Bag of Steps: Adagio

If jumps and turns are generally favoured by bravura dancers who have a “need for speed” showing off their technical abilities, then adagio dancing, with its slow, lengthened and connected movements is where highly lyrical dancers make their mark. It is typically in the adagio, rather than in complicated combinations of double-quadruple fouettés, where the audience can sit back and contemplate the poetry and emotion ballerinas convey through their bodies.

Here we highlight some of the steps which might appear in adagio sequences in ballet. Note that steps which are typical of allegro work might also appear here (pirouettes, ronds de jambe) and vice versa, so none of them are exclusive to one form or another.

Mercury by Giambologna (1580) housed in the Bargello Museum, Florence. Photo: Alinari/Art Resource © Source: Britannica ©

Adagio

(in French: adage) in Italian means ‘At ease’, ‘leisurely’; a movement in slow tempo. In ballet Adagio refers to a series of slow and refined movements performed as a single phrase, in a fluid manner, each preparatory step seamlessly linking to the next. The adagio is typically the opening section in a grand pas de deux (followed by the variations and the coda), the part where the ballerina performs slow movements with the assistance of her partner.

Attitude

A ballet pose which originated from a statue by Giovanni de Bologna (Giambologna, see figure). One leg is lifted behind in a well turned-out manner, with the knee forming a 90 degree angle.

Arabesque

The term derives from a type of Moorish decoration. One leg supports the body while the other is extended behind, with the shoulders and hips kept square to the line of the body.

Devéloppé

Developing movement (originally, temps développé). Starting from fifth position, the working leg is raised following the supporting leg up to the knee (in retiré). It is then slowly extended to an open position en l’air and held there. The body is kept square to the direction the dancer is facing, with the hips aligned. Développés can be performed in any direction (devant, à la seconde, derrière, etc.).

Lauren Cuthbertson does an arabesque as the Winter Fairy in The Royal Ballet's Cinderella. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Tour de Promenade or Tour Lent

Refers to a slow turn done on one foot. The dancer moves her/his heel while keeping a specific pose such as arabesque or attitude. The turn can be executed en dehors (outwards) or en dedans (inwards).

Penché or Penchée

To lean or incline. For example, as in an arabesque penché.

At the 0:16 mark Alina Cojocaru (as Giselle) does a développé à la seconde, following with a tour de promenade en attitude; and at 0:56 a beautiful arabesque which lowers into a penché.

Fondu

To melt, to sink. The term is used to describe the lowering or “melting” of the body towards the floor through the bending of the supporting leg.

Détourné

A pivot turn on pointe. For instance, starting in fifth, the dancer relevés and turns towards the back foot. As the dancer lowers his/her heels the back foot becomes the front one.

Marianela Nuñez (as Gamzatti) does an arabesque en fondu ending on a penché at 0:24 and a detourné at 0:51.

You can also see plenty of detournés in the Sugar Plum Fairy variation.

Dégagé

Disengaged. The working leg is lifted or tossed lightly into the air in an open position, the foot pointed. It is generally used as a connecting step, for instance, to transfer the body’s weight.

Dégagé à l’arabesque en tournant

Starting in croisé devant en l‘air (with the front leg extended and raised), the dancer slowly turns outwards on the flat of the foot, passing the working leg through the second position while turning the body from the waist so that the  working leg is extended in arabesque croisé derrière. See Tatiana Terekhova video below for example.

The reverse, starting from arabesque croisé and ending croisé devant is referred to as Détourné en l’air.

Rond de Jambe

It literally means round of the leg or, in other words, a circular movement of the leg. They can be done outwards (en dehors) or inwards (en dedans). Though usually a barre step, it can also be done par terre (on the floor) as a connecting step. The Prelude in Les Sylphides includes ronds de jambe par terre.

Rond de Jambe en l’air

Here the circle is drawn by the toe. Both legs are turned out. The working leg moves from the knee down so that the thigh is as steady, high and as horizontal as possible.  The toe creates the circle from the supporting leg’s knee into second position en l’air. The movement is accentuated when the working leg reaches the extended position à la seconde.

At the 1:00 mark, Kirov ballerina Tatiana Terekhova does a series of ronds de jambe en l’air while hopping on pointe. This Don Q. variation starts with an arabesque fondu, followed by attitude. Watch out also for a Dégagé à l’arabesque en tournant (starting from attitude croisé devant) at 0.21.

Grand Rond de Jambe

This movement is usually preceded by a développé devant from which the leg extends from the hip and draws a semi-circle from the front passing through second position en l’air to end up in fourth derrière en l’air. It can also be done in reverse, starting with a développé derrière and drawing the semi-circle towards the front.

Myriam Ould Braham (as Aurora) does some Grand Ronds de Jambe en l’air at the beginning of The Sleeping Beauty’s Act II variation.

Pas de Bourrée Couru

A series of “running” (couru) steps on pointe or demi-pointe with the feet close together. If done in fifth position the steps are said to be en cinquième or a pas suivi. If done in first position, legs are kept turned in and they are said to be en première or simply, pas couru.

At 0:27 Marianela Nuñez (as Myrtha) enters the stage in a series of gliding bourrées. She also does an arabesque which turns into a tour de promenade (1:29), followed by a penché (1:46 ). Lookout for attitudes at 3:05.

Sources and Further Information:

  1. Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.
  2. The Borzoi Book of Ballets by Grace Robert. Kessinger Publishing Co. ISBN 1419122010.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.

10 Comments

  • October 31, 2012

    Emilia

    Hi – you can read about pointe shoes here -> http://www.theballetbag.com/2009/12/28/dancing-shoes/

  • October 26, 2012

    skarlyn

    como se hacen las puntilas

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  • December 28, 2009

    Linda

    Thanks for your kind words! Good luck with your classes! Suggestions for new topics in the Bag of Steps are always welcome!

  • December 28, 2009

    Audrey

    Hello, I really enjoy reading your blog. I’m taking adult ballet now and find the terms so useful. ^_^ Thanks so much for publishing !