Injury prevention, restructuring my body/mind with Placement Method.
Updated: Oct 3
First some pre Lockdown background...
Life before the pandemic was actually quite difficult for me. 2019 was a year of deep physical and mental struggles. Full of rejections, very few work, disapointments, injuries, diseases, accidents etc. In the despair of feeling constantly rejected, I was facing a dilema of mine, that I kept pushing back throughout all my career: I was saddly not born with the right body type for ballet, and it was showing more and more. Despite doing pilates, yoga, cross training, intense stretching ( while getting injured more and more often) etc, I could not see my technique improving fast enough, or strong enough to be able to be satisfied with myself. And to be able to be satisfied with myself is important when it comes to auditions because nobody wants to hire a self doubting dancer. And I am really bad at faking smiles like most people do. Everytime someone asks me to smile, I do the whole opposite. I call this my inner Bartolina Sisa. I'll tell you more about her later. Gladly I had friends who were going through the same struggles, and we always share information with each other on how to improve or get better at our technique. My friend started telling me about Placement Method, that he started in mid-2019. He told me the results in his body were quite good, that he found himself a little bit more inner peace and understood better why his body works the way it works. So I decided to try this method too. Also because it sounded very much like my dear Bolivian teacher who taugh me that your body will take the shape of your work. And I experienced the change in my body with him, so in some way I knew that Placement Method was going to help me very much like my teacher back in Bolivia did. Today it is almost 2 years that I am working on it. And I cannot complain. I have to say that it has helped me mentally, and physically. I came from burning out, crying every day because I felt ugly, fat and never good enough, to being in peace with my training, with my eating habits, and specially, to be more in charge of my own future: less anxiety. My relationship to work has deeply changed and I get less social anxiety over the criticism of others.
To take under consideration: All of this happened parallel to a personal growth coming from things outside the ballet world that affected me. A strong political crisis in Bolivia made me reconsider not only some friendships that turned out to be dissapointing, but also my own identity and my own role as a citizen. This crisis made me angry, sad, frustrated and powerless. To feel powerless towards the crimes against humanity that are happening in your country is something that changes your everyday life. When you are an immigrant, you cannot live 100% in the place you are. You live in some kind of diaspora. And a big part of mental health for an immigrant is to deal with this "diaspora". Parallel to this I was starting my experience with Placement Method and my creative path. Because I was not only re educating myself Ballet wise, but I was also reeducating myself politically/philosophically wise. Which was a good combination because it also helped me to reset my mindset about ballet. This is important to consider because it made my Placement Method experience stronger and easier to digest. Parallel to the questioning of the ballet world, I was re-studying the history of my country with my new bolivian friends, I was reading bolivian intelectuals, watching documentaries, being part of political conferences to understand better the situation. This is why I say this Method is good for people who care about other things. Because if you live, breathe, eat and drink ONLY Ballet, chances are that with Placement Method your whole world will fall appart.
I must give a warning, with Placement Method, all of what you know from ballet will be questioned till the extend of you realizing that you were taught ballet in a complete toxic way. And this will be a very hard thing to do: reset your brain, your whole mentality about Ballet: from eating disorders to injury prevention, all of it, all your thoughts will be very much challenged. And if you are the kind of person who dislikes change, my advice to you is: don't open the Pandora box. On the other hand if you look to understand technique, to improve your body, if you are looking for logic, understanding, answers for your technical questions, then I deeply encourage you to explore Placement Method. Specially if you are a person that loves art in general and has deep sensitivity towards justice or human rights, and you care about other things than ballet. This method will put you at peace because you will not focus on relating your identity to being ONLY a ballet dancer. You need to be a human in order to be an artist, this means to be empathic. And ballet dancers saddly are not empathic. We have been taught to think like we are some kind of superior human beings, but really honestly saying, most ballet dancers come from a very privileged classist background. And those who do not come from there, are EDUCATED to think like that. Between the (many) examples that come from the questioning Ballet pedagogics are:
Why do we have to keep our heels together in the first position if our legs are hyper extended? because that means that hyperextended legs will be most of the time BENT, which is not good technique/aesthetics wise. Right? So why do we need to keep them together if the point ist that our legs must be straight?
Why do we have to switch the weight of our bodies when actually it only makes our body weight heavier to lift? (this question is not only answered by Placement Method but also many basic thoughts of the Cecchetti Method: Aplomb, we will go further into this concept in a next article.)
