The baby swan can help strengthen your serratus anterior. Modeled by Marimba Gold-Watts, photographed by Jayme Thornton

4 Exercises That Will Strengthen Your Port de Bras

Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.

"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."


Instead, she encourages dancers to use the serratus anterior muscle, which attaches the shoulder blade to the rib cage. To locate it, Gold-Watts suggests dancers imagine that the collarbones and shoulder blades are widening across the body in opposite directions.

The serratus anterior in red. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

"As soon as your shoulder blade is lying flat, you can get other muscles around the shoulder girdle to turn on, allowing you to connect your arms to your back."

Try these at-home exercises to strengthen your serratus anterior and the rest of the shoulder girdle for stronger, smoother port de bras:

Baby Swan

  1. Lie facedown with your feet together. Extend the arms down by your sides, palms flat on the floor.
  2. Engage the deep abdominals to lengthen the lower back and pull your belly button to the spine. Imagine rolling the collarbone up and back as you slowly lift your head, keeping the neck long. Aim to articulate the spine bone by bone as you lift, stopping at the bra line. When your shoulders begin to lift, raise the hands as well.
  3. Hold this position for three to five breaths.

Do 10 reps. To make it harder, lift the feet as well.

Plank Prep

  1. To work up to a plank, start with a modification: With forearms on the floor and hands pointing straight ahead, let your knees touch the ground to help support your weight. Hold for 30 seconds, completing three sets.
  2. When ready to progress, try three sets of one-minute kneeling planks, and then do the same progression in full forearm plank with knees off the floor. Keep the abdominals engaged and shoulder blades wide and flat against the back.

Sword Arm

  1. Standing on a Thera-Band with feet hip-distance apart, reach across the body with your right hand to hold the Thera-Band by your left hip.
  2. With the arm straight but the elbow unlocked, pull the band up and out to the right, as if you're pulling a sword from its sheath.
  3. When the arm is above the shoulder, rotate the trunk to the right as well, looking back over the right shoulder. To keep the shoulder blades from lifting, Gold-Watts cues her dancers to "imagine sliding the shoulder blades down into your back pockets as you lift the arm."

Complete 10 reps per side.

Wall Push-Up

  1. Stand two to three feet away from a wall with your legs together. Place your hands on the wall at forehead height, making a diamond shape.
  2. Slowly bend your elbows, bringing your trunk closer to the wall while maintaining a plank position in the body.
  3. Press back out.

Complete 10 reps. To modify, step closer to the wall. For an additional challenge, try one arm at a time without allowing the body to rotate.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021