Development Series, Progressions Series, RA Dance Blog, Teaching Tips

Step Progressions: Ronds de Jambe en l’air

As part of training dancers we look to find movements that build up, getting a little harder with each graduation. Most steps have a natural to get further, doing the step in the air perhaps, adding in a double or triple. Other moves can be a little harder to spot what moves can come from this simple step. As part of my next lots of teaching exams, I want to examine many of the ballet moves that I learnt and study how you can improve them by working on the progressions that came before them. This is a principle I’ve recently become aware of through my acro training, where it’s a little more obvious that if the student can’t do a back bend say, they won’t be able to do a walkover. Today I’m examining the Ronds de Jambe en L’air step that is most common done at the barre.

A ronds de jambe en l’air involves the dancer holding their leg out to the side (en l’air a la second), and drawing an oval shape with their foot, trying to brush the inside knee of the working leg, while the upper leg is as still as possible. These can be completed en dedans and dehors, forwards first or backwards first. The step can be done both fast and slow, although the single variety of the step is usually done at a slow/mid tempo, to allow for the dancer to focus on good technique throughout the whole movement. Legs are turned out throughout the step, aiming to hold the working leg at 90 degrees to the supporting leg.

When completing this step one of the common mistakes if for the dancer to allow the working leg to drop and turn in. This creates too much movement in the working leg and can give the appearance of the knee moving up and down, especially if after the work has been done you return the working leg to 90 degrees. The working leg knee should always be facing upwards, by doing this the oval shape made with the foot should also be a regular shape. Which brings us to the second common mistake, dancers can make the oval shape too big, meaning they have no choice but to adjust their turnout to complete the motion. The oval is very slight, when you begin learning you’ll often be taught to try and get a big circle, this is to ensure that you know which way is en dedans and which is en dehor. Doing this also affirms that you understand that it is an oval your foot is trying to make. In practice this motion is very slight, but not so slight that it is simple a straight line. As it becomes easier, many may also get a little lazy and start cutting the oval, the working foot must always touch the supporting leg. As it touches you don’t want to kick yourself, you want to have a lot of control over the motion, many will choose to use dynamics to show this control having a fast inward curve and a slower outward curve. The foot must also remain pointed throughout, as it’s so easy to forget about this and have a little floppy fish at the end of your leg. Another thing dancers may start to do is to un-square the hips, leaning into the action instead of maintaining the proper posture.

From the name it’s fairly obvious to see that the step comes naturally from ronds de jambe a terre, it is also related to (but should not be confused with) grands ronds de jambe en l’air. I would argue that actually grands ronds de jambe en l’air is a completely different step, almost a new branch from the same tree of ronds de jambe a terre. Before starting ronds de jambe there are a few other steps that can be built up. Tendus, Jetes, and develope will all help with mastering this movement. The main elements of this movement are core stability and leg strength. So any additional conditioning that will help encourage dancers you enhance these will help them with this step.

There is fairly limited application of this movement as it is a move that is usually only done at the barre. The biggest progression from this is the gargouillade, which combines this movement with a pas de chat to form a petite allegro step. As alluded to earlier, the movement also allows for repetitions meaning dancers can perform single, double, and triple variations of this movement. With each addition the leg will do another oval before returning to the a la second position, meaning even more control, stability and coordination is needed to keep the legs turned out throughout. What’s more the step can also be done on releve if you really wanted you’re dancers to work hard. When doing the step on releve dancers need to be aware of the supporting leg fully, continuing to pull up and keep the heel off the ground.

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