Notes on Saut de Chat…

Notes on Saut de Chat

For most people in ballet, you might already know the difference between a grand jeté and a saut de chat, but if you don’t know it. Here it is: A saut de chat leads with a développé where a grand jeté is usually done with a grand battement. The next point of difference to talk about is whether to call it a saut de chat or a grand pas de chat. Many Russians will refer to the step as a grand pas de chat, well most of Europe refers to it as that. Saut de Chat is more commonly used in America for this step. 

To break it down by translation, Saut de Chat means jump of the cat, where Grand Pas de Chat is translated as big step of the cat. Either way, the step is the same and the mechanics are the same. The idea is to push off into the air from one leg, hitting a full split or a 180° degree or more line, transferring the weight in the air, and landing on the opposite leg you pushed off of.

So, let’s get into it and start breaking down this iconic grand allegro step.

a. I think the most important part of a saut de chat is to make sure that the preparation is aligned and placed properly. Make sure that the support leg (leg pushing off), is aligned hip, knees, toes, pelvis in neutral core forward. You want the energy to be pushing down into the ball of the foot, as that is the energy building up that will set the height and distance of the jump.

b. The next step the energy starts to uncoil from the ballet of the foot, up the leg. Still focusing on pushing down through the leg and the beginning of shaping the back leg. Making sure as we push the ankle and toes really rotate and the femur starts to rotate up and back. Here our working leg will start to move away from our center and start to extend, making sure the knee is being thrust forward and up. 

c. In the next part of the jump, things start to usually go wonky. You want to make sure as the leg disengages from the floor that is lengthens right away and pulls away from the body in a clean line. You want to make sure it is fully rotated and positioned properly. Here is where a lot of young dancers will start to pitch backwards, rather than keep the core scooped and moving the shoulders and head in front of the hip line. By now you should be gaged so that you are almost at a full take off. 

d. Right before you are at the height of the jump, meaning your hips are the furthest from the ground possible, you will open the développé and fully extend the back leg to arabesque at the same rate, and ascending into the full split at the height of the jump.

e. Nowadays it isn’t uncommon to be expected to hit an overspilt in the air. A lot of things usually go wrong trying to get into the oversplit. Things like, stressing out the hips, or being too arched, or the fact that the pelvis is tipped forward so much that the front leg can’t get up. For me as a ballet teacher, I like to tell the kids the start of the overspilt should be at the apex of the jump, but the extreme overspilt is on the descent of the jump. Meaning, your legs are strong enough to stay up and they keep extending, while your hips relax and start to descend. Your pelvis in neutral is key here. If they are swayed, the front leg won’t overspilt and you become more of a diagonal line, and if your hips are tucked, the front leg will go up, but the back legs strains in the socket. 

f. Making sure you aren’t arched is super crucial, so that none of the impact of the jump goes into your back, especially your lower back. You want to make sure the weight is forward, and as you descend you are bringing your front leg in quickly while the back leg maintains the integrity of an arabesque. Bringing your foot in, and relaxing the knee is important. Keep your sight or eye-line up so that the audience still feels you are in the air for longer than you are. But bring the foot in slightly so that when you land (your hips will catch up to the distance of your foot), you are aligned.

g. Make sure your hips are up, and you are lifted creates the important task of rolling through. Making sure you are aligned hips over arch is important, and make sure your knee is in the same plane is CRUCIAL. By landing this way, you are able to properly roll down, hips in neutral and placed accordingly. 

So, all of these things sound easy, but the major problem is figuring out how to accomplish all of this in a matter of a second or less. I think the most important thing to focus is on alignment and placement. A lot of young dancers have two major tendencies that can cause major injuries in the knees and back. The first one is that the alignment of the back is compromised by arching back super hard, or swaying back super hard. This creates a severe S curve, and strains the hip tendons and ligaments in the back leg. Once they are swayed and the core disengages, the arms usually end up too far back and the body is splayed like a bird. Additionally, when they land their weight is either in their heel or knee, and the descent is rough to watch. The second issue among young dancers is I find that they have a hard time jumping in a single plane. The common one I see the most is opening and twisting the back hip open so that the back leg can come up, and they look turned out, even though they are in an a la sebesque or secabesque position, or they can’t keep their working leg/throwing leg in front of their belly button/axis and they somehow open up outside of their shoulder line. This not only stresses the hips out, but it also visually shortens the line. 

Saut de chats can be done with every port de bras (arms) possible. The most common is to hit the third elongated position or third arabesque line. The issue again is that most dancers don’t know that their wrists should be slightly crossed visually from the top. 

So what are some things we do at The Ballet Clinic to help improve the jump? There is a lot of one footed jumps to strengthen and practice pushing down into the floor to push off. We also work an quicker and stronger développés combined with grand battements to help hold the turnout and work on the line. We also focus a lot of descending through the legs properly. 

