Ballet Adagios: 7 Tips for a Higher Leg

Let’s flashback for a minute.  You’re in class, standing in the back, watching the first group of your ballet class, full of beautiful dancers, getting their legs to their ears during an adagio in center.

Your extensions are fine at the barre…you have plenty of height and you never fall.  But then you get to center, and it’s a whole different battle.

Adagio in center is one of the hardest skills an experienced dancer can learn.  Many times, at the barre, a student’s legs are by their ears, and their technique is excellent.  But, when they get to the center, it all falls apart.  Today I’m sharing 10 tips for a higher leg and better balance during adagio in center.


  1. Stay grounded.

You want to get your leg UP, don’t you?  So, think UP!

Red lights should be flashing!  This is as far from the truth as you can get.

In fact, to get your leg up, you want to think the opposite of up…you want to think down.

Pressing down through the floor with your supporting side and feeling your body’s connection to the floor will free up your hips and muscles to work without having to grip.  And then magically…your leg got higher.

  1. Don’t drop that knee!

Instead of thinking of your toes getting higher, think of your knee getting closer to your ear.  The key to getting into a good position for this analogy…is the attitude.

In a développé, the leg draws into sur le cou de pied, retiré, attitude, and then finally the fully extended position.

In order to get this concept right, you need to continually lift the knee higher and higher as you draw up to retiré, reach your highest connected position, and lift the knee so much that it comes into attitude.

Now that you have this ultra-sky-high attitude position, you have to leave the knee in place as you extend the leg from the knee down.  This takes some serious control, but it’s worth it.

One exercise you can practice is to hold onto your hamstring with your arm as you come to an attitude side, and then slowly extend your leg fully as you maintain the position of the upper leg using your arm, and then release it back down again.  Repeat 10 times on each side.

  1. Connect your supporting side.

It a développé, especially alisicon/écarté, it’s important to feel your entire supporting side being stable and connected.

One of my favorite images for this is to imagine a steel rod running all the way through your supporting side.

Some teachers say to feel it from your hip down, but I find this is useless.  The rod has to go all the way from your shoulder to the ball of your foot.

Your upper body, especially your head, weighs a lot.  If half of your body is off balance, you are still going to fall over!  The steel rod needs to go all the way through your side.

  1. Squeeze under your supporting hip.

If you watched the video at the beginning of this post, you know that I talked about supporting hip stability…and I forgot the name of the fancy anatomy term.

Well, I looked it up and recalled it!  Hip disassociation means that the more stable the supporting hip is, the more free the working hip will be to work/extend.

So, just thinking of squeezing right underneath your butt on the supporting side, or a line of energy shooting up your inner thigh can be very helpful.

  1. Practice letting go at the barre.

Practicing extensions at barre won’t prepare you for center if you are training yourself to be off your leg.  Repeatedly let go of the barre during adagios to check your balance and the integrity of your position.

Barre adagios are a great time to feel how to work the right muscles and practice getting your legs up, but it can also develop bad habits in regards to your balance.

Letting go of the barre during these practices really helps you find where your weight is and correct yourself.

  1. Use your arms to support your body.

If your arms are dangling above your head and not helping you with your position, chances are they are actually hurting it.

Feel like your arms are sitting on top of a table – if they drop below the table you will be “sitting,” and that will throw off not only your balance, but your form.

Use your arms, especially if both are overhead, to pull your body up and out of your hips and create a sense of opposition that will help you find your balance.

  1. Work underneath the working leg to lift it – not the tops.

If you are working from underneath, the position will be more intrinsically supported and it will be more of a “lengthen” opposed to a “lift.”

Plus, it will make the lifting leg seem lighter and more mobile, which is an obvious help for getting your leg by your ear.  You need the leg to feel weightless so you can work the correct muscles.

You know you are working the wrong muscles if you are feeling your hip flexors, quads, and obliques.  You should be using your quadratus femoris, inner thighs, and hamstrings.


Thanks for reading!  I’ll see you on Tuesday with a new post.

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