Grand Rond de Jambe en l’Air: Getting it right

Training for ballet dancers is both systematic and rigorous. Grand rond de jambe en l’air, a circling of the gesture leg from front to back (or vice versa), is an integral component of classical ballet. This movement is introduced at the barre, but is revisited many times during the center work portion of the class. Successful grand rond de jambe en l’air requires stability, flexibility, consistency in leg height and maintenance of a vertical torso.

Sports scientists from the Texas Woman’s University and University of Wyoming used 3D motion capture technology to understand the biomechanics behind this challenging move. This is what they discovered when comparing the movement of expert and novice ballet dancers.

1. Hip-hip

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'Air

Skilled dancers have greater movement of the pelvis in response to the movement of the leg. While exaggerated movement or obvious lifting of the pelvis is not desired, allowing the pelvis to tilt helps the dancer achieve the desired range of motion without increased muscular effort.

The Balanchine technique of ballet emphasises that a more open pelvis facilitates maximum range of movement of the leg, and that the clarity of the leg position is more important than keeping the hip perfectly placed. Anatomically there is a limited range of pure leg movement at the hip, therefore the onset and the complicity of the pelvic movement seems to be a key element in the skill and elegance of grand rond de jambe en l’air.


2. Pelvis strategy

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'Air

Skilled dancers use certain movement strategies to achieve perfection of the ronde de jambe en l’air. For example, when transitioning the gesture leg from dévant to á la seconde, they rotate their pelvis to the right and tilt it anteriorly and to the left. Moreover, they don’t not just stronger, but also earlier than novice dancers. This allows them to carry the leg from one position to the next without any major additional effort.

In addition, the skilled dancers delay the internal rotation of the thigh in the á la seconde position using a large pelvic motion. Finally, they separate the movement of the pelvis from the movement of the upper body in order to maintain the verticality of the trunk.


3. A word of caution

Beginner dancers should use the pelvic movement with a great deal of caution. First, a change in the pelvis orientation changes the mass distribution of the body around the hip joint of the standing leg, which makes it harder to control balance and increases the burden on the standing leg. In addition, range or ease of pelvic motion for the novice dancers may be limited by their flexibility, muscle extensibility, and level of motor control.

3. It’s not about muscle strength

The technique used by the skilled dancers does not particularly require more muscular effort. Therefore, hip muscular strength, especially the gesture leg, is not a limiting factor for a novice dancer.

4. Standing leg

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'AirDuring the execution of the grand rond de jambe en l’air, more burdens are placed on the standing leg, especially its hip abductors. These muscles serve to orient the pelvis over the standing leg and to facilitate the balancing movement of the pelvis in relation to the gesture leg. This is turn allows to limit excess or undesired movement of the pelvis.

It is thus very important to include emphasis on the standing leg in teaching grand rond de jambe en l’air – and in fact other movements requiring full range of motion at the hip.

To sum up, the clues to getting the perfect rond de jambe en l’air are:

  • Allow for greater pelvis motion throughout the entire movement phase while maintaining the trunk orientation (pelvis strategy).
  • Work out the optimal timing of the pelvic tilt that allows for more effortless carrying of the gesture leg.
  • Focus on both gesture and standing legs: While their actions are different, their contribution to the desired movement is the summation of their individual roles. Achieving an aesthetic ideal in dance requires synthesis of the whole body.

Full texts:
Kwon, Y. H., Wilson, M., & Ryu, J. H. (2007). Analysis of the hip joint moments in grand rond de jambe en l’air. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 11(3), 93-99.
Wilson, M., Lim, B. O., & Kwon, Y. H. (2004).
A Three-Dimensional Kinematic Analysis of Grand Rond de Jambe en l’air Skilled Versus Novice Ballet Dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 8(4), 108-115.

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