The Virtual Pas De Deux: Your Guide to Partnering (Part Two)

Posted by on 02.21.2011

The much anticipated sequel to Henrik Lamark and my collaboration, “A Virtual Pas de Deux”, has arrived.  In Part Two we bring you a discussion on what it takes to be a good partner, the challenges dancers face, thoughts on dancer rapport, and last but not least, another technical trick.

We hope this will fulfill your hunger for knowledge on the subject of the pas de deux.  However, if you want to know more, we are working on a Question and Answer post where we will tackle all of your questions.  So feel free to leave a comment here or tweet as us (@bexking or @tightsandtiaras).  We want to hear from you!

If you missed Part One, click over to Henrik’s blog, Tights and Tiaras.
So without further adiue, I give you our second installment of a Virtual Pas de Deux.

How to be a successful partner? The technique behind partnering is complex, and better learned in a ballet-studio than from a blog post. But we’ll still give you some basic tips!

HL: Stability is a main factor. How are you going to help the girl be on her balance, if you are not on yours? Two feet solidly planted on the ground is always the best base.
Also, the grip is important. For any lift, specially if they go over your head (or even more extreme, off your sight of range, like if you hold the girl behind your back), you’d want to find a grip that doesn’t slip, and allows the girl to be in balance between your two hands. Usually, the further apart your hands are from the line of your body, the heavier the lift will be to perform.
Obviously, there is a factor of strength involved. To be able to get the ballerina over your head, you’ve got to be able to lift her up there. But the dynamic between you and your partner, your technique and her ability to hold her body makes an enormous difference.

RK: Over all, for the woman, I would say it is most important to find opportunities to help your partner in any way possible.  To the audience, you should look effortless and light as a feather, though we all know we are not (as much as we may wish we were).  However, you can make yourself seem light to your partner by really jumping while he lifts you and by giving him resistance in your body.  For example, when he is gripping your waist and lifting you above his head, by leaning back and making a “shelf” with your shoulder blade, he can get a better grip on you, making the lift much more successful.

(c) Leigh-Ann Esty

HL: That’s a great example of how the girls can make herself easier to lift. Once you got her up in the air, the girl can help a lot by providing a good grip.

RK: The woman must also be in complete control of her body.  If a ballerina is falling all over the place, this makes the man’s job much more difficult, and does not allow him to focus on more important things.  Remember, his job is to make you look good, which is a hard job!  No need to make it more difficult on him.  This will also make him very happy and much more willing to work with you!  Don’t get nervous about hitting him or hurting him.  Dance as if you would by yourself, while being aware of his presence.  If you get nervous, you will generally do things that take him by surprise, resulting in a failed step.  Put your trust in him; he knows what he needs to do.  Let go and allow him to do his job.

RK: Henrik, what qualities do you look for in a good partner?

HL: For me, the most important is that the girl is wanting to work with me. I always try to listen to my partner, and change my technique to what fits her. While some ballerinas prefer one approach to something, another may want something else. If the girl is the same, it makes working together way easier.

RK: That is my thought exactly! Hard working people who really want to work, are always a pleasure to dance with.

HL: Also, I like the “no nonsense” approach. If something isn’t working, tell me. I don’t need my partner to sugar coat things or hint to what she would prefer. If the grip is doesn’t work, tell me it’s bad, and we’ll change it. It’s not that easy to hurt my feelings, so my partners doesn’t have to worry about how they put things, you know what I mean?

RK: I do.  Honesty is the best policy.  If you worry about hurting the other person’s feelings, nothing will be accomplished, and no problems will be solved.  Equally as important, is to make your partner feel comfortable enough to be able to have an honest dialogue with you.

HL: What about you, what are you looking for in a partner – and I mean that in the least inappropriate way possible!?

RK: I would say someone who is eager and willing. There is nothing worse than having something not work in rehearsal and feeling unable to ask your partner to try it again with you.  I just hate feeling like I am inconveniencing someone.  By having an eager partner, I feel like we can be more productive and really grow together as dancers.

(c) Leigh-Ann Esty

So on stage all of these elements look simple, but that is an illusion that we are trying to create. What are the challenges the dancers have to overcome without giving it away to the audience?

