Y. wasn’t there yesterday and our jazz class was taught by Frodo, a lovely sub we’ve had a couple of times before. My dancing is solid enough by now that I really enjoy subs. The new people in class were less excited, but that’s the way things are for new people.
One of the new people, A., asked Frodo an interesting question: why the tendus? Having never danced ballet, jazz or modern before, she was surprised to see two different teachers show the exact same exercise.
The question intrigued me, so I butted my way into the conversation and we all started to contemplate the usefulness of tendus. Frodo hadn’t thought about this before – she usually teaches hip hop, wherein tendus are not a thing.
We figured out pretty fast that tendus (properly called battements tendus) train the muscles of the working foot and the supporting leg and help you get used to keeping your balance on one leg. This way, you learn not to keel over when you have to do turns or even just wave your working leg around (this does happen in jazz). And strong feet are obviously good, right? At that point, we gave up guessing and moved on to battements jetés (which you also cannot do without tendus).
Irked by the fact that this question did not occur to me, I set out to find more answers after class. I found them here. When you read it, it makes perfect sense. Working through the foot serves as a starting point for all the other battements and many jumps. Tendus are also the first ballet step to hammer «MUST POINT TOEZ AT ALL TIEMZ» into your head. In an adult beginner jazz or modern class, you can always tell the people who do ballet apart by the resolutely pointed feet.
This research also quickly lead me down a veritable rabbit hole of tendu technique. As is wont in ballet, you can work on improving your tendu your whole life. Tendu tips on the interwebs start with «work through the foot» (duh) and then escalate all the way to «imagine your leg is a barber pole» (whut?). In between, behind that second link, I found something that blew my mind:
Tendu is the opening and closing of the working leg from and to a closed position (1st or 5th) to an open position (front, side or back) by applying downward energy. – Alex Ossadnik
I immediately tried this out in ballet today and it’s like magic! I was already applying downward energy to some degree (we were taught to push our foot into the floor), but I certainly gained more expression in my tendus! I can’t really do it very fast yet, but I’m sure I could learn.
Here I am, applying tips for advanced ballet students to my own pathetic attempts. In all fairness, this was the first tip in that article and the only one I understood – the author completely lost me afterwards. I’m guessing that particular tip is especially suitable for slightly less advanced ballet students…