When poor posture and ungraceful movement strike in Gotham City, who do you call?
Batman! Err, no… Battement!
Though battement might not help you fight crime, it will help you build long, lean muscles and improve as a dancer. Battement is actually a group of movements all consisting of a strike (that’s literally what the word battement means – to strike out or beat) of the leg. There are lots – and LOTS! – of different kind of battements, from tiny little motion (petit battements) to the biggest leg movement of them all, the grand battement. Battements can be found throughout the classical ballet barre program, with three or four different types performed during a standard barre workout.
With so much variety, the battement family makes up a huge fundamental element of ballet. It is also one of the best ways to grow in ballet as a dancer. All dancers (no matter their age) start out by learning the battement tendu par terre, the simple strike-out extension of the leg with the toe kept on the floor. Once that is mastered, it’s time to start lifting that foot! At 45 degrees, there’s the battement dégagé (the disengaged foot, sometimes also called the battement tendu jété or just battement jété, the “jumping-up” foot), and ask the foot moves upwards so that it is more parallel to the floor or beyond, that’s grand battement territory. Battement also start getting faster as the levels of ballet training progress – petit battement, wherein the working foot is moved quickly back and forth around the supporting leg, is one of the most challenging and quickest motions to learn.
So how to learn all this beating – without beating yourself up in the process? Here are a few tips for getting the best out of your battement:
- Start slowly. Make sure that you’ve taken the time to stretch, warm your muscles, and prepare your legs and feet for exercise.
- Work on the floor first. A great way to prepare for grand battement is to lay on your back, and then extend your leg outwards in front of you (à la devant) and out to the side (à la seconde) maintaining proper turn-out as you move. The floor helps to support your upper body, so that you can focus on making a strong strike with your legs.
- Focus on control. The supporting leg in any battement needs to be strong and straight to maintain the posture necessary to lift the working leg. As such, it’s extremely important not to go for height – and cause your supporting leg to buckle under in the process! Instead of worrying about how high your leg might be, or how fast you can move your foot, focus first on maintaining a strong supporting leg that is absolutely perpendicular to the floor. You want to be able to perform a consistent battement every time – not a Rockette kick (or worse – a leg flail…)
- Work up to speed. There’s a reason why every barre method from preschool to the professionals is arranged in the exact same way, and why grand battement is always at the end – it allows your body the time and exercise necessary to ready itself for those more strenuous movements. So be patient, and take care to work your entire barre routine – from pliés all the way up to the grand battement, before moving out to centre or into choreography.
- Stay hydrated. Battement really works your muscles, and muscles need water to work properly. Take a break between barre and centre to get a drink, or if you’re working at home, set a timer to remind yourself to hydrate for every 30 minutes of workout. After exercising, a light snack and more water can help keep tired legs from cramping up. I like to make up a quick muscle recovery smoothie at the end of my barre sessions at home – it’s a tasty treat after a job well done! I’ll post my recipe in a separate article in case you want to try it out.
Since battement is so important, we’ll be spending a lot of time throughout the semester introducing and improving the various types. If you don’t quite get it the first time (or the third time, or the eighth time…) don’t give up! This fundamental is worth the time to truly master.
And you don’t need a cape and cowl to prove you’ve got it! 😉
Happy, healthy dancing!