Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Your standing leg is incredibly important. Using it correctly gives you a strong base, allowing for more freedom in the working leg (meaning higher extensions!) and better balance for adage and turns (and pretty much everything else). One of my college professors introduced me to the three rules of the standing leg: shift, lift, and rotate.
That’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to talk about just the first part: shift.
That can be easier said than done because there are plenty of options as to where on your foot your weight should be. It’s easy to shift too far over your toe or keep your weight on your heel.
How to find proper weight distribution on your standing leg
When you’re on one foot, as we are a majority of the time in ballet, two-thirds of your weight is on the ball of your foot.
I’m saying it that way instead of the usual “3 points of weight distribution” advice for a reason. Sometimes it feels like your weight is equally distributed among your heel, big toe joint, and little toe joint, but it’s actually still mostly on your heel. For me, thinking, “2/3 weight on the ball of your foot!” helps me fix that.
To find where your center of balance should be, stand on one foot, turned out, and shift your weight around--front, side, back, other side. (For best results, don’t hold on to a barre or anything.) Go to the far extremes first and work down to small adjustments until you find the happy middle spot. You’ll know you found it when you feel sturdy on flat, but light enough on that foot that you could easily relevé. Once you find it, stay there for a while to memorize the feeling.
Also know that if you have tiny feet, like me (I wear children’s size 4 shoes), it’s going to be harder to get your weight off your heel (I feel like half my foot is heel!). If you're struggling, maybe that's why!
Proper weight shift in relevé
In relevé on one foot, you’ll need to shift your hips and your chest/shoulders over your toes a tiny bit more. Emphasis on “tiny bit.” An inch or two is all you need (a little more, if you're en pointe). Often, dancers will shift their hips over too much and counterbalance by tilting their upper body, which causes lots of wobbling and readjusting.
To get on balance right away, think about shifting the entire torso, from hips to shoulders, as a single, solid block.
It also helps to find which direction to shift your weight. This direction is determined by your turnout. If you had 180 degree turnout, you could simply shift your weight directly to the side. However, most dancers don’t have that much turnout, so the direction will be diagonal, somewhere between front and side.
Stand in first position and take a look at the direction your toes are pointing. When you relevé, think of your hips and torso being pulled along that line.
Practice by doing relevés into retiré from fifth position. Once you feel comfortable with that, try it from first position, then fourth.
Hope this is helpful! -AJ