As one might surmise from the word, développé means to develop. Sometimes also translated as “to unfold,” it is a transition between movements wherein the working leg is bent (usually in coupé or passé) and then extended out from the body.
As shown in this video from the Royal Ballet in the UK, the extension can be directly to the front, to the side, or to the back, where in the working leg can be bent (en attitude) or fully extended into an arabesque. There are three particularly challenging aspects to performing the développé correctly:
- Keeping control of the speed of the working leg, so that it unfolds slowly and in time with the music (commonly in adage),
- Maintaining proper turn-out as the leg moves into passé and then extends from the hip joint, and
- Keeping one’s balance as the working leg performs its full extension. The body may wish to pull forward or lean backward in order to accommodate the leg, but it’s very important to keep the core centered on the supporting leg and not allow the upper body to collapse.
How to overcome these two obstacles? PRACTICE! The development of a strong core (especially abdominal muscles, gluteal muscles and hamstrings) is the key to a proper développé, so this is quite literally a case wherein practice makes perfect. I have found that performing the développé on the floor is a great way to work the necessary muscles and improve both turn-out and height in the extension. This video shows a great exercise for developing a strong développé a la dévant (extending to the front) by working on the floor, and allowing the floor to support your back so that you can really work on strengthening the leg. You can also work on the développé a la seconde (out to the side) by laying on one side on the floor, and slowly working the extending leg into passé rétiré (keeping the toe behind the knee) and then outward.
Utilizing the barre to maintain balance while exercising can also help, so long as the dancer remains aware of posture and does not lean over onto the barre for support. It’s hard work, but it is worth is for that beautiful line (and stronger legs)!