Ballet Warm-Up – At Home (with images!)

Hello, Spartan dancers! The internet is a wonderful place – and of late, it’s been full of great stuff for the dancer–at–home! I stumbled over this article, “A Ballet Warm-Up You Can Do Everyday” in Coveteur online (some kind of fashion magazine…) and just had to share. Movements #1 and #4 look awfully familiar to me… 😉

Happy, healthy dancing!

~ Kitty


Technique Spotlight: The Battement Family

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!

~ Kitty

First Class Hiccups

Hello, Spartan dancers! Many thanks to everyone who came out last night to the first class of fall semester. And many, MANY thanks for your patience when the music failed! I’m still not sure what happened, but I’m taking this as a sign that it is time to invest in some new CDs (hey, they may be old fashioned technology, but I know they’ll work in the studio cart!) I’m planning to revamp the lesson plans with new musical choices this weekend. So stay tuned for new tunes!

Last night, we introduced a number of techniques, including the five standard positions of the feet and arms, the two types of knee bend (demi plié and grand plié), coming up onto our flexed toes to balance (en relevé), extensions of the leg into a simple point on the floor (tendu par terre, also sometimes written as tendu sur la terre), and the third arabesque with arms swaying in front of the body. For more information, you can check out these previous posts with more information on technique:

We’ll continue studying these techniques all semester, and adding to them as classes progress. We’ll also start working on bringing the foot and leg up off the floor (positions en l’air) and working on balancing the body, both at the barre and en centre – and up on our flexed toes (demi-pointes)! As always, if you have any questions or concerns, send me an email, post a reply to this blog, or feel free to stop by after class.

See you next Tuesday – 7:00 PM at IM East!

🙂 Kitty


Technique Spotlight: Momentum

Now that we have covered alignments in a standing position, and know our direction, it’s time to discuss momentum. After all, dance is movement – and we need to know in which way we are going!

Momentum on the stage is indicated through stage directions, which are given not based on where the dancer is standing, but on what the audience sees. As such, stage left is actually to the right, and stage right – it’s the left! This can be very confusing, but once memorized, makes for simple instruction to dancers (or actors, or anyone performing on a standard proscenium stage).


Ballet uses up the whole of the stage – this is one of the reasons that ballets are usually performed in the biggest and deepest theatres possible, such as the main theatre of the Wharton Center. In class, we use the whole of the studio floor – our stage – to perform en centre. Commonly, centre exercises are performed moving from one corner of the floor to the other, in a diagonal direction. In theatre parlance, you would begin the exercise upstage right, and dance through to downstage left (or vice versa). Many classical ballets also use circular choreography (especially in pieces that emphasize turns), which make full use of the floor. When dancing on a stage, it is also very common to use the wings – the sides of the stage hidden by curtains, and make a number of entrances and exits throughout a single piece of choreography. Of course, our studio spaces at MSU do not have wings, so we instead use the space along the wall to give our centre exercises a similar feel.

I understand that all of these terms and movements can be extremely confusing, especially to those who are new to ballet. I will always demonstrate momentum for a piece when giving instructions for any particular exercise, so if you can’t remember the terminology, just follow along with the demonstration – and feel free to ask me lots of questions!

Technique Spotlight: Direction

In the blog post on 20 January 2017, I introduced the first movement concept in ballet: body alignment. Now that we understand alignment, it’s time to think about direction. One of the main questions to consider is: is my body position open or closed?

To assess whether a position is open or closed, the best indicator is to look at a dancer’s legs. If the legs are outstretched from each other (such as a battement tendu from P1 to P2), then the direction is ouvert – open. If the legs cross over one another (a battement tendu from P5 that crosses the body), then that position is croisé, and would be considered “closed.”


Direction is the first step into making a movement. It is the facing of the body at rest, just before taking a step. As such, it is extremely important to understand direction, since it affects the movement of the body as the dancing begins.

In addition to the eight body alignments, positions may be performed either moving forward (devant) or backwards (derriere), which indicates the direction in which the working leg is moving. For lateral positions (such as a tendu from P1) wherein the leg is extended directly from the hip without crossing or opening diagonally from the body, this is often termed as a position à la seconde (quite literally, “as in second position”). Additionally, positions performed en face (directly facing the audience) are sometimes also described as à la quatrième, or “on the fourths,” as indicated in the image above.

