The In-Betweens

Every dancer works hard to master ballet’s most eye-catching feats: the fouetté turns, the saut de chats and the double tour en l’airs. But what about the little steps that come in between? Tempting as it might be to gloss over transitions, they’re key to making your technique look polished and dynamic. “Attention to transition steps is one of the things that separates a good dancer from a great one,” explains Boston Ballet soloist Jared Redick, who is principal of the company’s South Shore Studio.


Transitions can do a lot more than just move you from place to place. Think of Aurora’s Act I variation in The Sleeping Beauty. She begins with a relatively simple sequence: piqué arabesque, failli, glissade to piqué back attitude, lower to fourth position. In those few steps, the dancer can show delicacy and control, establish Aurora’s character and interact with the other performers onstage—that is, if she uses the transitions to their full potential.

Break It Down
Anne Dabrowski, ballet master at Pacific Northwest Ballet, recommends thinking of even the smallest steps as having a physicality and a connection to the floor. “Even when you’re just shifting your weight,” she says, “there’s a musculature that you use to get there. Everything is shaped. Think about the moment when your foot hits the floor: It should be turned out, have resistance and the timing should be precise to take you to the next step.”  

Start focusing on transitions at the barre. Practice proper placement and technique even in pliés and tendus—your muscle memory will help to maintain those elements when the transitions are interspersed among more difficult steps.


It can help to break down transition steps in slow motion. For example, a failli assemblé can be divided into a demi-plié in fifth position, a sissone from two feet landing on the front foot, a failli through first position to fourth position preparation and an assemblé landing in fifth position demi-plié. Throughout, think of articulating the feet, lengthening your legs, closing into a tight assemblé and turning out from the hips.


By methodically working on your technique within each moment, you can home in on spots that usually go ignored. “Sometimes people forget transition steps in their efforts to achieve more turns or a higher jump,” says Redick. “In actuality, it’s the transition—the preparation—that makes more turns or a higher jump possible.”

Be Aware
Transitions are as much about aesthetics as preparation. “The audience can see you all the time, not just in the big steps,” Dabrowski points out. “Even people not trained in ballet can tell when you lose the sense of flow in the movement, the elegance and carriage of the body.” Transitional moments also provide a chance for your artistry to shine through, a quality that may get lost if you’re focusing solely on the “trick” steps. Moving with intent allows you to pay closer attention to your port de bras, épaulement and expression.


For Dabrowski, the common mistakes dancers make with regard to transitions—slopping through, not using the plié, dropping the performance quality—can almost all be boiled down to a need for greater sensitivity. “The turnout, the articulation, the presentation of the foot on the floor—all of that is magnified onstage because that’s where the beauty is,” she says. “That’s what makes dancing dance.”

Kathryn Holmes is a freelance writer and dancer in New York City.

Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Butternut Squash Takes Center Stage This Fall—Plus, 2 Easy Recipes

Whether it's cubed and roasted or puréed into a comforting soup, butternut squash takes center stage this fall. The flavorful seasonal favorite is an excellent nutritional choice for dancers. Here's what's packed into one serving:

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: The Joffrey Ballet's Dara Holmes

A seasoned dancer, Dara Holmes' career with The Joffrey Ballet has consisted of a lot of heavy lifting in the ensemble. "As a new company member, I was onstage all the time," says Holmes, 28. "The older you get, the more you start to appreciate your body and want to preserve it. If I want to keep dancing and do bigger roles, I need to be healthy."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks