Health & Body

Get a Leg Up: Stretches and Strengtheners to Increase Your Extensions

Modeled by Brittany Larimer. Emily Giacalone.

If you're aiming for a higher développé, chances are you might not be working toward it in the most effective way. "Everybody focuses on the splits. That's fine, but there are so many other ways to gain flexibility that don't perhaps overstretch the wrong tissue in your hips," says physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez, founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group.

"Having a higher extension to the front or side not only requires flexibility in your hamstrings and adductors, but it also requires strength to lift the leg and hold it in that position," she continues. When working in arabesque, the mechanics are a bit different: Stretching should focus on opening up the front of the hip and creating length, not compression, in the lumbar spine.


Here, Rodriguez offers safe stretching and strengthening exercises for improving your extensions to the front, side and back. Always make sure you're fully warm before doing any static stretches. If you have a break before développés at the barre, that's the perfect time to incorporate these exercises.

You'll need:

  • strap or resistance band (optional)
  • barre
  • physioball

Devant: Stretch

Lying on your back, hold on to your ankle (or loop a strap around your foot, holding an end in each hand) and extend your right leg toward your chest. Keep your left leg extended on the floor, and try to minimize how much you tuck your pelvis. As you pull your leg closer, your pelvis will move a bit, says Rodriguez, but the straighter you can keep your spine, the purer the stretch you'll get through the hamstring. Hold 60 seconds. Repeat on both legs in slight turnout and parallel.

Devant: Strengthen

Angle into the barre with your right leg placed on it in front of you. Engage your abs and lift the leg a few inches off the barre, without gripping your quad. Hold for 2 counts, slowly control to return. Work up to a hold of 4 to 6 counts.

À La Seconde: Stretch

Lying on your back, reach your right leg front and then carry side, keeping it turned out. (Depending on your flexibility, you can hold on to your ankle or use a band.) Keep the pelvis as level as possible. Hold 60 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

À La Seconde: Strengthen

Face into the barre with your right leg placed on it in à la seconde. Engage your abdominals and think of spiraling the leg to maintain your turnout as you lift it a few inches off the barre. Hold for 2 counts, slowly control to return. Work up to a hold of 4 to 6 counts.

Derrière: Stretch

Kneel on your right knee with your left foot on the floor, slightly in front of your left knee. "Zip up" from pubic bone to belly button, says Rodriguez, to activate your abs. Tighten the right glute and slightly tuck your pelvis to stretch the front of your right hip and thigh. Meanwhile, reach your right arm to fifth, lengthening the torso toward the ceiling. Hold for 60 seconds on each side. If desired, finish the stretch by extending into a slight cambré back, being careful not to compress your lower back.

Derrière: Stretch-and-Strengthen Combo

Face the barre with your right leg in a low arabesque, resting the foot on top of a physioball. With your abs lifted and engaged, roll the ball backwards and plié the supporting leg. Focus on lengthening through the front of your torso and hip, while maintaining space in the lower back. Stay in plié for 2 deep breaths, roll back in and straighten. Repeat 10 times on each leg. To build strength, practice lifting your leg slightly off the ball.

All photos by Emily Giacalone, modeled by Brittany Larimer

Ballet Stars

What do Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Kristina Shapran and Maria Khoreva all have in common? These women, among the most impressive talents to graduate from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recent years, all studied under legendary professor Lyudmila Kovaleva. Kovaleva, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), is beloved by her students and admired throughout the ballet world for her ability to pull individuality and artistry out of the dancers she trains. Like any great teacher, Kovaleva is remarkably generous with her wealth of knowledge; it seems perfect, then, that she appears as the Fairy of Generosity in this clip from a 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Ali Cameron, Courtesy Queensland Ballet

An artistic director's position was far from Li Cunxin's mind when the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet came calling in 2012. Since his retirement from the stage in 1999, the Chinese-Australian dancer had embarked on a highly successful career at the helm of a stockbroking firm. His wife, former dancer and current Queensland ballet mistress Mary McKendry Li, changed his mind, Li remembers. "She said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to give something back to the art form that we both have benefited so much from?' "

Seven years later, Li's contribution has been dramatic. Queensland Ballet, once a struggling choreographer-led company, has become one of Australia's most exciting repertoire ensembles, with Liam Scarlett on board as artistic associate. The budget has more than quadrupled, to over $20 million USD, and Li has launched not one but three major construction projects, with world-class headquarters, a theater and a new academy all in progress.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less