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Use the back of your leg

by Karen Clippinger

The instruction to "use more of the back of your leg" is sometimes employed by teachers to encourage greater use of the hamstring muscles when the feet are weight bearing, particularly when the teacher feels that the student is overusing the "front of the legs" (quadriceps femoris). From an anatomical perspective, this directive could be interpreted as encouraging greater use of the abdominal-hamstring force couple. If more stability is established from above, through use of this force couple to help maintain a neutral pelvis and to position the weight of the body appropriately over the support foot/feet (vs. too far back), a dancer could theoretically use less quadriceps contraction to maintain "balance." Another interpretation of this cue relates to emphasizing greater use of the hip extensors versus knee extensors in movements such as pliés, and this emphasis will be discussed in chapter 5.


The problem with this cue is that some dancers do not know how to use "more of the back of the leg"; so substituting more specific cues or performing an exercise to help dancers find these muscles can make the cue more meaningful. For example, thinking of pulling the bottom of the pelvis (ischial tuberosities) down toward the floor until the pelvis is vertically aligned (ASIS and pubic symphysis in same frontal plane) can help some dancers recruit the hamstrings in their force-couple role with the abdominal muscles. Similarly, on the up-phase of the plié, focusing on pressing into the floor with the feet and pulling the sitz bones down and forward to extend the hip joint, before thinking about straightening the knees, can sometimes help dancers feel greater use of the hip extensors. Once a dancer knows how to achieve greater hip extensor activation, the initial cue to use the "back of the leg" or "more hamstrings" can be an effective reminder.


This is an excerpt from Dance Anantomy and Kinesiology.

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