The leg hold is a challenging move that I usually only begin to try with senior dancers. There are components that make up this move that can be tricky for younger dancers to pick up. That being said strong dancers of any age can grasp this move with a little practise.
The components that make up the leg hold are mainly balance and flexibility. Without one, or both, the leg hold becomes a little harder and students struggle a lot more with the movement. The more flexible the student the easier it is to balance and the more easily they can balance the easier they can hold the stretch.
The movement all starts with a basic kick. Build up the kick so that students have a high kick with both legs straight. Often students bend the lower leg in order for their kicking leg to go higher, this will make the leg hold harder. Encourage students to also keep their back straight, the temptation to arch the upper back becomes greater once they are told to catch the leg, as the weight of the leg will pull the shoulders forward. Having a strong technique in the basic kick will support students in their leg hold as this is the basic action for the leg hold.
Other activities that will support the leg hold are both front splits, and hamstring stretches. These will activate and enhance the flexibility needed to hold the leg high in their leg hold. Additional stretches can be with a partner that encourage the same position as the leg hold. Start with one partner at the barre or against a wall, the second partner should lift their partner’s leg to a point where a stretch can be held. Ensure that when lifting the leg the leg is appropriately turned out and that the leg does indeed extend at the front and isn’t falling slightly to the side. The partner who is being stretched can help with the stretch by also holding their leg. When starting to practise leg holds I encourage students to hold the leg wherever they can, but once they got a good level of coordination, I strive for the inside hand to be placed around the arch of the foot and the outside hand to hold the ankle. This gives dancers support in two separate places which helps hold the lever that the leg has become. The same stretch as described in partners can be done on their own, both lying on the floor and standing. By doing the stretch lying you can really encourage that bottom leg to be straight, and it also eliminates the amount of balance the dancers need.
As a preparation to the step I get my dancers to simply do their standard front kicks across the floor. Moving on from this I encourage them grab their leg at the peak of the kick before quickly letting go. Once this connection to kick and catch has been formed I ask them to try and hold the leg for a couple of counts before letting go. The most common issues arise now, where instead of holding the leg at the highest point, the hands catch the leg and then the whole upper body comes down with the leg as they try to hold on to the kick. As the dancers get stronger this should improve and they will be able to hold the leg higher for longer periods of time. Encourage each student to keep trying with it and don’t move on too quickly as some may get discouraged that they can’t even do the step before. As the catch gets stronger try to encourage a better grip on the leg. Initially students grab the leg at the same point with both arms, while this lets them catch it with a little less thought, it make it harder to support the leg. As I’ve previously said, encourage them to support the leg at two slightly different points, the aim is for the arch of the foot and the ankle, but those at different levels of flexibility will want to hold the leg at different points.
As they get stronger at the movement get them to hold it for longer and once their flexibility improves encourage them to hold it higher. From this movement you could also get students to try and let go of the leg but hold the leg at the same height, very tricky for most but will provide a great challenge to all. Further to this students could go into a layout, by letting go and bending the upper body backwards keeping that leg high, other movements could also be leg hold turns.
Training this move can be difficult and takes a long time to get the movement strong when dancers are just starting out, be patient and build it up slowly. Hope some of these tips have helped, be sure to get in contact if you want anything dance related!