This article is going to be quite directed towards ballet dancers, so if you have no knowledge of ballet terminology or coordination, this may not be the post for you. But if you do, you’re in the right place! This is a special post, with a personal contribution from master teacher Yannick Boquin – he wrote the following section himself, and it contains some of the most important underpinnings of his teachings. Look at these as the skeleton, muscle, and joints behind the body of his work: teaching ballet technique to the best in the world. (And whether you know ballet or not, don’t miss the great photo of him as a kid near the end!)
Before sharing his written notes, though, I wanted those of you that don’t yet know Yannick to get an idea of the kind of combinations he gives and his teaching style. Below is an example of Yannick’s class (skip to 1:20 to get to the actual class). Think of it as a sampler of the kind of class Yannick gives every day.
So there’s it is: a class that is clean, measured, and well-thought-out.
I asked Yannick what he had learned (and what has changed) since he started teaching, and you’ll see his response below. I recommend that if you’re a dancer or a teacher you really try to unpack this information, instead of just reading this as a list. It really is dense and full of important ideas.
You know, when I started, I was very busy with the structure of my class and it took me a long time to find the right one and its variants according to the length of the class (going from 45 min, 1 hour, 1 hour and 15, or 1 hour and 30). Together with the structure, I was also very busy with the musicality and the coordination, and it took me a long time to find my “Method” to apply it in a constant way.
I had to find exercises at the barre to prepare the coordination that I would use later in the center in order for this coordination to become automatic for the dancers. I didn’t find the coordination needed for petit allegro just by doing slow exercises at the barre like grands pliés, ronds de jambe, fondus or adages. It was a start but I still had to dig in and go further by using the same coordination but faster, in appropriate exercises like battements tendus, battements jetés or petits battements, and by engaging the whole upper body using the épaulements, the allongé of the hands as a preparation to attack the next step, and the arms ready, on time, and at the right place to anticipate the next move. All of this can be worked at the barre and brought to the center.
Now, there are of course many different ways of using arms, and dancers sometimes make mistakes by using a different coordination from the one I set. But I remain completely open to all possibilities as long as it stays organic and coordinated.
Whatever the case, the coordination and the musicality should give to the dancer the support to execute combinations at their best. This is important for fast and moving combinations like petit allegro and petite batterie, a part of the technique often left aside.
Here are some tips:
- A well-held torso will give shape and life to the arms, lighten the legs, and with the right coordination and épaulements, the dancer will be able to move fast even with a change of direction… always keeping in mind the use of the back as a rudder! And to finish, after putting all of these elements into place, we will be able to find the breath.
- Breathing inefficiently or incorrectly will bring tension to the neck and arms and will affect the supple quality of the plié.
- Efficient use of respiration permits the dancer to phrase their enchainements (movement sequences) and to add nuance. They can use it to both slow down and to accelerate the steps, to add dynamic to their dancing.
- Dancers should keep in mind the connection between the wrists and the ankles, the elbows and the knees, the hips and the shoulders, and the inner arms and the inner legs. Doing so will regulate their plié and their turn out. This will give a volume and a weight to their dancing.
- We don’t want the lower back to become the center by having the arms even slightly behind their original position. Placing them properly will add dimension to their dancing and protect the center.
- I like to compare the dancers and their arms to a painting with its frame. The frame has to be harmonious in its shape and its colors, in order to match and to support the painting.
- We simply have to respect the positions and their shapes. They have to stabilize us, support us, help us to move in the space, and let’s not forget that they also embellish the combinations.
- From the quality of the steps together with the coordination and the musicality will come the interpretation of the movement.
So yes, a lot changed from when I first started to teach in order to apply and structure all of this!
Thanks to Yannick for this info. This is knowledge that took many years to accumulate, including all the years Yannick spent as a professional dancer before teaching. Although some ideas here may seem simple, it can take years to deeply understand and put them into practice. So I hope you give it time. Patience and determination are certainly virtues in our art form.
Lastly, a little bonus material. I had to share this quintessential photo of Yannick back in the day – it’s so full of personality. What a cute little guy. He’s certainly serious about his work!
In the not-too-distant future, there should be another installment with Yannick, going a bit more in-depth, with more video examples of what he talks about here. I know text is not always the best format for this information, so we were thinking that video would be able to better show Yannick’s approach and knowledge. If you want to catch it, be sure to hit that “Follow” button down below.
And if you want more from Yannick, here are the discussions between me and Yannick that led to this post:
Yannick Boquin on ballet technique, physics, and how to teach a good class
Yannick Boquin (part 2): lessons learned from a life dedicated to ballet
3 thoughts on “Yannick Boquin: ballet tips and a dance class philosophy”
Great post! One of the dancers at FBP has a video of Yannick’s class and a few of us use it sometimes over breaks to give ourselves class- it’s fantastic! I’m late in reading this but thoroughly enjoyed. Hope you’re doing well…
I’m doing a series of “Beyond the Barre” interviews with professional (and formerly professional) dancers on my blog. I was wondering if you’d be interested in being featured? I could send over some questions if you’re willing to write up some short responses…I think my readers would be interested in your career path and journey! Let me know.
Once again, hope you are well and that you’re having a lovely fall season!
Best, Kirsten >
Hi Kirsten! Would be happy to. Only thing is, I’m gone and out of Internet touch until mid February – if you still want to then, let me know. I will try to get everything back in working order once I’m back 🙂 In case you wondered why I didn’t respond, and where in the world I might be without Internet, I’m at a meditation retreat 😉