Down to the Core

By Marianne Salza

I’ve always considered being able to hold your dévloppé above 90 degrees, extending your leg into the sky as a revered feat among dancers – those who can are the gold medalists of the studio floor.

Ballerina with high extension. Photo: Melissa Dooley/Flickr CC

The secret to such agility involves your iliopsoas, an approximately 16” long muscle that connects your legs to your pelvis and spine. It integrates upper and lower body activity.

“Many dancers seek to improve the height they can lift their leg to the front in movements like extensions,” says Karen Clippinger in Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. “Dancers appear to not have adequate strength or sufficient ability to activate this muscle and mistakenly believe they cannot achieve high extensions.”

The iliopsoas is one of the most powerful and important muscles of the body and is often difficult to feel or visualize because of its deep location. It supports horizontal alignment of the pelvis while standing, which keeps your organs from spilling forward against the abdominal wall. The muscle also articulates with the pelvis and legs, providing force and endurance for walking.

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