Improving Extensions

Extensions are the most sought-after thing for ballet dancers to have – they’re popular at auditions, competitions, and on stage.  Let’s review the anatomy and physiology of the movement and how you can improve it by knowing what’s inside your body.

NOTE: We will not be discussing arabesque in this post, that will be talked about at a later date.

What is an extension?

An extension is the position of a leg extended at the highest possible angle.  The process of getting up to that position can be a développé, battement, grande rond de jambe, etc.  Before we talk about the process, let’s talk about what the actual position is and entails.

EXTENSION (in kinesiology): Straightening at a joint.

EXTENSION (in ballet): A straight leg extended above 90 degrees.

The joint at the hip would be considered “bending” if it is below 90 degrees.  It is in the process of straightening once it reaches above 90 degrees, which makes it extension, hence the anatomical term.

Condition needed for proper extension

Many people think that extension could be considered a kicking of the leg upward, but in reality, this process would through off proper alignment of the hips and involve a crossing or under-crossing of the sagittal plane (or midline), therefore making the movement incorrect.  This over or under crossing throws of support from the supporting/standing side and the supporting leg, therefore sacrificing technique for an extreme.  Very incorrect.  In this article, we will discuss how to improve extension under proper and necessary technique while not inducing injury.

Extension itself involves both strength and flexibility.  You must have the flexibility in your hamstring, inner thigh, and hips to lift the leg to the maximum extent while having the strength in your adductors, hamstrings, iliopsoas, core, and muscles throughout your entire standing side to hold your leg there.

The muscles (extension devant and alisicon/écarté)

Your core and internal/external obliques on the supporting side especially need to help pull up and lift the standing leg to provide for good technique and allow for “room” on the supporting side for a straight leg.
This is the quadratus femoris muscle of the hip. It is used for external rotation of the joint – and it is needed especially in extension to provide for rotation of the working leg especially, although it is also needed on the supporting leg.
These are the adductors, more commonly known to dancers as the inner thighs. They are used on the working leg especially, but also the supporting leg, to maintain external rotation and lift.
These are the muscles of the hamstrings. This is used for extension as a primary mover (along with the quadriceps as the secondary movers). Very important in the working leg, although additionally used in the supporting leg as well.
Basic Ballet Muscles
These are the “basic ballet muscles,” used as stabilizers to hold joints in place throughout your entire body. These should be engaged and contracted at all times!
Here we have the ilioposas, made of the iliacus muscle along with the posas major. As one of the hip flexors, this is used to maintain supporting in the lower back and prevent opposition to the front especially. This muscle allows proper pull up or lift of the torso in extension and also aids in the holding of the working leg at an extreme height.

Common corrections YOU get

It’s important that you analyze the corrections that you get from your experienced and detail-aware teachers so that you can fully recognize how exactly to apply them.  I find that the best way to do that is through anatomy and physiology terms, so I’m going to share that information with you today.

Let’s start by recognizing some common corrections that you get on this extension and the movements related to it:

  • Higher leg!
  • Straight back.
  • Straight supporting leg!
  • Turn out!

How to solve these problems

Now, let’s relate our listings from the Muscles section to these corrections you get and analyze how exactly to do these notes.

Higher leg!

The key to getting your legs higher is using the muscles below (and strengthening them…if you would like to see routines please use the Requests page!)

  • hamstrings
  • inner thighs (adductors)
  • iliopsoas

Straight back.

It’s all in the iliopsoas.  This muscle prevents opposition when the leg is extended to the front, therefore preventing that “tucking” (or posterior pelvic tilt).

Straight supporting leg!

Both lifting up through your core and internal obliques allows “room” for that leg to straighten, whereas the hamstring of that supporting leg allows for that change to happen.

So, by using your internal obliques especially along with your entire core and the hamstring of your supporting leg, you will be able to get that nice straight standing leg you are looking for.

Turn out!

In the working leg, it’s all about the inner thigh (adductors) and the quadratus femoris (see my Improving Turnout post).  In the supporting leg, it’s all about the quadratus femoris.  See that post for a more detailed explanation and in-depth workout and conditioning routines for those muscles.

Additional tips

  • Show the attitude and lift your leg as high as you possibly can during that section of the movement.  After reaching the highest attitude possible, try to maintain the position of the working femur bone as you extend the knee.
  • Show the movement of the developing – work on shaping your foot through the surlecoudepied into the passé, and then coming up into the attitude before the extension.
  • Don’t allow your pelvis to tuck under in the purpose to turn out more in your working leg when your leg is extended alisicon.  You cannot sacrifice the placement and posture in the pelvic joints in order to increase external rotation of the hips.  Maintain the stabilizer muscles!
  • Use the muscles of the supporting side to support the movement of your working side.  Pelvic stabilization allows for increased range of motion in the working side, notably the hip joint.

I hope that this post helps you improve your extensions and dévloppés.  If you enjoyed, please like this post and follow for more!

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