“Anticipation–or apprehension–of a challenging featured step can make it easy to overlook the simpler step leading into it. Glissade, coupé, pas de bourré, chassé, balancé, failli, pas couru, and tombé often precede something flashier. Done neatly and correctly, connecting steps add elegance to your dancing and provide the preparation you need to launch what comes next; done carelessly they dull your polish and undermine the propulsion needed for elevation and ballon. Imagine trying to perform grand jeté from a stationary position. The successful timing and coordination of grand jeté or any difficult jump depends on the rhythm, the momentum, and especially the final plié of the connecting step that comes first.” – Eliza Gaynor Minden (The Ballet Companion p.169)
Rory Foster concurs with Gaynor Minden that auxiliary and preparatory movements deserve a great deal of attention in ballet technique: “Too little attention is paid to the importance of connecting steps such as glissade, pas de bourrée, soutenu, balancé, etc., which link primary steps. Connecting steps must be danced with the same purity and accuracy as primary steps. Also, students don’t pay attention to, or are not taught, the rhythmical dynamics of connecting steps, along with the full articulation of their feet, use of the floor, and the accuracy of the five positions.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.2)
In fact, quality in such transitions is an indication of mastery, in addition to the more notable or showy movements for which they prepare us: “How connecting steps such as pas de bourrée, coupe, and précipité connect multiple steps into movement phrases is important to explain and incorporate into your teaching as students become more advanced.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.102-3) I do my best to share the importance of these steps and their rhythmic nature in my teaching, and that’s part of why I’m writing this today.
Here’s a healthy half-dozen ballet connecting steps to practice as you develop your dancing over the years, so many fun ways to get from one place to another!
Technique for Ballet Transitions
Once students understand the basic ballet steps and can start practicing them in combination, connecting steps and transitions become important to segue from one step or shape into another with grace and poise. They can be easy to overlook, so ballet teachers bemoan a rough transition. Foster asserts that, “Much more attention needs to be given to the articulation and strength of the feet. Too often they look lazy. Using the resistance of the floor when the foot is required to brush in and out during certain barre exercises and allegro steps will make the foot strong and supple.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.2-3)
On the A Blythe Coach YouTube Channel I have an ever-growing number of resources to help develop basic ballet technique, foot strength and articulation, and the core support and control required to skillfully maneuver through the connecting steps that follow, including playlists on the topics of Foot and Ankle Conditioning, Ballet Barre, Ballet Centre, Concentrated Core Conditioning, and more.
Certainly a big part of mastery is practice, but we need to make sure that we’re enforcing the right knowledge and skills. As Foster explains, “Repetition is undoubtedly essential in all ballet training, but it should be done with full comprehension. Students also have a much better chance to develop into good technicians and artists when they can learn from teachers who are knowledgeable of anatomy and the kinesthetic and artistic elements of ballet movement and who are musical enough to know how to use tempo, meter, and rhythm. These teachers know the importance of how connecting steps along with the use of dynamics (force and time) turns ballet exercises into artistic movement.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.96)
Clean positions, connections, and musicality can take our dancing to the next level wherever we are in our ballet journey. To truly become an advanced ballet dancer, there are many factors at play, as Foster points out:
“The ability to move musically with grace, aplomb, and dynamism as well as with great speed and accuracy–these are the goals of the advanced dancer. To be successful at this, you need an appropriately chosen meter and tempo in order for your students to have time to perfect all aspects of their technique. This includes getting into and out of precise and clean positions, using the feet correctly, using the demi plié, coordinating connecting steps with primary steps in movement phrases, developing good elevation, and incorporating the use of epaulement and port de bras.” (Ballet Pedagogy p.113)
It all starts with the basics, like Plié, Tendu, Dégagé , Prances & Sautés, etc. and I believe that one of the beautiful things about practicing ballet is that we can delight in performing and continuing to improve at the fundamentals during out whole dancing life. We can continue to develop our artistry forever, including our rhythmic and musical phrasing, as Foster discussed and as I further explore in my Arts of Allegro and Developing Rhythm & Musicality for Dance blogs and Podcast 045:
I also wrote a blog about basic movements that move us from place to place in dance technique generally, called Do the Locomotion.
Each of the videos I share below for today’s 7 Connecting Steps are included in my Satisfying Connecting Steps in Ballet Technique YouTube Playlist, and like my other playlists, I’ll keep adding new videos as I release them!
So what are the “Seven Satisfying Connecting Steps?” Read, watch, and/or listen on!
