The ballet exercise tendu is even more important to foot function for posture support than is the much-more well-known plié.
I learned tendu in terms of resisting with the heel as the foot and leg extend.
It's as if someone keeps drawing the heel back as the bottom of the foot slides forward along the floor from full-sole contact - to ball - to the pointed toes.
This is how you learn to "lever" the heel back when performing any type of exercise or movement that involves the feet and legs.
The "lever"-age of the heel back - even if the foot and the leg and rest of the body are moving forward - is crucial to maintaining an alignment for connection to the back body muscles which support the spine.
The topside of the foot - or anatomically what is called the dorsal part - is mostly tendinous.
So if you perform tendu by pushing the foot out using the topside tendons, you will not build support or resilience in the underside of the foot, which is where most of the muscles are.
Especially for a dancer - the feet are called upon to jump and land - and the underside heel-arch-ball must be elongated, supple and resilient.
Here is an illustration of the pelvis and spine from three angles, with illustrations of the feet from three corresponding angles. I created this overlay image so you can see how the heels relate to the largest parts of the skeleton: the hip bones, the lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum - and also how the heels relate to directional points: the two sits bones for stability and the central tail bone, for lengthening the lower spine.
This video was shot at the Upper East Side Pilates studio Mind Your Body. You'll see me leading my colleague, the owner Gail Giovanniello, through a sort-of sitting-down tendu. She begins with the levered heel on the floor and draws the foot back, using the underside of the foot - the sole - and the backside of the legs - the hamstrings. This connects her to sits bones stability and eventually, a longer leg line which extends from the backs of the hips - and better-supports the lower spine.
The term "heel" in French is talon, which in English we ascribe more to a bird, and perhaps more to grasping. But if you think of the back talon on a bird, and how it extends away from the lower leg of the bird, you'll have a functional understanding of how, although we don't have bird talons, we can extend a talon-like energy back - for better balance, stability, and leverage.
You can read and see images of talons here on my Google+ Page for
Foot Function for Posture & Pain Relief in Back, Heels & Hips
You can also read and view more extensive information about the concept of the talon-like heel in this blog post, one of the first posts I wrote about the feet:
The term "tendu" in French means to "stretch." However, there is also a form of the term in the French word "entendu" which means, basically, understand - such as if a person says to you, "Entendu?" they are asking if what has been said is "understood." When you put tendu, "to stretch" and entendu,"to understand" together, there's an elongation of the underside. To me, tendu means to stretch along the sole for a better under-standing. You "stand" from "under" or under-stand. So now ... Do you .... Entendu?
This is a page from Chapter 3: Heel Leverage & Alignment of the e-book:
High Heel Healing: Using the Feet & Legs Efficiently for Improving Posture and Enhancing Exercise & Sports
which shows how levering the heels with "every step you take" grants you an empowering postural leverage.
Whether you learn levering in tendu exercises at a ballet barre or sitting with your sits bones on the edge of a chair or upholstered bench, the en-tendu "under-standing" you'll sense by getting in touch with the sole-side of the foot improves your posture, eases overwork and foot pain in balls and toes while walking, especially in high heels, and, most importantly, grants you a connection of support all along the back body system on either side of the spine: from heels to hamstrings to the butt to the backs of the hips.
You will find throughout my new e-book illustrations and photos which lead you into three-dimensional, inward, and bodily-depth understandings. I took time and attention to choose illustrations which give "in-sight" - as in you being able to look inwards. In addition to the over 500 images, there are also twelve videos which show the principles of the feet, legs, hips and spine in action.
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Danza classica, fuoco selettivo © Studio Gi - Fotolia.com
Closeup photo of a female feet with beautiful red pedicure © Valua Vitaly - Fotolia.com
Foot Pain X-ray © London_England - Fotolia.com