5 Tips For Improving Your Leg Extension

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Photo Credit: Kathrin Ziegler | Getty Images

There are few dance skills with more “wow” factor than high leg extensions, especially when they unfold (développé) slowly to the side (à la seconde). The potential height of your leg extension varies depending on flexibility and strength. While you can’t expect big changes in your leg extension overnight, you’ll see plenty of improvement over time if you put these five tips into practice every time you hit the dance floor:

1. Work on placement and core stability at every level. A strong, properly-aligned spine gives the raised leg something to work against. Remember that any movement you do is a core exercise if you focus on keeping a neutral spine while you do it. Use exercises in and outside of dance class as opportunities to work on core strength and stability.

2. Increase the depth of your split in all directions. Whether it’s a développé or battement, if you don’t have the needed passive flexibility, then you definitely won’t have enough active range of motion to get your leg up. Since dancers must often move an extended leg en rond (in a circular pattern), practice rotating from one split to the other as you stretch.

3. Isolate the iliopsoas. Only two muscles are responsible for lifting the thigh above 90 degrees: the psoas major and the iliacus. A good way to get to know how it feels when they’re doing their job? Lay on your back with knees to the ceiling—relax your quad and gently bring your thigh toward your chest. Putting your fingers near the crease of your hip may help you feel the activation of the iliopsoas; this will help so that you can apply that feeling when standing.

4. Stick to the sequence. In a développé, the leg should unfold in a particular order when you go 90 degrees and above. First, it rises to retiré, then the knee lifts for a deeper crease in the hip, then the lower leg unfolds to attitude and then to the full extension. Many dance students forget the knee lift and start unfolding the leg too soon.

5. Turn out from the get-go. Before the foot even begins to leave the ground, remember the rotators have a job to do. A common mistake is to just lift the knee or thigh, and then turn out. However, both hips must continuously rotate away from one another throughout the entire movement.