Technique Tips: Improve Your Extension
Extension refers to the lifting of the leg in any direction, whether that be to the front, side or behind in arabesque. Usually in ballet, extension is most commonly performed through développé. In développé, the working leg unfolds to a spectacular height, displaying a combination of flexibility, control and strength.
Nowadays, everyone’s extension leg is next to their ear… except for yours. If you find yourself lusting after a 6 o’clock penche or a perfect 180 degree side leg (especially on Instagram), then make sure to do these exercises to improve your extension.
Développé: “to develop, or developing movement; to unfold”
A movement where the working leg is drawn up to the knee (in retiré passé) and then fully extended outward. Développé can be performed to the front (devant), side (à la seconde), or back (derrière). Usually, a développé will pass through the following positions before fully extending: coup-de-pied, retiré passé, and attitude.
First off, be sure to review our separate blog post on Ballet Basics: Passé & Retiré. Développé must pass through a retiré position, so make sure you have a strong retiré passé alignment before extending the leg!
I put strength ahead of flexibility for a reason: you can have the most open hips in the world and easily oversplit when stretching, but still not be able to hold your leg in the extended position. Why? Because of a lack of strength. Muscle strength and control is more important than flexibility for beautiful extensions. Strength is important to be able to support the leg in the extended position; control is also equally important for the quality of the développé.
Now, obviously to increase the height of your extension, you must increase your flexibility. Start slow – stretch strategically and incrementally. You should not try for oversplits if you first are not able to do a full split! Light stretching can be done before class to gently open up the muscles (key word: light). More thorough stretching should be done at the end of class when the muscles are warm and limber. Hold each stretch position for a maximum of 30 seconds. Careful not to overdo it – do not be in a stretch position without warming up your muscles and sit in front of the TV for 20 minutes!
Stretching Exercises for Strength & Flexibility:
Use the barre as a stretching tool by resting your leg on top of it in the correct aligned position (devant, à la seconde or derrière). Make sure your hips are correctly aligned with the supporting leg lifted and turned out. Lean into the stretch by either bending forward or side, depending on which position you chose. Then, pulling up on your supporting leg and core, lift your leg off the barre and hold in the exact same position for as long as you can. Think about engaging your core to hold. Repeat this stretch-and-hold procedure with every side.