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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Lengthening the Working Leg


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Last night in class, the teacher was working on reaching and lengthening the working leg. I have always struggled to understand what this concept means and knowing when I am actually doing it. She talked a lot about extending from the inner thigh and reaching through the heel. These concepts have always been so hard for me to comprehend. However, last night she corrected me manually and I felt my hip flexors, mainly my TFL and Psoas release, but they only released at the end of the tendue, when I imagined lengthening an extra millimeter or two. I think I have been gripping them, but I guess I still haven't really developed the non-gripped feeling. Last night, my leg in the hip joint felt so much more loose and mobile. Is there any other language to describe this phenomen that might help me with this concept because I guess I don't fully get "the extending from the inner thigh" concept all the time. I think I have more turn-out in my hip joint, but I think my turn-in muscles hinder it.

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Try thinking of the tendu as an undercircle, with the energy from the body going down, under the leg, and outward as far as it can go. It's like the body goes up and the working leg goes down and out. These are things that you feel, through imagery, rather than concentrating on specific muscle groups. It also assumes that one understands alignment and weight placement, and maintaining the weight of the body on the supporting leg while the working leg goes out.

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Holly, I'm not sure if this is any help -- but pas de cheval/petit developpé have helped me find that feeling. I have a teacher who often focuses on this lengthening of the inside of the working leg, and these exercises of unfolding the working leg to a low extension have been really good. (She also has that gorgeous quality in full developpés, it's easier to see in those but harder at least for me to work on).


Images I've found helpful: the undercircle; lengthen the inside of the leg as you do the petit developpé; unfolding the leg like a strand of fern; pushing the standing leg through the floor.


- Sanna

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Circles, or some form of circular movement are the energy patterns that create the action and reaction. It's kind of hard to describe, but very easy to demonstrate. Think of the body having an electric current, or a "stream of energy", that is never ending. It can move both vertically and horizontally, but lets think vertically right now. Imagine it going from the top of the head down through the body and under the leg to extend or lift it, and continues on upward to the top as the leg returns to home base, as in 5th position. The easiest way to feel this energy is to take a breath before you extend the leg, think of the energy pattern, and exhale as you extend. The breath is particularly helpful when you are lifting the leg, either in a développé or a grand battement. But the down and outward energy is always countered with an upward energy, otherwise the body would just sink! :shrug: So the vertical energy pattern is always a two way energy.


It sounds very simple, and it really is, but it may take someone actually showing you by doing or by using their hands to show you the pattern. Sometimes I feel like an orchestra conductor when I'm teaching, as I use my arms and hands to show the energy patterns. Most movements begin with undercircles, but some become over circles. Now we are getting a bit more complicated, so first just try to understand the undercircle! :ermm:


Another way to picture it would be to think how the movement you are doing would look if put into a hologram, which would really show you the patterns of the movements. Some movements are figure eights, which is what makes them look like movements and not just steps!


Let me know if any of this makes any sense, as it really is hard to teach it in writing!

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Ms. Leigh,


Thanks again for your reply. It is a bit hard for me to comprehend, but I will play with it in class tonight and throughout the week. I have one more question, if that is okey. From an outside observers perspective, like a teacher's perspective, what are the tell tale signs that someone is NOT lengthening their working leg? Of course, I am not talking about bent knees and flexed feet, which is obvious. What I am wondering about is what is the difference between someone with straight legs vs. someone with elongated legs? My teacher talked about a lightness in the degage movement. Is that one thing, just a light, effortless quality to movement? Is it a loseness in the hip? Can that difference be seen in someone with naturally tight hips? I hope this question isn't too obtuse.


In the last couple of weeks, I have been focusing on learning about the essence of ballet movement, the intangibles which make one dancer so beautiful and another rather ordinary. This is why I ask the question. I think very technically about movement, and so my dancing looks very mechanical. I really love the idea of imagery and metaphor, because it seems to connect one more closely to the essence of ballet movement, even if technique is lost a little.

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Imagery is very important to me too. I don't know why it works, but if I remember to imagine that my legs continue on beyond my toes (in this example), the teacher will quite often notice and say well done. I suppose the body responds to the imagery in lots of imperceptible ways which add up to doing the action much better. I also like Ms Leigh's explanation in terms of flows of energy following the breathing, which I'm trying to imagine like the ribbons you see used by gymnasts, ribbons of light. Is that on the right lines Ms Leigh?

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I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have had the benefit of Ms. Leigh's in-class instruction for about 4 years and as a result can very easily "see" what she is describing. (and can "see" her conducting!!)


I was trying to think of an image that might help others to also "see" what she is describing and also came up with the ribbons comparison although there is an 'elasticity' to it as well...as the energy moves the body upward, the energy also moves down and under the working leg. The overall movement is like the circular motion of the ribbons though, but there is also that feeling of elasticity that I include in my thought process. That and the feeling of the energy continuing outward beyond the toes and top of the head.

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Thank you, kacy! That helps a lot in clarifying what I was trying to say, and dianec had the idea with the ribbons going on the right track too. It is just really hard to make it all clear in this format, and yet so easy in the classroom.


Hart, I really cannot tell you exactly what it is that makes the teachers able to see the difference, but probably just experience. I can look at someone and immediately see if they are up out of their legs as far as they can be or not. And yes, it is harder for people who are very tight to do it. One of the things that will show immediately is when there is any downward feeling in the body as a leg extends outward, as opposed to an upward feeling in the body. AND, then as the leg returns the body needs to get even further upward. That is what creates the freedom for the working leg, and yes, I guess that could also be described as a certain lightness, and definitely an ease of mvoement as opposed to making the movement look difficult.


Not sure if any of that made any sense! :yes:

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Thanks, Ms Leigh,



I'll play with it and see if I get any feedback from teachers. I got positive feedback from the teacher who was working on the concept, so I guess that is a good start, especially since I don't always get feedback from her. I just don't have a clue what I did differently. I'll let you know how it goes in a couple weeks.


Thanks again.

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