Hope that all helped!

First Position: it is so hard

ballet first position

Ballet is hard, like really hard but teachers expect young children to get into classical positions by the age of 5. And you know, at some dolly dinkle studio they are teaching their students ridiculously hard techniques to students who are like 9…. If people really understood the body and complexities of ballet technique and pedagogy, well we would have better dance studios across America… lol. The reality is, that teachers teach a certain way because someone back in the day told them this is how it is done… Well because of physics, physio, and the perfection of anatomy- ballet technique has become redefined and developed. For example… who pliés in third anymore? So, where is this leading to?

A fun fact about little kids… the plus side about a 5-year-old in dance is that their bones and ligaments aren’t set… Soooo, they are able to reshape their legs, feet, and overstretch in moderation…. So, until a child is actually able to think about their own bodies and their own interworkings… They probably shouldn’t be put into ballet positions… I mean, unless you like forcing kids to turn out without using the proper muscles just so that their bodies learn it… I guess that works too…
*side eye*

As much as first position teaches you to turn out… Whether that is forced from the ankles, knees or properly from the hips… First position really isn’t about the turn out factor… It is really just how to align your body evenly before your legs start crossing the lateral axis of the body and weight shifts. First position teaches you how to stand and properly align your body. Little kids like to booty tooch, and splay their ribs all over the place, and do the weirdest things with their hips. It is why we start plies in first or second position… No one should start their day with doing plies in fourth…. (God, just thinking about it is awful)
Here are the complexities of just standing in first position…. The hardest part isn’t even turning out. Turn out can be faked, forced or non-existent. The hardest thing is engaging your core to your center/pelvic shelf and stabilizing that.

If you ever have gotten corrections like, “Are you training to be a hula girl?” Or my favorite, “This is ballet not clubbing.” Or the standard, “Don’t move your hips!” The issue is that most teachers don’t tell you how you stop your hips from moving, besides the old school, “Squeeze your cheeks together.” (I hate that correction because gripping your butt is so gross) Anyways, in order for your hips to not move, while you simultaneously move your legs, spinal cord and arms independently are to: create tension in your hips to stabilize them. And no this isn’t by gripping your cheeks together to squeeze a dollar and make change.

So to create tension properly, you can’t be splayed like a dead chicken. And you definitely can’t be Quasimodo. You definitely can’t have slouchy shoulders and well upper body that’s a whole different subject… But here are some of the basic principals of first position:
ballet position
1. Create horizontal tension between your hips by rotating your hip joint outwards. The principle of turnout. The ball part of your hip joint, also known as the femur heads, should be like french doors opening outwards and wrapping into the backs of your legs… Which actually starts at your crease. Turnout is usually limited to 180 degrees unless you are gifted with hypermobility and overstretching. So the tension can’t be released because the femur head/ femoral neck has to stop, and usually stops against the cartilage of your pelvis; specifically the acetabulum.
2. Create vertical tension. Vertical tension is created via hip flexor… By drawing your iliopsoas up and into your core, and using your sartorius and pectineus to press down and out it creates a tension that gives the lifted out of your hips aspect of ballet.
3. Another way to create tension is to use your lower glutes and upper hamstrings to create the support for your pelvis.
This is all really hard stuff. Honestly, I didn’t really feel all of this till I was about 14. Then I could really feel and control all of these things. But ask a 9-year-old to use their psoas and they will probably look at you funny.

Now, standing in first position is usually defined as heels together and toes out. But, most books and teachers forget to tell you that positions are always active. If you are building tension in your pelvis, engaging your core, and properly using your neck and back… It is all good, but your feet are super important in first. In first position don’t pronate or supinate. One it messes up your Achilles, and two that is a sprain and fracture waiting to happen.
notes on ballet positions
1. In first position make sure all five toes are spread out, fanned out.
2. Don’t grip the tops of your arches. Some teachers ask you to lift your arches in first, and to do that all of the tendons in your feet have to be super developed. This can also be done by shifting the majority of the weight of your legs into the balls of your feet, and then counterbalancing that with pressure in your heel. This creates a triangle to balance the weight and tension in the legs on top of your feet.
3. Shift your pelvis to be in the center of your ankles. I know that sounds weird, but it is to align your hips on top of your ankles.

Port de bras for first is simple and relaxed. But should be engaged through your back. In theory… the tension/engaging of muscles isometrically through your body looks something like this…But port de bras… that should get it’s own post because… a lot of you have crazy ugly arms… Just kidding… No arms are just as complicated as legs, kind of.
how to do ballet positions

(in retrospect, I should have made all of the first positions that light purple/blue color but for some reason I made this one green. Lol)

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