How to Do Intermediate Lifts in Pas de Deux

If you’ve conquered the fish dive, surmounted the shoulder sit, and mastered the grande jeté, you and your partner may be ready to move on to intermediate lifts. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a risk free lift in pas de deux, so always be safe and work under the supervision of a qualified instructor.

Without further ado, here is a trio of fantastic and elegant lifts to incorporate into your next pas de deux practice. Be sure to click on the images in each of the three sections below for an expanded view.

The Presage Lift

What It Looks Like

Popularized by Léonide Massine’s ballet, Les Presages, this lift is now commonplace in ballets of both classical and contemporary origin. It is versatile in nature, with extraordinary height and long lines representing triumph and nobility as well as passion and adoration. The execution of the presage lift is also very adaptable and able to be performed with both dancers facing forward or in opposite directions.


The presage is a difficult adjustment for both ballerina and partner, so it’s best to take things slow.

The easiest way to move into the lift is for the ballerina to step into arabesque right in front of her partner. From there, he places one hand on her waist and the other underneath the thigh of the working leg, lifting her overhead. The ballerina then curls the standing leg into a passé position to finish the lift.

In order to exit the lift, it is best to start simply: Go back the way you went up. To do this, the male just lowers his partner straight down. As he does this, the ballerina should straighten her standing leg, allowing him to place her back in arabesque.

Getting Past the Hard Part

For women, it is important to keep all muscles strong and engaged throughout the presage lift. If you don’t press your arabesque leg down against your partner’s grip, you’ll fold in half and lose all stability. Stay strong and tight, and remember not to look down!

Men should keep a careful eye on their partner, making sure to raise her just slightly in front of you, so that when you lower her straight down, she slides right along the front of your body. Don’t be afraid to look up during the lift to gauge your partner’s balance and alignment and (carefully) adjust accordingly.

Fun Fact:

Massine’s Les Presages, debuting with the Ballets Russes in the 1930s, told the story of humanity’s struggle to overcome hatred and volatility. Its characters have no names but only qualities they represent: Frivolity and Humanity are the leads.

The Cambré Press Lift

What It Looks Like

The cambré press lift is one of the most beautiful lifts in all of ballet. The ballerina is lifted straight up by her partner, arching her back at the peak of the lift for a long and luscious line. This lift is used frequently to display moments of romance and ecstasy, present in ballets like Romeo and Juliet and The Leaves are Fading.


The cambré press lift is has fairly straightforward transitions. The best and most common way to enter the lift is for the girl to take a relevé sous sus, plié, before being lifted by her partner (who has his hands around her waist). The cambré is not entered until the ballerina is almost all the way up, so as to avoid decking her partner in the head with her spine.

To exit the lift, the cavalier simply lowers his partner. She should exit her cambré as soon as he starts to lower her, gradually peeling the spine back up and sliding slide against his body to prevent any backward momentum that causes her to fall.

Getting Past the Hard Part

Women should be comfortable with simple two-handed press lifts at this point, so the key is to really work on the cambré. Make sure to always keep the spine supported and arch with both the upper and lower back to avoid straining the lumbar spine.

Men shouldn’t have too much trouble with the cambré if they have experience with lifts. Focus on keeping the girl balanced and let her lower body lean against you a little bit so she feels more secure. Make sure not to compensate for the reach of her cambré by tipping her forward—this will make her unstable and difficult to catch.

Mental Edge

Try not to be too spooked by the concept of being upside down. If it’s terrifying you, start slow by placing your hands on top of your partner’s hands when he lifts. This will help make you feel more secure. You’ll also get used to the feeling of being upside down and high in the air!

The Romeo and Juliet Press Lift

What It Looks Like

One of the most beautiful and romantic looking pas de deux movements, this specific kind of press lift can be used as great preparation for the difficult and advanced boat lift (seen in Giselle and La Bayadère). Unusually, it has the male is in a kneeling position which makes it somewhat safer to practice. The ballerina holds a position over her partner’s head, perpendicular in her line and stabilized by his hands on her hipbones. He holds her steady as she bends her legs, arching her back to stay upright.


The easiest way to get into this lift is for the male to kneel and for his partner to step into an arabesque facing him, up-close. That way, he can get a good grip on the front of her hips.

Once she senses he’s ready, she can transfer her weight onto his arms, arching her back upward as she lifts both legs at a 90-degree angle behind her. The legs can be alternately bent, straightened, or in a variety of other positions (depending on the choreography).

To exit the lift, the male must simply lower his partner to the starting position, when she can transfer her weight back to the ground.

Getting Past the Hard Part

For women, the scary part of this lift is adjusting to the unique distribution of weight. She may feel as though she’s about to tip over or slide too far forward, but she should remain upright if she keeps her back and core strong.

Men should focus on maintaining the balance of their partner in this difficult pose. He should keep her aligned such that her upper body is parallel to his, and if lowered, would come down right-up against him. This orientation should prevent her from straying too far forward or too far back.

Practice Makes Perfect

As with any lift, remember that consistent practice will pay off and eventually lead you through the more difficult transitions. Keep talking to your partner about what is and isn’t working—with good communication, even the most challenging lift can be mastered.

Share the knowledge