APLOMB - Stability, Assurance, Poise
Correct posture allows us to use our bodies with maximum efficiency. In the words of Vaganova, "a correctly set body is the foundation of dance". We call this 'aplomb'. This term applied to the dancer means that he or she has full control of their body and limbs with their weight correctly centred during a movement. The use of the back is particularly important in achieving this control as the stem of aplomb is the spine.
The basic concept of alignment, leading to stability (aplomb) is an important concept to understand early on in dance training and perfect over the years, as stability allows us to move freely without tension. It also maximises our external rotational potential (turnout) - another crucial element of ballet technique.
To achieve aplomb, we must consider the multiple factors that can have an effect on our overall alignment. As noted in the book "Inside Ballet Technique: Separating Anatomical Fact from Fiction" by Valerie Grieg, "The key to good posture is the correct alignment of the spine. The body masses of the skeleton – head, rib cage, and pelvis – are stacked vertically, like building blocks, over their base, the legs and feet. This balanced position, with the shoulder girdle hanging easily on top of the rib cage, causes the line of gravity – the imaginary vertical line that exactly bisects the weight of the body – to fall through the centre of the structure."
You can test your understanding of alignment to achieve aplomb and complete some self study, by standing in parallel (6th position - standing with feet together, parallel to each other) sideways to a mirror to be able to see your placement.
1. Begin by becoming aware of your weight distribution through your foot, which should be spread equally. The way the weight of a camera on a tripod is distributed is a good analogy for the way we stand on our feet, with the 'legs' of the tripod being our big toe, pinky (5th) toe, and our heel.
2. Engage your thigh muscles by pulling up through the quadriceps without pushing back into your knee joint. You want to feel a lift through the front of the legs and feel length through the backs. You can think about lifting your knees caps towards your hips to help you achieve this.
3. Align and lengthen your spine from tailbone to neck. Referencing Valerie Grieg again, "The pull-up is a lengthening of the spine from coccyx to atlas".
- Lift through the front of the pelvis, imagining you are zipping up your navel, aligning your pelvis so that your sitz bones (aka sit bones or ischial tuberosities) point straight towards the floor. Your pelvis should not be tipped forward into an anterior tilt, pushing the glutes back or tucked under (posterior tilt). Think about zippering the public bone towards the navel to activate the lower abdonimals.
- Feel a lift up and out of the waist, creating space in between each vertebrae of the spine. While all four layers of abdominal muscles are important (rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques and transversus abdominis), the transverse abdominals, which act as a type of corset, are responsible for creating intra-abdominal pressure that supports your spine.
- The ribs, stacked on top of the pelvis are not splayed, but relaxed, maintaining the imaginary connection with the pubic bone through the abdominals. With the spine correctly elongated, the rib cage should simply hang around it.
4. Open up the chest feeling length through the collar bones and width in the upper back, engaging the latissimus dorsi muscles (lats). Glide the shoulder blades down without pinching them together. You want to feel them pulled down and held flat against the rib cage, keeping the shoulders open and preventing them from rolling forwards.
5. Stack the head on top of the spine, feeling the length from the spine through the neck and slightly forward and up out of the top of the head. Chin is slightly lifted, without tucking under or jutting forwards.
Once we develop an understanding of aplomb, we are then able to dance with confidence and perceived freedom of movement that this crucial foundation provides.