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6 Tips to Improve Your Students' Épaulement

Angela Sterling, courtesy of PNB

The French definition might translate to "shouldering," but épaulement is actually much more than that. "It's not just a superficial turn of the shoulders—it creates energy from the inside out," says Marisa Albee, faculty member at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. It's also what can elevate technically proficient dancing to something nuanced, dynamic and truly exciting. "Think of épaulement as the punctuation at the end of a sentence," says Brooke Moore, a faculty member for BalletMet's trainee program. "The head and the eyes are the exclamation point!"


"I think of épaulement as everything from the rib cage up," says Moore. "It's the whole upper body as a package—ribs, shoulders, neck, head, arms, hands, even the eyes."

Joseph Giacobbe, director of the Giacobbe Academy in New Orleans, likens épaulement to the famous ancient Greek Venus de Milo statue. "It has a curve to it," he says. Were you to remove the angling of the statue's torso and shoulders, its flattened front would be much less interesting. "Épaulement gives a third dimension to the dance—everything looks flat without it," says Giacobbe. "It shades what you're doing and gives it a coloration."

Brooke Moore demonstrates a position at the front of the classroom, exaggerating the \u00e9paulement.

Brooke Moore.

Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy Ballet Met

Upgrade your épaulement by avoiding these mistakes:

Don't overturn your body to the corner, especially when changing from one side to the other in a step like changement, says Albee. "When a student overturns, they look like an old-fashioned washing machine, throwing themselves from side to side," she says, "because there's no opposition of energy."

Don't let épaulement end at the neck. "One needs to have energy running throughout the entire torso—a lengthened waist and lifted chest," Albee says.

Albee in the front of the classroom, demonstrating tendue side. Her students are at the barre.

Marisa Albee.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Don't forget about petit allégro. That's when most dancers let it slip, says Albee, "making steps that have the potential to be exciting very bland."

Don't sacrifice épaulement for extension height. Moore has dancers stop, put their leg down and show her where the head and the arm should be. She tells them to memorize that position—"feel it, the muscle memory"—and then try the extension again.

Brooke Moore.

Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy Ballet Met

Don't let your collarbones be parallel with the floor, says Albee. Instead, strive for the collarbones to be diagonal. "This stems from having life in the waist, back and chest," she says.

Don't overturn your chin toward your downstage shoulders when in croisé, says Albee. It can cause the chin to tuck and pull back, creating what she calls a "harsh and static" look. Instead, with the body in croisé, first turn your head so that it's en face. From this position, then tilt the head, allowing the jaw to escape forward in space as the chest simultaneously lifts.

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