Pull Up or Push Down?

Understanding and Using the Concept of Opposition in Ballet 

 We all know opposites attract, right? We also know that we reach equilibrium if the vector sum of all forces acting upon oneself is zero (ballet is all physics and math!). How do we incorporate these principles of opposition in our dancing and why is it helpful?

Ballet is full of opposition whether you think about it or not, however focusing on this concept can aid in achieving better technique with a variety of movements. Standing with proper posture = opposition. Turning out your legs = opposition. Jumping = opposition. Balancing = opposition. Have we made our point(e) yet?

Let's think about how we can use the concept of opposition with posture and balance. This blog post is titled 'Pull Up or Push Down'. Do we do one or the other? The answer is that we must do both. According to Valerie Grieg in the book 'Inside Ballet Technique: Separating Anatomical Fact from Fiction', "The pull-up is a lengthening of the spine from coccyx to atlas", with your coccyx being your tailbone and your atlas being the top of your spine where your skull attaches. Here she references the terms 'pull-up' however, if we think about lengthening downwards as well, we can achieve better posture through the concept of opposition. A good analogy to help you achieve this equilibrium is to imagine a tree. A tree's roots grow downwards, providing a sturdy base for the tree as it grows in height. As we stand with good posture, we can feel that we are pushing down through the floor through our pinky toes, big toes and heels (see tripod foot in our blog post on aplomb), figuratively 'planting our roots' into the floor, while lifting up through the quadriceps and abdominal muscles. Furthermore, we can feel opposition through the back and chest as we place the shoulder blades correctly along the back of the ribcage, opening up the chest, feeling length through the collar bones (in opposing directions) and width in the upper back, engaging the latissimus dorsi muscles (lats). These concepts of alignment and the feeling of opposition are especially important in balancing. 

What about turnout, arguably one of the most important concepts in ballet? Here we attempt to achieve 180 degree external rotation from the hips from both legs. This external rotation affects both legs which means… you guessed it, opposition! This opposition and equal force of external rotation is very important to maintain stability and achieve good range of motion. At the barre, it can become very apparent if a dancer loses the turnout of the supporting leg, allowing the hips to twist away from the barre in tendus side or back for example, translating to unbalanced work in the centre.

Thinking about jumps, we cannot pull ourselves upwards into the air without first pushing down, therefore jumps are the perfect example of the concept of opposition at work. In order to launch ourselves into the air, we must energetically push down into the floor, using the power in the plié and in our ankles and feet.

There are countless other examples of opposition in ballet. Are there any that you can think of? Let us know in the comments below! Opposition is an extremely important concept to understand and master but once you have done so, your ballet technique will soar ahead leaps and bounds! 

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