Jillian Anderson, a student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Alaska, demonstrates grand battement with épaulement: effacé devant.

Teaching ballet to young students often means working their bodies from the bottom up: feet and legs first, followed by the torso, arms and head. But at what point should you start introducing épaulement, or “placing of the shoulders”? For many teachers, this is a gray area. Épaulement is considered both an essential part of basic technique and an artistic finishing touch. How and when to teach it depends on each student’s age and level of training. But whether you’re working on épaulement for the first time in class or writing it into your curriculum, a consistent and thoughtful approach can help students develop a natural and expressive use of their shoulders and head. 

Build It In

Teachers should introduce épaulement once students can execute basic positions en face, or facing the barre, and are ready to start working in croisé and effacé. (Usually students will reach this level of training by age 9 or 10.) “Introduce it at barre and increase its complexity as the student develops,” says Michael Chernov, co-artistic director of the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet in New York. “If you do all of your barre exercises en face, you’re going to have trouble adapting to épaulement in the center.”

To begin, Chernov suggests that students start facing the barre in fifth position. They can rise, make a 45-degree turn to the corner and lower, putting themselves at an angle to the barre. “Using that turn is an important part of developing épaulement,” he says. “Then you can start exercises based on that slight turn.” Have intermediate and advanced students do a combination with one hand on the barre and the torso a quarter turn away, to effacé: three grands battements en croix with the legs, using épaulement in each direction. “Change from one angle to another,” explains Chernov. “By varying your orientation at barre, you make the person move their supporting leg. That develops their feeling of en dedans or en dehors.”

En face

Center Practice

Joseph Giacobbe, director of the Giacobbe Academy of Dance in Louisiana, focuses on simple combinations in center to reinforce épaulement. “I give a battement tendu exercise starting fifth front with the right foot,” he explains. “Tendu side, and move the head away from the working leg. When you close fifth back, the head ends over the front shoulder. Keep changing feet and épaulement.” Giacobbe has young dancers repeat this exercise with passé, as long as they can support themselves on one leg without falling. “Go slow so they can think about when the body is changing,” he says.

During petit allégro, he suggests keeping the arms low, en bas, to focus on the angles of the head and shoulders: “When you give too much port de bras, they forget to use épaulement. You lose the third dimension of the body, and it just looks flat.” As students advance, by age 12 or 13, they should be working in croisé and effacé throughout class. “If you insist upon it enough, they get used to these positions and feel how the head and shoulders relate to the rest of the body,” says Giacobbe.

Effacé derrière

Take a Theatrical Approach

Épaulement can also be reinforced through imagery. “When you’re in croisé, incline the upstage shoulder so your whole body tilts a little bit, as if there was a light shining on you,” says Chernov. “Imagine that you’re trying to feel more of the sun and you want to be warm.” GKA students are encouraged to feel like they are emitting light as well, constantly changing the arc of their épaulement as they switch from corner to corner. “That way you’re seeing all the different facets of the person’s body,” he says. “Dramatically, it opens them up more.”

As students work on épaulement, they should also pay attention to their gaze. Slightly lowering the eyes or lifting them just above the horizon line can create different forms of expression. “The focus of the eyes has to be built in,” says Chernov. “It helps ensure that your head is always in the right place, even when it’s constantly moving. The eyes determine everything.” DT

Julie Diana retired from Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014. She and her husband Zachary Hench now direct Juneau Dance Theatre in Alaska.

Petit Allégro Exercises to Develop Épaulement

At the Giacobbe Dance Academy in Louisiana, director Joseph Giacobbe gives the following combinations to introduce—and reinforce—the use of épaulement:

Échappés sautés, landing en face in second position and then croisé in fifth. “It’s an easy way to get younger students to change from corner to corner.”

Glissade changée to the side. “Keep moving in one direction, changing the head and feet.”

Alternate sissonnes over and under, moving sideways. “With the arms en bas, it’s very distilled and dancers learn to just use their bodies.”

Photo by Bridget Lujan, courtesy of Juneau Dance Theatre

Don’t miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's the middle of the semester and two dancers are sitting out of class, you're worried about one student's mental health and another has developed an eating disorder. Sound familiar? College can be a tumultuous time. To help address the additional demands of being a dance major, some schools have found strategies for enhancing wellness and integrating health services into their departments.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox