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We all come across dance students that lack the strength and flexibility to sustain a proper port de bras position. Whether it be the non-engagement of the shoulders and back, not pulling up, the drooping elbows or the sole initiation from the arms, there are simple exercises which can help develop the surrounding muscles and build both strength and flexibility in conjunction with proper technical training and observation.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or take too long and dancers can do these on their own as well. The more repetition and comprehension of their anatomy, the quicker they will see results and understand that a strong back is not only aesthetically beautiful but is imperative for a correct port de bras position! Here are two of my favorite fast and easy ones!

#1. Have dancer lay on their stomach. Legs extended behind them. Forehead on the floor. Arms extended horizontally out to the side, rotated, with thumbs facing up. Have dancer maintain the position and slowly lift the arms up, keeping the chest and forehead in initial position. Repeat slowly 5-10 times.

Variation: Have dancers place hands behind head (fingers not clasped.) Have them slowly isolate and lift chest, forehead and upper back off the floor. Place back down. Try to add a pause in the air when the upper back is off the floor before placing back to starting position. Repeat slowly 5-10 times.

(This exercise can also be done for lower back strengthening by lifting whole back off the floor, or keeping chest on the floor and lifting just the legs in the air as well.

#2. Have dancer stand in a comfortable second position port de bras. Add light weights to their wrists. Slowly lift arms slightly up and return to port de bras position. Repeat slowly 10-15 times. For a progression, add heavier weights or add more repetitions.

Variation: Instead of up and down movement, have dancer draw palms (facing each other) in and out, i.e. closing the arms together and opening back to port de bras second.

Variation #2: Have dance repeat same exercise but move from a second position port de bras to first position. To progress try moving through high fifth position as well.

Good luck!

See you in the dance studio,


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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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