The Rond de Jambe

"It is not so much upon the number of exercises, as the care with which they are done, that progress and skill depend. "
                                                                       -August Bournonville



            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.

                              video
            
           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.

Thanks to all of my followers, The Healthy Dancer has made it to the final round of Dance Advantage's Top 10 Dance Blog contest.  If you like what you see here, click on this link and be sure to vote for The Healthy Dancer in BOTH categories - as best overall blog and further down the page in the Teacher Talk category!

The Many Faces of the Healthy Dancer


     Dance is a multi-faceted field - it includes educators, students, performers, dance scientists, dance medicine professionals, and dance therapists.  As a result this blog also has many faces and its mission has many branches.

     Since the new year has attracted many new subscribers and followers who might not have had a chance to read all of my past posts, I thought I would add snippets from a variety of them here so they will have a taste of what my blog is about.

     
When I first began the blog 15 months ago, I wrote a series of posts about flexibility in dancers and stretching.  Stretching is an important part of dance but it's important for educators and dancers to know when to stretch and how to use stretching to improve dance technique and not hinder it.

Stretching Part 1 - When Not To Do It!!
When we consider everything that happens in every system of the body on a daily basis, we begin to realize that the human body is truly a miraculous creation. My students hear me repeat daily that we are only given one body, and it is our job to take care of it. If I had a dime for each time I have heard a dance teacher tell his/her students to go into the studio and start stretching to warm up, I would be rich. Yet, every time I hear it, I cringe. Read more...



 

As a dance educator, I firmly believe in the value of dance in everyone's life.  Dance is a powerful tool for enriching learning and one that should be made available to every child.



The Case for Dance in Public Education
Each day students enter schools, sit at desks and get ready to learn. They read, they write, they use computers, and they take standardized tests that are used to determine the effectiveness of the educational system. They are told things like, “You can’t think while you’re moving,” or “You’ve got to be still to learn things.” In walks the dance educator, the radical thinker, who actually believes that movement aids learning and encourages higher order thinking. Read more...



February is National Eating Disorder Awareness month. Having seen and worked with several dancers with eating disorders, I believe that education is indeed the key to prevention and wrote several posts on healthy eating, eating disorders, and body image in dancers. Last year nutritionist Nancy Clark donated a copy of Nancy Clark's Sport Nutrition Guidebook that we gave away in a contest. This year the month of February will include another giveaway related to healthy eating. 



          Dancers and Body Image

Dancers are given the opportunity to observe themselves daily in full-length mirrors while wearing only tights and a leotard and must learn to live in harmony with their bodies. They, unlike other athletes, are constantly faced with the challenge of developing the muscles required to perform well while making certain that the lines they produce are clean and aesthetically pleasing to the audience. Additionally, dancers are in constant competition with their classmates for the teacher’s attention or for a coveted role in a performance.  Therefore, it is not surprising that dancers judge themselves harshly and are extremely critical of their bodies:  their legs are never long enough, their feet are never arched enough and their stomachs are never flat enough. In a 2010 interview about body image, Pilobolus’ Jeffrey Huang said, “Criticizing our bodies is second nature to dancers.” One need only mention the possibility of wearing white unitards to a group of dancers to hear groans and observe the, perhaps subconscious, movement of arms being placed across abdomens to hide stomachs. Read more...



     Dance science is a fairly new field of study, and although it has presented many ideas that make sense and are backed by scientific evidence and research, these ideas often challenge dance traditions.  Because of this, it is imperative that these ideas continue to be presented and dancers are encouraged to think about how to improve their technique in ways that keep them dancing longer, stronger and healthier.



Forcing Turnout: Is It Really That Bad For You


Turnout is an integral part of ballet technique. It involves externally rotating each leg 90° so that the inside of the leg is visible from the front.
Since few dancers are born with an ideal body structure for turnout, ballet dancers often feel the need to force their legs to rotate more than is anatomically feasible. Dancers bend their knees, outwardly rotate their feet and then force the body to hold that position while they straighten their legs. It is quite easy to spot the dancer who is forcing turnout. Teachers need to check to see if the dancers’ kneecaps, or patellas, are facing the same direction as their toes. If they are not, the rotation is being forced and the dancer is probably struggling to hold the position. Read more...



The Barre: Why It Might Be Time To Step Away...

There are few absolutes in the world, but every dancer who enters a ballet class knows that he or she should claim a space at the barre because barre work is the first part of class. It is at the barre that muscles warm-up, stretching begins, new movements are introduced, dancers acclimate to the space and neurological pathways, that will be called upon in the center, are established or reinforced. Therefore, barre work is an excellent way to prepare the dancer’s body for work that will be done in the center, isn’t it? Read more...

If you enjoy reading posts on this blog, please help The Healthy Dancer become one of the Top 10 Dance Blogs of 2013.  Simply click on this link, (it will bring you to a post about the contest), scroll down and leave a comment on the bottom of that post letting me know why you enjoy this blog and that will count as your vote!













Teaching the Plié

"Plié is the first thing you learn and the last thing you master." Suzanne Farrell


            In last week’s post, Using Your Muscles Differently, I discussed how changing the way we think about and approach movement can change the way muscles are activated and how they are used and develop.  This post will specifically address different ways that can be used to teach the plié.

