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Tips, Exercises for Dancers to Improve Jumps(Leaps) in Ballet | Beyond the Barre

Jump up high! Improving your Grand Jeté (leap) in Ballet

Grand Jeté, the stunning ballet movement when the ballerina leaps into the air and performs a split- is the true definition of perfectionism. Jeté - also known as split jump, is a showstopper if executed correctly.

Be it ballet, freestyle, contemporary, hip-hop or jazz, any jump involves a lot of hard work, hours of practice, and, in many cases, a lot of strained, sprained and bruised muscles. What exactly makes your leap as a dancer an exalting one? The impressive move is only doable if the dancers prepare well, take precautions, and practice endlessly.

How do Experienced Ballerinas Prepare for their Grand Jeté

Start with Building and Maintaining Flexibility

flexibility

Like any rigorous physical activity, start with warm-ups and stretches. To improve your flexibility, check some tips here. Stretch every day to make sure your leg muscles are ready for the intensive work to follow. The second stage of your stretching action is stretching for a split. What you would do mid-air one day, try and work on it while you are on the ground. Performing split every day until both your legs are flat on the floor and you are entirely comfortable with it is crucial. Go slow to avoid pulled muscles. To start, placing a pillow beneath your foot and switching your feet is a great way to push your flexibility further.  

Work on Maintaining your Strength

A dancer’s wellness begins with strength training. Repetitive movements and working on your core enables dancers to build up their strength gradually. Dancers need to work on their glutes and legs as they do most of the hard work. But arms are necessary too for a balanced strength workout. Since leaps involve a lot of jumping even during practicing, a great exercise is to jog for around 15 paces, and then turn each stride into a jump. Commonly referred to as bounding, this is an amazingly simple and effective way to practice leaps.

Time to Learn the Jump!

learn to jump

Which is your dominant side? Are you working on a specific choreography or you can pick any leg? Focus on whether you will do a right or a left leg split jump. If you are doing a right split jump, your right leg is your supporting leg, and you need to keep your right foot flat on the floor with toe pointed outward. The left leg is extended straight in front, and pointed toe touches the floor. Your weight is shifted onto your left leg, like a plié, and as you move your right foot along the floor to the front point your right tow as you bring your fully extended leg upward. Using your left leg, push yourself off the floor. While you are in the air, let your legs stretch fully in either direction. You have achieved your hard-earned split in mid-air!

Wait, it’s not Over!

Don’t forget to land well by keeping our knees slightly bent to absorb the shock. Your arms, back leg remains extended outward, as they were in the jump. Yay! You can come back to your original position. Most of you dancers must have heard your teachers screaming “Toe, Ball, Heel." And this should be your mantra while landing to avoid pressure on delicate leg joints. Faulty landings are often the cause of most dance-related injuries.

It takes anything from a few weeks to over a year to perfect your grand Jeté. If you are a gymnast, you need to take a step or two before getting into a leap, however, like a ballerina; you can start with a small skip, then plié and finally leap.

Remember, your core, strength in your leg muscles and your overall posture, all this is fundamental and need to be worked on before you get a perfect leap.

Here are Some Exercises and Tips to help you Jump Higher

excercise

  • Exercises like deadlift, jump squat, and box jump enables you to prepare for higher vertical jumps.
  • Some people have a natural flair for jumping, but one thing is clear that leaps in most dance sequences require tremendous strength and coordination.
  • Visualize! Having mental imagery of your jump will allow you to calibrate the energy you will need in executing leap.
  • A leap is as good as the plié that precedes it. A deep plié will help you achieve the height you need to leap correctly. As you bend the knee deep in plié, it is the last step before you leave the ground. The deeper is your plié; the more power is in your legs.
  • No matter how you perform, don’t forget to look up. Looking up and keeping your head high, gives you an extra couple of inches. As you begin to leap fixate on a high spot in the distance and aim for the stars.
  • Focus on your breath, while you are at the peak of your leap, imagine yourself soaring high in the sky, and take a deep breath. Deep breathing loosens your body and helps you take your arms smoothly and softly instead of going stiff or flailing.
  • Wear ankle weights (about 1.5 pounds each) across the floor for technique (not just for leaps but battements and even turns too), as well as wear them during barre work. You will be AMAZED at the results.
  • Make sure you have a controlled landing. You don’t want an injury. While beginning your leap, think of how you will land. Loosen your knees, and land softly and quietly.
  • Good core strength and alignment is critical. Proper alignment is the key to jumping. Whether it is sauté, traveling jumps or grand Jeté, your body alignment will make a huge difference. Your head, torso, pelvis, knees, and feet all have to be aligned like a soaring bird. A strong core can help you attain the right alignment.
  • Want to do a leap with a flawless landing? Don’t look beyond the barre! Practice jumping while holding on to the barre. Your arms help you to control the landing and once you are confident about the position of your arms, torso, legs and your alignment, leave it and bring your leap into the center.
  • Practice leaping with no preparation, or only one step preceding the leap. No chassé, no chaîné, no run-run. Just one step in plié and LEAP! The more you practice leaping WITHOUT prep, the better and higher your leaps will get with the prep.

Jumping and leaping up in the air like popcorn is every ballerina's dream. Developing a memorable big leap is more about nurture than nature. No aspect of a leap be it plié, or alignment of your toes should be taken for granted. Preparation is everything.  Going back to basics, and making pliés, and active movement in your dance rehearsals will help in improving your leaps. With the correct position of your arms,  you can give your audience an impression that of being in the air for an extra few seconds.  If you want a clean jump, learn to relax your arms and shoulders.

Like all good things, when it comes to achieving excellent leap mid-air, you must first achieve it on the ground! There is no better time to work on improving your leaps like grand Jeté and sauté de chat; don't wait, and launch yourself to the flight of your dancing fantasy!

 

John

Danielle Hernandez

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About the Author

Danielle Hernandez has been in the dance industry for over 30 years. She landed her first professional dance job at the age of 11.

Danielle received her acting and musical theater training at the prestigious Musical Theater Works Conservatory, and she graduated from Rutgers University with a major in dance and minor in music.

In addition to training and competing with a dance company in NJ, Danielle also trained at Steps on Broadway, as well as Broadway Dance Center. At the young age of 15, Danielle fell in love with teaching dance and coaching competitive cheer squads and dance teams, bringing them to success with state, regional, and national championship titles

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