Perfect Your Italian Fouettes

Mastering consecutive Italian fouettés can feel like a monumental challenge, but every dancer who wants a principal role in classics like Paquita or even Balanchine’s Western Symphony knows she must conquer this demanding step. Here, three experts offer advice on how to perform Italian fouettés with confidence.

Break it Down

Italian fouettés, also known as grande fouettés, begin with a relevé développé écarté devant, followed by a brush through first position facing the back diagonal and a fouetté to back attitude croisé. In general, dancers perform at least four in a row.

By the time you start learning Italian fouettés, you should already have the technical foundation required to be successful, says B.J. Martin, a former soloist with San Francisco Ballet and current ballet mistress with Evansville Dance Theatre in Evansville, IN. Don’t be psyched out by the step just because it sounds complicated—it’s just a matter of stringing together steps you already know.

To practice the fundamentals, Cincinnati Ballet artistic director Victoria Morgan suggests going over part of the sequence at the barre. Start in plié on the left foot with the right foot extended devant, left hand on the barre, and then fouetté 180 degrees into back attitude, catching the barre with the right hand. Once you feel comfortable performing the step without relying too much on the barre, move into the center.

Martin recommends practicing consecutive relevés in the center on one foot, to build the strength necessary for multiple fouettés. Try different positions, from coupé to arabesque, while focusing on maintaining support in your core. It may also be helpful to work on the step as a whole in flat shoes before attempting it en pointe.

Sweat the Small Stuff

The relevés in écarté and in back attitude might be the flashy parts of an Italian fouetté, but you’ll be sunk if you don’t pay attention to the in-between steps. “One pitfall is not brushing through first position after the développé, with both legs in an equal demi-plié and your hip alignment square,” Martin says.

Dawn Scannell, ballet mistress with Houston Ballet, agrees: “Coming down from écarté or fouetté attitude is where problems usually occur. When dancers get tired, they tend to swing the working leg through turned-in.” Fatigue can also cause dancers to collapse the spine during the transitions, making it more difficult to get back onto pointe for the next relevé. Keep the energy of the body lifted even in plié, in anticipation of the relevé to come.

Finish Your Fouetté

Complete each rotation before progressing to the next. “Many students don’t bring the entire back around to finish in a nice croisé attitude,” says Martin. This makes it more difficult to start the next relevé and creates a line that is aesthetically unappealing to the audience.

Another common problem is focusing too much on the working leg and not enough on the supporting leg. “When you do the fouetté attitude, you must also fouetté the inside thigh muscle on the standing leg to sustain the position. Don’t just snap back in the knee,” Scannell says. Make sure your standing thigh is turning out and your heel is rotating forward during each relevé. If you lose the turnout of the standing leg, you’ll not only finish in an incorrect line but could also set yourself up for injuries as you come off of pointe with the plié knee not rotated over the toe.

Make It Seamless

Morgan often sees dancers failing to perform Italian fouettés uniformly, in one smooth motion. “The port de bras should coordinate with the legs, torso and feet so the arms complement and assist with the step,” she says. Also, make sure to bring both shoulders around with each fouetté. “There’s a tendency when the step turns left, for instance, for the right shoulder to lag behind,” Morgan says.

It’s essential to feel rooted in the attitude, with the shape of the limbs connected to the core. “The back attitude should feel like a circle of energy is connecting the left shoulder blade to the right back of the thigh, so the attitude is fully lifted,” Morgan says.

Enjoy the Challenge

As with any difficult step, accomplishing Italian fouettés is partly about believing in yourself and getting past psychological hurdles. “The only way to level the fear is to make fouettés your friend,” Morgan says. “Master them and enjoy them.” Work hard—practicing on both sides, not just your good leg—and try not to overanalyze the movement.

Also, don’t be discouraged if you can’t perform 32 in a row immediately! “Begin with just a few repetitions until you can build up the strength to add more,” Morgan says. “This is an advanced step that requires a thoughtful progression of building awareness, strength and coordination. Dance is very much about challenges, and this is a fun one. Attack it with smarts, zest and determination.”

Tracy Teo is a writer and former dancer based in Evansville, IN.

Latest Posts

Because there's never been a better time to binge-watch "Bunheads" (via Freeform)

5 of the Danciest TV Shows Streaming Right Now (and Where to Stream Them)

We're about two months into #SocialDisDancing, and let's be real—while we all wish we were spending every spare minute stretching, cross-training, or taking online classes, sometimes we just need to Netflix and chill.

We figure, if you're going to be watching TV anyways, why not make it dancy TV? After all, watching pros dance on-screen is basically dance class homework...or at least we'll say it is. Here are five of the danciest TV shows for you to watch—and where to find them.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
The cast of Center Stage in a promotional poster (courtesy Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Making of "Center Stage," as Remembered by Its Dance Stars

Whether you first watched it in a theater two decades ago or on Netflix last week, odds are you feel a deep connection to Center Stage. The cult classic, which premiered May 12, 2000, is arguably the greatest dance film ever made. (Dance obsessives might take issue with the "cult" before "classic," not to mention the "dance" before "film.") Jody Sawyer's ballet journey—which combines oh-wow-I've-had-those-blisters realism with wait-does-she-have-magic-color-changing-pointe-shoes fantasy—stands the test of time, early-aughts fashion be darned. We've memorized its highly quotable lines, laughed with (and, gently, at) its heroes, and been inspired by its sincere love of dance and dancers.

To celebrate Center Stage's 20th anniversary, we asked five of its dance stars to talk through their memories of the filming process. Here are their stories of on-set bonding, post-puke kissing scenes, and life imitating art imitating life.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

2020 Dance Grads: We Want to Put You on Our Cover!

Hello, all you members of the great Dance Class of 2020. With the world on lockdown, this hasn't been the graduation season you expected. You likely weren't able to go to prom; your commencement ceremonies have probably been delayed or canceled; and you might not have been able to take your planned-for final bow onstage.

Since you're missing out on so much, we'd like to give you a virtual ovation, to recognize all you've accomplished. And what's the highest honor we can bestow? The cover of Dance Spirit!

Here's the plan:

  • If you're a high school or college senior dancer, use this form to submit your information and dance portrait.
  • Each day during the month of May, we'll create a digital Dance Spirit cover starring one of you, chosen at random—31 covers in total.
  • At the end of the month, we'll create a "commencement video" featuring even more of your submitted dance photos.
  • 100 of you, selected by lottery, will also receive free one-year subscriptions to the print magazine.

Merde, 2020 graduates, as you dance your way into the future!

High School and College Senior Dancers: Submit Your Photo Here

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search