Much of the majestic beauty of ballet comes from its most powerful moves: Jumps. Dancers train for years to be able to leap into the air gracefully, giving the illusion of flight. But the incredible airtime of dancers is not magic. It is built up through simple technique. Having a good plie, knowing your in-the-air positions, and knowing how to properly land is a surefire way you can jump like the best dancers. This guide covers the fundamentals of technique for all kinds of jumps.
Know the Positions
The most central concept in a jump is what it looks like in the air. If you aren’t entirely clear on the position at the peak of the jump, then you won’t be able to smoothly transition into it. In the simplest of jumps — a sauté in first position — the peak of the jump shows a perfect first position with feet pointed in the air.
Hot Tip: Beat it
For work en battu, where you are “beating” your legs together in the air, don’t think of switching your feet. Instead, beat your calves together in the air. By taking focus from the feet and placing it on the calves for impact, you will achieve clearer, more precise beats. Additionally, beating your calves automatically makes turnout easier, as connecting your lower legs can only be done in a turned-out position.
Before you jump, think about taking a mental snapshot of your jump. You want to show the position the jump is named for, for as long as possible. In more complex jumps such as the changement, the feet change positions in the air.
For jumps that change, think about the transition between positions. Ideally, you should show each position clearly. In the changement, the feet go from fifth position, to first, then a reverse fifth in the air before landing. When you jump, try and think of showing each position clearly in the air. This will create a beautiful, professional looking jump that will stick in the audience’s mind.
Every jump in ballet starts with a plie, no matter what position it is in. Your plie is where your power, lift, and airtime come from. Thus, it’s vital to start every jump with the best plie possible. This means a combination of technical aspects, such as proper alignment, control, and the use of the correct muscles to launch yourself upwards.
In the plie preceding every jump, make sure that you aren’t dropping your chest and letting your pelvis tip back. Here are some key points to consider in fine-tuning your jumping technique:
- The natural tendency is to lean forward — as children do — under the impression that it gives you more momentum.
- In ballet, however, leaning forward will not only cut your airtime short, but also hinder your ability to reach an upright and correct position in the air.
- Once you’ve jumped, don’t collapse back into your plie immediately. This can cause damaging impact on your knees, and also make consecutive jumps harder. Instead, practice landing in a small plie, with your knees only very slightly bent.
- From there, slowly deepen your plie to its maximum degree. By controlling your plie, you not only lessen joint impact, but also strengthen your thigh muscles.
Furthermore, with practice, you will learn to jump out of the same plie you landed in for consecutive leaps. Controlling your plie will also prevent you from “double bouncing”. Double bouncing is when dancers who immediately collapse have to come back up to straight legs, then plie twice between every jump, as they waste their momentum upon landing.
In the Air
Once you’ve gotten used to utilizing your plie and achieving the proper positions in the air, it’s time to take things to the next level by improving your technique while in the air. This means executing technique off the ground with the same skill as you do with yourtendus and adagio.
Your technique in the air will help impart an image of perfection upon the audience:
Start by pushing the floor with the balls of your feet and your big toe when you jump. Really shove the ground away from you. This forces your feet to point hard in the air, and also gives you much greater force and thus a higher jump. Repeating this process will strengthen the muscles in your feet and allow you to jump progressively higher.
It’s only natural to look at your feet during jumps, whether it’s in a mirror or straight down. However, looking down with your eyes immediately causes your chest to drop, and directs your alignment slightly forward. This throws off your jump and even decreases jump height! Avoid tipping forward by keeping your eyes on your face in the mirror or just above the horizon as you plie.
As soon as you’ve left the floor, stretch your knees as much as you can by engaging your inner thighs and quadriceps. Unless a jump such as a pas de chat specifically calls for bent knees, always assume you are to stretch your knees completely. Bent or relaxed knees shorten the line of the leg in the air, making you look shorter. They also make it more difficult to land, as having bent knees in the air means your feet are further from the floor during your jump.
When coming out of your jump, always land the same way you came up: Through demi-pointe. Let the tips of your toes touch the ground first, and immediately roll through them, flexing your toes and transferring impact to the balls of your feet.
Finally, allow your heels to slowly come down as you assume your plie. Rolling through your feet on a landing not only gives the illusion (and sound) of a softer jump, but it also distributes the impact of the jump over the whole foot. When you land on the entire foot immediately, all force hits the heel, which can lead to painful injuries.
Practice & Repeat
The best way to improve your jumps is to simply practice them over and over again. Remember proper technique and practice it whenever you have time. With sufficient repetition, your muscles will get stronger, your body will recall how to jump correctly, and you’ll become one of those dancers soaring effortlessly through the air in no time!