I’ve heard recently from a few different teachers who are saying to me, Mary, you know that term you use, “pull up” (a common term that ballet teachers use to describe proper technique to their students)? That is an old fashioned, out of date, debunked, useless term.

What the heck? Teachers have been using that term for ages… world-renowned teachers, I might add. So why are people suddenly thinking that the term “pull up” is out of date and that we should be saying something else instead?

I did some research on various classical ballet and dance forums to see what other people are saying about “pull up.” What did I find? There are many people who are super confused about what the term even means.

This is the result of inadequate teaching.

One person on Ballet Talk put it best:

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“I just recently started taking an intermediate class…[and] I find myself learning a great deal about the fundamentals in that class. The teacher is one of those teachers that doesn’t just say “turn out!” or “pull up!” but actually explains how to turn out and how to pull up. I love this class.”

Exactly, this is how it should be! There is one reason why people (teachers included) are so confused about this term “pull up” and that is because nobody has explained it to them. Here’s the “million dollar” answer right now, plain and simple:

Pull up = to tighten.1

That’s it. No confusing explanations about how there needs to be both upward energy and downward energy, pulling out of your joints, bla bla de blar blar, yadda yadda yadda… Pull up simply means to tighten, period.

Why is this so important? I can think of two really good reasons right off the bat:

#1. Tightening the legs is the single most important thing you can do to protect your joints while turning out.

Telling your students to “pull up”, and teaching how to pull up properly, ensures that students will not get injured when they turn out.2

#2. “Pull up” is the simplest and the most accurate thing to say.

You can give your students further explanation by using words like “lengthen”, “elongate”, or give them some imagery to help them better understand it (I believe that not all imagery is useful or good, but I personally have come up with the “Tight Rope Image” which I use to help my students understand this concept. The Tight Rope Image is explained in my other post here: The Solution for Thick/Bulky Calves). Explanation is important, however, keeping it simple is always better and here’s why:

Let’s pretend that, instead of using the term “pull up” you tell your students to “use grounding energy with multiple points of contact while elongating energy lines.” Are you confused yet? (I didn’t make this up– this was an actual suggestion on a ballet forum for teachers of what to say instead of “pull up”.) To be completely honest, even I can only understand the gist of what this is trying to say, and I don’t think of myself as a dumb person, so I can only imagine a 10-year-old who is trying to grasp this concept for the first time.

Not only is this alternative very confusing, but it also leads to incorrect training.

Why is that? Here’s why. I think what they were trying to say is that, instead of “pulling up”, students should also be instructed to “push down” (two points of contact… upward energy and downward energy.) Ok, that sounds alright, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that pushing down is bad. Why is pushing down bad? Because it impedes the flow of movement.1

This is a concept I had completely upside down and backwards, just like many other people, but now that I have taken teacher’s courses to understand the reasoning behind it, I now know why the Teaching Method of Classical Dance says to never tell students to push down into the floor. Try to dégagé the leg slowly while pushing into the floor. Ok, fine. Now do it really fast, beating in and out (battement). It’s difficult to keep the flow of movement now, isn’t it?

Here is my “Muscle Habits Rule” of Training:
If the objective of the training is to develop nerve-muscle patterns for performing the most difficult steps in the classical repertoire (which it is), then never teach something in the beginning which will have to be un-learned later.

Seem so simple a 10-year-old could have thought of it? Precisely. ;-)

So, what is your opinion on “pull up”? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave your comments below!

Sources & Footnotes:

1. The True Method™ Teacher’s Course, instructing in the exact, pure, complete teaching method originating from Russia, founded by Agrippina Vaganova and completed by her first assistant for nearly 3 decades, Vera Kostrovitskaya.
2. It has been verified by the Dean at Texas Tech University that there were no injuries in the 31 years total that the classical ballet students there were being trained by a teacher utilizing the Teaching Method of Classical Dance, using full, 180-degree turn-out while pulling up by tightening.

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Hi, I'm Mary Fernandez! I'm a ballet teacher and mother of two rambunctious boys. As if my three boys (hubby included) didn't keep me busy enough, I also enjoy getting back into dancing shape and studying the Teaching Method of Classical Dance. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, follow me, and I'll tell you about it!
To quote material, kindly:

Thank you!