technically speaking, how do you do a six o'clock?
I keep trying to find a good video out there that demonstrates and explains proper technique on penché, but I haven’t come across one that I feel is adequate :(
So here goes! I’ll post some new stuff and some recycled stuff from previous posts.
Penché is all about your back muscles and counterbalance. Of course to have a 180 degree penché, you also need to have your splits on both legs!
Penché is an extension of arabesque. From your arabesque position, send energy out your back leg so that it rises against your back muscles. Do not initiate penché by shifting your torso forward. Instead, initiate with the reaching of the working leg, pressing it against your back. Feel the strong connection between opposite shoulder and inner thigh. It’s like a drawbridge chain between your working leg and opposite shoulder, and doesn’t allow your heavy leg to drop. As your leg lifts against your back, your torso will be forced to shift forward. Keep your shoulders and hips even, don’t pinch one side or bring one shoulder forward. Slide your shoulder blades down into your “back pockets.” Reach and lengthen in all directions. (More pointers at the bottom!)
Here’s a video of a resistance machine that improves penché. Watch what is happening with the girl’s spine and back muscles as she does each rep. Her shoulder blades slide down her into her back pockets, her chin is lifted without jamming her neck. Notice that she does a pretty good job of keeping her shoulders and hips even, which maintains the criss-cross drawbridge connection. Keeping the criss-cross connection between shoulder and opposite leg is key. You can see the points where she could probably push herself a little further. (Her knees could be straighter, but she’s at that coltish knobby-kneed stage!)
Here are a couple of videos on the approach to arabesque, which is the foundation for your penché:
Lengthening out through the toes in arabesque (unfortunately the camera angles suck in this video…but the important thing here is the idea of sending energy down the leg and reaching away with the toes)
Ok, I’m going to give you this photo as a reference. It’s a lovely 6 o’clock with one technical issue that I can point out which should be helpful.
This position is really lovely. Her shoulders and hips are nice and square. Now, it looks like her torso is upright, correct? But we know it’s just an optical illusion. If you look at her stomach, it’s parallel to the floor. Her torso is tilted forward to a 90 degree angle. Also, look at her back. Her thoracic vertebrae are in a straight diagonal line. We can only straighten the curve or our thoracic, not hyperextend it. The appearance of the curve comes from the cervical spine, the lumbar spine, and the femur in the hip socket. Her chin is lifted, but her neck is actually pretty straight and her head is lifted. She’s not jamming her neck.
The technical problem in this photo is that her weight is way too far back over her heel. If she let go of the barre, she would probably not be able to hold that position. You can see she’s pushing into her hamstrings and hyperextending her knee, which can lead to injury and doesn’t do anything for balance. She’s also very turned out on the supporting leg, which is pretty, but actually hinders balance. A sneaky secret to penché is to relax the turnout on the supporting leg a bit so that when you send your weight forward over your toes, it’s going a little more forward than usual, and you can balance more easily!
Pointers for arabesque:
- abdominals engaged
- scapula sliding down the spine into your back pockets
- space between shoulders and ears (like you’re wearing dangly earrings)
- heart/sternum expanded and forward
- don’t tilt the head back and jam the neck, keep it long, nape of the neck released, head floating away like a balloon
- hamstrings engaged and lengthened
- imagine a connection between your inner thigh and the opposite shoulder (this will help engage the most efficient muscles for lifting the leg and holding it in place)
- reach the top of your head and the tips of your toes up and away from each other in a “V” (if you imagine this continuous reaching action, engaging the hamstrings and back muscles with correct posture will come naturally, and you won’t really have to think about it that hard!)
- therefore I can’t stress REACH and LENGTHEN enough!!!
- initiate the arabesque by sending energy down the spine and leg and reaching out through your toes into tendu until it has to leave the floor and reach away from your body, head reaching in the opposite direction for counterbalance
- as the leg gets higher, your torso will shift in response…in other words, don’t send your torso forward and then play catchup with your leg because that creates more work for you - lifting the leg first engages the back muscles, and then you eventually have no choice but to move your torso forward in response to the push from the rising leg
- allow your torso to reach forward when it has to for counterbalance
- your leg is quite heavy as the femur is a large bone and the leg muscles are substantial, so you need to use your back muscles and torso counterbalance to get it in the air like that
- keep the shoulders even while maintaining the pull between opposite shoulder and leg - don’t pinch the side of your back that connects the lifted leg with the same shoulder
- you need to be turned out enough to move the hip that direction in the socket and have a pretty line, but not so much that you whack the hip and pinch the back (as demonstrated in one of the videos)
- bear in mind that extension happens in the lower back and the hips; the thoracic vertebrae of the spine along the rib cage can only straighten, not bend back!
- one more time: REACH AND LENGTHEN! It just makes everything easier :)
Tips for technique and approach to a ballet penché:
- while it’s ideal to have the supporting leg as turned out as possible, it’s okay to relax the turnout a bit in order to achieve the full 180 degrees; in fact, turning the supporting foot slightly more parallel will help you balance (shhh! it’s a secret!) but make sure you don’t turn it in past parallel
- keep your weight forward over the ball of your standing foot as your reach the toes of the working leg in the opposite direction
- when you begin the penché from arabesque, initiate the motion by lifting your leg against your back, the torso only moving in response as you keep your back muscles engaged (if you do it piecemeal and send your torso forward first, you’re making more work for yourself by disengaging the most efficient muscles and messing with your balance)
- keep feeling the connection between opposite shoulder and the knee or inner thigh of the working leg (like a drawbridge chain)
- keep the heart/sternum lifted up and up on a diagonal in relation to your torso
- don’t drop the head unless you’re supposed to or it’s an inversion/illusion or something; keeping the head slightly lifted keeps the back muscles engaged and helps with counterbalance (but don’t jam your neck back)
- in addition to not dropping the head, don’t follow the natural inclination to drop your eyes to the floor; if you raise your eyes and look straight out and far away from yourself rather than down and close, you will find balancing so much easier (this helps a LOT)
- if you’re reaching one arm forward in a first arabesque position, use the same philosophy with not dropping the eyes; keep the arm coming straight out from the shoulder and reach out on a shallow diagonal rather than breaking the shoulder line and reaching straight down to the floor
- stretch through your knees and reach both feet away from each other; reach your sternum out and away on a diagonal from your rising leg; reach your arabesque arm and legs away from each other; reach and lengthen in all opposing directions!
- abdominals like WHOAH! Pull that belly button in toward the spine and up and under the rib cage for support
Look at lovely Gillian here! Turned out, but slightly relaxed turnout on both legs. Arm on a diagonal, not straight down. Chin lifted (her eyes could be more lifted to help balance, but she’s a rockstar). Heart/sternum open and expanded. Limbs reaching and lengthening away from each other in all directions. The only technical issue here is that her shoulders/hips aren’t square (her stomach is facing us instead of the floor) and her higher arm is parallel to her leg instead of proper first arabesque position out from her shoulder. BUT, this is choreography in a performance, and we are allowed to set technique aside for a pretty, reaching line :) Not in class, though! XD
I hope that was all helpful! Some of the stuff was recycled from previous posts, so if you need more specific info, please don’t hesitate to ask!