I grew up dancing at Hilo School of Ballet in the old Canario building down on bay front in my home town. The studio was above a pool hall with an alley behind and a pillar in the middle of the room. Along the barres, half circles etched into the wooden floor echoed ghosts of rond de jambes past.
At twelve, I began to assist my teacher with the little kids classes, showing them tendus and plies and skipping with high knees and pointed feet. That meant that after Intermediate school ended at 2:15, I would walk downtown to the studio, reach my skinny arm through the letter hole to open the door and sit in one of the large double hung windows sewing my point shoes until my teacher arrived. I demonstrated for the little kids, took the next class on pointe with my fellow classmates, and then took the adult class, my blistered feet back in ballet slippers. A few years later my mother took that adult class with me when she started taking ballet.
My favorite thing was petite allegro. In the very beginning I found it hard. In ballet, Petite (meaning small) Allegro (meaning fast) is a number of small fast jumps done in the center of the room. This succession of quick movements is challenging, since they are fast by definition.But nothing is as satisfying as nailing a tricky petite allegro combination.
My beautiful teacher, Emily Danford, wore matching ballet skirts with pastel leotards, her long brown hair styled in a classic low bun. She patiently taught us the steps but when it was our turn to do it, I couldn’t remember what came next. I wanted to please her so badly! I can still feel her look of disappointment that made even my calves blush.
“Anticipate”, she said. “Think ahead to the next step coming up while doing the previous step. If you wait to think of the step you are doing in the moment, you’ll be too late. You have to think ahead.”
By twelve, thinking two steps ahead had made me a master of petite allegro. I challenged myself to add beats whenever I could. When I landed the last jump, cleverly completing the move timed perfectly with the music, for a moment, I was queen of the world.
Knowing the Vocabulary
Besides thinking ahead, and staying with your music, it helps to know the vocabulary of steps. Here are six common steps used in petit allegro.
Changement – Start in fifth position with your right foot front. Demi plié. Jump up in the air and land with your left foot front. Be sure to land in demi plié and point your feet when you jump. Extend your feet directly below you in the air—don’t open them too wide.
Echappe – means to escape. Start in fifth position with your right foot front. Demi plié, jump and land in second position. Then jump again and land in fifth position with your left foot in front in demi plié.
Glissade – means to glide. Start with your right foot in back this time. Demi plié and dégagé (brush and extend) your right foot to the side just a few inches off the floor. Transfer your weight onto your right foot and at the same time dégagé your left foot to the left side. Close your left foot in front. Bend your knees when you glissade. (Glissades *can* change your feet, but if it changes feet, teachers will often call it a “glissade change”.)
Pas de chat — means step of the cat. Here’s a cat video if you’ve never seen a cat jump like this. Start in fifth position with your right foot back. You’re going to pretend you are jumping over something yucky like a bug and you don’t want your feet anywhere near it. Pick up your right foot to passé. Jump a little to your right (over the bug) landing on your right foot bringing your left foot to passé and close the left foot front. That’s very slow motion. In reality, your right (back) foot leaves the floor, your left (front) foot joins it in the air, then your right foot lands and then your left foot lands in front. Jump: Up-up—land: down-down. A pas de chat usually starts with your back foot, moves a little to the side, does not change your feet and has a moment when both feet are in the air. Here is a dancer demonstrating pas de chats.
Jeté —means to throw or thrown. Start with your right foot back. Demi plié and dégagé (brush and extend) your right foot to the side just a few inches off the floor just like you did with a glissade. Jump off of your left foot and land on your right foot with your left foot behind in coupé. Here is a video of a dancer demonstrating a jeté.
In this other video, a dancer shows glissade changes and then she does glissade jetés. Notice when she does glissade jeté, she does not change her feet on the preceeding glissade. Her right foot stays back! At the end of the video they show glissade jeté battu—with beats. Don’t worry about beats yet! But they are fun to watch. Here is the video.
Assemblé —means to come together, to assemble. Start the same way as a jeté. Right foot back, demi plié, brush to the side, jump in the air, but this time land on both feet together with your right foot in front. Ideally, you bring your feet together in the air before you land. Here is dancer showing glissade assemblés and glissade jetés.
Now you can be petite allegro royalty yourself!
If I don’t see you for class tonight, (Tuesday, 7-8pm at 380 Broadway, buzzer #5) Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!