Health & Body

Ask Deb: Can You Take the Load Off Your Quads Using Your Glutes in a Leg Extension?


Q: I was always taught that if you engage your gluteal muscles in a leg extension, you can take the workload off the quads. Is that true?

A: The short answer is no—not if it's a front or side extension. In order to lift the leg to the front or side, many muscles need to contract, including the quads, the deeper hip flexor (iliopsoas) and the external rotators found deep within the hip. During the extension to the side, the lateral hip muscles must actively engage. Perhaps the myth began because dancers felt fatigue in various muscles during développé, including the rotators, which are underneath the bigger gluteal muscles, and mistakenly assumed they were actually engaging their glutes.

In arabesque, the glutes contract to take the leg back, while the quads lengthen to allow it. If a dancer tries to engage both the front and the back of the hip at the same time (meaning contract both the quads and the glutes), it is like the two muscles are at war in the joint, and movement becomes strained.

Instead of thinking of muscle engagement, try using imagery, such as becoming a star with light shining through arms, legs and head, to keep equal energy throughout the body. That way the whole body is supporting the extension rather than focusing on just the height of the working leg.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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