Starting Barefoot, and Stretching With Ronds de Jambe
By David Arce
From time to time, it helps to have students take off their flat shoes to start class. Try this after long breaks, or when students are doing lots of pointe work, or when you notice they’re not using foot muscles to the fullest.
Have students stay barefoot for tendus facing the barre, pliés, and even the first couple of tendu exercises that follow, focusing on feeling each part of the foot that touches the floor. Ankle rotations, flexing, and pointing exercises go to a new level when students are barefoot; and simple relevé exercises allow them to feel feet as stable, even, and spread-out platforms to balance on. (Advanced students used to dancing on pointe often forget to spread out their toes during balances in flat shoes.) When your students put their shoes back on for dégagés and beyond, you’ll see a world of difference.
By the time you give a rond de jambe combination, students should be well on their way to reaching their full warmed-up potential, and class should be at the 20- to 30-minute mark—the perfect time for a long stretch.
Up until now in class, students have done simple movements, starting slow (pliés and tendus) and then speeding up (dégagés); with ronds de jambe, they start to move through multiple and more complex positions. After a slow, controlled circular grand port de bras in each direction, leave ample time in exercises for an arabesque penchée or splits stretches—either choreographed or, at advanced levels, free. (The tempo of most rond de jambe combinations lends itself to this.) With their heart rate and general muscle warmth at optimal levels, students will get full value out of these stretches.
David Arce is artistic director of Juline Regional Youth Ballet and a teacher at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California. He trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School and danced 12 seasons with SF Ballet.