What do we mean by “leaps” in dance class?
A leap is a jeté, which is a jump from one foot to the other in which the working leg is brushed into the air and appears to have been thrown (there is a wide variety of jetés—like grand and petit—and they can be performed in all directions).
You’ll probably practice several variations of leaps in your dance classes, and they each have different names. But to do any dance leap well, there are six important elements of leaping you’ll need to practice and perfect.
1. Preparation. A good leap needs solid preparation. It’s your chance to build momentum, so don’t use up all of your energy here. You should feel light on your feet whether you are leading into the leap with a run or a combination of movements. Your final step should be a deep plié but be careful not to lean forward. This reduces the height of your leap.
2. Power. Launching your leap starts with a strong push from plié. Force the floor away from you with your foot. Specifically, press through the ball of your foot to achieve a nicely pointed foot in the air. But don’t stop there. The power in your leap also comes from a quick and energetic split of the legs.
3. Timing. The front leg must engage quickly as you jump and the back leg must battement, or kick into the split, immediately after so that the legs are widest at the height of the jump. Dancers often make the mistake of breaking up their leap into front leg/body/back leg. Instead, shoot the legs out and bring your torso over the hips nearly simultaneously, being aware of your body as a whole.
4. Energy. Sometimes choreography calls for a soaring leap and sometimes a darting leap. Dancers adjust their energy flow to create these subtle differences in their leaps. Because what’s happening in the body is so complex, dancers often use imagery to find the correct flow of energy in a leap. It is also helpful to experiment with breathing. Try a deep inhale of breath at the height of your leap for an extra bit of hang-time.
5. Shape. The shape you make in the air during a leap is important—from the coordination of the arms to the extension of the legs. If the arms don’t work simultaneously with the legs in the take off, then the peak of the leap will suffer … hence the shape that is trying to be achieved in the air will not happen. (Not all choreography requires it, but to achieve a full split in the air, the dancer must be able to achieve it on the ground.)
6. Control. You may have all the stretch and strength needed but your leaps will still suffer if you can’t keep it all under control. Control doesn’t come from tensing your muscles. Especially during the landing, during which many dancers tend to collapse, maintain good alignment and engage your core. This is the invisible support system that coordinates the preparation, power, timing, energy, and shape of your leap.