How to Be a Good Corps Dancer

From swans to peasant girls, fairies of the entourage to wispy opium shades, the characters played by a corps de ballet are as versatile and vibrant as the principle roles. But it’s not always easy standing in preparatory position for half an hour as the grand pas de deux is performed.

If you’re having trouble coping with being in the corps, here are some ideas for how to be a model member—no matter what role you end up getting.

Work Well With Others

You may want to be dancing the lead role yourself, but chances are that the girl dancing next to you does, too. So instead of resenting your fellow corps members and wishing you were somewhere else, get to know all the other swans. Work together to form a cohesive whole as opposed to just dancing for yourself.

A good corps dances seamlessly in unison; a bad corps is one in which every dancer is out for themselves, kicking their arabesque to 120 degrees regardless of the height and ability of all the other dancers.

Know the Choreography

Memorizing Nikiya’s variation is great preparation for the future, but don’t neglect the choreography of your own corps de ballet.

Choreography for the corps may not be as fancy, but it tends to be much longer and dependent on formations. As such, it’s absolutely vital that you know the routine from front to back; all it takes is one corps member stepping on the wrong foot to throw off the entire corps and create havoc on stage.

Learn and enjoy the choreography for what it is rather than what you wish it would be. Use each step as an opportunity to fall in love with ballet all over again. If every member of the corps knows the choreography, you’ll be able to dance it together in unison, creating a beautiful and magical scene that the audience will appreciate on its own, rather than as a part of the principal’s solo.

Hot Tip: Make A Map

Corps work can be complicated and confusing, so take the initiative to write down the choreography, drawing diagrams of the formations you’ll make on stage. You will be better prepared and an asset to the other dancers, who may need help knowing where they need to go. This makes you both a great dancer and a great corps member!

Help Out Other Dancers

If one member of the corps keeps crashing into you, or you notice another doing pas de bourrés on the wrong foot, don’t get annoyed and yell at her. Instead, give her advice on the right way to do things in a kind, helpful, and constructive way.

Rather than saying, “Quit crashing into me after the arabesques—what is wrong with you!?” opt for a gentler, more constructive approach: Tell the dancer that the spacing is a little off, and if she could just adjust a little bit the other way, you can avoid colliding.

Helping other dancers will not only make you both feel better, but make the entire dance run more smoothly.

Project from Your Pose

There’s no such thing as a corps de ballet that does not, at some point during the performance, stand frozen for an extended period of time. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste! Just because you aren’t doing grande jetés across the stage doesn’t mean you aren’t still in character.

The next time you’re maintaining a pose in the corps, try and make it as perfect as possible—both technically and artistically.

  • Do research: Use pictures and video to study how the pose should look.
  • Stay lifted: Pull up as much as you can, always feeling that your head is stretching up toward the ceiling.
  • Remember your turnout: Crank your turnout to the max and keep feet pointed, no matter how long you’re standing there. Audience members and teachers alike will notice when one corps member is sickling her foot or standing on a turned-in leg.
  • Maintain an active gaze: Don’t just let your eyes lose focus and drift into deep space.
  • Stay in character at all times: Use your face to project emotion; Look out into the balcony and really be the character you’re supposed to be: If you’re a swan, don’t smile wide, and if you’re a bridesmaid, don’t frown like you’ve just been broken up with.

Mental Edge

Extended poses are not an opportunity to rest and relax. Use the time to catch your breath for your next phase, but resist the urge to show any signs of fatigue. One of the most beautiful and impressive parts of ballet is the ability of the dancers to make the impossible look easy. If you start thinking about how tired you are, you’ll break the illusion—a huge faux pas!

Love What You Do

Being in the corps is an often under-appreciated art form. It requires as much dancing as lead roles, expert synchronization, and the stamina of a marathon runner. If you’ve been picked to perform a corps role, give yourself a pat on the back—it’s the toughest role to dance in all of ballet!

Study your character, memorize your choreography, and love what you dance. After all, ballet is ballet, whether you’re Giselle or a peasant girl!

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