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  • Writer's picture Alison Hollingsworth

The Art of a "Simple" Tendu

Tendu is one of the first things you learn in ballet. Yet, it can take years to perfect and unravel its complexity. Tendu is one of those actions that fits the old saying, "the more you know the more you realize that you don't know." To me it is a fascinating step for just this reason.

In French Tendu means to "stretch." As you execute a tendu you do indeed feel the leg stretching out to an extended position, you feel the top of the foot stretching to create the beautiful line, and you feel the toes stretching to complete the line. But you also want to feel the action originating in the core extending out the leg. So you might also feel the stretch/ length in the lower abdomen. A simple tendu trains us to push against the floor as we move thus creating a properly pointing foot- ankle stretching, then ball of foot leaving floor, then lastly toes pointing. This is building strength to properly roll through and present the feet in a multitude of steps. Also, by pushing against the floor it keeps the working hip down (correct alignment) sending the energy in the correct direction. Not to mention that we work to keep the leg properly turned out during tendu in each direction. In the beginning you might focus solely on rotating the leg (heel presented) and foot pointing properly. Then as you progress in your training you can start paying more attention to the energy flow, the feeling of reaching without distorting the placement, the feeling of resistance when closing, varying the speed and intensity, and the beauty behind a simple and well sustained tendu.

Tendu is a gateway to so many different movements. It is at the beginning of barre for a reason. Everything builds off of it. Jeté(dégagé), Rond de jamb par terre, closings of developé and fondu, grand battement, etc. It is literally a large part of most ballet movements. Think about the exercise that you do center. You will find tendus in Adagio, Tendu, pirouettes, traveling combos and even jumps. If you look at your common petite allegro jumps - glissade, assemblé, Jeté, they all have tendu to dégagé in them.

Without the dexterity in the feet and toes gained in repeated tendus, many exercises would be negatively impacted. Pirouettes would be difficult to take off and land. Rolling through a releve would be impacted. And a simple presentation of the foot in a pas de chevall, which can be breathtakingly beautiful, would be lack luster. Petite and grand allegro would be low, messy, and lacking the polished look that pointed strong feet provide.

So, what do we do to make sure our tendu's are moving in the correct direction?

* Make sure you are standing in your very best position and placement. Then maintain your core height and push energy from your core through the hip down and down the leg. Pressing the working foot into the floor, while maintaining neutral hips. As the working leg moves far enough away from the center line let the ankle start to pointe, then as it gets further away let the toes fully lengthen and point. As you bring it back in use the inner thigh to activate the movement, softening the toes while keeping the ankle fully pointed. As it gets closer the the body let the ankle soften to let the foot return fully to the ground.

* Make sure your toes in both feet are comfortably spread and pushing into the ground. Don't knuckle the standing toes nor the working leg.

* Don't sit in the standing hip nor lift the working hip. In arabesque there is no need to tilt to take the leg back. Keep hips even, tailbone down, and turnout engaged.

* Envision where you want your energy. I had a teacher that used to say envision light shooting our your toes. Imagery often helps to achieve a goal.

* Let your upper body float above the tendu. Eventually allowing the arms and epaulement to occur with ease.

Tendu is a journey. Enjoy the journey! Try not to get frustrated because mastering it will not happen overnight- that is for certain. It is a fun building project. When you master one element it is like an "aha" discovery moment. Then you will be ready to build on that element.

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