     The French verb plier means to bend, which is clearly what dancers do when performing this exercise – they bend at the hip, knee, and ankle joints.  Since bending changes the level of the body, executing a plié has become synonymous with lowering, and dance students tend to release their weight into their legs.  This dropping of weight places tremendous pressure on the knees and also encourages dancers to release their muscles at the bottom of a grand plié and end up “sitting” in a plié.  Sitting occurs when the dancer relaxes into a squatting position at the bottom of the plié rather than using muscles to hold and stabilize the body isometrically before rising out of the plié.  In an isometric contraction the muscles  remain contracted and do not change length but simply hold a position.  The difference between isometrically holding the position and sitting in a plié can be illustrated by asking a dancer to perform a grand plié in a turned out first position and relax at the bottom of the plié.  The dancer should then be asked to rise about two inches from that position at which point he or she will feel muscles begin to activate and contract in order to hold the position.  The level where the contraction is felt is the point at which the plié should always stop and the lengthening of the legs should begin.

"sitting in a grand plié"
correctly executed grand plié
            


            Another way to prevent the weight from dropping into the joints of the legs during a plié is to think of a plié in a turned out position as a separating exercise instead of a bending exercise.  By focusing on pulling the legs apart from each other, the energy is sent out to the sides rather than down into the floor.  By thinking about pulling the legs back together during the rise out of the plié, the dancer can activate and feel the turn out muscles working to maintain the position.

            It is also helpful if pliés are performed slowly.  Quick pliés encourage the downward motion and weight dropping.  The imagery of separating the legs as if they were glued together, as if they were part of a piece of taffy being pulled apart, or as if the plié were occurring in a vat of peanut butter can also be used.

            Each dancer performs an infinite number of pliés in his or her lifetime.  It is imperative that dancers be taught to perform them in ways that place as minimal strain and stress on the joints of the leg as possible.  By simply thinking of the exercise in a different way,  dancers can be taught to perform healthier pliés that keep their knees much much happier.


            If you enjoy reading posts on this blog, please help The Healthy Dancer become one of the Top 10 Dance Blogs of 2013.  Simply click on this link, (it will bring you to a post about the contest), scroll down and leave a comment on the bottom of that post letting me know why you enjoy this blog and that will count as your vote!

Help The Healthy Dancer become a Top 10 Dance Blog


     Each year Nichelle Strzepek of Dance Advantage hosts a contest to determine which dance blogs are the "top dance blogs" of the year.

     If you like what you have read on The Healthy Dancer, you can help this blog qualify as a finalist in the contest.  Simply comment on this post, and let me know why you enjoy this blog, what makes it special, and which posts have been your favorites.

     The 20 dance blogs that accumulate the most comments by January 20 will be named finalists in the contest.  If The Healthy Dancer makes it to the final round, from January 24-31 readers can show their support by voting in that portion of the contest.

     I am so grateful to my followers who have made my blog successful over the past 18 months, and I hope you will leave a comment below telling me why you stop by and will help The Healthy Dancer become a finalist in Dance Advantage's 2013 Top Dance Blog contest.

Using Your Muscles Differently


            "The dance, just as the performance of the actor, is kinesthetic art, art of the muscle sense.  The awareness of tension and relaxation..." - Rudolf Arnheim

            Dance can, undoubtedly, be classified as a sport, and dancers are definitely athletes.  The difference between dancers and traditional athletes, however, is that dancers need to be concerned about the aesthetic lines created when they move.  Although dancers must have strong muscles, it is also imperative that their muscles be long and not bulky.  This length preserves the aesthetic appearance, creates healthier muscles that are less likely to tear, and provides the dancer with a greater ability to move.

            One way to encourage the development of longer muscles is to discourage gripping in any of the muscle groups.  A body that is properly aligned should be able to stabilize itself by lengthening rather than tightening muscles.  If a dancer has previously been gripping muscles to maintain stability and hold positions, he or she will have a very difficult time breaking this habit, and will need to be educated about thinking of dance in an entirely new way.

            The dance educator can help by always emphasizing proper alignment and presenting technique in a different way.  If we begin to think about approaching an exercise in a new way, our muscles will begin to activate and work differently.  A dance educator might tell a student, who is waiting for an exercise to begin, to imagine his or her pelvis lifting the kneecaps while the kneecaps lift the ankles and the feet press down into the floor.  Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, therefore, pushing energy down into the floor results in the body lengthening upward.  The dancer should also imagine his or her torso being lengthened equally in front and back as if it was being sucked up through a straw while the sternum lifts toward the sun and the neck lengthens as if the head was a helium filled balloon.

            All of these suggestions will result in a longer, aligned body and are much more effective than asking the dancers to straighten their knees, which encourages hyperextension; tighten their bottoms, which limits range of motion; and pull up their stomachs, which often results in an opened ribcages and raised shoulders.

            Simply presenting exercises in a different way, using new imagery, can change the way a dancer performs.  Body lengthening frees the muscles to move without being bound, which is physically exhausting, limits a dancer’s range of motion, and does not feel good.

            My next few posts will address specific exercises and the imagery and wording that can be used to encourage dancers to stop gripping and begin to dance by lengthening and elongating their muscles.