Dance Dissection: Développé

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.

A Scientific Analysis of the Dance Movement: Développé

By Monica Coyle and Jamie Matute

Defining the movement

One of the many complex movements performed in ballet is développé. This movement is first performed while doing barre work in order to help with balancing. From the start of the movement, the ballerina stands in fifth position (Figure 1) and then raises the leg opposite of the barre to the knee of the supporting leg (Figure 2). The leg now becomes unfolded and is kept extended either to the front, side, or back while maintaining the turnout of the hip (Figure 3).  How high the leg should extend depends on the dancer’s ability to raise it while keeping the entire body aligned.


To properly perform a développé, it is essential that the dancer shift his or her weight to the standing leg, without displacing the hips. If the dancer shifts their weight and lifts the hip from their supporting leg, the hip abductors would be weakened on the side of the working leg leading to a drop of the hip and for the pelvis to not be level. Adduction of the hips would not occur if the abductors did not lift the pelvis. When the dancer has the heel of the supporting leg in towards their midline, their adductors contract and abductors stabilize, which is what allows them to balance on one leg and keep their hips as stationary as possible. In a perfect world, a dancer’s pelvis would remain stationary while executing a développé; however, after 90 degrees, the pelvis must tilt a little, and the iliacus now engages to help lift the leg.

Planes of Motion

Doing développé requires the use of the three planes of motion: the frontal, sagittal and transverse planes. The movement in the frontal plane is executed when the leg extends to the side whereas in the sagittal plane, the movement is executed when the leg extends to the front or the back (Figures 4-6).

The transverse plane focuses on the external rotation of the hip joint from the working leg so that it is maintained turned out when the leg is raised.  From fifth position, the leg goes from flexion to extension when it is raised to the knee of the supporting leg as the knee of the working leg is turned to the side (Figure 2). At this point, the working arm slowly moves from fifth position en bas to first position and then to second position when the leg fully extends in the air, specifically to the side.  The movement of the working arm also takes place according to what direction the leg is being raised, as instructed by the teacher during training. If the leg is raised en l’air to the front, then the working arm moves from second position to fifth position through the gateway. If the leg is raised to the back, then the working arm is lowered into first arabesque. This is to help practice port de bras and technique of the movement. If the leg is extended to the back, then the working arm is extended forward. Frontal and sagittal planes are used as well for the movement of the arm.

Defining the Functions of Bones, Muscles, and Joints in Preventing Injury

As for the bones and muscles being used, the working leg will be the main focus. The main bones used for développé are the patella, femur, tibia, fibula, tarsals, and phalanges. In order to keep the foot pointed throughout the movement, the phalanges and tarsals are in motion via work from the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon. To maintain the leg in turn out, the tibia and fibula bones are supported by the calf muscles, such as the tibialis posterior/anterior, soleus, and fibularis longus muscles. When the leg is ready to extend from the flexed position, the quadriceps and hamstring muscles are used, but there is more power on the quadriceps of the working leg. The biceps femoris, for example, is primarily used to help extend the leg even further. Although, it is the hamstring muscles that produce a greater range of motion for the leg to be raised higher, whereas the quadriceps have a low range of motion. When the leg extends to the back, however, the calf, quadriceps, and glute muscles are put to work more than the hamstrings.

The main joint that is used in développé is the ball and socket joint, which is the head of the femur bone connected to the pelvis. Also, the hinge joint of the knee is used when the working leg is raised to the knee of the supporting leg. It is evident that Type I muscles fibers are utilized during this movement because it is performed in a slow manner to focus on extending the leg as high as possible. Thus, this movement is aerobic due to slow-twitching muscle fibers that take action.

On another note, the foot has to be kept in a plantar flexed position in order to do développé, and the way this is executed is by the use of the gastrocnemius, peroneus longus, and soleus muscles to extend the foot. The tibia, fibula, and the patella work like a hinge to keep the knee flexed when it is raised to the knee of the supporting leg. Meanwhile, the calcaneus and talus bones join together by the hinge joint in the ankle when the foot is in plantar flexion. This actually causes the foot to become weaker due to the ankle joint not having full support of the foot when it is extended. However, the working foot is not considered to be weak when it is going up in the air, whereas the supporting foot could be weak if the ballerina was doing développé on relevé.

To keep the toes pointed, muscles in the working foot– such as the flexor hallucis brevis and flexor digitorum brevis– are at work while the anterior/posterior tibiofibular ligaments allow the ankle to extend. During a développé, a dancer will have more range of motion when the knee of the working leg is bent, and this range of motion will decrease as the knee extends and as the rectus femoris flexes. The tightness of a dancer’s hamstring is what prevents her from having as much movement with an extended knee in hip flexion. Ballet is danced in lateral rotation, or turned-out, which gives the leg a greater range of motion because it moves the greater trochanter “out of the way” within the dancer’s hip joint.

The piriformis, obturator internus, obturator externus, gemellus inferior, and quadratus femoris are the ‘deep six’ lateral rotators responsible for maintaining a turned-out lateral rotation of both the supporting and working legs. It is important for a dancer to use these muscles instead of the glutes, because the glutes are superficial muscles, not deep muscles. The gluteus medius and minimus are all abductors, whereas the gluteus maximus is the major flexor and extensor for the hip. If a dancer uses gluteus maximus to turn out, she is merely tucking their pelvis. Tucking the pelvis can ultimately lead to hip, knee or ankle injury. A dancer’s psoas major also works to lift the leg, since it is a flexor that engages when the pelvis is stationary. The sartorius also helps to développé a dancer’s leg. It supports the movement along with the hamstrings; specifically, the sartorius supports lateral rotation, flexion, and abduction. It is connected to the Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (or ASIS) and the knee. While this muscle supports the leg, your quadriceps extend the knee.

A dancer whose head and shaft of the femur bone is in a coxa vara state will not have as much room for adduction of the hip as a dancer with a greater angle between the head and shaft would. Another factor to losing turnout or losing your plantarflexed foot (or relevé) would be by disengaging the psoas major, hamstrings, rectus femoris, and sartorius while adding pressure to the hip joint which can lead to injury.


Développé can be viewed as a movement that is simply raising the leg. It can look as though it is easy to do, when in reality it requires several parts of the body to execute this movement. The muscles, being the primary parts of the body to move, are essential to use and disperse large amounts of energy in everyday life, especially during dance training. Knowing that the muscles produce a lot of power to move the joints and bones of the body, it is clear that the complexity of développé derives from work being dome. With control and balance, practically all the muscles of the body are engaged during this movement throughout the three planes of motion.


  • Bronner, S. (2012). Differences in Segmental Coordination and Postural Control in a Multi-joint Dance Movement Développé Arabesque. International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. 26-35.
  • Featured photo by Ирина Лепнёва via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Monica Coyle is from San Diego, California. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in Advertising and Public Relations and minoring in dance. She has been dancing for eight years with advisement from Marsha Rushing, Deborah Goodman, Sarah Fuller, and Cora Mitchell. She aspires to work for an advertising agency in Chicago upon graduating in May 2018. 

Jamie Matute is from Chicago, Illinois. She is a third-year student in Loyola University Chicago majoring in Biology with a minor in Dance. She has been dancing for nine years, and continues to cultivate her skill through the performing arts under the training of Deborah Goodman, Mei-Kuang Chen, and Sarah Fuller. She plans to pursue a career in the medical field post graduate school.


Author: Guest Contributors