by David Arce
A flexed-foot position isn’t used in ballet technique (unless you are of the school of thought that uses a flexed foot in frappés), yet I find it invaluable for students.
Here’s one of the first exercises my students do in class: Start in first position, while facing the barre, before or after pliés. On count 1, tendu devant. On 2, flex the foot, knee straight, while the supporting leg pliés. On 3, straighten the supporting leg as the working foot points again in tendu. On 4, come back to first position. Repeat en croix on both sides.
Use a slow enough tempo to allow the foot to articulate the flexing and pointing. Flexing the foot with a straight knee allows students to stretch the hamstring and Achilles tendon while lengthening the thighs. To get the most out of the position, have students visualize their flexed heels extending toward a point on the floor beyond where their toes touched in tendu.
When correcting students on the lines of their legs and feet, we often call out shorthand corrections such as “point your toes” or “straighten your knee.” These are important biomechanical ideas for students to understand and maintain, but it’s also vital to remind them to use their shin muscles.
Whether the leg and foot are extended in a tendu, développé, or grand battement, there must be continuous rotation and engagement of muscle that travels all the way from the hip to the tips of the toes. I say, “Point your foot through your shin” to help students be aware that energy must move through the knee, flow through the shin, and travel out through the foot and toes. This idea is especially helpful when correcting students who have a tendency to sickle.
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.