Fouetté Technique Motion Analysis

By George Ou, 2/26/2017

The fouetté is technique that a ballerina must master if they wish to perform solo roles. It is technically challenging but it can be mastered by dancers who are not good turners if the correct technique is applied. This article will breakdown that technique to help you master it.

International versus Russian Fouetté

There are two styles of fouettés performed in the world. There is an International version used by most dancers in the major International companies and there is the Russian version. The main difference is that the Russians plié with legs in seconde while everyone else is in relevé when the working leg goes to seconde.

While I love Russian Ballet, I prefer the International style of the fouetté because it looks better facing front en relevé and it is easier to execute multi-turn fouettés. The Russian method (pictured to the right) also has a stronger tency to have a flexed working foot in seconde because of the influence of the flexed standing foot in plié. The rest of this article will focus on the International version.

Analyzing good examples of fouetté turns

To begin with let’s take a look at two wonderful videos on YouTube demonstrating good fouetté technique. This article will analyze the motion in these two videos.

Kathryn Morgan, Former New York City Ballet Soloist Fouetté Demo

Heidi Freeman , Competitive Student Fouetté demo

Heidi demonstrates two very nice series of fouetté turns. The second time included multi-turn fouettés. Heidi is a natural turner and she has the fouetté technique nailed down. See the frame-by-frame analysis of her technique below.

Freeze frame analysis of a well executed fouetté turn by Heidi Freeman

There is much to learn from this series of images above because you can see every phase of the fouetté turn. It starts with the turning phase and then the descent phase entering the front attitude position. Then we have the pump phase where the dancer adds rotational momentum when she whips her legs from front attitude to seconde while going from plié to relevé seconde en facé. Then we go back to the turning phase that passes through passé back and immediately passé front. Then we reenter the descent phase.

Common misconceptions about where the fouetté starts

What’s notable is that Heidi’s coach Claudia Dean (Royal Ballet dancer) wants Heidi and her audience to use the wrong technique. Ms. Dean insists that the plié with leg front should be in the front-facing devant position rather than croisé. Claudia Dean who is a very good dancer and coach but she is repeating a common misconception. In fact Ms. Dean even suggests that dancers should aim to over rotate to the effacé position in plié so that they end up in the devant position. But plié in devant does not align with photographic evidence of proper fouetté technique.

Claudia Dean teaching a common misconception of where to plié in fouettés

Heidi Freeman like any good student respectfully listens to her teacher, but she instinctively and correctly goes on to do exactly what she is told not to do. You can see from the freeze-frame images above how Heidi actually performs the fouetté by doing a plié in the croisé position. In fact, Ms. Dean herself performs a superb set of fouettés on TV and she does a plié in the croisé position.

Unfortunately many if not most students take this kind of advice literally by trying to plié in devant and end up having serious problems with fouettés because they never make it to releve seconde.

Just in case anyone argues that a samples above are insufficient evidence, Kathryn Morgan a former soloist at New York City Ballet demonstrates the same croisé position in plié.

Kathryn Morgan starting fouetté

Here’s another good demonstration of the fouetté (don’t know name of dancer). As you can see from the animated motion and the freeze frames, it is clear that the fouetté starts in the croisé plié position.

Lastly, there’s even an illustration I found on the Internet showing the correct positions of the fouetté. The leg is too low by today’s standards but the fundamental technique illustrated is correct and realistic.

It is clear that everyone (except the russians) do fouettés this way. You can even ask yourself how ballerinas doing a partnered whip fouetté turn starts the whip turn. Does she start in devant or in croisé? Of course it’s in croisé so that she has room to wind up her turn! The same principles of motion apply to a solo fouetté turn.

Prove me wrong if you disagree

If you’re still not convinced that the croisé plié position is correct, send me a video of a fouetté that you think is better than the examples I use here that uses a devant plié. It can be you demonstrating or someone else. You don’t need to know how to freeze the images. Just post the video and I will break down the video frames for you and update this article. I don’t think you’ll find a better example but I am open to being proven wrong.

What tends to happen is that people will often try to counter me with examples that actually prove my point. They will send a link to a video that they think proves their point but as soon as I freeze the frames it proves my point. This is because it’s difficult to analyze a video without slow motion and you can’t spot the subtle details until you do.

Turned-in the plié, turned-out relevé or en pointe

The other big thing you will notice in all of the dancers showing a proper fouetté is that the position of the standing foot in plié is turned in! Yes this is blasphemy but this is actually the correct and necessary to “pump” the rotation. If the dancer lands in a “proper” turned out standing foot en plié it becomes impossible to whip the leg and the entire body around. So while it looks great using a turned out plié foot at the barre or for non-rotating or non-jumping movements, the turned-out plié standing foot does not work for continuous turns or launching the body into a large jump.

Turned-out plié is great for the poses but awful for continuous turns

This turned-in plié and turned-out relevé is also essential for men’s a-la-seconde turns. After years of programming a proper turned-out plié into my body, my continuous a-la-seconde turns got worse and worse. The same degradation happened to my big jumps when I tried to take off on a turned out foot. It was demoralizing and I didn’t know why until I analyzed the slow motion and realized that the plié must be turned in. It has taken some time for me to “deprogram” my brain to turn in on the plié.

So the rule for these continuous turns that if you have to pump to keep going, the pump faze in plié must be turned in but the dancer rotates the entire body as she goes up so that she ends up en relevé or en pointe to a turned out standing leg. It happens so fast nobody will ever notice you turned-in because most of your time should be spent floating in a high and beautiful turned out position.

This is not to say all those teachers demanding turn-out everywhere were wrong. Most movement in Ballet don’t involve continuous turns or large jumps and the enforcement of strict turn-out was necessary in developing beautiful ballet technique. There is a legitimate fear that too much information to new students could be confusing so tell them to just turn out on everything is justifiable. But at some point we just need to teach the limits of turn-out and where turning in is necessary.

Analyzing yourself

A serious dancer looking to improve fouetté turns will film themselves doing fouetté turns and try to compare their own position with the images posted here. If you want to know how to step through a video frame-by-frame, it can be done quickly in Windows Media Player. If you’re not running Windows, you can view a video frame-by-frame in VLC Player by pressing the “e” key and take screenshots.

Closing thoughts

Once a dancer masters the motion shown in this article, she will have no problems with single or even multi-turn fouettés. There isn’t much time spent turning in passé unless you do multiple turns so you do not need to be a natural turner. Most of the time is transitioning through the positions.