In her Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet Gail Grant defines Glissade in this way: “Glide. A traveling step executed by gliding the working foot from the fifth position in the required direction, the other foot closing to it. Glissade is a terre à terre step and is used to link other steps. After a demi-plié in the fifth position the working leg glides along the floor to a strong point a few inches from the floor. The other foot then pushes away from the floor so that both knees are straight and both feet strongly pointed for a moment; then the weight is shifted to the working foot with a fondu. The other foot, which is pointed a few inches from the floor, slides into the fifth position in demi-plié. When a glissade is used as an auxiliary step for small or big jumps, it is done with a quick movement on the upbeat. Glissades are done with or without change of feet, and all begin and end with demi-plié. There are six glissades: devant, derrière, dessous, dessus, en avant, en arrière, the difference between them depending on the starting and finishing positions as well as the direction.” (p.59-60)
And why yes, I do have other blogs on the Positions of the Feet as well as, 8 (or 9) Ballet Body Positions/Orientations, its accompanying video, and Podcast 028 that help you understand and practice the various directions/facings described above and in the explanations of the connecting steps to follow 🙂
Vaganova distinguishes between a polished glissade and simply taking a couple of steps to transition from one movement into another: “A properly executed glissade helps the leap, while a running start, with the legs thrown to this side and the other, tends to offset the whole body from the proper manner of doing the leap, and the leap loses its beauty and force. Glissade may be done with or without a change of feet. At the beginning glissade is practiced without a change of feet.” (Basic Principles of Classical Ballet p.97)
I do not have a video by the name of coupé up on YouTube, at least yet, but I will describe the movement below and can in the meantime share a couple of useful related “cutting” skills in the Plucky Petit Battement and Frothy Frappé & Jeté movements:
Gail Grant defines the coupé connecting step like this: “Cut, cutting. A small intermediary step done as a preparation or impetus for some other step. It takes its name from the fact that one foot cuts the other away and takes its place. Coupé may also be done in a series from one foot to the other. It may be performed sauté or as a terre à terre step, croisé or effacé.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.34)
Vaganova describes the step similarly in Basic Principles of Classical Ballet: “This small intermediary step is a movement facilitating the beginning of some other step. Coupé is done as a preparation, as an impetus for some other step, and is usually done in the final up-beat of a bar (pick-up). Suppose you have to do pas ballonné forward, while you are standing on right foot in a pose croisé back. You must first do a demi-plié on the right leg, and chance to a plié on the left leg, with a short movement as if stamping with the left foot. This brings the right foot sur le cou-de-pied forward, and from there continue the step. Coupé back is done in the same manner. Coupé can be done in other forms as may be required by the particular movement to be executed.” (p.64)
The Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet defines tombé simply: “Falling. This is a movement in which the dancer, with the working leg raised in the air, falls forward, backward, or sideways into a fondu on the working leg.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.119)
In the Tender Tombé Pas de Bourrée video above, I compare a couple types of grapevine and pas de bourrée steps, teach the distinctions between bourrée, pas de bourrée (and variations thereon, see #4, next), tombé pas de bourrée dessous & traveling tombé pas de bourrée, and we practice with lovely ballet piano music from Hawai’i.
4. Pas de Bourrée & Pas Couru
Here I show variations of the Pas de Bourrée movement in space and foot positioning, instruct on the basic pattern, and practice with music. At first it is a lot to think about, but with practice it becomes automatic and an indispensable part of class combinations and performance choreography!
Grant describes pas de bourrée simply as, “Bourrée step. Pas de bourrée is done dessous, dessus, devant, derrière, en avant, en arrière and en tournant en dedans and en dehors, on the point or demi-pointe.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.75) I do have more guidance to add, as I find pas de bourrée is closely related to grapevine step we see in jazz, hip hop dance, and contemporary dance.
Once you are familiar with this type of footwork, you’ll recognize the universal principle everywhere! Like grapevine, pas de bourrée is in three parts, which in we can remember as linguistically as, for example, “back, side, front” or “up, up, down.”
In Vaganova’s Basic Principles of Classical Ballet section on Connecting & Auxiliary Movements, she elaborates on the distinction between the pas de bourrée of different schools of ballet and the influence of others techniques on the Russian approach:
“In classical ballet, to move from one spot to another, a dance step is used and not an ordinary walking one. One of the most widely used for this purpose is pas de bourrée. Pas de bourrée has several variations, and it is done in all possible directions. For a long time we used the soft, unemphasized pas de bourrée of the French school. With the strengthening influence of the Italian school in the nineteenth century, pas de bourrée changed its character. Now the foot is lifted sharply, the entire movement is defined in higher relief. I accepted this style after having tried it out in practice. One must be careful that the foot leaves the ground smartly, both in the early stages of study on half-toe, and later on pointe.” (p.59)
All of these key connecting steps “glue” together our more featured dance movements (jumps, turns, and so forth) and in particular, tombé, pas de bourrée and tombé pas de bourrée are important skills in basic ballet technique. All three of these, as well as jeté pas de bourrée, appear in the “Winter Fairy” variation from the ballet “Cinderella” that I’ve been teaching in live classes recently.
