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Finally! Battement Makes Sense at Last



a lightbulb

I have always been confused about the term "battement." Yes, I know that it means "beating" but does that really make sense? Battement tendu, battement dégagé, grand battement . . . . The closest I ever got to an explanation was a teacher saying that the working leg beats against the standing leg. This was not a major win for clarity in my mind. I could sort of see her point if the musical accent of the movement was always out but even then it just seemed like a weird, grasping-at-straws sort of answer.


But I finally found a definition that makes sense. (I think it was in Jennifer Jackson's Ballet: The Essential Guide to Technique and Creative Practice--I can't look it up for certain because I already returned the book to the library.) The legs aren't beating against anything; they are showing the musical beat. Think about when you first do a "find the beat" exercise with your youngest dancers. You probably clap or march. It's a very common movement to clap or walk or bend your knees or nod your head in synchrony with the beat of the music. We tend to bring our hands/feet/chin down on the beat. With that in mind, closing the battement is like the clap. And just like with clapping, you can play with timing and tempo to create lots of different effects but the foundation of the movement is closing the leg with the beat.


The Beginning Division is full of opportunities to practice using movement to show the beat of the music. In addition to all the fun gross locomotor movements that serve this purpose (tiptoe walks, marches, hopscotch games, etc.) dancers learn battement tendu and shuffles (a preparatory step for frappé). If students in these levels struggle to find the beat after a few months in class, try bringing in a metronome to help them make the connection. When the arm of the metronome swings away from the center, the dancers tendu. When the arm of the metronome returns to center, they close the working leg.


With the excellent background in rhythm + movement provided in the earliest years, the work in the Elementary Division starts right away with battements tendu, dégagé, frappé and grand battement. Petit battement, first with even timing and then syncopated, is also explored during these years.


The Intermediate Division is when dancers refine beats in their jumps. It's always a great day when dancers realize all that barre work really does turn into advanced steps! Reminding them that battement (and also battu) is a way of showing the musical beat by highlighting either the open position (like the tendu) or the closed position (like the 1st or 5th) really helps clean up those small battu movements. If the entrechat quatres start looking like a flip-flap of legs, pull out the metronome again and assign a position in the air to each movement of the metronome. (Doing this in slow motion using the barre for support is a good starting place but it's also a great exercise in the center at a more traditional tempo.) And then, of course, it all gets even harder in the Advanced Division. But it all starts with showing the beat of the music with your legs.


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