thoughts on placement and the third leg theory

i have recently been re-reading (okay, well occasionally randomly thumbing through) gretchen ward warren’s brilliant book “the art of teaching ballet – ten twentieth century masters”. (i have read this cover to cover more than once over the past several years, but still find myself referencing it now and again for inspiration). there is a chapter in the book dedicated to master teacher gabriela taub-darvash and i’ve come accross a passage where ms. darvash discusses weight shifting and her displeasure with those who teach the concept of minimizing weight shift by visualizing a third or “ghost” leg. Well……i hate to tell ya madame darvash but i have to vote yes on the third leg theory. This theory, in short, is simply imagining your weight so centered between both legs when standing in first or fifth position that when you tendu or degage, your weight shifts as little as possible over the supporting leg, as if you were actually standing on a third leg in between. 

there are reasons for me to support this teaching method, the main one being “hey, it worked for me!” i was first introduced to this concept in my late teens and while initially i found it somewhat troubling, as it seemed to force me to rely heavily on using the barre, eventually i found that working this way greatly increased the strength of my inner thighs and enabled me to switch legs at a greater speed. after working this way for a while i found myself so centered, that dancing on the whole became much easier and lighter.

however, ms. darvash points out that you can’t lift the leg higher than a tendu without shifting your weight over the standing leg and i kind of pretty much agree…but…i believe there should be as little weight shift as possible – that is, try to keep your weight centered over the entire foot as opposed to putting all your weight over the ball of your foot, which causes you to a) potentially sit in your hip and b) grip your quads. and we don’t want to do either of those things, now do we?!

so, there ya go. and while i beg to differ with madame darvash on this one point, i do find her chapter intriguing. she certainly has much to offer on both technique and artistry, as do the other nine teachers featured in “the art of teaching ballet”. 

you should read it, maybe : )

art of ballet

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4 Responses to thoughts on placement and the third leg theory

  1. xballerina says:

    I have seen this book, but not read it. I will check it out! I too was introduced to the “not shifting” weight theory as a more mature dancer. I have to say, it worked wonders for me, especially in reducing my overdeveloped quads! When I teach, I also often use this imagery, because so many students “sit” in their standing hip and can’t engage the hamstrings/shift weight. However, at a certain point, I personally started focusing on it too much and sort of over corrected (as dancers will). I suddenly found I couldn’t stand up in adagio securely anymore, and even worse, realized I had started dancing towards the back of my pointe shoe box, as I was so much more comfortable centered on the “back” of my leg. I guess too much of any good thing isn’t good. I have recently started training as a pilates instructor and gaining a better understanding of anatomy. There are very important hip stabilizers on the outside of your leg (glutes and abductors). I think these started to turn off as I used the inside of my leg more and more. They are easier to feel with weight more over the ball of your foot. HOWEVER, doing exercises to strengthen these (especially in internal rotation, or turn in) really helps the whole situation (such as the pilates side leg kick series). Anyway, great thoughts you bring up!

    • robin says:

      Wow, that’s very interesting! Yes, I think one has to be very careful that it doesn’t become either keeping the weight on the heels or sitting back a little. It’s a fine line (and also harder to maintain when you get old like me & don’t take class consistently!)
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment 🙂
      And yes, read the book if you get a chance, it’s very inspiring.

  2. RO says:

    Hmm.. third leg theory… Never heard about it before but it does sound interesting!! I will ask my teacher what she thinks about this 😉 In the meantime, you should just do what works for you and your students!

    • robin says:

      Yes, thanks ro 🙂 I think it’s a theory that is more helpful to advanced ballet dancers as it is a matter of fine tuning — tho the concept may be helpful for recreational dancers as well 🙂

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