Henrik teaches French #2 – Pas de deux

by Henrik on April 17, 2010

In the column Henrik teaches French, I let you in on some technical aspects of ballet – Sounds fantastically boring, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ll try to explain in a easy and understandable fashion. Hopefully I’ll even teach you some french terminology while we’re at it! Today: Pas de deux.
Picture from the ballet Romeo and Julia, from the famous bedroom pas de deux by Jose Manuel Carreno and Alessandra Ferri

Alessandra Ferri and José Manuel Carreño in Romeo and Juliet, bedrom pas de deux. © Dance.net

While directly translated meaning only “step for two”, the term pas de deux is translated “a dance for two”. But it is more than that! Since the classical period of the ballet history (from about 1860 and on), the pas de deux has been a fix form for two dancers, a male and a female, dancing together, often with a romantic tone.

The classical pas de deux consists of an adagio danced together, a male and a female variation and a finishing coda

Let’s look at them one by one, shall we?

The Adagio (from italian ad agio: “at ease”). As a musical direction in a score, the term Adagio means slow. So also for the dancers, the movements of an adagio are slow and controlled, often with high lifted legs for the women. The man is usually partnering the woman during the adagio, performing lifts and supports to make the slow, often off-balance movements possible (not even ballerinas have that good balance).

The Variations are solo’s performed by the same dancers. This is their chance to vigor, and where they show their “tricks”, often including impressive jumps, turns and balances. Normally, the male variation is first, then the female. The order is based on an old tradition, stating that the biggest star will perform the last, hence, the guy is being a gentleman, allowing the ballerina the honor of performing last.

The Coda. Again a term from musical theory, the Coda mark means for the orchestra to repeat a certain part of the score. Often starting separately, the dancers do another set of tricks, maybe seen earlier in the performance, during the coda, before it ends with the two dancers dancing together, finishing the pas de deux with a great final pose.

A picture of two dancers performing a contemporary pas de deux

A modern pas de deux. © neublack.com

Today, the term pas de deux is often – incorrectly, some might say – used for any dance where two dancers are dancing together, since this form does not necessarily fit the modern ballets of today.

Got the technical part? Let’s take a look at the practical side! This video is the pas de deux of the ballet Don Quixote (Want to read the story? You know we got it, in Bedtime Stories), danced by two great dancers of the American Ballet Theatre, Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella back in 1999. Enjoy!

Want to learn more French? Check out the other posts in the column!

Until next time,

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Dancing Branflake April 17, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Ah man. You really just posted my most favorite Pas de Deux of all time. Gets my blood pumping every time I see it.


Henrik April 17, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Tell me about it – if that's not fierce, nothing is!! :)


Dancing Branflake April 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

And one more thing- that attitude turn she does to the knee when he spins her around is one of the craziest things en pointe I have ever seen. I can't stop thinking about it.


Henrik April 17, 2010 at 10:53 pm

You mean the "I'll just throw you around here, and see what you can make of it?!"-turn? :) Amazing! Her balance in the adagio isn't too bad, either. I think I counted 10 seconds.. Want to give that a try? ;)


Catherine April 18, 2010 at 5:39 am

Love the "learn French"….
Love the Pas De Deux
Love your blog!

These posts are great for those who don't study ballet too–very educational!


Catherine April 28, 2010 at 7:35 am

I just watched this video and actually was moved to tears. Thanks Henrik.


Henrik April 28, 2010 at 8:02 am

you’re welcome – or rather: thank the dancers, they are doing the job. And a fine job it is :)


Socco April 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm

їPuedo tomar obtener Foto de su blog?



Henrik April 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

I have no idea what you are talking about, but if it’s about using some photo, then please contact me by email. Most pictures on Tights and tiaras are copyrighted, and not for further publishion without my knowledge. And please comment in english :)


Wordpress Themes May 6, 2010 at 12:29 am

Genial brief and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you on your information.


Catherine June 12, 2010 at 5:10 am

Just made my hubby watch this. Cried again. It’s an amazing pas.


Henrik June 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Yes, it’s great! And that attitude-turn at the end – geeez ;)


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