Different Leaps in Dance

By Pamela Ann Ludwig ; Updated September 15, 2017
A dancer defying gravity

Jumps and leaps add elements of surprise, danger and gymnastic dazzle to dance routines. A well-executed leap can leave an impact on audiences. Most of these leaps are found in classical and contemporary ballet, modern dance, lyrical dance and jazz, though choreographers and elite dancers constantly invent new ways to make the body soar through the air. Men and women both perform these leaps.

Grande Jeté

Dancer in silhouette performing a grande jeté

A dancer can perform this classic leap in two ways, as a "grande jeté" or a "saut de chat." In the first the dancer leaps forward with both legs straight. The goal is to have a flat, 180 degree leap with both legs in the splits in the air, with legs parallel to the floor. In the saut de chat, the front leg starts bent and stretches to a straight leg while in the air. A variant is the Spanish style leap when the dancer arches back and kicks the back leg up towards her head. This is found in Spanish-themed ballets such as Don Quixote.

Switch leaps

Switch leaps start like a grande jeté and switch in the air. The dancer must have the height in his jump to make the switch pronounced in the air, and must have great power when he leaves the floor to enable the legs to move while airborne.

Tour Jeté

A tour jeté or jeté en tournant is a turning leap. The dancer prepares toward the back of the stage and lifts one leg high in the air, then lands on the ground with the other leg. The legs should be straight, go as high as possible, and brush against one another as they pass each other in the turn.

Straddle Leap

A straddle leap is also called a Russian leap and is mostly found in jazz dance. The dancer does a preparation to the side, facing the audience and leaps so that both legs are extended out in a side splits or straddle position. The challenge is to make both legs symmetrical while in the air and to land gracefully.

Supported Leaps

Supported leaps are common in classical ballet, contact improvisation, jazz, and modern dance. Sometimes a dancer uses a partner to help her get off the ground or to catch her at the end of a leap. Support in a leap can prolong the position of the body while in the air and make the dancer go higher.

Pas de Chat

"Pas de chat" means "cat's step" in French. A pas de chat is a small leap, performed directly to the front of the stage, requiring turned-out legs and sharp articulation of pointed feet. One leg lifts with the knee bent and the other leg lifts immediately after to form a "squat" position briefly in the air before landing. The objective in a pas de chat is to be as high in the air as possible, and to stay in that position as long as you can, appearing to defy gravity.

About the Author

Pamela Ann Ludwig has lived, worked and studied on five continents. Her articles can be seen online at various websites. She holds a Master of Arts degree in history from San Francisco State University and has experience teaching different dance disciplines as well as English to speakers of other languages.