Physics tells us that, in order to balance, our centre of gravity must be over our base of support... but what about off-centre balances? In part 3 of our series on improving your contemporary technique, Susan Bendall investigates this contradiction.
SECURE balance is one of the hallmarks of a dancer. We have all experienced the sense of dread that grips us as we watch a dancer who is not completely in command of their centre when balancing. The lovely long lines of a “pulled-up” balance convey a sense of confidence and poised strength. Similarly with turns: we seek the assuredness that allows for a smooth, tranquil rotation or the dynamism of multiple, bravura spins. These feats are achieved through hours in the studio – holding balances (sometimes with our eyes closed), engaging our core, maintaining turnout and remembering to breathe.
In contemporary practice we use these accumulated skills but also turn them on their side (often literally). Whilst in classical we rely on a catalogue of set shapes for our positions, in contemporary our balances and turns can shift and veer dramatically from symmetrical to asymmetrical and pass through a less predictable range of levels, traversing various planes while in motion.
From this, it might be assumed that classical and contemporary are contradictory dance practices when it comes to balances and turns. Not so, according to the Melbourne Institute of Dance’s Kalman Warhaft.
The illusion of stillness
For Warhaft, the sense of conflict between classical and contemporary doesn’t seem to exist. “Dynamic stability is what humans use to balance,” he observes. “We are in a constant state of movement even when we are ‘on balance’ – your blood’s pumping through your body, your lungs are breathing – otherwise, you’re dead! Not even skyscrapers are still. “The concepts of balancing and being ‘on balance’ are two different things. Being on balance is simply visual – we appear to be still, we use minimal muscle recruitment to get the visual effect we want. “If you go into ‘lockdown’, as students often do, trying to be still, you tend to over-recruit muscles and become a plank of wood that will inevitably fall.” Stability depends on subtle movement. By contrast, says Warhaft, balancing is “being actively in motion through every phase of a movement”, such as a turn. This applies whether you are doing a classical pirouette or a contemporary jump into a spin or into a tumble...
This is an extract from "Off-balance-balancing, published in the June/July '18 issue of Dance Australia as part of our contemporary technique advice series. To read the rest of the article, buy the new issue at your favourite magazine retailer or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app or subscribe here.
Pictured: New Zealand School of Dance 2017 graduates, Jill Goh, Christina Guieb, Jareen Wee. Photo: Stephen A'Court.