All of us, dancers and non-dancers do it: we wake up in the morning and give our upper bodies a big stretch. We reach to the ceiling, arch our backs, lean sideways. In ballet, these movements are officially known as cambré and port de bras, and they too serve as an introduction to class. Usually performed at the beginning of barre work, cambré means “arched”, and port de bras means “carriage of the arms”. For easy visualization, consider the following full, circular port de bras (including cambré) from a five-point perspective.
1. Opening the ribs
Beginning in first position, carry the working arm through first, then to the side in second. From second, extend your arm up and over your head as you reach your upper body towards the barre. This wonderful stretch creates space between your shoulder and hips, increasing circulation and allowing for greater breath and mobility. Be conscious of your alignment, however—you don’t want to hunch, or lean against the barre.
2. Coordinating the head and arms
So, once you’ve reached over into the sideways position you can rest, right? No. Maintaining proper posture, your arm creates an arc over your head, your elbow slightly curved. Directing your gaze towards the floor, your head is tilted down slightly while your neck remains extended. As tempting as it is to scrunch your shoulder or let your head rest, it’s vital to keep both shoulders down and away from your ears; you’re passing through this position to get to another.
3. Lengthening the spine
From the sideways position, carry your arm and head all the way down until your hand is resting softly against the ground and your spine is fully lengthened. This transition from standing is a great opportunity to let your head and neck rest. Releasing all tension from the neck, allow your head to gently hang, directly facing the knees. Do not, however, let your arm lose its curved shape.
4. Bending from the waist
When arching forward, bend from the waist, and lead with the chest. Be sure to keep the knees straight upon descent and rising. This inward fold also does wonders for your lower body, giving your gluteals and hamstrings a good stretch. There’s the tendency when entering this position to stick your butt out—resist the urge to “tooch” your booty and bend strictly from the waist, pressing your inner thighs, knees, and calves together.
5. Arching the back
After you’ve returned to the upright position, synchronize your head and arms as you arch your upper body backward. Again, your torso remains solidly over your hips, and your knees are not bent. It is not uncommon to see a pelvis lurching forward, or knees starting to buckle. Maintaining air-tight posture, present your chest to the ceiling, your arm slightly behind your face as your subtly look over your shoulder. Holding this position only briefly, bring your upper body back up, as you extend your arm to the side in second. Standing tall, finish with both arms down in first position.
Between the constant movements of the arm with port de bras and the thorough stretch from cambré, this dynamic duo of ballet technique has physical benefits as well as being visually beautiful.