Ballet Training

Ask Amy Web Exclusive: Tips for Petit Allégro

New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder, known for her buoyant jump (photo by Paul Kolnik)

I can't seem to get off the ground in petit allégro. Help! —Sara

Developing ballon begins with basic technique: correct alignment throughout the body, strong core and leg muscles, a deep plié, and proper articulation of the feet during push- off and landing. Then, of course, there's coordination and timing. Here are some basic things to think about:

Plié, plié, plié. Much of your power stems from having a deep plié from which to push off. It should feel elastic and juicy. If you're stingy with your plié, or hold lots of tension in your feet and Achilles tendon, you have less of a foundation to spring from.


Feel the whole leg push the floor away. In order to propel yourself into the air, you need power. Yet when I see young dancers struggle with jumps, they tend to skip a step as they push off—they concentrate on pointing their toes and forget about the rest of the leg. Yet the larger leg and hip muscles are crucial for getting good hang time. As you start to straighten the legs from plié, feel the glutes, thighs and hamstrings engage, and think of using the entire leg to push the floor away, through the knees, calves and heels before the final thrust of your feet and toes propels you off the ground.

Keep it together. When you're moving fast, your body needs to be a highly organized package. If you're out of alignment or suffer from a weak core, it will be harder to move efficiently and maintain balance. For instance, if you sink into your lower back, overpronate your feet and knees, or collapse forward in your upper body every time you land, you lose power and coordination. (It's also dangerous!) Similarly, if your lose turnout in the air, you'll waste excess energy making adjustments on the ground.

Anticipate your landing. Take a tip from New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder: While midair, take a moment to mentally prepare for your landing. "When you think about the landing," she says, "it gives you that extra second in the air, and the landing becomes so much smoother that it actually looks like you've gone higher or further." This will also set you up well for the next jump. Articulate through the foot—toe, ball, heel—and feel the whole foot expand into plié. Remember, too, that preparation for allégro work begins with the very first exercises in class. Think about it—any bend and straighten at the barre sets you up for a potential jump in center. Be very conscious of your technique during simple plié, relevé, tendu, dégagé and fondu exercises.

In addition, you can practice exercises outside of class to isolate and strengthen certain muscle groups. Pilates and Gyrotonic, of course, are wonderful for building core strength. This hip-strengthening squat exercise helps build strength in the gluteal muscles and external rotators that is necessary for powerful takeoffs and controlled landings. And if you have time in your schedule and access to an athletic trainer, you may want to consider plyometrics. Plyometrics are dynamic exercises that are specifically for building power and height in jumps. Here are five exercises to get you started.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

Keep reading... Show less