How to Do Italian Fouettes

Italian fouettes are one of the most marvelous, magnificent, and complicated movements in ballet. They can also be incredibly intimidating.

If you’re having trouble mastering this difficult step, have no fear! Here are some things to remember the next time you launch into that Dryad Queen variation:

Break It Down

Part of the glory of the Italian fouetté is its seamless transition through a small series of steps. But look at it critically: The Italian fouetté can be broken down into one relevé developé écarté devant, a brush through first position, and then a relevé fouetté into attitude derrière.

It may sound like a mouthful, but in reality, it’s only three steps—all of which you’ve done before.

If you’re having issues figuring out the mechanics of the Italian fouetté, go back and practice each of the three separate movements. Perform consistent relevé developés to écarté devants (over and over), until you can do them in your sleep. Then work on your fouetté relevé to attitude derrière. Finally, link the steps together by slowly walking through the transitions.

Brush Through

The Italian fouetté is just a relevé developé to a fouetté to attitude derriere, but it is the difficult transition between the steps that causes many dancers fall apart.

Training your body for the transition will help you apply it naturally when you speed up the movement:

  • Brush through first position. This is a crucial step for when completing the smooth motion between movements.
  • Work on going from your developé through first position, then into the fouetté. Turn it all into slow motion, working on flat as though the Italian fouetté was simply part of an adagio.
  • Really work on the motion that comes between the first position and the beginning of the fouetté. The brush to extending your leg devant will give you a smooth rotation to finish off the fouetté.

Tether Your Turnout

Turn out can easily be lost throughout the Italian fouettes, due to all the rotating and changes in position. Focus on pushing your heel forward on both the standing and working leg at all times. When you brush through first position, it should be your full first position—not turned in.

At every point in the Italian fouetté, you should be able to take a photo of yourself and see a clear position, turned out and lifted. Turning out your standing leg will bring you around much more easily than using excessive or disruptive force.

Standing Leg Standards

While the working leg does all the fancy work, it is your standing leg that gives you the fundamental ability to complete Italian fouettés.

  • Push your standing leg turnout to the limit on every part of the fouetté to help bring you around.
  • If you’re going plié, really drop your weight into your standing leg to get a good, solid position, centering your hips over your foot.
  • When you go into relevé, straighten the standing leg as much as you can to give yourself a super strong, straight base around which to rotate.
  • Think of yourself as a tetherball: The standing leg is the pole and the rest of your body is the ball swinging around it. The pole should just rotate in one place and never move or shift.

Shoulder for Success

Don’t let your shoulders heave up and down during the Italian fouetté. While it may feel like it helps to “throw” them around to gain momentum, it will actually throw off your alignment off and make the movement more difficult than it should be.

Always push your shoulders down your back—they should feel like they are going to drop into your tailbone. By stabilizing the shoulders, you give yourself more control and can focus on the lower body movement without losing balance. It will also give you a clearer and more beautiful port de bras.

Fun Fact

The Italian fouette was made popular by Marius Petipa in the late 19th century, when it was introduced in larger numbers in ballets such as Don Quixote and La Bayadere. If you want to see how it was done during that time, lower your working leg to just above 45 degrees. Feel any easier?

Hold the Positions

Italian fouettés are primarily performed at a waltz tempo, which is in ¾ time (think down, up, up, down, up, up). They are seldom performed quickly. Hold the developé and the attitude derrière like you would a balance. The audience should be able to see each pose clearly before you transition to the next.

The extended balances will also help you stay controlled, even during larger sets of Italian fouettés.

Watch Where You’re Going

While it’s common practice to narrowly miss karate kicking a fellow ballerina when practicing Italian fouettés in class, remember to really focus your gaze, sharp like you would in a manège of pique turns. It’s a big movement with a lot of range, but instead of worrying about the spacing between people, focus your gaze on where you’re going—not staying out of everyone else’s way. If you focus your gaze properly, you’ll keep your fouettés controlled and centered, thus solving the problem of running into anyone else.

  • Look to the corner as you come to écarté.
  • Refocus like an arrow to the back wall as you go through first position and the start of the fouetté.
  • Refocus forward as you rotate 180 degrees to the attitude derrière.

Maintaining a clear sense of direction can go a long way, especially if you are having trouble staying centered and upright.

Practice Makes Perfect!

They’re beautiful, look impossible, and feel a bit like emulating the pendulum on a grandfather clock, but if you can practice these simple steps, your Italian fouettés will soon be on par with Gamzatti’s coda in La Bayadère. Now it’s time to get to work on the 16 fouettés en tourant that comes after them!

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