Whenever you hear the phrase “pas de…” you know you’re talking about a step. There are lots of different steps in ballet: some are named for animals that they imitate, such as the pas de chat (cat’s step) or pas de cheval (horse-like step), and some are named instead for the place in which they originated (such as the pas de Basque, which started off as a step from a courtly Spanish dance). This is the case with one of ballet’s most common and important traveling steps: the pas de Bourrée.
The pas de Bourrée is traditionally a quick traveling step, most often performed in the allégro rhythm. It evolved from a common three-step motion performed in French courtly dance. Pas de bourrée begins with extension of the first leg while demi-plié, closing the first leg to the second as both transition to relevé, extending the second leg to an open position while relevé, and closing the first leg to the second in demi-plié. This video from Maegin Woodin shows a good example in slow motion of how to do a typical pas de Bourrée. This step is so useful that it has also been adopted and adapted by other forms of dance, and is now commonplace in jazz and musical theatre as well as classical ballet.
As shown in this video from the Royal Ballet of London in the UK, there are many different forms of this step, which is a core movement for crossing the stage. There is a piqué pas de Bourrée, in which the toes are picked up and prick the floor (piqué) during each step of the movement. There is also the pas de Bourrée couru or “running Bourrée,” in which the dancer travels on his or her toes in a crossed position (usually 5th position). One can also perform a pas de Bourrée en tournant by using the three-step motion to turn the dancer’s body (a very common application). As seen in the video, one can perform an entire piece that is nothing but different variations of the pas de Bourrée!
Pas de Bourrée is performed both to travel across the stage as well as an in-between step performed between turns, arabesques, and jumps. It is found is every piece of balletic choreography – I have yet to see a performance, even a short one, without a pas de Bourrée.
We’ll be introducing the pas de Bourrée in Ballet Basics this week, and reviewing it in Intermediate on Wednesday. Getting the pas de Bourrée right takes some practice, but by starting off slow and working up to more quickly paced steps, every dancer of every skills level can master this fundamental technique of classical ballet.