Perfect Your Italian Fouettes

March 18, 2009

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.