Notes on Pas De Cheval: My Favorite Step at Barre (From Issue 2)
Pas de Cheval is one of the most important steps in ballet to refine, especially at barre. It is actually my favorite step at barre. The step itself is versatile, and used frequently in ballet. It is subtle and glorious if done right, and you can really feel your turn out. There are a ton of ways to approach pas de cheval. There is the idea of showing all of the positions sharply, moving through the step seamlessly, or the idea of up and over. There are a lot of ways to go about doing it, and no one way is better than the other. But here are some important things to remember while doing pas de cheval:
- Really try to slip the heel forward before even attempting to get into sur le coup de pied, and really utilize your turn out.
- Really try to press through to the dégagé position. Create resistance from your sartorius and calf.
- If you are going to focus on the up and over aspect of pas de cheval, make sure the knee is completely rotated and really lift. In my opinion you can never have too much lift.
- Don’t forget to grow in your standing/supporting leg. You don’t want to sink back or shorten the supporting leg.
- Don’t forget the tendu. Even if you are just moving through the action, you really want the longest tendu possible. See my notes on tendu.
- Really lift to close into fifth. Don’t slam. Don’t half do it. Don’t sit in fifth. Be active in fifth.
Another thing to try to do in pas de cheval is to keep the movement long. If you shorten the pas de cheval, you just look like a lame horse.
When I teach this step, I really try to focus on the lift in and out of fifth. Engaging the back of the legs before you even start the step is so important. It gives pas de cheval a crisper/clean look. So, if you are starting in fifth, slightly shift the weight into the balls of both feet, slightly put pressure into them so that you can really move the working leg heel forward. Pull the knee up and back to get into sur le coup de pied, and articulate the working foot. Show the position and resist out by lengthening through the back of the working leg. Find the dégagé position, but then lengthen an extra inch to find tendu. Leave the heel, and start pulling the toes back. Put pressure in the metatarsals when closing and feel the lift back in as you close to fifth. Obviously, the faster you go, the less time you have to focus on all these details, but hopefully you are strong enough or have the muscle memory to do all these things while moving at a quicker tempo.
Pet Peeve: When students don’t use their cores and they do this weird body roll during the step or they don’t stop in fifth when doing consecutive pas de chevals.
One thing I also encourage in pas de cheval is to be generous with the lift and presentation of the foot and turn out. This will help students develop a sense of generosity at center and in performances in the in between steps. Like the pas de cheval prior to the pique arabesque — or into bourrés. Being generous with your turnout, feet, and articulation makes for great performance quality. I love watching Darci Kistler’s performance as Sugar Plum in Nutcracker because of her generosity with the simplest of steps.
If your students can’t find the back of your legs, reverse the pas de cheval to the side and really focus on squeezing the glutes together, then focus on squeezing the hamstring to the calf as you lift off the floor. If they can’t achieve an active fifth from a standing position, do barre on the slightest relevé, with the correct weight placement.
Best of luck horsing around in this step.