There is a lot of French vocabulary applied to direction – more than is needed, in my opinion. For simplification in class, I will usually just indicate forward or back – à la devant or derriere – to the students.

With our alignment set and our direction understood, we can move! Next stop: momentum!

Technique Spotlight: Body Posture – Alignment

Where am I standing? How should I stand? And in which way am I going?

Alignment in dance is crucial, but it can be extremely confusing. I’ve been struggling with how best to introduce this material in our very short class periods, especially as the French terms used for alignment positions all sound somewhat alike (écarté, éffacé, épaulé…) and the actual difference between the positions can be difficult to grasp when one is first starting out.

As such, I’ve decided it best to break the topic up into three different elements: alignment, which indicates how and where you stand; direction, which indicates the incline of the body in a particular stance, and momentum, which indicates where you place your feet, extend your legs, and move. We’ll start in this post with alignment.

Ballet is a 3-D art. It uses the full space of the stage, and balletic movements are performed in a specific alignment of the body. Most of what we have done in class has been performed facing directly forward towards the mirror (en face). However, that is just one of the alignments that is available to the dancer. Many ballet schools use a series of specific terms to describe the alignment of the body during performance (though the terms differ dependent on the school or technique being taught). Most have eight distinct alignments of the body, practiced in a box or square manner with each point being numbered. The alignments that we will utilize most often in class are as follows:

  • Croisé means “crossed” in French, and can describe both crossed position of the feet (such as P3 and P5) as well as the alignment in which the leg is extended across the body.
  • En face means that the dancer is facing completely forward.
  • Écarté is an opening of the body, with the leg extended outward instead of across.
  • Effacé means “shaded,” and indicates that one arm is shading the body while the legs are opened. It’s sometimes described at the opposite of croisé.
  • Épaulé is “shouldered” (such as an epaulette on a military jacket, which covers the shoulders). Épaulement, in which the dancer looks towards or over one shoulder, is a common expressive technique which helps to heighten the emotional quality of the dance. In épaulé positions, the arm extends forward while the dancer faces over one shoulder. I will ask advanced students already familiar with épaulement to use it at the barre or en centre when working the corresponding form, but it will not be necessary for those in Basics or those beginning Intermediate with no previous training.

Many ballet academies will use a square or box marked on the studio floor to help students learn the different alignments, as is shown in this video from the Royal Ballet in the UK. I have seen some classes that use a large square of foam or linoleum in order to show students the different corners to reach with their feet.


Imagining a box on the floor can help the dancer to both correctly align the torso as well as maintain the proper direction for the leg and foot when performing movements such as the tendu.

For those looking for more detailed information, I highly recommend this great blog post from The Ballet Bag.

Next time, we’ll talk about direction!

Technique Spotlight: Piqué

Piqué in French means “to prick, or be stung.” A piqué movement in ballet consists of the dancer lifting the toes of the working foot/leg to “prick” the floor. We have engaged the piqué in two movements so far – at the barre in combination with the dégagé (disengaged) tendu in both classes, as in a turn in the Intermediate class.

The piqué turn is a traveling turn, and are usually performed in multiples (such as three turns in succession). In a piqué turn, the dancer lifts his/her leg into a strong passé and turns either on the demi pointe (if in slippers) or full pointe (if in toe shoes). Piqué turns are found in both the adage and allégro rhythms in ballet, and have also been adopted into other forms of dance, such as jazz.

Arms in the piqué turn typically move from second position to first position as the turn is performed – this helps both with momentum (so that that full revolution of the turn is completed), as well as keep the upper body upright (so that the dancer doesn’t fall forward or to the side).

Because piqué turns travel, it is very important to spot during the turn so that the dancer doesn’t become dizzy or disoriented. This video from BalletHub shows a dancer en pointe doing numerous piqué turns, and gives some great tricks for keeping the upright alignment in the turn. One aspect of the piqué turn that may differ dependent on style or school is the format for the passé – whether or not the toe is held in front of the knee (en dehors) or behind it (retiré/en dedans). Both are correct and have their advantages, but in our classes we are performing piqué turns en dehors (with the toe tucked in front of the knee).


