Higher Legs Are Within Reach!
Updated: May 7
There are some corrections that a dancer will hear all throughout their career, with one being to lift from the back of or underneath the leg. But what really does that mean?
Teachers usually give this correction when guiding a dancer in their grand battements and développés. When a student is first taught higher leg movements, it is natural for them to rely dominantly on their quadriceps muscles. Although it's impossible to lift the leg without engaging the quadriceps muscles, it's important to understand how to not overuse them.
Understanding the Anatomy
Let's first learn which muscles surround the upper leg.
The quadriceps, abductors and adductors are found at the front of the leg, the psoas muscles are found within the pelvis, and the gluteus and hamstrings are found at the back of the leg.
Applying the Anatomy
Let's shift our focus from lifting the leg to lengthening it. The idea of lengthening from the back of the leg during a kick starts from its preparation. Considering a grande battement, this means we begin thinking about this concept when standing in fifth.
Before any weight shifting begins, dancers should be applying the concept of opposition when standing in fifth. Both the abdominal and quadriceps muscles should be pulling up towards the ceiling in order to keep the pelvis lifted. In opposition, weight placement should be on the balls of the feet to allow the legs to lengthen down through the heels and towards the floor.
The next step to a grande battement is to pass through a tendu. This requires shifting the weight from two legs entirely onto one, now known as the supporting leg. It is key that the working leg remains long throughout this entire process. Dancers should be sliding their shoe against the floor so that each part of the foot lifts independently when it cannot reach the floor any longer.
The release of the pressure against the floor will initiate a dynamic and lengthened grande battement. This process will also help to keep the pelvis neutral rather than tilted back, under, or lifted sideways. Gripping will be alleviated and the dancer can now focus on turning out to their fullest potential.
Dancers shouldn't only rely on their quadriceps and hamstrings to lift their legs though, especially if striving for legs higher than 90 degrees. This is when strong iliopsoas muscles are required.
To test the strength of your iliopsoas muscles, start off by sitting tall on a chair with your legs bent in front of you and feet on the floor. Without moving the pelvis forward, back, or side to side, spend four slow counts lifting one leg as high as possible and another four controlling it back to the floor. Repeat this for the other leg and then compare the two heights. Theoretically, the amount of height the dancer can lift the leg off the floor is the height above 90 degrees they should be able to hold. In addition, the leg that lifts higher is usually the stronger leg of the dancer.
Teachers strive to enforce the importance of dancers being equal sided. For this exercise, this means that the dancer should be able to lift both legs to the same height. Below are a few excellent exercises for increasing the strength of your iliopsoas muscles, whether your goal is to even out your legs or to work on increasing their height in general.
1) Execute the above exercise for three sets of eight repetitions per leg. Complete at least three times per week. Take note of which repetition each leg begins to feel fatigued after and create a realistic timeline for how to postpone this feeling. You can also measure the height of each leg raise and strive to increase it as the days pass.
2) Advance the above exercise by laying a theraband across the top of the working thigh and holding it down on the floor with the opposite foot.
3) Lying on your back with a pillow or toy ball underneath the lower spine, bend your knees at 90 degrees so that the shins are parallel to the ceiling or floor. Take four slow counts to isolate the leg away from the body and tap the toe on the floor, then take four slow counts to return back to the preparation position. Complete 20 alternating repetitions per leg at least three times per week.
We hope you find this article helpful! Feel free to leave questions or other suggestions in the comment box.