Teaching good attitude devant and attitude derriere positions can sometimes be quite a challenge especially with young dancers. So much choreography involves either positions in attitude or pirouettes in attitude that it is really helpful to the dancers if they understand how to place their legs in a strong position with an excellent line.
The term 'attitude' comes from the Italian word 'attitudine' which means 'a way of holding the body'. There are a number of different variations of this pose. In Ballet the most commonly used are attitude devant and attitude derriere. Depending on the positions of the feet and the body the pose can have many different looks. In Jazz, Contemporary and Modern an attitude in second is also used.
Starting with attitude devant, I find that the most common mistake that dancers make is to hold the muscles in the hip and groin area so tightly that they completely 'bind' the movement and are unable to rotate the leg outwards sufficiently to arrive at a good line. To help the dancers understand where the movement must come from and to strengthen the appropriate areas will make it much easier for the dancers to improve their positions.
ATTITUDE DEVANT Exercise A
1. Lie on the floor with both legs stretched in front of the body, feet pointed.
2. Rotating both legs to a turned out position, flex the feet.
3. Point the right foot and take it up to a turned out passé position.
4. Open the leg to an attitude devant position.
5. Rotate leg to a parallel position.
6. Return to a turned out attitude. Repeat 4 times in all.
7. Take the foot, still pointed to a turned out passé position.
8. Slide the toe down the leg until it is completely stretched with a flexed foot.
9. Repeat on the other side.
This exercise is extremely helpful to dancers. When they lie on the floor their backs are fully supported and it is important that they keep both hip bones glued to the floor. It helps them understand that the legs can rotate freely without any movement from the hips as long as there is relaxation in the groin and hip joint and the lower abdominal muscles are activated.
1. Stand facing the barre in classical first position.
2. Lift the right leg and place it on the barre laying the knee and lower part of the leg flat on the barre. Foot should be pointed. Make sure that the shoulders and hips are facing square to the barre.
3. Demi plie (1 2), straighten the supporting leg (4 5), rise (5 6), lower the heel (7 8).
4. Repeat all 8 counts.
5. Lift the leg off the barre, maintaining the position (1), hold (2 3), lower the leg
Back to the barre.
6. Repeat 4 times total.
7. Repeat on other side.
All attitude positions are executed standing on one foot. In this exercise, the raised leg is supported on the barre but once the leg is lifted off the barre the dancer can clearly feel what muscles are needed to achieve a good attitude devant. It is helpful to emphasize to the student the use of the hamstring to lift the leg and the quadriceps to control the movement when lowering the leg back to the barre. Also to understand that the leg needs to lie flat in front of the body and that can only happen when the groin and hip are relaxed.
ATTITUDE DERRIERE Exercise A
1. Sit on the floor with the front leg in attitude devant and the back leg in attitude derriere.
2. Place hands on the floor slightly in front of you. Make sure hips and shoulders are facing squarely to the front. (It is helpful if this exercise can be done facing the mirror).
3. Lift back leg off the floor (1), hold (2 3), lower the leg back to the floor (4). Repeat 8 times. Make sure that the ribcage does not displace sideways then lift the back leg is lifted off the floor.
4. Take the arms to 4th position in opposition over the head and repeat the exercise 8 times.
Most dancers will experience some level of discomfort in the lower back area when doing this exercise. Unless they are experiencing a stabbing type of pain it is normal and part of the strengthening process. It is vitally important that the dancer understands that it is necessary for the back muscles to be activated to be able to hold and make a beautiful shape and line. If a student has a lower back problem or is extremely weak in this area I would recommend only doing this exercise with the hands on the floor and halving the number of repetitions.
An excellent stretch to follow this exercise is to have the dancers sit on their heels and stretch their arms forward so that their chests are flat on their legs. Breathing deeply and holding for a few minutes. It is important to always stretch after this type of concentrated movement.
1. Stand facing back to the barre, feet in classical first.
2. Hold the barre with both hands.
3. Lift one leg and place it behind you with the knee and lower part of the leg flat on the barre, foot pointed.
4. Demi plie (1 2), straighten the supporting leg (3 4), rise (5 6), lower the heel (7 8). Repeat.
5. leg slightly off the barre (1), hold (2 3), lower back to the barre (4) Repeat 4 times.
6. Repeat entire exercise on the other side.
This exercise is also best if done facing the mirror so that the dancers can really make sure that they are not displacing the ribcage and the hip is not lifting. Again, it is helpful for the dancers to have the support of the barre so that they can concentrate on feeling the lift from the hamstring and inner thigh muscles. and can be Taking care not to 'bind' the movement by clenching the groin and surrounding muscles. It is by achieving that effortless lift that the beautiful lines will be clearly demonstrated.
After doing this exercise a good stretch is important. Rounding the back over the legs in plie is relaxing to the back muscles and with deep breaths will help to relieve tension in the lower back.
If these exercises are used on a weekly basis you will certainly start to see results in your dancer’s attitude positions. I would not recommend that dancers under the age of 10 or 11 try to do these exercises as they do require a certain amount of strength that may not be present in a younger dancer.