I find that this helps novice dancers to maintain an upright posture during revolution even if they do not have strong turn-out, whereas the turns performed in retire sometimes lead to the passé leg sliding out of position (and thereby wrecking the dancer’s balance) during rotation. This very detailed blog post from Dance Advantage discusses the different forms of piqué and shows some great examples of ways that piqué (both in barre exercises and in a turn) is utilized.

Piqué takes a lot of practice to master – the operation of lifting and controlling the toe as it pricks the floor is something that only repetition and exercise can secure. But it is a critical and useful movement in classical ballet, and one that every dancer should aspire to achieve.

Technique Spotlight: Pas de Bourrée

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.

Technique Spotlight: All About Feet

As discussed in an earlier spotlight, there are five standard positions for the feet. In addition, there are several different techniques used to position the foot along the support leg during steps, turns, and exercises at the barre:

Cou-de-pieds: “cut the foot” – a position in which the toe is pointed at the ankle of the supporting leg. Used as a starting position for different movements en l’air (in the air), including the traditional battement fondu.


Coupé: “to cut” – an active transition step in which the foot is pointed at the supporting leg just above the ankle. The coupé step can be performed in front of the supporting leg (devant/en dehor) or behind the supporting leg (derriere/en dedans).


Something to be aware of – the different schools of classical ballet often have different names and conceptions for the same kinds of movements. Coupé is a good example of this: in some schools of ballet, the coupé is actually performed closer to the knee than the ankle, and in others, the coupé is synonymous with a cou-de-pieds. In our classes, coupé will refer to a position of the toe about 4 inches above the supporting leg’s ankle.

Passé: “passed through” – a position in which the pointed toe is passing the knee of the supporting leg. It is also sometimes just referred to as a retiré. As with the cou-de-pieds and coupé, the passé can be performed in front of the supporting leg (devant/en dehor) or behind the supporting leg (derriere/en dedans). A strong passé is extremely important for turns – especially the classic pirouette (turn on one foot). This very good article from BalletHub looks as the different elements of a proper passé and gives some great tips for dancer improvement.


Each of these forms can be practiced either with the whole foot flat on the floor, or on the demi-pointe (en relevé). Passé especially is most often performed up on one’s toes, either on the demi-pointe in soft slippers, our on full pointe in toe shoes (as Laura DeLorenzo from the Ellison Ballet in New York is, below).


We will practice all of these different positions during our exercises at the barre, and will then utilize these fundamentals whilst performing steps and turns en centre.

Technique Spotlight: Plié

The word plié in French means “to bend.” A plié in ballet is a movement where the body dips towards the floor by bending the knees. It may sound simple, but performing a plié properly means carefully aligning the body and utilizing not only one’s knees, but also the muscles in the core, thighs, and feet.


A proper plié is a fully vertical movement – the bending of the knees makes the body go up and down. One of the trickiest aspects about pliés is not to allow the body to sway either forward or backwards, but to use the abdominal muscles to hold the body from the waist-up so that it is fully erect. The thigh muscles must be strong enough to bend the knees without pushing the body forward (or causing the dancer’s bottom to stick out!) This is one of the reasons that all dancers, from beginners to prima ballerinas, begin their exercises at the barre with a series of pliés in all of the different positions.

In our classes, we work to perform two types of pliés: the demi-plié, or half-bend (a small dip at the knees), and the grand plié, or big bend, wherein the body sinks downwards (sometimes causing the shoulders to dip below the level of the barre). We move through the demi-plié when progressing to perform a grand plié. With demi-pliés and grand pliés in 2nd position, we have an additional obstacle – working to keep our heels on the floor! In all forms of the plié, we must also remember to utilize the turn-out from our hip joints to keep our knees over our toes (a phrase that will be repeated in more than one ballet class).


The plié is one of the most important movements in ballet – it is the basis for a number of jumps and turns, as well as a way to perform rélévés (coming up and down from our toes). Pliés provide strength to jumps and cushion to landings, as well as power to the beginnings of turns and spinning movements. As such, we’ll continue to open every class with a full round of pliés, and work together to make sure that this important fundamental is practiced in each class.