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Ballet 101: How to Do a Tendu

Photo Credit: STOCK4B | Getty Images

Photo Credit: STOCK4B | Getty Images


mong the very first things dancers learn in their first ballet class is a small and deceptively simple movement of the leg called tendu (tahn-doo); a French term meaning “stretched.”

The practicality of mastering the tendu leads to a dégagé (when a dancer moves their leg off the floor from a position with a pointed foot and straight leg), which leads to a battement (essentially the same action as an eye-high kick). But tendu isn’t just for budding ballerinas; dancers never stop refining and perfecting this fundamental movement.
How to Do a Tendu:

  1. Stand in first or fifth position. (Beginners usually learn a tendu from a closed foot position.)
  2. Keeping both legs straight, press one foot into the floor and out, away from the other leg.
  3. As the foot moves out and the heel begins to leave the floor, point through the ankle. The instep is arched even though the ball of the foot as your working leg is still pressing into the floor.
  4. Press through the toes until they are fully stretched, creating a fully pointed foot.
  5. Once you’ve reached the full extension of your working leg, reverse these actions beginning with the toes until the leg returns to its original position.

Things to Keep In Mind with Tendu:
Yes, tendu seems pretty straightforward—the leg goes out, the leg comes in and is almost always rather directly in front, back or side of the dancer. Yet there’s a lot that is going on beneath the surface. Here are a few key things to take note of:

  • The degree of turnout in the legs must be maintained. Be careful not to twist or dip the hips in an effort to rotate the working leg. The two bones at the front of your pelvis should stay still and level.
  • Don’t forget about the other leg. With awareness and practice, the endurance of your deep rotator muscles will get better. Until then, it’s a mistake to clench your glutes to keep the turnout of your standing leg.
  • You want a feeling of space in the knee joint. Keeping both legs from bending or hyper-extending is also easier said than done. Try making your knees “smile” by activating your quadriceps.
  • It’s important to work through your foot. The arch of the foot should always be pointed before the toes are added. This strengthens your foot and helps to keep you from dumping all of your weight onto the standing leg.
  • Avoid leaning to the side during every tendu. Grow taller through your spine as you subtly move your weight to the standing leg.
  • Engage your core. Keeping the legs rotated and the spine and pelvis stable during tendu requires activation of your deep core muscles. This is what dance teachers usually call “lifting up” and once you figure it out, this small thing will improve every bit of your tendu and your overall dance technique.