Dancer to Dancer

Why Épaulement Is So Important—and How to Develop It

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Jacquline Straughan (with Brian Simcoe) showing off her beautiful épaulment in Swan Lake (photo by Jingzi Zhao, courtesy OBT)

It's in Odette's gracefully arched neck, the Lilac Fairy's regal bearing, even a contemporary dancer's extreme lines. The "it" in question? Épaulement—the nuanced positioning of the head, shoulders, and neck. Using your épaulement (which translates, literally, as "shouldering") does more than make your dancing prettier: It makes it better, richer, and more artistic. But achieving effortless épaulement is easier said than done, especially since technique classes tend to focus on the legs and feet.

Identifying Épaulement

Épaulement goes beyond the head and neck. "It's everything from your ribs, to your shoulders, to your arms, to your head tilt," says Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Jacqueline Straughan. "It's vital to think of all those parts working together."

Just like the height of the leg, the degree of your épaulement can vary. In the Vaganova method, for example, "you can have basic croisé, little pose croisé, or big pose croisé, and small arms épaulement or big arms épaulement," says Kirov Academy of Ballet teacher Anastasia Dunets. You can also tailor these positions further depending on the role you might be playing. Juliet's open, expansive épaulement is very different from Kitri's sharp angles.

More Than the Icing on the Cake

Épaulement is subtle, which can lead dancers to mistakenly think of it as a finishing touch—something to add onstage, not to focus on during class. But Jenifer Ringer, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and now director of the Colburn Dance Academy in L.A., urges otherwise: "Épaulement can go such a long way in increasing your coordination and ability to accomplish certain steps." Straughan agrees. "The head is a substantial weight," she says. "When it's placed correctly over the supporting side, it helps with something as simple as a transition step." For example, if you're standing in B-plus about to launch into grand allégro, you'll be able to move more freely and quickly if your head's weight is helping with the impetus, rather than staying stiffly perched.

Think of your épaulement as movement rather than a static shape. Straughan notes that if you just tilt your neck and leave it there without letting the position move and adjust to what's going on underneath, you'll get tension, awkward angles, and cramping.

Straughan and Peter Franc in Nicolo Fonte's "Giants Before Us" (photo by Yi Yin, courtesy OBT)

Feel, Don't See

If you rely on the mirror to see if your head is complementing your line, you'll have difficulty reproducing the movement onstage. "Épaulement has to be a part of your dancing, so that when you get into a high-pressure situation, you can rely on the body mechanics that you've already built," Ringer says.

Internalizing correct upper-body movement also means knowing which muscles to engage. Strengthening your lats and upper abdominals will help you find more space and freedom to use your épaulement. Straughan suggests yoga, arm resistance exercises with a Thera-Band, or even some light weight-lifting to help trigger your lats and other upper-torso muscles.

Now Dance!

We all have bad days—those classes where nothing seems to be working technically. It's times like these when using your épaulement is especially important. "You're here to dance," says Ringer. "A lot of times just remembering your épaulement brings everything back into focus."

Even if you've nailed triple pirouettes and can jump like you're on a springboard, impressive pyrotechnics alone don't cut it in the dance world. "At the end of the day, we're not gymnasts, we're dancers," Ringer says. "We're creating art, and it should be beautiful and expressive. So much of that comes from épaulement."

A version of this story appeared in the April 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Get Your Head (and Shoulders) In The Game."

Show Comments ()
Ayo &Teo incorporate cotton swabs in their dancing to bring awareness to blood caner (courtesy

Rapping, dance duo Ayo & Teo may still want "ice on their wrists so (they) look better when (they) dance," as they're 2017 chart topping song, "Rolex" says, but the two are featuring a more unusual accessory in their recent dance routine: The cotton swab. After teaming up with for the Give A Spit About Cancer campaign, Ayo & Teo are encouraging people to join the national bone marrow registry and donate marrow for those suffering from blood cancer.

Keep reading... Show less

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Health & Body
Lealand Eve

As a teenager, contemporary dancer Eveline Kleinjans felt like nothing she did was good enough. Auditioning for university dance programs paralyzed her: “I was so focused on every move I made and what people would think that I wasn't able to be free, to be myself," she says. And her intense perfectionism had real repercussions. “I'd get negative feedback saying, 'We don't see you.' "

Perfectionism is extremely common in the dance world, because dancers hold themselves to terrifically high standards. It's easy to get a little discouraged when you aren't improving as quickly as you want. But there's a difference between healthy self-criticism and an unhealthy obsession with perfection. How can you tell when your drive to be better has crossed the line—and what can you do to get back on track?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Partnering is hard enough as it is: You're trying to untangle technical snafus and synchronize your movements with those of another dancer, not to mention building the delicate trust required to catch and be caught, lift and be lifted. Throw a hostile or uncooperative partner into the mix, and you might wish you could take a pass on pas de deux. But don't give up! We asked the experts for tips on how to solve partnering's "relationship problems" as gracefully as possible.

Keep reading... Show less
Artyon Celestine and Paige Glenn showing their lift skills (photo by Kristin Glenn, courtesy Glenn)

Yes, they're quite possibly the cutest dance duo since, well, ever. But put Paige Glenn and Artyon Celestine onstage, and it's immediately clear they mean business. That was apparent to millions across the country last summer, when Artyon and Paige's unbelievable extensions, fearless turning, and infectious energy propelled them to the quarterfinals of "America's Got Talent." They've also appeared (together or individually) on "Little Big Shots," "Lip Sync Battle Shorties," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and "Access Hollywood Live"—not to mention the competition titles they've won as a pair.

"Simon Cowell came backstage during 'AGT' and told us, 'Go out there and do your best. They're going to like you.' "—Artyon
Keep reading... Show less
Showstopper's National Finals Opening Number Performance

Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)

That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "

Keep reading... Show less

Winter is drawing to a close and you know what that means -- It's time to really kick this year into gear! Move U has done the research so you can find your best match, look good, and feel great this season with a twist unique to your team! Here are five looks to put your performance on the map in 2018.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Screenshot via @portfolioglobal on Instagram

We already knew Taylor and Reese Hatala can do anything. After all, they're both incredibly versatile dancers capable of serving up some serious face. And now the super siblings can add another title to their resumé: that of fashion magazine cover stars.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Sofia Wylie (photo by Dave Brewer, courtesy Disney Channel)

Last week Disney Channel star Sofia Wylie released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of her YouTube dance series. Along with some stellar dancing, the video shows the dance community featured in her "4k Dance Series" and the things they've learned from being a part of the dance project. And though the project features dance, we love that it also emphasizes supporting and building up fellow dancers.

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox