How to Articulate the Foot in a Tendu
The truth is, that A LOT of dancers do not understand the intricacies of the basic movements in ballet. Often when students start dancing very early on, they learn the basics at the level that they are capable of learning at five years old. Obviously the ‘building block’ steps such as a Plié and a Tendu often get taught in a very simplified way. This is fine for a five year old, but over the next few years of a dancers training it is so important that these ‘basics’ are relearned with more and more specificity. If these steps are not revisited again and again, to really master them, the student will often struggle to progress once the steps get harder.
The Core Ingredients in Performing a Perfect Tendu Are:
1. Articulation of the foot and ankle
2. Standing Leg Turnout Control
3. The ability to close the working leg without bending the knee
Add a beautiful port de bras to all of that and you have the perfect tendu!
Mastering Foot Articulation
As mastering the articulation of the foot and ankle is quite possibly the single most effective way to prevent foot injuries in dancers, I have created a series of exercises to help all dancers work on this essential skill. Focusing on the correct execution of this fundamental step can lead to dramatic improvements in all areas of your technique. Underdevelopment of some muscles and overuse of others is a major contributing factor in many common foot and ankle injuries in dancers. Biomechanically, the bulk of the power to point the foot comes from the big calf muscles; while the smaller ‘extrinsic’ foot muscles control the alignment of the ankle while the forefoot and toes are pointed by the small ‘intrinsic’ foot muscles. It is very important to focus on developing this careful articulation of the foot early in your training and constantly revisit and refine this as you develop. This helps make fluid articulation subconscious and effortless when dancing.
Mobilise - Massage Between the Toes
Massaging between the toes on the top of the foot can help release the fascia that may be blocking ﬂexion at the MTP joints. This will often be quite tender in the beginning, but does loosen up, especially if followed by a gentle stretch. If this area is markedly restricted dancers will be unable to perform the doming exercise correctly, so it is important to address this ﬁrst.
Isolate - Doming Exercise
Keeping the toes long, make a small triangle at the MTP joints. There should be a gentle amount of pressure into the ﬂoor, but not enough to blanch the knuckles. Dancers can use their hands to mimic the movement, or to manually position the toes in the beginning. Once the movement has been established, feel deep in the back of the calf to ensure that Tibialis Posterior is not being overused.
Integrate - Pointe through the Demi Pointe
Point the ankle to a demi-pointe position against a loosely inﬂated small stability ball. Keeping the toes long, slowly press them into the ball, as for the doming exercise to fully pointe the foot. Hold, then slowly release the toes, and then the ankle. It will be impossible to do this exercise well if the dancer has not mastered the doming action.
Function - Parallel Tendus
Standing in parallel, push one foot out in a parallel tendu, fully stretching the ankle, but keeping the toes ﬂexed. Press the toes down into the ﬂoor, as for the Doming exercise, to bring the foot into a fully pointed position. Make sure that there is no weight on the pointed foot, and the supporting foot remains in a good position. Slowly reverse the movement, bringing the working foot back to standing. It is a good idea to ﬁlm the dancer doing this on a smart phone so they can assess their own foot.