels never touch the ground. ...

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2.3. Basic Principles of Balanchine’s Method

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pp. 244-248

Balanchine taught that in classical ballet all movements should be performed in as beautiful a way as possible. All exercises must be designed to produce the desired result. The exercises at the barre should not include movements that are not specifically required but that perhaps stretch some part of the body in a way that “feels good.” Balanchine said that ballet is difficult and uncomfortable! ...

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2.4. The Barre

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pp. 249-252

In Balanchine’s classrooms, the barres were at the standard height, developed over the years by dancers everywhere. The barre should be at the level of the lower part of the rib cage so that the arm that is supported by the barre is at the same height as the extended arm. ...

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2.5. Exercises with Straight Leg Sliding Away from Supporting Leg

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pp. 253-258

Battement Tendu
Battement tendu to the front: From fifth position with the weight on the supporting leg and the legs firmly held, slide the whole foot forward on the floor as far as possible without shifting the body weight, passing through a small fourth position and stretch the foot by sliding the toe forward to full point with fully arched and contracted instep. ...

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2.6. Exercises Bending the Knee and Lifting the Foot from the Floor

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pp. 259-268

When lifting the foot from fifth position on the floor, there are two cou-de-pied positions in the front, but only one in the back. The foot is never lifted without passing through one of these positions. The foot always moves in one piece with no flexing of the toes. ...

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2.7. Rotary Movements

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pp. 269-271

Rond de Jambe par Terre
The movement is a circling of the entire working leg. The action originates from the thigh, which should retain the turnout of first position through- out the exercise. The musical accent is on the passing of the leg through first position, but the energy of the movement should be on the opening of the thigh with a strong swing. ...

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2.8. Poses

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pp. 272-275

Balanchine seldom used attitude allongé. The preferred position is rather tight with the thigh well back and fully turned out so that there is an unbroken line from hip bone to knee. The foot should always be held lower than the knee. The back must be well arched and the muscles contracted, especially on the side of the working leg. ...

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2.9. Port de Bras

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pp. 276-279

All parts of the body should participate in arm movements, whether accompanying steps or while standing still. The wrists and elbows should relax with the movement of the arms, and the torso, head, and eyes should incline with or counter to the arms so as to complement each particular type of movement. ...

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2.10. Jumping

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pp. 280-286

Modern classical technique requires very stretched legs in all jumps. However, the knees must be released from the taut position just before landing. Alight on the ball of the foot with all joints flexed, and descend to a deeper plié without letting the heels touch the floor. The heels should be pushed forward as the body lowers, ...

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2.11. Pointe Work

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pp. 287-289

There are two ways to get on pointe: piqué and relevé. And there are two ways to relevé: rolling up and down with or without plié, and springing up from plié. All relevés with a spring must be accomplished smoothly, elevating the body just enough to draw the feet under the center of gravity. ...

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2.12. Turning

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pp. 290-294

To prepare for pirouettes en dedans or en dehors from fourth position, the legs should be crossed so that one is directly behind the other, the front leg in demi-plié and the back leg straight. Avoid squatting in an open fourth or taking an extra plié before the relevé for the turn. The heel of the supporting foot must not be allowed to slip in the direction of the turn just before the relevé. ...

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2.13. Balanchine Pointe Class, 1960

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pp. 295-297

There was barre work first with all exercises designed to utilize relevés. Since the combinations were notated after class, they are not necessarily in the order in which they were given. ...

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2.14. Balanchine Company Class, October 1975

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pp. 298-300

Entire class including barre lasted about an hour, with all girls on pointe. Each exercise was repeated twice. Barre was very simple, with no complicated combinations, and lasted about 20 minutes. ...

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pp. 301-302

Una and I feel we owe a great debt of gratitude to George Balanchine. We hope that he will not be dissatisfied with our efforts to make his teaching more accessible to the dance world. ...

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About the Author

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p. 303-303

Barbara Walczak was born in Astoria, New York, and started her dance training with Phyllis Marmein at the YMCA at 50th Street and 10th Avenue. She studied with Igor Schwezoff before being taken by her teacher to the School of American Ballet at about 13 years of age. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048307
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813032528
Print-ISBN-10: 0813032520

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2008