Dancer to Dancer

How to Make the Most of Your Extension

ABT JKO School student Miuka Kadoi shoiwng off her beautiful line (photo by Kenneth Edwards)

Contemporary phenom Christina Ricucci has super-flexible hips, which means she can stretch her legs to unbelievable heights. But when she noticed herself making contorted positions in class, Ricucci realized she was approaching her extensions all wrong. "I went back to the basics in class, squaring my hips and using my turnout," Ricucci says. "I learned to create proper positions, rather than whacked-out versions of them."

Some dancers are so wonky they have a hard time supporting their high legs, while others struggle with limited flexibility. But no matter your facility, you can find a balance of stretch and strength to achieve your fullest range of extension. It's not about how high (or not) your legs can go: It's the quality of the movement, and how you get those legs up, that counts.


If You're Tight…

Stretch, but Don't Overstretch!

Some dancers just don't have much flexibility in their hips and back. If you're one of these people (and most dancers are!), set aside time to stretch each day. "But there are a lot of crazy stretches, and it's easy to pull a muscle or do something harmful," Ricucci warns. "You have to be careful and go one step at a time. Don't push yourself too hard all at once."

Ian Hussey, principal dancer at Pennsylvania Ballet, says he has "unbelievably tight hips," and recommends the following tried-and-true routine. Before barre, he does core work to get his blood flowing, which makes it easier to stretch. He uses the barre itself as a stretching tool, putting his foot on it and leaning into the stretch. To find the correct, fully extended positions to the front and side, "I grab my heel and get my leg as high as I can, dropping my hip in the socket and pulling up my standing leg," he says. "Then I let go, and hold it up as long as I can." He focuses on turning out from the tops of the thighs, and avoids pronation in his standing foot by thinking about keeping his little toe on the ground.

You can also use a Thera-Band to help you get those extra few inches of stretch. "Make two loops with the ends of a Thera-Band, and put them around your ankles," says Samantha Williams, a teacher at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT. "On your back, do coupé, then passé turned out, get your knee to your armpit, and extend." Pull gently on the ends of the Thera-Band, so you feel the stretch deep in your muscles—but be careful not to overdo it.

Use the Music

Adding dynamic phrasing to your extensions will make them more beautiful and more interesting to watch, no matter their height. Adagio is the perfect time to explore that musicality. "The dynamics might not be sharp, like they are in petit allégro," says Tina LeBlanc, an instructor at San Francisco Ballet School, "but it's not monotone. It should be like writing, with punctuation in each phrase."

Christina Ricucci went back to the basics in class to learn how to properly support her extension. (photo by David Hoffman, courtesy Ricucci)

"If you just whack your legs as high as you can, the magic is gone," Hussey says. "But when you use the music intelligently, it can really show who you are as an artist." Hussey suggests accenting the way you pick your foot up to coupé, moving quickly through passé, and then slowing down again, luxuriating in the lengthening of your leg.

If You're Flexible…

Find Control

Dancers with tons of flexibility, like Ricucci, need strength and a solid foundation to
support their full extension. "Even when I'm doing more funky positions in contemporary, I still have to know the technique," Ricucci says. "We do a lot of crazy things with our bodies, and if you don't have the strength to stabilize it, those skewed, cool positions aren't going to work." To gain more control, Ricucci does resistance exercises with a Thera-Band and focuses on placement and endurance in ballet class.

At Center Stage, Williams also works with Thera-Bands and small ankle weights (2 pounds or less) to help students use
the correct muscles. "I talk about peanut butter a lot, especially with dancers who are loosey-goosey," she says. "We envision pushing their extensions through peanut butter, or mud, or honey, so that they engage all of their muscles."

Even if you can reach 180 degrees (or beyond!), you shouldn't use your max extension all the time. "You still need a range," LeBlanc says. "Just because your leg is high, doesn't mean it's better." Practice and practice until you know exactly where 45 and 90 degrees are, without having to look in the mirror. (You should even be able to find them with your eyes closed!)

