Have you ever had that sinking feeling, when in a grand allegro combination the other dancers seem to fly by, and hover in the air while you have made a resounding thump landing before the end of the phrase? Or how about running out of steam before the allegro part of class? Or feeling the music is just too slow or too fast to work for you?
What percentage of jumping lies in an easy naturally coordinated jump and how much can one learn? Are some people just born “natural jumpers” and others not? Just how much strength and stamina is required in relation to an efficient coordination? Some dancers eagerly look forward to the allegro part of class as it is the culmination of all the elements that have been worked on, and offers a chance to soar around the room, defy gravity and later, on stage, to dazzle the public with the ultimate in technical feats. This can be especially true for men. Other dancers dread the allegro elements, why is this? It is not so common with allegro that fear comes into play as it does for turning, when this is your weak point, but with jumps it is often a feeling of self-defeat or of inadequacy. From an anatomical and coordinative point of view, jumping is a very natural and inane concept for the human body. What does it involve and where does it begin? Is it about being strong and weak?
It begins in the brain. It is an idea, a concept. The reasons can be different, to escape, to reach, to achieve something. It involves a clear idea, aim, thought, or reflex, some of them deeply embedded in our subconscious. When an object is hurtling at you at high speed it is human nature to run, jump or duck out of the way. Just as with very good news, a natural reaction is to “jump for joy”.
Can you work with this idea as you dance? Ask yourself as you jump are you working with a natural reaction? Do you have a clear idea and concept? Or are you focused on one isolated part of your body? Are you only focused on the height of your jump and perhaps neglecting your preparation or landing? Are you connecting your plié to the other steps? Are your arms helping you? Are you allowing yourself to breath?
Often, more in ballet, than contemporary and modern dance, I see dancers actually working against themselves here. They are trying to jump but from such overly turned out or static positions that they hinder their own flow of movement. Sometimes, I see people holding their breath, or not using their arms to help. The focus lies too much on a stylised form rather than the flow of movement.
Higher, bigger, faster, farther, all of these corrections are helpful, but they also represent very relative ideas. Try also to work with imagery to see what effect this has for you. If you have trouble travelling imagine you are being chased by something, pushing away from a “hot” floor, landing like a cat, landing on thin ice. There are many visual images that can translate through the body.
If you place a basketball on the floor it won’t bounce back. But, if you work with a clear idea, of exactly how high you want the basketball to spring back to you, or in which direction you wish it to travel towards, you must send this energy first down into the floor so it will rebound to exactly the height or in the direction you wish. It requires a great deal of judgement and control. This is the same thought process for every preparation and plié action both before and after a jump. Analyse your preparations to see if they are really helping or hindering you. As you push off for the jump, be very aware of which muscles are active. Are you gripping, over tense, or perhaps not using your arms to help you? It has much more to do with coordination and efficiency than brute strength or force.
Another aspect that comes into play is the balance between artistic, aesthetic and athletic. If dancers could do as athletes and focus on the purely physical elements, they might achieve greater results on this level. But when the physical act is an expression of an artistic idea, it places a whole new range of criteria. You can’t scream or yell or pull the grimaces that athletes do when they are purely concentrated on beating the stopwatch or jumping that extra centimetre higher or farther. You must achieve the athletic aspects, within the desired aesthetic and all with artistry.
When working on specific technical elements in dance, try to approach them from an idea and a feeling of jumping, rather than from a series of static poses that must be achieved. For example, learning a grand jété en tournant or entrelacé, are you focused on a series of positions that you illustrate as you execute this movement, or are you focused on the spiral dynamic that is necessary?
Another example is an “entrechat six”. If you try to actually think about all of the six leg movements, you will need to have a jump as big as Superman. Yes, beat with the whole leg, but try to think about just the front leg going “back and back” or the leg that started at the back going “front and front” or the rhythm of doing a “change and entrechat quatre”, or “And-A-One” rather than counting to six. Experiment with several ideas and thoughts to see what might work best for you – as it requires a very individual understanding.
As you work in class, be sure to be aware of building and connecting, so when you arrive to the allegro you have been working towards this with efficiency. Some dancers work so hard at the barre, they are tired by the allegro, that will not work on stage!
Remember also – you should never hear a jump. A bigger jump doesn’t mean more sound effects; it actually requires even more control. Go and watch some cats play – they often have huge jumps and almost always, soundless landings.
Prof. Jason Beechey