Why do we need the barre when our turnout depends only on "genetics"? In the Placement Method, most of the technical work comes from the barre and not at all in the way you imagine.
Before I got this founding many contemporary dancers told me that "placement" is a word that they hear a lot, and they understand me when I talk about it. No. You have no idea how different this concept of "placement" is from what the mainstream ballet media tells you it is. Here there is no approach of modern. No "modernity" in here. (also we need to be careful about how we glorify modernity in a colonial way, because this is what is causing so much mental health issues in the dance world, anyways, that was just an extra thought that I may develop in some more personal posts about decolonization and my experience as a ballerina). This is why I warn you second time: this method will push your thoughts to the point of re educating yourself in ballet. If you are not humble enough to accept that you know nothing about ballet, then keep doing your career the way you are doing it, because if you are successful you don't really need this information, I am glad you are successful in your way. But for me, someone who inherited the DNA of her acostumbed to poverty ancestors who basically worked on the land most of their lives and never developped turnout or arched feet or a straight back as a result of starvation and malnutrition, for those of you with this kind of body, peasant body, let me tell you, you will develop your lines and even better, you will have a strong technique. You will shape your body. Of course not like the ballerina/gymnasts we see today, but you will definitely improve. I know in most prestigious ballet schools they chose their students genetically, I would not have passed here in Europe. Never I would have gotten the chance to study ballet in a serious way here in Europe. Not with this body of mine. Here a list of the characteristics my early body presented, and most of the reasons why I would never have been accepted in a European ballet school:
dorsal hypercifosis (can be improved with technique)
unflexible legs and feet (can be improved with technique)
wide hips (shape can be improved with technique)
Short legs (cannot be changed)
Short neck (cannot be changed but line can be improved with technique)
Too long upper body (cannot be changed)
Head too big (cannot be changed)
Fixed flaws with my bolivian teacher who used similar (but not as precise) to Placement Method:
leg lines improvement: skinnier legs without dieting.
hip size reduced over muscular work, not diet
When I moved to France, everybody was correcting my SHOULDERS. I understood what they meant, and I know they meant good when saying "put your shoulders down", but that only made everything worst, I started to have regular back pain, and the line of my already very short neck would never improve. That until Placement Method.
Things that now have deeply improved with Placement method:
My back line is straighter than ever
My neck looks longer, the neck line is now more symetrical
My legs look more hyperextended
The lines of my feet have improved (I tossed fake arch to the trash)
My pointe work is stronger
I have less difficulties to isolate my shoulders from my port de bras. Which is one of the things I appreciate the most because I always knew there was something wrong with my shoulders but I was frustrated because I never found the solution to it, I was only getting the remarks of my ugly shoulders.
My "cardio" resistance has improved a lot. Without running like a crazy person 2 hours a day.
My port de bras is softer (which is something that I appreciate so much)
Now all of this came with a long work of a two years. And we must consider that lockdown played a positive impact on it: because the work starts only at the barre: it consists on doing only, ONLY pliés à la seconde. (of course it gets more complicated the further you go, but to place yourself in order to do the barre correctly will take you a year of plies and some degagés. This you can combine with the class you want as a freelancer. (But you have to be aware of which ones to chose and which ones not to chose)
There is a lot of information to absorb and to use while doing these pliés. And trust me you will not even be able to breathe at the beginning of your study. Because not even the standing you will be able to do without sweating. Yes, we all even STAND incorrectly. I don't stretch so often, in fact I barely stretch (yes I am lazy for stretching because it hurts too much.I am not bendy gimnast ballerina). But before the Placement Method, everytime I would take a month break from injury, I would go back to training to an excruciating pain after the first week. First week of getting back from holidays or resting would always be a nightmare to me. So much back pain, I always felt it like torture. With Placement Method whenever I go more intense in my training I feel some disconfort, and I know which one to identify as a sign of bad training. I deal with my pain in a different way now. I am starting to de-normalize excruciating pain. Lockdown is a good idea to train like this, because you only need a barre (chair, table) and a mirror. You don't need anything more. The further you go the more things you discover, but of course everything depends on you, you are by yourself dealing with this information. Only you decide to go further or not.
To introduce Placement Method in a logical way, I would say:
aesthetics are the RESULT of the technical work, and one must absolutely NOT focus on aesthetics while training.