Stand Strong

When the working leg goes high, the standing leg might bend or buckle. "That can
be counterproductive, since you lose the strength of the opposition," LeBlanc says. Think about standing tall on your supporting side, keeping your weight over your toes and pressing into the floor. This straight, strong bottom leg will help you control even the highest extensions. For an added challenge, Williams suggests doing an adagio exercise on a BOSU Ball, which will force you to focus on the standing leg.


A version of this story appeared in the March 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Your Best Extension."

Show Comments ()
Popular

Summer dance camp season will be here before you know it and you might be starting to wonder what you need to pack in your bag. Don't stress, we have 5 of the top must haves for camp this summer!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
n RWS Entertainment Group Audition (courtesy RWS Entertainment Group)

Figuring out how to avoid getting cut in a musical theater audition can feel like a mystery. "It's not just about your technique, it's about the whole package of the person," says Justin Bohon, a casting director at Binder Casting, whose clients include The Lion King on Broadway. But how do you present yourself in the best way possible, and avoid making a faux pas that distracts from what's most important—your dancing? Bohon and three other casting directors gave us the scoop on their biggest audition pet peeves.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Tracie Stanfield's company, SynthesisDANCE performing at the 2017 Young Choreographer's Festival (Photo by Jaqi Medlock, courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival)

Whether it's for a gig at school, a community theater production, or just for fun, the first time you choreograph a dance can be both exhilarating and intimidating. The Young Choreographer's Festival is a platform that helps choreographers ages 18-25 gain experience by giving them a platform to present their work. The festival gives the newcomers a chance to grow as artists as they receive feedback from some of the best in the business. We caught up with eight established choreographers, artistic directors, and instructors who will be mentoring at this year's YCF, to find out what mistakes new choreographers should be aware of when they take on their first choreographic project and—how to avoid them.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

We caught up with former Rockette Trina Simon at Showstopper's Myrtle Beach dance convention to get her expert advice on how to work as a professional dancer. Trina's work on Broadway has given her insight into the key things to focus on as a professional dancer looking for jobs and making a name for yourself, whether you are new to the world of professional dance or you have been making your way from one audition to the next for a while.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Including, of course, Center Stage (Screenshot via Vimeo)

Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.

Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Unsurprisingly, Season 1 winners Les Twins have had a pretty epic year. (NBC)

"World of Dance" Season 2 is in full swing, introducing us to a new crop of jaw-dropping talents—and reuniting us with a few of the stars of Season 1, including 15-year-old dynamo Eva Igo. But what have our other Season 1 faves (Les Twins! KynTay! Swing Latino!) been up to since their big TV moment? Here's where they are now.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
The West End revival cast of CATS (courtesy DKC/O&M)

Raise your hand if you grew up watching the classic 1998 film version of CATS repeatedly. Like, until the VHS tape came off its tracks/the DVD was hopelessly scratched. 🖐🖐🖐😻😻😻

Well, fellow Jellicle obsessives, get excited: A new film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic musical is in the works. And it'll feature brand-spanking-new choreography by Royal Ballet resident choreographer Wayne McGregor. And the search for dancers to fill those famous unitards is basically happening RIGHT NOW. (Paging Georgina Pazcoguin, Eloise Kropp, Ricky Ubeda, and all the other veterans of the recent Broadway revival!)

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
n RWS Entertainment Group Audition (courtesy RWS Entertainment Group)

Figuring out how to avoid getting cut in a musical theater audition can feel like a mystery. "It's not just about your technique, it's about the whole package of the person," says Justin Bohon, a casting director at Binder Casting, whose clients include The Lion King on Broadway. But how do you present yourself in the best way possible, and avoid making a faux pas that distracts from what's most important—your dancing? Bohon and three other casting directors gave us the scoop on their biggest audition pet peeves.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored