“Land Softly!” “Put your heels down!”
“Land soft” and “put your heels down” are two typical corrections a dancer may hear in any standard dance class (i.e. ballet, contemporary, jazz, etc). These corrections are not only for aesthetic, but are also important to decrease the risk of injury. Depending on the type/style of jump, 6-10 times the dancers body weight can be placed on the achilles tendon. Besides injury to the the achilles tendon, improper jumping technique can also lead to injury of other tendons, stress fractures, sprains, strains, or impingement issues. Proper technique with jumping can also increase the power of jumps and improve overall jumping performance.
When initiating any jump, that beginning plie is important. Sometimes, I’ll have dancers that say “well, I don’t have a deep plie, that’s why I don’t use it.” This is not the right mind set. Regardless of the depth of the plie, it’s still important to use it in order to engage the correct muscles while jumping. Another important factor during the plie is to make sure the knees are aligned over the toes. This is very important in landing as well. Also, make sure the core muscles are engaged and are being utilized to maintain correct hip and spine alignment.
Following that plie, dancers should feel their heels pushing into the ground. This leads to an appropriate amount of stretch to allow that jump to happen. I always tell dancers to use their entire leg to complete the jump. Although dancers often think that jumping happens only at the knees and ankles, the hips (glutes) should provide a lot of the power for jumping.
When landing, dancers have to utilize their legs for ultimate shock absorption in order to decrease the risk of all earlier listed potential injuries. Dancers land “softly” by rolling through the foot to place, placing the heel down, and then allowing knees and hips to bend. I always tell dancers to keep their plie continuous. This allows them to continue that shock absorption instead of landing abruptly. During the landing, dancers should make sure knees are aligned with toes to prevent undue stress at both the knees and ankles.
If all of these steps and corrections seem difficult to think about during combinations or choreography, it would be worth setting aside time to practice jumping on your own or during private lessons or coaching. It would be beneficial to practice double and single leg jumps in both turned in and turned out positions. Once all corrections are mastered with basic jumping, the dancer can progress to those bigger jumps and jumps across the floor.