A turned out rond de jambe may indeed be one of the most difficult things to teach correctly in dance. It involves the muscles of the working hip moving together in harmony while the muscles of the standing hip isometrically hold a stable, turned out position and support the weight of the body.
The literal English translation of rond de jambe is circle of the leg. Although the working leg does not create a full circle, it does move in a circular pattern and creates a half circle or the letter “D”. This one simple exercise involves all of the muscles of the hip. The hip flexors, adductors, abductors, extensors and outward and inward rotators must all be involved in order for the pattern to be completed. Since so many muscles need to be activated during this exercise, it is very easy for the dancer to grip the muscles rather than concentrate on the length created by the leg.
A rond de jambe should only be performed by the leg, therefore, the dancer must be taught to isolate the movement of the femur, or thigh bone, from the movement of the pelvis. During a rond de jambe, the pelvis does not initiate any movement and should only move as a result of accommodating the circular motion of the leg.
Dance educators tend to describe and teach rond de jambe en dehors to students by speaking of it as a tendu devant (front) that is carried à la seconde (to the side) that is carried to tendu derrière (to the back) and closes to a position. This type of description, although accurate, omits two very important positions that should be focused upon in this exercise. In between the tendu devant and the tendu à la seconde is the écarté devant position, and in between the tendu à la seconde and the tendu derrière is the écarté derrière position. By focusing on these positions, the dance educator will encourage the lengthening of the leg rather than the gripping effect on all the muscles as they try to work simultaneously.
Trying to attain both écarté positions will also encourage the dancer to maintain maximum turnout in a rond de jambe for as long as possible. When the foot moves from à la seconde to derrière, it is very easy for the dancer to begin to inwardly rotate the hip. Focusing on the écarte derrière position helps decrease that tendency.
When performing a rond de jambe en dedans (from back to front), dancers often wait to turn out the leg until the foot arrives à la seconde. Forcing the dancer to think about the foot moving through the écarté derrière position, will encourage outward rotation to occur sooner.
The same ideas of attaining the in between positions and lengthening the working leg can be used when the leg comes off the floor in a grand rond de jambe. When moving the leg à la second to derrière, students tend to drop and rotate the leg inward. By emphasizing the écarté position and encouraging the students to reach through the working leg and send the energy out through the toes, the teacher will help the dancers maintain turnout and avoid the dropping of the leg. The same is true when performing a grand rond de jambe en dedans. Reaching out through the leg will result in the leg turning out as soon as the movement begins and the leg lifting rather than dropping.
Rond de jambe is a difficult exercise to execute correctly, and it is a good bet that if a dancer finds the exercise to be an easy one, he or she is performing it incorrectly. Whenever something is difficult, dancers tend to hold their breath, tighten muscles and keep their energy bound. By thinking about rond de jambe in a different way and urging students to make each rond de jambe larger than the one before, educators can encourage the muscles to lengthen, decrease tension held in gripped muscles, free bound energy, and teach dancers to enjoy what they are doing and achieve efficient, beautiful results.
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