The glissade (“glide”) is a traveling step most often used in allégro pieces. One begins a glissade from a croisé foot position (usually fifth position), performing a plie and then sliding the working foot outward into tendu from the body. The dancer then shifts weight to the working leg, releasing the support leg and bringing both feet back together, which allows the body to travel in a line. Glissades are usually performed with changement, so the feet change as the glissades themselves are stepped (if you start your series of glissades with your right foot, you’ll change from right, to left, to right again). You can very clearly see the changement in this video from the Royal Ballet (UK), wherein the dancer is performing glissades in a row very slowly.
Glissades can be performed moving side-to-side (a la séconde en décoté), on in a diagonal across the floor. They are often seen as an in-between step, used to transition between a small jump such as a sauté changement or assemble or as a traveling motion in-between turns.
One of the most important aspects in performing glissades (and any sliding traveling step) is to keep the feet supple on the floor – much like the tendu, wherein the base of the foot slides against the floor before coming to a point in the toe, the foot performing the glissade should fully brush the floor before pointing. This motion allows flexibility in the foot, which helps to increase speed. We’ve been performing glissades in both Ballet Basics and Intermediate quite slowly, but usually, they are very fast! As speed increases, so does height, making the glissade a little less like a step and more like a jump (as seen in the second half of the video above). Keeping the knees in demi-plié and using the natural bounce of the body – the ballon, as it is called in ballet – also helps maintain speed through the movement and helps to reduce risk of injury by allowing the bent knees to absorb the motion of the body.
In this video featuring dancer and choreographer Maegan Woodin, Ms. Woodin demonstrates the individual steps included in a glissade as well as a good way to practice glissade using the barre for support. If you wish you practice at home and do not have a barre, a strong, sturdy chair may be used to help you balance.
Glissades take a lot of practice to perfect, so make sure to work on them slowly at first to cement your technique. As with the grand pliés and grand battements, it’s best to gain control first – THEN speed! (Or height, or depth…)