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Step of the week 1.

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OK, let me kick off this new idea with the pirouette.

Pirouette is the general term for a turn done on one foot and in place (sur place) and can be done to the inside (en dedans) or outside (en dehors). When the left foot is the supporting foot, the turn goes to the right for en dehors, and left for en dedans. So, you see, the turn is made an outside or inside turn by when it turns away from the supporting leg (en dehors) and turns toward the supporting leg (en dedans). Pirouettes can be done in any position with one leg off the floor. They may also be done in long series by a number of little hops on the supporting foot (grande pirouette), particularly with the leg extended above the floor. In French, "pirouette" is feminine, so the adjectives applied to it have to agree in gender - grande, piquée, and so on.

Pirouettes generally differ from "tours" in that a tour is done with both feet, or NO feet (tour en l'air) on the floor, and/or traveling. Nomenclature is an insidious thing, and what may be called pirouette in one school may be called a tour or a movement "en tournant" (turning) in another.

Here's a video from ABT's fine Ballet Dictionary, showing a multiple pirouette done by Angel Corella. Once you've seen him do it forward for en dehors, run it backward for an idea of en dedans. SPOT QUIZ: Corella is an excellent dancer, but can you pick out the technical flaw just before he starts turning?


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Nomenclature is an insidious thing, and what may be called pirouette in one school may be called a tour or a movement "en tournant" (turning) in another.

Definitely! I don't know what the current usage is at the Vaganova Academy, but in "Basic Principles," Vaganova refers to pirouettes as "tours." So if you run into any old-fashioned Russians... :)

I would also like to highlight Corella's lovely rounded first position of the arms.

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Mr. Mel,

Your timing is incredible. Just yesterday my daughter was showing me the difference between turning to the inside vs. turning to the outside. I just did not get the concept. Your explanation makes great sense, and makes it clear.

I was trying and trying to draw some analogy to something I knew - but really could not. Turning away from the supporting leg - or to the supporting leg I can live with.


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That's what this topic is all about. Alexandra had a great idea when she proposed a "step of the week" thread. By the end of a year, we'll have 52 general terms that are or should be part of every ballet discoverer's vocabulary. BW's suggestion to add visuals when possible is a good idea, and the definitions there can help in addition to what we say. Next week, somebody a lot like me or I will post another general term and explain it, then we'll just go onward, week-by-week, from there.

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Aw, it's not often I get to make bilingual puns. Indulge me. (for those whose high school French is even worse than mine, "zut" is a mild swear or expression of dismay)

In truth, I too am glad to know the distinction between en déhors and en dedans. This is going to be a really useful topic.

Is there some way we can submit candidates for future elucidation? Should we PM you? The kinds of questions I'm thinking of are not "what's a _____________", but on the order of "what's that step I've seen Calvin Kitten of the Joffrey do, where he kind of leaps and kicks out his back leg, with one arm over his head and the other rounded"?

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No, it's one of the Snow Prince's exits in Nutcracker. It's like a grand jeté or saut de chat -- I never know which is which, anyway, even if I could see it in slow motion -- but he seems to hover, pause, and relate to the audience for, oh, a good couple of seconds before landing upstage right into the wings. I think there might be a kind of scissors kick involved, too, but it's been a while.

There's a picture of it gracing a billboard on the Kennedy Expressway -- it's been there ever since last season!

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It's been a long time, and I've never seen the Joffrey Nutcracker live, believe it or not. My mother had entered active dying at the time it was premiered and her care was all-consuming. If I may venture a guess, that sounds to me like a pas de ciseaux - the ballet version of the jazz "switch-kick".

(PS. Just checked with a friend in a position to know - it is.)

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OK, nobody took me up on the Danish thread about pirouette sur le cou de pied, but here it comes anyway.

In Bournonville, a signature step is a pirouette done in a wrapped sur le cou de pied position. The preparation (R foot in front in fifth) is a standard tendu à la seconde with a rond de jambe to OPEN fourth position (i.e. opposite first instead of fifth) with the R arm brought to the bras bas position and the L arm left in second. Demi-plié in open fourth and rise to sur le cou de pied (with the foot on the ankle and the heel to the front and the toes wrapped around the back) on relevé, simultaneously turning, and bringing both arms to bras bas. End in fifth position R foot back. Try these, dancers, and if you can do more than a double cleanly, you'll be about the first. Bournonville intentionally taught these turns so that his dancers wouldn't "stunt" by doing more than double pirouettes. If the pirouettes are singles, they're done on pointe by women, and if double, on demi-pointe - another period touch. You'll see it in Bournonville choreography and in some stagings of the "Vivandiére" pas de six.

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The Grant description of pas de ciseaux is as follows:

Pas de ciseaux. Scissors step. A term of the Russian school. Pas de ciseaux is similar to a cabriole devant, except that the legs do not beat but pass over each other. Fourth position croisé derrière, R foot back, pointe tendue. Demi-plié on the L leg, thrusting the R leg forward in effacé with a grand battement, bending the torso back. Spring off the L, throwing it forward so that it passes the R in the air. The L leg, well extended, is immediately thrown backward through the first position into first arabesque, as the R leg descends in demi-plié.

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Don't feel discouraged. They take a lot of practice. But once you get them right, you'll be REALLY well aligned, and ready for almost anything else. (By the way, the next step in the progression of Bournonville pirouettes are en attitude, both en dedans AND en dehors :speechless: )

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In "Etudes", which is not Bournonville, but Harold Lander choreography for the Royal Danish Ballet, there is a section with piqué turns en manège where the singles are done at the back of the leg in cou de pied derrière, which is normal, but the doubles are done with the foot in cou de pied devant, which is quite unusual. There are four girls doing a complete circle (square, actually) of 3 single, 1 double, 3 single, 1 double, etc. (This section was not particularly problematic except the downstage portion when on a raked stage! :rolleyes:

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