Building Blocks of Dance
Welcome to the latest installment of my series on the “Seven Basic Movements” of ballet and classical dancing.
Thus far, I have explored Plier/to bend, Sauter/to jump, Glisser/to glide, and Élancer/to dart in blog articles, videos, and podcasts, and created a Playlist on YouTube about the 7 Movements to support learning about ballet technique, theory, and practice. Soon to come will be more resources on rising, turning, putting it all together, and more!
Today we turn to Étendre, the battements tendu movement and what it means to stretch.
What it means to stretch
So, what does it mean “to stretch?” To feel a connection between two points in the body, and then extend through or reach more deeply into it/out of it. Creating space and expansion from connection (you can’t stretch without resistance and connection!). We have to be grounded and centered or connected first.
As we sequentially build dance movements in class, we discover and expand our limits with great care. Similarly in yoga, we are mindful of what state the body and mind are in today, and follow a logical progression to avoid over-stepping; such a haphazard or sloppy approach could lead to injury and ultimately slow our progress.
To stretch safely, we need to be listening to the body’s needs, investigating its current limits and patiently working with them.
With battements tendu, we are developing a relationship of poise between the parts of the body and gravity, and between the sides of the body, specifically the “supporting” or “standing” side and the “working” or gesturing side in movements being performed on one leg, and also between the body and the floor as ground of support and tool of resistance.
The stickiness, friction, and resistance of the sliding of the foot against the floor builds muscle tone, control, strength of the entire legs, pliability and articulation of the feet and ankles, and awareness of how to stand with stability and balance. We learn to slide across the floor, carrying one leg through space in axial movements. Later in class we perform similar motions, but take the whole body with the leg through space (locomotor movement), and tendu provides essential practice for larger traveling and jumping movements.
In tendu, contact between the toes and the floor is constant. In contrast, during the larger battement movements, dégagé/glissé/jeté, the toes push off the floor, disconnecting a bit and rebounding.
In the largest kicking movements of ballet, grand battements, the strong resistance between foot and floor, plus the dancer’s stable alignment of the body and flexibility in the hips and legs allow the leg to fly higher in the air to the limit of the range of motion. Then from it’s highest point, we float back down to the floor. Grand battement is an exciting, explosive play between the boundness and control at the bottom of the battement and utter freedom at the top.
Here is a tendu exercise with legs in parallel position and using no barre support for contemporary ballet, jazz, and modern dance forms:
How to do Tendu
Eliza Gaynor Minden elaborates on tendu in The Ballet Companion:
“Balanchine said, ‘If you just do battement tendu well, you don’t have to do anything else.’ It’s an exaggeration, of course, but it makes the point that battements tendus–often shortened in class to just tendus–are, along with plies, the very foundation of your technique. Literally ‘stretched beating,’ the straight working leg brushes out to its longest, stretched position, toes always in contact with the floor. It returns to its original position or to a new one, sometimes with a plie, sometimes with an additional variation of the extended position. Tendus teach you to move your feet and legs correctly. They develop a supple, articulate foot and a strong, flexible ankle. They build strength and control you need to stand on just one leg while the other leg works in all directions around you. The tendu has a fairly small range of motion, but mastering it is crucial for executing bigger movements.” (p.134-5)
I think Rory Foster’s insights from Ballet Pedagogy: The Art of Teaching are also useful in understanding the basic mechanics and benefits:
“Tendu (stretched) works the foot while lengthening and stretching the entire leg. The action of the tendu should establish a straight line from the hip to the toes while the leg stays isolated from the hip joint, with no movement in the pelvis. It strengthens the ankle and instep and develops the necessary tactile sensations and articulation of the sole of the foot against the floor, which is crucial in allegro steps.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.40-1)
I also appreciate how Foster explains timing and musicality, “The tendu can be done with the accent timing in or out or even and with various accompanied movements: plié, fondu, chassé, temps lié, etc.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.41)
This is a variation of the above tendu with turned-out legs and one hand on the barre with corresponding upper-body movements for ballet:
Visualization for Tendus
Tendu can take on different qualities depending on energy and attack, but the constants are stretched knees, weight on one standing leg, and the other foot sliding along the floor. I find a number of images helpful in capturing that tendu feeling, such as:
- Massage the ball of the foot and toes against the floor
- Spreading butter/jam/Nutella on toast
- Smoothing frosting on cake (also for rond de jambe)
- Scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe
- Dog’s tongue licking a spill off the floor
- Scissors or paper cutter slicing
Rory Foster cautions against “Common errors: placing weight onto the working leg and toes; curling toes under instead of stretching/lengthening them, especially in fourth derriere position; allowing the foot to sickle and letting the toes come off the floor.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.40-1) Indeed, it is important to keep the weight supported by the standing leg, stretch the foot all the way through the toes, and maintain contact with the floor, I couldn’t agree more.
Once you are confident in practicing tendu in one place and supported by the barre, you can try travelling tendus in the centre such as this one:
Tendu is a critical component of a full ballet barre training, so I invite you to try out tendus in combination with warmups such as Planking Pleasures, Kicky Kicks, Powerful Plies, Plush Paralleleves, and Saucy Prances & Sautes for a short, effective, and fun exercise program for dance.
I would love to hear your responses to the questions below, and if you’d like to join me for live classes in-studio or online!
Questions for Reflection
- What have you learned about battements tendu technique?
- What questions and challenges do you have around tendu?
- Is stretching a part of your daily or weekly routine?
- What is the value of reaching and stretching the body?
- What dance technique, strength, or flexibility goals do you currently have?
Reach out and let me know how I can support the growth of your mindful movement, dance technique, and purposeful living.
Blythe Stephens, MFA & Bliss Catalyst
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A Blythe Coach: helping multi-passionate creatives dance through their difficulties and take leaps of faith into fulfillment
DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.