In a recent article on the iliopsoas muscles, I skirted discussion of the perpetuated myth that dancers can lift their legs “from underneath” or use their hamstrings to raise the leg in battement.
Synchronously, a related question appeared on the forum and Dianne over at the Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes blog kindly pointed dancers to my iliopsoas post in her article Still Trying to Lift Your Leg “From Underneath?” .
I’m not sure my post made the point blatantly enough, however, and I’d like to take a moment to clarify.
In classes, I’ve heard teachers talk about a grand battement “coming from underneath.” This can sometimes lead to confusion about which muscles do the work in grand battement.
Working muscles contract or shorten to create movement of the bones. Because the hamstrings are at the back of the leg, it is impossible for them to be doing the work of lifting the leg in a grand battement to the front or side. Instead your quads and iliopsoas, as hip flexors (or hip creasers), are responsible for this.
Now, it is possible to OVERwork or create unnecessary tension in the quads. This is not conducive to getting the leg higher in grand battement and can hinder the height of the leg.
Learning how to release and let go of excess tension is important. I believe most teachers talk about the grand battement “coming from underneath” to try to encourage less effort.
In my classes, I typically try to encourage this release by asking students to imagine energy or breath flowing down the spine, the back of the leg, and out from the toe in a “J” shape as the leg lifts in grand battement. When the focus is on this rather than pulling the leg upward, I find most students let go of some of that excess tension.
Note that the language in the phrase I’ve repeated above, “coming from underneath,” could easily be interpreted by students as implying that the muscles underneath the leg (the hamstrings) are responsible or must be used to lift the leg. It seems to me that this may be how the myth of lifting with the hamstrings gets passed along.
As for “extension,” or raising the leg above 90 degrees…
When the ilopsoas is engaged and allowed to do the work of creasing the hip and stabilizing the spine, there is a sense of release for the quads.
In addition, as the leg gets closer to the body (as it nears the head), the hip flexors or quads fight less against gravity – it’s the same reason that it is easier to hold a heavy box overhead than out in front of you – gravity always pulls straight down on whatever you are lifting.
Perhaps people who experience this sensation of release assume (based on what they’ve heard about these miraculous hamstrings) that they’ve found a way to let the underside of the leg take over?
Deb Vogel has an article on her blog that may also help bust this myth: click here