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Bag of Steps: Connections

by Linda on January 27, 2011

It has been over a year since we last added to our Bag of Steps library and we recently discovered – via survey feedback – that some readers missed this series. We now return with a post dedicated to “connecting steps”. These are employed by a dancer much in the same way as we would use prepositions to link nouns and pronouns when we form phrases. So this edition might be more useful as aide-mémoire for the obsessive ballet-goer who would like to pinpoint exactly when a glissade is followed by a pas de bourrée.

Dancers may use connecting steps to propel a jump, to switch positions and to start a new choreographic phrase. The better the dancer, the less apparent how these morph into other steps:

Plié

Bent or bending. Almost every ballet step starts and ends with a plié; bending of the knees with the feet planted on the ground.

At the 0:29 mark Leonid Sarafanov shows how a good plié (from fourth position) gives him enough impulse for five pirouettes.

Tombé

Fallen. With the working leg raised in the air the dancer falls backwards, forwards or sideways into a fondu on the working leg. 

From 1:00 to 1:08 Yuhui Choe, Steven McRae and Laura Morera do four tombés followed by pas de bourrées.

Chassé

A travelling step where one foot “chases” the other. In performance the dancer lightly jumps in fifth position and lands sliding the foot to an open position (second or fourth) in the direction where he/she is travelling.

In this video from Les Patineurs the chassé is used to suggest ice skating.

Passé

A transitional step where the dancer draws one leg up to the point where the toes touch the back of the standing knee. When held as a pose the passé is referred to as retiré.

At the 1:20 mark Natalia Osipova (as Kitri) does a series of passés

Pas de Bourrée

A series of quick steps en pointe or demi-pointe. Starting in fifth with the right foot to front. The dancer stretches the left leg and crosses behind the right leg, taking a tiny step with the right and bringing the left leg to front.

At 1:17 Maria Alexandrova (as Myrtha) does a couple of pas de bourrées on pointe

To recap on the above watch, for example, Swan Lake‘s four little swans:

At 0:10 reaching the side of the stage, the swans do a small jeté followed by pas de bourrée (0:11) and retiré (0:12). This is repeated four times, but in the last sequence (where they reach stage left) the retiré comes down to fifth (0:27) to prepare for an entrechat (0:28) followed by a passé (0:29). At 0:48 the swans do one of a series of chassés to arabesque. After the last arabesque (0:58) they all tombé onto the right leg.

Glissade (terre à terre)

A gliding preparatory step which is done terre à terre (ie. to the ground) linking into other steps. The dancer slides gently from fifth into any open position (second or fourth).

See also: Glissade in the context of a small jump.

Failli

A transitional step, sliding through first position into an open position (usually fourth). The dancer starts in fifth and jumps vertically, changing the direction of the body and landing with the front foot on plié, back leg stretched. See the actual failli in step 4 below:

Failli. From Basic Principles of Classical Ballet by Agrippina Vaganova ©.

As step 4 shows, after changing the body’s direction, the stretched leg slides through first position towards the front

Starting from 3:42 and again at 3:56 Laura Morera does three glissades, a pas de bourrée (4:00) and a series of passés (4:22). At the start of their variation (5:08) Kenta Kura and Bennet Gartside then do a failli-assemblé combination, repeating it at 5.16.

Balancé

Rocking step where the dancer alternates balance, shifting the weight from one foot to the other.

At 2:59 Laura Morera (as Rose Fairy in The Nutcracker) does a balancé.

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

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


New to Bag of Steps? Catch up with earlier editions:

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January 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm

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Studioincovent January 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Thank you for this! ;-) Am now an even happier reader of yours!

Manhattnik January 27, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Gail Grant’s book is what inspired me to start taking class in college. I couldn’t make sense out of any of the descriptions; I had to try doing it.

I’ve always thought of passé as a step, and retiré as a position, so wouldn’t you talk about the little swans doing passés, not retirés?

Catchip January 28, 2011 at 2:42 am

The passé/ retiré terminology confusion is partly explained here:
http://www.dance-teacher.com/content/seven-commonly-used-ballet-terms-and-what-they-actually-mean-france
My old ballet teacher used to call the step “passé” and the position “passé and STAY” :) With the “internationalizing” of ballet terms, there’s now probably no one right answer…

Thank you for this post, I too have terrible spatial imagination and need the youtube demonstrations to have any hope of following steps!

Linda January 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

Hi Eric. Thanks for your comment. I’ve encountered many different sources re. passé vs. retiré (and interesting to see the link posted by @catchip above). Here we’ve decided to call it a passé only when the working leg changes its starting position. In the small swans variation, in the first three segments we’ve called it a retiré, as the working leg stays in the front (+ doesn’t go down to starting position) so only in the last segment we’ve called it a passé. My former teacher would usually say “retiré passé” when she didn’t want us to hold the pose.

Emilia January 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

@Catchip – thanks! So do I :)

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