You can play with the step in different ways in my Winter Song – Playing with Pas de Bourrée YouTube Video and practice the jumpier Jaunty Petit Jeté Pas de Bourrée with the barre using the videos here:
A close relative of pas de bourrée, Vaganova explains that Pas Couru means “Running step. Pas couru is a run in any direction and is composed of three or five running steps on the demi-pointes to gain momentum for such steps as grand jeté en avant, grand jeté pas de chat, etc. The demi-plié at the end of the pas couru is emphasized, followed by the step for which it serves as a springboard. The term is also used for a run on point in an unturned-out first position.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.73) “When many pas de bourrée are done consecutively, we get pas couru. Usually it is done in fast tempo. It is often used to gain momentum for big jumps, such as jeté, for instance, and is found abundantly in masculine dances. It is also done frequently by women on pointes, moving in a straight line, diagonally, or in a circle around the entire stage.” (Basic Principles of Classical Ballet p.63-4)
According to Gail Grant, chassé means “Chased. A step in which one foot literally chases the other foot out of its position; done in a series.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.31)
Chassé is another transitional ballet step that can gracefully connect jumps, turns, and shapes. The chasing action is that a cat-and-mouse game between the two feet, one getting away and then the other coming after it either through a slide or a slide with a jump, as Grant continues to detail:
“In the Cecchetti method a chassé is a glide into an open position and is finished in demi-plié. This movement can be executed in all the directions, making seven chassés […] The step may be finished by holding the open position or closing the extended foot to the fifth position.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.31)
For her part, Vaganova teaches chassé like this: “Usually it is done several times in succession. Stand in 5th position, right foot front, demi-plié, jump up, right leg opens into 2nd position at 45 degrees (sissonne tombée to the right), but with a more passing movement than usual, the left leg is drawn in a gliding movement to the right one, the legs join during the jump in the air, very straight, in 5th position, with the toes extended and touching. At this moment the jump must be as high as possible. Immediately, the right leg opens again, and the movement continues. Pas chassé is done to all sides in required poses.” (Basic Principles of Classical Ballet p.96)
In the video above I practice the two types of chassé in ballet technique: Chassé À Terre, which slides along the floor through plié in a “U” or scalloped pathway (down, across, up) to an open shape (4th or 2nd), then closes again to 3rd or 5th position, transferring the weight and stretching the legs in the new position and Chassé with a Sauté or jump “en l’aire,” which slides along the floor to an open shape, then closes again with a spring also sometimes called a gallop.
Balancé, Grant clarifies, is a “Rocking step. This step is 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 in front or back. Fifth position R foot front. Demi-plié, degage the R foot to the second position and jump on it lightly in demi-plié, crossing the L foot behind the R ankle and inclining the head and body to the right. Step on the L demi-pointe behind the R foot, slightly lifting the R foot off the ground; then fall on the R foot again in demi-plié with the L foot raised sur le cou-de-pied derrière. The next balancé will be to the left side. Balancé may also be done en avant or en arrière facing croisé or effacé and en tournant.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.11)
My balancé blog and video above relate a short history of the Waltz in society and in ballet, its relation to familiar contemporary and popular dance steps such as triplets and “The Pony,” the musicality of waltz rhythm or 3/4 Time with an emphasis on the first beat, and instruction on practicing one of my very favorite steps.
You can also try out balancé and its friend soutenu, #7 below, in this video when you’re ready to try out a more complex combination of steps:
Soutenu, Grant tells us, means “Sustained. As, for example, in assemblé soutenu.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.113)
Thankfully, Grant elaborates on how one performs assemblé soutenu de face: “Assemblé sustained and facing the audience. This assemblé is not a jumping step. It is done on the pointes or demi-pointes and may be performed dessus, dessous, derrière, devant, en avant and en arrière. For assemblé soutenu dessus, stand in the fifth position R foot back. Demi-plié, sliding the R foot to the second position pointe tendue à terre; draw the R leg into the fifth position front, springing on the pointes or demi-pointes, then lower the heels in demi-plié in the fifth position.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.8)
Bonus Ballet Transitions: Failli & Friends
I don’t yet have videos for these yet, but there are a few other connecting steps that can link our movements as we advance in ballet, including failli, précipité, flic-flac, passé, and temps relevé.
To conclude, let’s look at failli according to Grant and Vaganova. Grant says failli means: “Giving away. A fleeting movement done in one count. Fifth position croisé, R foot front. Demi-plié, spring into the air with the feet held close together and, while in the air, turn the body effacé so that the L shoulder comes forward and the head turns toward the L shoulder. Land on the R foot in demi-plié with the L foot opened in effacé derrière at 45 degrees; immediately slide the L foot through the first position to the fourth position croisé in demi-plié with the weight on the L foot, L knee bent and body inclined to the left.” (Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet p.51-2)
Vaganova also describes the correct accompaniment of the arms and more, look forward to more transitional movements as well as the fireworks for which they prepare us, still to come…
Questions for Reflection
- Which ballet connecting steps are you familiar with?
- What transitions do you find particularly challenging?
- What is the next step for your footwork and dancing artistry?
Thanks for reading. Please tell me about your experience and challenges with connecting steps and what you’d like to see more of in the future!
Blythe Stephens, MFA
she/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: ablythecoach.com
move through life with balance, grace, & power
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