Ballet

Breathtaking Bourrées

Photo By Gene Schiavone

When I was a young ballet student, I used to pop in my favorite video of Giselle and quickly fast-forward to Act II to watch Myrta’s famous entrance. A tall, ghostly woman appears from behind the misty trees and bourrées across the length of the stage. Her feet tremble at breakneck speed, while her veiled head remains perfectly level. The effect is astonishing—she is transformed into an ethereal spirit.

Later I would go to pointe class and, channeling my inner Myrta, attempt to bourrée across the floor. The result was a clumsy mess. My steps looked more like gallops, and man, did my feet hurt. I thought bourrées were supposed to be easy!

Bourrées are all over classical ballet, because nothing says “ballerina” better: Their lightness and delicacy ooze femininity. They can also create different impressions depending on how they’re performed—communicating Odette’s fear in Swan Lake, for example, or accentuating the Sylphs’ otherworldliness in Les Sylphides. Though bourrées are difficult to master, once you conquer them, you’ll find that they’re a powerful tool.

The Golden Rule

Mireille Favarel, assistant director of Milwaukee Ballet II, says the biggest mistake dancers make during bourrées is leading with their front foot. “Use the back foot to travel,” she says. “Push the back thigh against the front thigh and cross, cross, cross.” Leading with the back foot ensures that your legs will stay close together. You’ll take smaller steps and have a smoother movement quality.

“It’s as if the back leg is chasing the front leg,” says Boston Ballet second soloist Tiffany Hedman, who had to perfect her bourrées for one of the principal variations in “Emeralds” from George Balanchine’s Jewels. “Imagine there’s a quarter between your thighs, and don’t let that quarter fall.”

When traveling forward and backward, imagine overcrossing your fifth position (though you shouldn’t actually overcross). “The front leg is a little more active when you bourrée backwards than when you’re bourréeing to the side or the front,” says Favarel. “It helps push the back leg.”

Small and Supple

Keep the space between your feet small to build speed and maintain smoothness. Large steps create a limping effect that screams, “My feet are killing me!” Not only that, they slow you down. “Think of making tiny little stitches, like a sewing machine,” says Kelly Myernick, a first soloist with Houston Ballet. “If the movement is small, the upper body can stay on one level.”

In addition to taking tiny steps, let your knees and ankles relax. Stiff, straight legs will not only make you look jerky but will also feel heavier on your feet. Allowing your knees and ankles to bend will take pressure off your toes and keep your upper body from looking stiff and strained.

Your port de bras should appear effortless while your feet are fluttering. This requires expertly timed coordination. “Your arms are moving much slower than your feet,” says Favarel. “You have to disassociate your upper and lower halves from each other.”

Pain Relief

As the saying goes, we must suffer to be beautiful—and unfortunately, this all too often

Sara Mearns in Swan Lake (photo by Paul Kolnik)

applies to bourrées. The nature of the step can cause blisters and bruised toenails, so be prepared if you know you’re in for a bourrée-heavy rehearsal.

“Use thicker toe pads than usual, or add some lambswool or paper towels inside the box,” says Hedman. “As your feet get warmer and your shoes get soggier, you’ll sink more into your shoe, so really pack the toe.”

Choose your shoes wisely, too. “It can be deadly to bourrée on soft shoes,” Favarel says. “If the box is too soft, you can bruise your toenail, and if the shank is too soft, you can overstretch the tops of your feet.” A newer pair with a slightly harder shank is usually a better bet. (But you might want to hammer the box to make the new shoes quieter, since bourrées can be noisy.)

Myernick recently experienced firsthand how bourrées can mesmerize an audience. When she performed a series of bourrées as Myrta in Giselle, the crowd suddenly began to applaud. “I was so surprised because it’s not a virtuoso step,” she says. “But if done right, bourrées can be virtuosic.”

Famous Bourrée-ers

Here are four iconic roles that show off the dramatic range of bourées.

Odette in Swan Lake: Odette's bourées sometimes take on a quivering quality to portray her fear of Prince Siegfried. At other times, they're more upright, giving the illusion of flight as she flaps her wings.

Raymonda in Raymonda: Raymonda's wedding variation in Act III consists almost entirely of bourées. They serve as a regal platform for her luxuriously stylized port de bras.

The Sleepwalker in La Sonnambula: In George Balanchine's La Sonnambula, the Sleepwalker bourrées on pointe in sixth position (turned in) for the majority of her pas de deux with the Poet, which emphasizes her trance-like state—the fact that she's literally and figuratively on a different plane than the Poet.

Myrta in Giselle: As the leader of the eerie Willis, Myrta does bourrées so fast and smooth that they're almost imperceptible. She appears to be floating above the ground, which adds to the spooky, ghostly element of her role.

Amy Brandt is a dancer with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

Blankenbuehler (far left) with the rest of the "Hamilton" creative team scontent-iad3-1.cdninstagram.com

So book your tickets to Tulsa already, people!

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
The School at Jacob's Pillow's contemporary program auditions (photo by Karli Cadel, courtesy Jacob's Pillow)

Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less
Leah Morrison in Trisha Brown's If You Couldn't See Me, in which the soloist never faces the audience (photo by Julia Cervantes, courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company)

Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.

She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Mark your calendars, bunheads! On Monday, January 29th, at 2:45 PM (EST)/11:45 AM (PST), Pacific Northwest Ballet will be streaming a live rehearsal of Act II of Kent Stowell's Swan Lake.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Tavaris Jones dancing with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Scream Team hip-hop crew

We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)

So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Joe Toreno

The coolest place she's ever performed:

I'd have to say the Super Bowl. The field was so cool, and Katy Perry was right there. And there were so many eyes—definitely the most eyes I've ever performed for!


Something she's constantly working on:

My feet. I'm flat-footed, so I'm always hearing, 'Point your toes!' And I'm like, 'I am!'


Signature look:

My hair! That, and a pair of leggings with a T-shirt or tank top.


Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored