This story originally appeared in the August/September 2015 issue of Pointe.
I'm flexible and good at traveling across the floor, but I can't seem to get any height or extension on my sauts de chat. What should I focus on to get that powerful grand allégro jump? —Mary
I sometimes see dancers with beautiful extensions struggle to get off the ground in grand allégro. While flexibility helps with splitting the legs, you also need proper strength in your hamstrings, back and abdominals to push off the ground and hold the position.
For saut de chat, multiple components must be perfectly timed. As you move through fourth position during your preparation, think of gathering your energy together, making sure your plié is deep and substantial so that you have more power to push off. When you jump, you want to carve an arc through the air—not stay the same level horizontally—so think of lifting your hips as you développé to propel yourself in the right direction (I always imagine a horse rearing on its hind legs). Then, push through the toes of the back foot and think of doing a grand battement derrière. To achieve a nice split, imagine an explosive energy underneath your back thigh. I also try to inhale at the height of the jump—it helps me to hold on to the air a little longer.
Try doing some daily exercises (such as plank poses and modified bridges) or taking a weekly Pilates class to help strengthen your core and hamstrings. And at barre, pay close attention to your fondus and grand battement. The deep plié action of fondu and forceful brush of grand battement are tools you'll need to utilize later in grand allégro.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.