“Beauty, like ice, our footing does betray;
Who can tread sure on the smooth, slippery way:
Pleased with the surface, we glide swiftly on,
And see the dangers that we cannot shun.”
– John Dryden (appointed England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668!)
That exhilarating sensation of gliding
A soaring hawk, riding thermals high above the mountainside, the grace of a dolphin catching a wave, a swan gliding across a mirror-calm lake, an olympic hopeful skimming their way across an ice rink, these are the images that come to mind when I think of gliding.
In order to get that sensation of gliding, there must be a lack of resistance from the surrounding environment, such as moving through the air or across a slick surface such as water or ice.
7 Basic Movements
This week we have been exploring the theme of gliding in yoga, ballet, and coaching sessions. This is part of my series on the 7 Basic Movements of Ballet, and you can explore more about each of the movement ideas in my corresponding YouTube videos and podcasts:
The relevant YouTube videos that I created previously describing the first basic movements of ballet are:
- “The Seven Basic Movements of Ballet”
- “Powerful Pliés”
- “Plush Paralleleves”
- “Tempting Tendus”
- “Saucy Prances & Sautes” &
- “Tourner – to Turn”
To start practicing the skill of gliding in dance, I also recommend my
- “Kicky Floor Kicks”
- “Sweet Leg Swings”
- “Amazing Under-Curves”
and to develop a gliding quality in the upper-body and arms,
- “Port de Bras Story”
The & Basic Movements podcast episodes are:
- #014 “Powerful Plies”
- #016 “Tendus & What it Means to Stretch”
- #018 “Relever & Rising”
- #019 “Tourner – turning, rotation, and creative U-turns” &
- #020 “Sauter, Jumping, & Leaps of Faith”
Also, stay tuned for “Élancer – to dart,” the last installment of the series, still to come!
Laban Movement Analysis classifies the Effort of “Glide” as direct, light, and sustained. This type of movement has a specific focus or sense of directionality, and continues uninterrupted along its path, flowing weightlessly.
Anatomically, many of the joints in our bodies are classified as gliding joints, which articulate at flat surfaces between bones, such as those of the fingers and toes, at the clavicle, and the facet joints of the vertebrae in the spine (vs. ball and socket, hinge…) When we suffer from disorders such as arthritis, the movement of our joints is impeded, but in many cases gentle exercise such as walking, yoga, or pilates can help prevent and manage these conditions and help us keep gliding [of course consult your medical professional for advice on your specific situation!]
Yoga and Gliding
In yoga, we may not be sliding, gliding, or floating anywhere, but we cultivate steadiness and ease in our movements, which can create a graceful, smoothly gliding impression. Mentally, we practice detachment, a lack of resistance, skimming past obstacles, letting go of sticking points, and awareness of what serves us and how to let go of what does not. Here is the 40-minute practice I created called “Get Gliding Yoga,” focused on this theme.
Gliding in Ballet
Moving towards winter, I especially enjoy Frederick Ashton’s ballet “Les Patineurs,” a playfully gliding riff on an ice-skating rink. But truthfully, in ballet we do like a bit more friction between our feet and the surface beneath us than an ice skater does. The floor still needs to be essentially smooth and free of obstacles for us to produce this quality of seemingly-effortless gliding that is one of the hallmarks of classical ballet technique.
The appearance of gliding in ballet performance requires supreme control and coordination, cultivated during years of practice, to attain this smooth otherworldliness. Much of our early work as dancers is developing a relationship with the floor as well as with our own bodies, learning to balance and to slide with poised control. Indian actor Salman Khan said, “Have you ever seen a duck gliding smoothly on water? Does it ever look like it is paddling furiously underneath the surface? I don’t have to show that I am working very hard,” to me this encapsulates the hidden effort of ballet.
The exercise of battements tendus is a practice in sliding one foot across the floor, and it eventually leads to battements glisses, which fly just off of the floor, and then to glissade, which is a jump that involves sliding the feet across the floor and is performed either low-to-the-ground as a connecting step or with some elevation.
In the book of her Russian ballet technique, Basic Principles of Classical Ballet, Agrippina Vaganova clarifies, “It would seem that the very name of this step [glissade] indicates the gliding characteristic of it. Yet we see that this movement is very seldom distinguished from other movements, and is lost on the stage.” Indeed, it is these small connecting steps that form the glue that creates the smooth whole of our dance performance.
Eliza Gaynor Minden states in The Ballet Companion: “Done neatly and correctly, connecting steps add elegance to your dancing and provide the preparation you need to launch what comes next; done carelessly they dull your polish and undermine the propulsion needed for elevation and ballon […] The successful timing and coordination of […] any difficult jump depends on the rhythm, the momentum, and especially the final plie of the connecting step that comes first.”
Gliding into Autumn
If you’re reading this blog in real time, we just passed the Autumnal Equinox, which means fall has officially arrived. Here in Cologne, the leaves have just begun to turn, and a few trees have started to release their leaves for the coming season.
Many seize this seasonal transition as an opportunity to let go of their own burdens where they can, allowing them to relax and enjoy the harvest time or move powerfully into the final quarter of the year.
This week I have been deeply saddened by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an phenomenal voice for equality, and I grieve with you if you are feeling similarly crushed. It is appropriate to feel the loss of such an influential and empowering, indeed liberating, leader. Though we know it is inevitable for us all, a death of a loved one or icon can be hard to take. May we mourn this loss, and then use our feelings to fuel our motivation to continue important work.
Speaking of letting go of things which do not serve us, in the US it is about time to cast our votes for the next president, so if you’re a US citizen make sure to register and make your voice heard with your vote:
- https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote (to register)
- https://www.vote411.org/ (for nonpartisan voting information)
I’m also excited to participate in an initiative called “Dance the Vote” to promote voting rights, more about that to come!
So, what is weighing on you, slowing you down, holding you back from the life you dream of? What can you release? May you glide into this spectacular season!
Blythe Stephens, MFA
she/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: Dance Education & Coaching
move through life with balance, grace, & power