Regarding weightloss and eating disorders:
Placement Method makes you work intensively. One plie can burn more calories than one entire neo classical class (I emphazise neo classical, because for example if you train a Vaganova-ish class thinking of placement it will kind of fit well together, but with some more modern neoclassical ballets you will actually kind of get bored). But of course you will have to deal with your training and the method by yourself. And it will shape your body with nice lines. In Lockdown of course I gained weight, it is normal. I did not lose the lines nor the technique though. In fact my technique is now better than ever. Cleaner. You will understand that the aesthetics of your body come from your work. And then you will let go a little bit more the diets. Although I must say, ballet dancers have it really hard in the aesthetics department, it is very difficult to get rid of our eating disorder tendencies. I am lucky I love food, a little bit too much hehe. So I see it when I have a small extra belly, but it does not bother me so much like before, now I take care of it in a more reasonable way: "Ok Diana you have been eating a lot of cake lately, and you are not dancing 100% like before lockdown." So I just control myself better without having this self hate that traditional ballet pedagogics tell us to have. I see it when I get a little bit chubby. So I accept it and then I fix it by working more placement and maybe organizing better my meals. Please don't stop eating for ballet. Ballet needs healthy dancers.
Placement Method: short description
Placement Method was created by Eric Conrad, who studied at the at the prestigious Moscow State Academy of Choreography (Bolshoi Ballet Academy) in Moscow, Russia. He created it doing intense research on ballet history, and gathered information from the past to solve problems of today: preventing excessive injuries with the correct development of turnout. Turnout is what the Sports Medicine is absolutely lacking of in its whole starting point. And it represents a huge danger to the dancer's body when it is approached as a genetic gift that comes from our flexibility. ACL surgeries, hip replacements, stress fractures, anorexia, you name it. There is an excessive amount of normalized injuries and diseases in the dance world. That is a fact. Eric Conrad proposes to approach ballet technique from the structuring of TURNOUT. Because it is the root from which we, ballet dancers, move. Of course I cannot summarise in two lines what the method is about, you must discover it by yourself. I can only say that it focuses on building turnout, that comes from the muscle chain work of the abdominal and hip area, instead of the breaking of our articulations through excessive stretching. And the best way to see if you have real turnout is in: PLIÉS: mantaining turnout while not only going down, but also going up. Changing the definition of Turnout in your head, might imply that you change your view on Ballet in general. Placement Method is tedious, slow, internal, intense and also heavy intellectual work. But the results come pretty fast and are quite easy to indentify visually. Have you seen Ekaterina Maximova dance? or Alla Sizova? Or Svetlana Efremova? none of them where gymnastically elastic. But they were amazing to watch. Their technique was strong, rock solid. Mr. Conrad based his method in what he considers the highest level of what Ballet history has ever seen: Soviet Ballet. (amongst many other ballet history elements, in which Noverre plays an important role) But artistry was also different from what we see today, a freedom that we don't see nowadays on stage. Today we see excess of superficial control on stage. As if every milimeter of our bodies, smiles, and even minds need to be robotic. And I enphasise the "superficial control" because Placement Method is also control, but with the strengthening of the roots and not superficially controlling aesthetically every muscle of your body.
To make this example clear, I leave you here a video mix of the dancers that I mentioned.
Alla Sizova Her jumps. I don't think anyone jumps like that nowadays. Her pliés are not "big deep" pliés, as we are told nowadays to do. They are stable middle size to small size pliés. She is young here, and you can see it in her young port de bras. But still very lovely and enjoyable to watch.
Ekaterina Maximova Partnering skills. Her "core" is super strong. The male dancers basically throw her on the air as if she was a doll. She also dances like one. Her smile is pure, you can actually feel her honesty through her dancing. her feet and knees always stretched. Also big light jumps with small pliés. Incredibly fast. Look at the fouettes sequence she does in her variation. Super fast and super clean.
Svetlana Efremova She is the Adagio example, her lines speak for her. Specially her effortless and weightless port de bras. That aura that sourounds her body, her arms. I have never seen more beautiful arms and upper body. legs: STRONG. Her developpé is at maximum 150°, not more. She becomes the music and everytime I see this pas de deux from her, I get some tears into my eyes. Anyone with some idea of what real ballet is can say that this level of ballet is quite close to the gods. Her pliés are tiny, almost undetectable to the eye, and yet she looks so light, the male dancer lifts her with such ease. A true pleasure to watch. There is no anxiety in the face or body of this woman, nor Ekaterina, nor Alla.
I hope you enjoy watching these ballerinas as much as I do.
Gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN des Dachverbands Tanz Deutschlands.