The Art of Extension
Before launching into the beauty and magic of the art of extension, I would like to explain the different ways dance teachers and students use the vocabulary of 'extension.'
Ballet Term Definition: Extension is a classical ballet term describing a dancer's ability to raise and hold a leg extended in the air. E.g. The height of the extension leg in developpe devant, or Sylvie Guillems six o'clock a la second, or the height of the back leg in an arabesque.
2. Extension as in the art of extending throughout the body along specific lines, planes and alignments during every movement of classical ballet as well as in seemingly static poses.
This blog addresses the latter, although it naturally will also incorporate the former.
There is, of course, alternative vocabulary such as: lengthen, pull up, increase the line, etc.
Personally, as a dancer, the feeling of extension or lengthening, whether originating from my back and breathing out along my arm and out through my fingers in a ports de bras, or the simple extension of my leg in a tendu is a feeling of lengthening, freedom and beauty, and also of greater control.
As a teacher, it is a word I am using constantly for every movement, in every exercise and for every pose. Our classical ballet students at The Dance Centre Peregian Springs know that dancing without extension is 'dead' or 'empty' dancing.
When standing in an arabesque, the extension will be felt:
Up through the entire spine and out of the top of the head.
Through the supporting foot (under the big and little toe joint and centre of heel), rooting down through the floor and up along the same supporting leg and the external rotation muscles toward the waistline.
Through and along the lifted leg extending out through the stretched foot into infinity.
From the back through both arms and out of the fingers in a graceful extended breath.
Even the eye line should extend out beyond the line of the arm and fingers.
These multiple lines of extension give the dancer greater control and balance and will facilitate the next movement such as a rise onto the demi pointe or a demi plie into a pas de bouree.
One of the main areas forgotten when teaching a feeling of extension is the extension of the upper torso, as in opening of the chest and back. In particular, the extension through any epaulement is of vital importance in good dance training.
Many dance students already unknowingly use a small amount of extension when they lift their arm(s) and eye line in the preparatory 'breath' arm of an exercise, but that is often the end of this most important feature of classical ballet movement.
Using extension in its multiple ways will give the dancer not only the aforementioned greater control, but an exquisite added grace and beauty. For the male dancer, extension enhances elegance and stature, and in the very young dancer, a sense of poise and connection to the movement and lines needed.
Using imagery is an excellent way to facilitate the use of good extension in class. Traditionally, imagery is one of the tools dance teachers use to achieve enhanced technique, creativity and expression. For those interested, I recommend researching Todd, Sweigard and Franklin's work on this important aspect of training young dancers and how it can enhance a proper use of extension.