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Bourrées & Courus – Your Input is Welcome


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Hi everyone!


Presently I am writing a short article which is designed to remove the regularly encountered ambiguity between ‘bourrées’ and ‘courus’, whilst also:

Breaking down different ways to perform a couru

How exactly to start a sequence of courus

Troubleshooting problems with courus (en pointe and en demi-pointe)


My article is in response to various conversations I have had over the years, and a few online posts I have seen – usually revolving around endless debate and frustration.


Before the article goes live however, I wished to ask you all if any of you have ever had any specific problems with courus which I could check I have addressed.


For any that may be unfamiliar with the terms ‘bourrées’ and ‘courus’, some of their other names include ‘pas de bourrée suivi’, and ‘pas de bourrée couru’.


Looking forward to your feedback.


Best wishes,


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Pas de bourrée suivi - as I learned it - is the all inclusive term - covering both fifth and first position variations.


When it is done in first position it is called pas de couru (running step). Can be done full pointe or demi, in any direction.


When it is done in fifth position, it is called pas de bourrée couru. This can be done on full pointe or demi, in any direction. From 5th position the back foot starts the action - with the front foot following. The steps are tiny and at no time does a space appear between the feet.


All the above are a series of small steps that have no limit in the distance covered.


When it is simply called "couru" - that is a running step usually done as a preparation for a big jump. It is not in the bourrée family.


All the other pas de bourrées (like pas de bourrée dessous, derriére, etc) are variations on a three step pattern - there are dozens of variations.


As I recall there is a thread on this with fairly detailed explanation in this forum.


The problem usually seen in pas de bourrée suivi done in 5th position is that the student must keep the feet in 5th position - it is so tempting to let a space develop between the feet. It is essential that while remaining erect over the feet - the body's weight is actually leaning toward the movement.


This is also true in pas de couru - where the feet are in first position.


In both cases the knees must only bend enough to allow the movement to occur.


This is one of the few times in ballet where the supporting knees must bend throughout the movement rather than bending and straightening. When the step is done by an experienced dancer - the bend in the knee is barely discernable and it appears that it is the floor which is moving beneath the dancer rather than the dancer moving across the floor.


I realize there is a difference in terminology between the many schools of dance. I have used the vocabulary as it appears in Gail Grant's "Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet."

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The RAD dictionary of classical ballet terminology states:


"couru ku-ROO (Fr. pp of v courir, to run; adj run.) See courus, pas de bourree couru.

courus (Fr. nmpl running steps.) A series of very small, rapid, even steps en pointe or on demi pointe with the feet well crossed in 5th position and the body remaining poised over the feet. When performed in 1st position the legs are usually parallel. May be performed sur place, en tournant, or traveling en avant, en arriere, or de cote. In the Cecchetti school, this step is called pas de bourree couru".


(Ryman, R. 1997. Dictionary of Classical Ballet Terminology. 2nd Ed. Royal Academy of Dance: London)

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Another wonderful resource for all teachers and serious students is the book "Classical Ballet Technique" by Gretchen Ward Warren. With photos illustrating every step, she analyses classical technique and give the different names and ways of doing steps in different ballet styles/methods.


I was taught the steps in a similar way to those she describes, pas de bourrée suivi (shortened to bourrées) is the smooth sequence of tiny steps in a well crossed 5th, leading with the back foot e.g. Myrtha's 2nd act entrance in Giselle. Pas de bourrée couru (shortened to courus) is in parallel or only slightly turned out 1st position on pointe (or demi) and is a fast run staying on pointe either forwards or backward e.g. used by soloists in Les Sylphides.


Edited to try to correct font, don't know why it is like this.

Edited by Pas de Quatre
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I agee with your assessment of Gretchen Ward Waren's book (a friend of mine is one of the male dancers she uses for illustration) - except for attitude - both devant and derriére. The book says very little about this important shape. It's a curious omission.


What I don't see in the RAD definition of couru is to include the run of steps (not on pointe or demi) which is done often (but not always) as a preparation for a large jump such grand jeté entournant or grand jeté, or grand saut de chat. This is seen a lot in Russian school - mostly Bolshoi.


Or - that's been my experience of it.

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Anjuli_Bai:- Many thanks for your contribution! May I ask, Gail Grant’s dictionary does not seem to specify whether or not pas de bourrée suivi is in 1st or 5th position, while Warren’s book suggests that pas de bourrée suivi is only performed in 5th position. May I then double check that in your experience pas de bourrée suivi is 1stor 5th and pas de bourrée couru is always 1st position?


Considering Warren’s attitudes, I agree it is very strange, and slightly disappointing: I would have liked her accurate eye’s opinion on the matter.


In terms of the RAD phraseology, for a run in preparation for a jump I believe most teachers would simply say “run”, or they would request a “running pas de bourrée”.


Also, out of curiosity, when you say that “supporting knees must bend throughout the movement”, do you mean that you ask your students to bend both the knees simultaneously, and continuously throughout the movement, or that you permit flexion in both legs i.e. there is not one leg (front or back) that remains straight, as I have heard from some teachers?


DrDance:- Thanks for the quote! I love the way you referenced it ‘essay style’ at the end – a girl after my own heart!


Pas de Quatre:- Thank you for your insight, and also your fantastic suggestion for Myrtha – I have been wondering what video might be good as an accompanying resource!



Thanks everyone!

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I just found this lovely video of Marianela Nunez and her interpretation of Myrtha so thought I’d share it with you:


Incedentally, if any of you have come across any particularly wonderful examples of good courus on YouTube, do let me know ;)



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Pas de bourrée couru - as Grant defines it and as I always understood it -is a catchall term - a series of small steps without any further definition of position (first or fifth).


Pas de bourrée suivi - as Grant defines it and as I always understood it - can be done either in first or fifth position.


I think one of the problems is pas de bourrée couru is a term from the French School and Pas de bourrée suivi is a term of the Russian school.


That is why the terms seem to overlap.


As for a run as preparation for a large jump - my teachers always said "couru."


As for bending the knees.....consider what it would look like if the dancer fully straightened the knees in between each of those tiny steps.


Thus, the knees are permitted to bent with just enough flexion to allow the movement to occur throughout the "run."


Yes, I, too was very disappointed in the glaring lack of discussion on attitudes in Grant's otherwise wonderful book.

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Here is a good example:




Notice how the back foot leads.


The feet never open past 5th.


There is very little space between the knees.


There is flexion in the knees.


However, when seen en profile - I think there is to much back-to-front space between the feet.

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When discussing the 'run before a large jump' if this is 2 steps/runs in the RAD school this is termed as a 'passing glissade' for example a common preparation for a grande jete en avant is a chasse (or tombe) sideways through second or en diagonale through 4th, followed by a pas de bourree under (behind, side, front) finishing in 4th position, then a passing glissade ("run, run") then a grande jete.

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The term "passing glissade" is not used (as far as I know) outside of RAD.


I believe, the two most common ways of preparing for a large jump such as grand jeté en avant are:


1. - as you described.............tombé/chassé, pas de bourrée, glissade ...and then the jump.


2. a real run of several steps before launching into the jump.


Having done the first one almost exclusively for many years, I found it felt rather strange to simply run and then launch into the jump. This method was most commonly used for grand jeté entournant entrelacé.


I was told by a Russian teacher that this is most commonly found in the Bolshoi style.


There is a third way - a simple step, step, go - and another even simpler - one step and go. Both are diabolically difficult. I had one maniacal teacher who had us do them en diagonale in a HUGE ballet classroom.


Obviously, I haven't forgotten it! :)

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