Agrippina Vaganova said in her book: “Allegro is the foundation of the science of the dance, its intricacy and the bond of future perfection.” This is how important jumps are in the life of a dancer and why so many dancers frequently ask for tips to improve dance jumps (height, power and lightness). Surprisingly at first, the Jumps section only makes up 1/3 of her book “Basic Principles of classical ballet”, so how can this be so important? That is because almost everything in the other 2/3 of the book (and a class) prepares you for the jumps.
Improve your dance jumps by paying attention to the purpose of each movement and combination you perform in class. You will notice your progress happening much faster. If you are looking for extra inspiration, check back the testimonial “Jumping for the first time”.
Improve your dance jumps, or shall I say bounces?
How to improve my jumps without building bulky calves?
In order to understand how to improve our dance jumps, let’s ask ourselves this question: “If jumps come from muscle strength, how can kangaroos perform powerful jumps without bulky lower legs?” This is a question that puzzled scientists and at first their hypothesis was that kangaroos and gazelles may have super-fast-twitch muscle fibres to compensate for the lack of muscle volume. After thorough analysis it was clear that super-fast-twitch muscle fibres do not exist and kangaroos have the same muscle fibres as koalas.
Elastic recoil: the key to high and powerful jumps
The key to the kangaroo enigma lies in the make-up and properties of the tendons. After thorough analysis, we discovered that tendon fibres are more resilient than muscle fibres. In other words they are super strong. The Achilles tendon in particular is as resilient as a piece of steel. In addition, tendon fibres are more elastic than muscle fibres. One amazing property of highly elastic material is that they can store and release a tremendous amount of kinetic energy. Imagine flicking a rubber band that is as strong as a piece of metal. Yes, that’s the amount of energy a kangaroo generate through their lower legs.
What do dancers and kangaroos have in common?
It was found that humans have similar kinetic storage capacity in their tendons to that of the kangaroos. Who would have know that we have kangaroo and gazelle legs? I am exaggerating a bit, our legs are not designed the same way but the property of elasticity and kinetic energy release are similar.
This capacity is a very distinctive trait that is not found in chimpanzees, bonobos or other primates. This is a distinctive trait linked to It allows humans to walk long distance with minimal effort. This capacity also explains how humans have mastered the sprint, marathon, high jumps, long jumps or even triple jumps.
How to use elastic recoil to improve dance jumps
Is it all about that step before the actual step
If you have heard your teacher speaking about keeping your heels on the floor, then you are familiar with the process. If you have ever observed a cat crouching before a jump or a run then you are familiar with the process without even knowing.
As you anticipate for the jumps, the muscle fibres keep the tendons under tension (in an isometric contraction). As you apply more pressure in the floor, the tendon fibres lengthen and store energy. As you choose to jump, the tendon fibres recoil and release the energy to jump off.
In other words a “good” plié with your heels on the floor is essential
And then after the first jump, the leg can rely on gravity and weight to bounce back. The elastic springiness of the tendons takes care of the rest: it keeps storing and releasing energy jump after jump. Which is why you want to “use the floor” and produce a “deep plié”.
Do I need longer Achilles to improve your dance jumps?
Now that we know the specificities of human (and kangaroo) jumps, we focus our dance training on bouncing through the elastic properties of the tendons and not muscle strength. You do not want to stretch your Achilles to make them longer. A stretched Achilles will lose its elasticity and its capacity to store and release kinetic energy which is the opposite of what we are looking to achieve. What we want to improve our dance jumps is to have more elastic tendons.
The exciting news is that tendons can transform and you can improve its elasticity. A change in tendon elasticity takes several months to occur. I know this is not the news you were expecting and you certainly want immediate results. Yet, we have to be honest and realistic in our expectations to meet our objectives. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know if there are new science discovery showing shorter period for tendon elasticity transformation.
Create a program to improve your dance jumps
In all honesty, it is already all included in your ballet training but in other terms and sometimes with vague instructions and unclear cues and images. To go past the confusion, I recommend to implement a fascia oriented program to improve tendon elasticity that include a lot of bouncing and hopping. Often we optimise the training by practicing barefoot and increasing the load in small incremental steps over several months. To foster adaptation you do not want to create a sudden drastic shift in your training which would only cause unnecessary stress and is usually the cause for tendon injuries. Work with a qualified therapist to respect your connective tissues’ time for adaptation.
If you need help creating a program to improve your dance jumps, I highly recommend participating in the “Secrets to Be a Jumper” workshop hosted live and online by the leading experts Paul Thornley and Principal dancer Denys Cherevychko.
What questions do you have about ballet jumps that were not answered here?
Source: Fascia in Sport and Movement, Editor: Robert Schleip. You can find Schleip’s and Vaganova’s book and many other book recommendations here.