Editor’s note: The “Dance Dissection” series is created by students enrolled in DANC-270: Dance Kinesiology at Loyola University Chicago. As one of their culminating projects, small groups of students are required to select a movement in dance and create a photo essay describing it in detail based on content presented in the course. Please understand that this is an introductory course and students’ understanding of the body is just beginning. While we encourage comments and feedback, please frame your responses in this context.
By Loretta Holmes, Lydia Jekot, and Shannon Shahinian
A tour jeté is an advanced, explosive jump classified under grand allegro. Since this jump is so complex, it can be further broken down, exposing various ballet positions that are passed through during the execution. Tour jeté uses mostly Type-II muscle fibers, indicating that it is an anaerobic action. Traveling through/across the transverse plane, the entire body is involved and engaged in a tour jeté. A particular level of knowledge and keen awareness of the body in space is necessary in order to execute this large, impressive ballet movement. A completed tour jeté can be viewed in this video clip:
Tour Jeté Broken Down
A series of images is the best way to break down a tour jeté and explain the significance of each element of the body. Image (1) exhibits a tendu derrière with the arms in first position. This is one way that a dancer can begin the large jump. Notice how the dancer’s right knee is extended and the whole leg is laterally rotated. The right foot is abducting away from her median line. The left leg is also laterally rotated with plantar flexion of the ankle. A chassé is initiated with a plié on the standing leg and progresses to a sous-sus position in the air with the initial tendu leg in the front.
Image (2) displays a grand battement devant with the arms in a high fifth position. This grand battement is purposeful, as it grounds the dancer and provides her with force that is necessary to lift her entire body in the air. Both legs are in lateral rotation. The deep six lateral rotator muscles in the hip (the superior gemellus, inferior gemellus, obturator externus, obturator internus, quadratus femoris, and the piriformis) work together to achieve this position. The standing leg is in plié in preparation for the large jump. Image (3) shows the dancer in the middle of the tour jeté. Her arms remain in a high fifth position and she changes her facing direction. Deeply located on the medial thigh, the adductor longus and adductor brevis engage to squeeze the legs together at the maximum height of the jump. Image (4) shows the dancer still in the air almost at the end of the tour jeté. Her arms are in first arabesque with the legs in a 90-degree angle. She is facing the way she was in the picture above and is preparing to land the tour jeté. Image (5) shows the dancer landing her tour jeté. Her arms remain in arabesque first along with her legs maintaining the 90-degree angle. The standing leg’s knee is in flexion while the leg in arabesque is in extension. Both the standing leg and the leg in arabesque help the pelvis remain square.
Common Injuries and Prevention Methods
As seen in the previous pictures of the steps of a tour jete, this step is completed in an arabesque with plié. A common correction dancers receive is to land with their backs upright and their working leg at 90-degrees as they would in any arabesque. Since tour jeté is usually a movement that is followed by other steps, the tendency is to allow the leg to drop or the pelvis and upper-back to tilt forward as a dancer overlooks the landing and anticipates the next step. The lowered leg and forward tilt are demonstrated in image (6).
In order to maintain a proper position with a 90-degree arabesque, the dancer must engage the muscles in her upper back, namely the scapulothoracic muscles such as the trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi. Maintaining the height and alignment of the working leg in arabesque requires concentric action in the glutes, and hamstrings, release of the hip flexors, and stability throughout the core. Landing properly creates the correct aesthetic ending to this complex movement, and also takes excess pressure off of the hip, back, and joints in the knee and ankle, which can prevent injuries such as herniated discs in the spinal column, meniscal tear, and various other injuries that can occur in the lower body joints.
Another mistake that often occurs in leaps like a tour jeté is pronation in the foot and ankle, which, upon landing a large jump, can result in an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament. A difficult and subtle part of the tour jeté is the control required in coming down onto a turned out leg without pushing the knee forward (as seen in the accompanying images 8 and 9). Ideally, the knee should end aligned over the toes as seen in image (9).
