Embracing Ballet Balancé – Classical Waltzing Theory & Practice
According to Agrippina Vaganova in Basic Principles of Classical Ballet**, Pas Balancé “Is one of the simple pas allegro, which is easily done even by children. In classical dancing it is often used in waltz tempo.” (p.99)
I love to waltz alone or as a pair, in ballet, ballroom and other styles, and find it’s swingy rhythms intoxicating, much as its early fans and critics did! This blog brings weekly insights on dance, yoga, well-being, creativity, and joy and today I’m talking about my love of balletic waltzing and the origins of this elegant dance, and I did in the companion YouTube Video and Podcast:
In podcast Episode “043: Waltzing into Spring with Ballet Balancé” I provide an audio version of this discussion about Balancé and the Waltz.
History of the Waltz
Although the Waltz has become a beloved ballroom and social dance as well as inspiration for balletic movement performed in concert dance, at first it caused a scandal. As Wikipedia relates:
“There are many references to a sliding or gliding dance that would evolve into the waltz that date from 16th century Europe, [and] Around 1750, the peasants of Bavaria, Tyrol, and Styria began dancing a dance called Walzer, a dance for couples. The Ländler, also known as the Schleifer, a country dance in 34 time, was popular in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria, and spread from the countryside to the suburbs of the city. While the eighteenth century upper classes continued to dance the minuets (such as those by Mozart, Haydn and Handel), bored noblemen slipped away to the balls of their servants.
In the 1771 German novel Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim by Sophie von La Roche, a high-minded character complains about the newly introduced waltz among aristocrats thus: ‘But when he put his arm around her, pressed her to his breast, cavorted with her in the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans and engaged in a familiarity that broke all the bounds of good breeding—then my silent misery turned into burning rage.'[…]
Shocking many when it was first introduced, the waltz became fashionable in Vienna around the 1780s, spreading to many other countries in the years to follow. […] The waltz, especially its closed position, became the example for the creation of many other ballroom dances. Subsequently, new types of waltz have developed, including many folk and several ballroom dances.”
When Americans got ahold of the waltz, they of course had their way with it, including delightful movie musical versions such as this one with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, “Waltz in Swing Time” from Swing Time (1936):
Waltzing through the Classical Ballets
There are many famous waltzes in classical ballets, including “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella” as well as more modern pieces such as Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes” to music by Richard Strauss. Since it was St. Patrick’s Day this week, I’ve been sharing Irish folk music in dance classes all month, including a lovely Irish Waltz that makes me want to dance!
Waltzing in Classical Ballet Technique
In the Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet**, Gail Grant describes Balancé as a “Rocking step. This step is very much like a pas de valse and is an alternation of balance, shifting the weight from one foot to the other. Balancé may be done crossing the foot either front or back. […] Balancé may also be done en avant or en arrière facing croisé or effacé and en tournant.” (p.11)
Vaganova describes the performance of a basic ballet balancé: “Stand in 5th position, right foot front. From demi-plié, do a light jeté with the right foot to the side, and then draw left foot back (on count one). On count two change to the left foot on half toe, and on three lower yourself again on the right foot in demi-plié, and raise the left one sur le cou-de-pied back. The next balancé will be to the left, i.e. jeté left, etc.” (Basic Principles of Classical Ballet** p.99-100)
I find in describing a balletic waltzing step to dancers of other forms, it compares well with modern dance’s “Triplets,” or “The Pony” of the 1960’s.
What is a Waltz Rhythm?
In a blog and podcast coming soon, I will discuss musical meter, ¾ time, and so forth, but for now it is helpful to think of counting a waltz step as “one and uh two and uh three and uh four and uh…” or “one two three, two two three, three two three, four two three…” Unlike other even meters such as marching rhythms, you’ll notice is has a distinct up-and-down, lending a swingy feeling. T
he accent or emphasis in a waltz rhythm is usually on the first beat, unlike other rhythms in 3, for example the mazurka, where the accent is on the second beat.
Balancé in Ballet Class
“A balancé in ballet is a step where a dancer moves while alternating balance between their feet. The rhythm is usually in three counts like a waltz and has the motion of going “down, up, down” with their legs. […] Balancé is often taught to young ages and in beginning ballet classes. The ease of the step combined with the feeling of movement and ‘dancing’ makes it an enjoyable step at these levels and further into advanced levels. Like many beginning ballet steps, balancé is used often in advanced classes and through professional levels. Dancers will often be given combinations with balancés in center combinations, such as pirouettes or adagio. A balancé en tournant is common in pirouette combinations because this has the dancer turning in a waltz-style movement.” (ballethub.com)
Such a versatile rhythmic pattern and dance technique spans many schools and styles of dance, so practicing balancé will pay off in technical gains as well as the pure joy of moving!
More Music for Balancé & Waltzing
For more free-wheeling triplet-ing waltzy musical fun, check out my “Waltzing into Spring” playlist or Spotify’s “Strauss II Waltzes and Polkas” playlists:
Send me a message, or hop over to the A Blythe Coach Facebook Page and tell me about your waltzing experience and favorite steps!
Blythe Stephens, MFA
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