(L to R) Devant (pointed), devant (wrapped) and relaxed (Erin Baiano)
Sur le cou-de-pied (French for “on the neck of the foot”) can be so confusing. Sometimes it’s wrapped. Sometimes it’s not wrapped. Sometimes it’s relaxed; other times, fully pointed. You’ll probably be asked to do all of its various versions at some point in your ballet career. But how can you keep them all straight? And how do you know when to use which type? Read on to learn the sur le cou-de-pied basics.
Here are the four basic sur le cou-de-pied positions:
• Devant (pointed). Point the working foot and touch its little toe to the front of the standing leg just above the ankle bone.
• Devant (wrapped). Wrap the working foot around the standing leg’s ankle, with the heel forward and the toes back.
• Derrière. Touch the working leg’s ankle bone to the back of the standing leg’s ankle bone, with the working foot’s toes pointed.
• Relaxed. Relax the ankle of the working foot and touch its heel to the standing leg, just above the ankle bone.
How They’re Used
American Ballet Theatre’s Julie Kent demonstrates sur le cou-de-pied derrière in Les Sylphides. (Marty Sohl)
How and when you use sur le cou-de-pied varies from style to style. The Russian school uses a wrapped foot for frappé and petits battements, for example, while the French and Italian schools use a relaxed ankle for frappé. Most styles begin développés with a wrapped sur le cou-de-pied, but in Russian technique the toe comes up the front or back of the standing leg, while in the French and Italian styles it continues up the side of the standing leg.
Teachers usually have preferences about when each position should be used. But if it’s permitted, experiment with the different variations of sur le cou-de-pied to see which work best on your body. Some of them have benefits you might not expect. If you’re not a great jumper, for example, try using a relaxed ankle during frappé exercises on flat. The relaxed ankle makes the metatarsals and toes work as you brush against the floor. “It activates those muscles so that when you jump, you’re using the lower foot to really point in the jump,” says Raymond Lukens, a teacher in the pre-professional division at The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. The extra bit of point from the lower foot will add height to your jump, as well as polish to your line.
You can also use sur le cou-de-pied to help present your legs and feet. “If you’re stepping up to sous-sus, go through that scooping around the ankle joint before you step forward,” says Sarah Van Patten, a principal at San Francisco Ballet. “It adds a pretty little flourish—the foot comes up and around, rather than just lifting off the floor.”
Figuring out how to work the foot in sur le cou-de-pied can be tricky, especially when you go away to a summer course and find that it’s used differently than the way you were taught. As a student, it’s to your advantage to learn all uses of the position—not just because you’ll be more versatile, but because doing so will help you gain strength in your feet and ankles and learn about maintaining alignment. “If you only work with a wrap,” Lukens says, “you won’t extend the foot fully and develop flexibility in the ankle. On the other hand, a dancer who works mostly in the pointed variations might end up sickling her feet.”
“It’s important to be versatile,” adds Kara Zimmerman of the Joffrey Ballet. “As dancers we need to be able to adapt quickly so we can be ready for whatever is asked of us.” Though it may feel confusing, practicing frappés with a relaxed ankle one day and a wrapped foot the next can only help you. Training that way will improve your versatility.
Sur le cou-de-pied is not a position you’re typically in for a long time. But a transition step is as important as any other. “Doing it well,” Zimmerman adds, “can be the difference between a clean, refined dancer and a sloppy dancer.”
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.
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!
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.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
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.
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.