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Ballet Physics: The Grand Jeté

My kids all take dancing classes of various descriptions. My daughters take ballet, but being rather young, there’s not too much technical dancing involved. They just get to have fun. While my knowledge of ballet is somewhat limited I do know that there is a bunch of physics involved

One of the reasons I know this, is that once upon a time I actually read my physics textbook as an undergraduate and in the ‘Fundamentals of Physics’ by Haliday, Resnick and Walker (the latest version is a bit shinier than my old copy) there is a discussion of the grand jeté‘.

Darcy Bussell doing a grand jeté

In this type of jump the ballerina looks as though she glides through the air, almost defying gravity. The trick is that although the jump from the ground pushes the dancer in a forward motion, and hence they should follow a parabolic path, by moving the position of their legs (moving into a split position at the top of the jump) the centre of gravity can be made to move. The centre of gravity can therefore be shifted nearer the head of the dancer, which is tilted back during the jump. The position of the head (or another fixed point on the body) therefore has a smaller vertical displacement than the centre of gravity, as so the head follows a flatter trajectory giving the illusion of floating.

The fixed position follows a flatter trajectory than the centre of gravity

It would be cool one day to see my daughters try this, maybe even cooler than if they can explain the physics…

While writing this I found some course notes from Alejandro Garcia, who gave class credit for attending the ballet…wish I went to those sort of classes!

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  1. June 14, 2012 at 9:25 pm

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