Landing incorrectly after the jump could potentially happen to any dancer, but getting into the habit of pronation, having valgus knees, or utilizing the wrong muscles in dance can make the dancer more susceptible to this type of injury.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
One job of the anterior cruciate ligament is to limit rotation of the knee. When the dancer is turned out and too much pressure is applied to one side of the knee, it is forced into rotation and can damage the ACL. Pronation can be dangerous in jumps as dancers with pronation roll towards the medial side of the foot, which then causes the medial side of the knee to roll forward in a turned out first position. When a dancer with pronation pliés, her weight is distributed unevenly toward the anterior side of her body, which applies an abnormal amount of pressure to the medial side of the knee and ankle joints. After a jump, this strain on the joints is amplified, and landing heavily on the medial side of the foot rather than distributing the weight along the entire foot with knees aligned over the feet would force the medial side of the knee forward sharply. The forced rotation tightens the ACL and can cause a sprain with varying amounts of damage. There are three grades of ACL sprains: minor damage which causes pain, more damage and a loosened joint, and a complete tear of the ligament which must be treated with surgery.
Bodies that are naturally more prone to ACL injuries include women and people with coxa valga. Female bodies have wider pelvises and therefore a greater Q angle, so there is more force directed toward the medial side of the knee. The same type of angle is produced with coxa valga, when the angle between the femur and the pelvis is larger than normal which causes the knees to become valgus. The increased force directed toward the medial side of the knee has the same effect as pronation.
Another contributor to an ACL injury is muscle dysfunction, or contraction or weakness of muscles. Using incorrect muscles when jumping weakens muscles that should be used for stability and recovery. A hypertonic psoas, for example, can cause the rectus femoris to overwork and tighten, pulling the pelvis into an anterior tilt. The imbalance caused by tight quads and weak hamstrings contributes to knee instability and will not support the dancer if she lands incorrectly. To avoid a tear or damage of the ACL, dancers should cross-train muscles that work opposite of turn-out muscles so they do not lack support that can be helpful when mistakes are made in technique. Dancers should also pay close attention to the way they distribute their weight and the relationship between their knees and feet so that pronation or valgus knees can be corrected, preventing this type of injury to their knee.
Ankle Impingement Injuries
Lastly, anterior ankle impingements can occur from repeated powerful movements in dance such as the tour jeté. In the anterior ankle impingement, anterior exostoses (bony prominences) on the neck of the talus results from the traction of the anterior ankle joint capsule on the neck of the talus. Some type of trauma has to the ankle like a leap or jump that has landed wrong can result in small fractures within the ankle. An example that goes in this category is the isolated, non-displaced medial cuneiform fracture. This injury is very small and many professional doctors cannot find the fracture the first time they use a CT scan to look at it. However, when it is found and recognized, it looks like a little break in the midfoot which causes symptoms like swelling and tenderness in the midfoot. In order for the ankle to be safe, it has to be on balance and its assisted by the bones in the foot to complete this. The bones in the foot are used to absorb shock and facilitate balance. The bones used are the first metatarsal, the fifth metatarsal, and calcaneus along with the three arches anterior transverse arch, medial longitudinal arch, and the lateral longitudinal arch.
Although dance is often viewed and discussed as a performative, entertaining art form, it requires extensive anatomical knowledge of the human body. Kinesthetic knowledge has the ability to increase the level of a dancer’s technique, body awareness in space, and performance quality. It can help prevent injuries by informing a dancer about proper alignment. Breaking a tour jeté down into scientific terms exemplifies how complex dancing truly can be. The mind of every dancer works differently, meaning that instructors must deliver information and corrections in a multitude of ways. Scientific language can be a major benefit to certain dancers/students.
- “ACL Injury.” Ballet Doctor, 1 May 2016, balletdoctor.com/acl-injury.
- Calais-Germain, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Eastland Press, 2014.
- Yamauchi, Koun, Miyake, Satoru, Kato, Chisato, & Kato, Takayuki (2017). Isolated, Nondisplaced Medial Cuneiform Fractures: Report of Two Cases. International Foot & Ankle Foundation for Education and Research 1 – 5.
Shannon Shahinian is from Palatine, Illinois. She is a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago, currently working toward earning a Bachelor’s degree in Dance and a Master’s in Social Work. In the future, she would love to combine her passions for dance and working with children, exploring the cross-sectional boundaries of dance as a performative yet mentally/emotionally healing art form.
Lydia Jekot is a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago pursuing a double-major in English and dance and a minor in Catholic Studies. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she began her dance training primarily in ballet at the Dallas Ballet Center, and is excited to be exploring new opportunities in using dance as a modern art form and platform for social justice.
Loretta Holmes is a Chicago native born and raised in the Bronzeville area. She is a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago aiming towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Dance and has a Computer Science minor to obtain skills in computer programming. She plans to become a travelling dance choreographer, explore some commercial work, and also work behind the scenes of the arts controlling the sounds and lights of different productions.