RK: I always find that the main challenge is trying to be in sync with your partner.  Not only do you both need to know the choreography and have a similar interpretation of the musicality, but you need to be on the same page throughout the pas de deux.  There are a few ways that each individual can work towards this goal.  For one thing, it is best to be as consistent as possible: by doing each step with the same energy and the same technique each time, you are allowing your partner to know what to expect once you step out on stage.  He will always be expecting the same thing from you and will then be able to help you out as much as he can.  Also, as Henrik and I have discussed above, communication is key: if you are unable to communicate, your chances of success drop.  And finally, giving your all to your partner: making it as easy on him as possible will quickly win him over, allowing him to better support your needs.  He has a hard job to do and by helping him out, you give him much more freedom.

HL: Great advice, Rebecca! To be in-sync with your partner makes things look a lot better, alright, but it also helps a lot when it comes to the effort you put in. If both dancers put in the same amount of energy at the same places, that pas de deux is going to look smashing, just because of that! On a more personal basis, I think the biggest challenge in partnering is adapting to your partner. He or she may not be the kind of person you would normally “hang out” with, but with a little effort, and some good-will, it usually works out well. Although you don’t have to be hopelessly in love with your partner for the audience to believe what they see on-stage, it will take them but moments to realize if you do not like your partner at all. And from there, any pas de deux is spoiled, regardless of how well you dance.

A successful pas de deux performance obviously encompasses many elements, and the dancer’s rapport with each other is no exception.

RK: When I watch a pas de deux between dancers who do not relate to each other as they dance, I feel that the choreography losses a very important element.  Pas de deux means a “dance for two” and when the two dancers seem to be interested in each other by taking the opportunity to look at each other, their performance is automatically elevated.  Often a pas de deux is the dance of two lovers and there is nothing worse than watching two dancers who don’t even look interested in each other.  When the man appears attentive to the woman’s needs as she steals brief looks into his eyes, this effect if achieved.  The audience should feel as if they are witnessing a private moment, as the dancers are so lost in each other.

HL: Couldn’t have said it better myself. Also, eye contact is a great way of keeping present and understanding where your partner’s at. The audience might see an intimate moment, but it is also a tool to understand what and how you can help your partner the best, right at that moment.

RK: Most important is to understand the characters you are portraying.  Of course not every pas de deux requires a romantic connection.  But in my opinion, a connection of some sort is essential.  When two dancers are dancing so close to one another, it is just illogical to not establish some sort of rapport.

Did you like the technical insights we provided in the first post?  Here’s another “trick”, but remember, don’t try this at home!
The “Shoulder Sit”

RK: Another quite simple lift, the shoulder sit provides a terrific visual for the audience and has been utilized by choreographers for centuries.  For the woman, the most you can do to help the man is to give him a big jump in preparation.  Once you have left the ground, it is important to stick out your hips just as you would when sitting on a chair.  If you don’t, you will miss the man’s shoulder and end up sliding down his body.

(c) Leigh-Ann Esty

HL: Yes, the girl sliding down on your chest is probably the most common mistake. I have to say, the shoulder sit is a great lift – It’s quite simple to perform, and looks smashing! For the boy, the whole trick is in bending your knees once you have the girl up in the air. The idea is that you put your shoulder in under the girl, opposed to standing up straight and lifting the girl up to your shoulder. But the girl finding her right “sitting” position quick is essential – once she’s up there, you’d want as little movement as possible.

RK: An extension of the shoulder sit, is the allusion that Balanchine created in his Nutcracker Sugar Plum Pas De Deux. The ending is the same, but the beginning is much different.  Instead of beginning the lift with the man already grasping the woman’s waist and the woman being stationary in front of him, in this version the woman goes running towards the man, jumping and landing on his shoulder.  The sense of danger always generates an applause from the audience.

HL: For the boy, the Balanchine shoulder sit, or running shoulder sit, is pretty much the same as the regular one in performing – bending your knees good and get in under the girl is what is going to decide how the lift works out here. I don’t think even Natalia Osipova has the jump to reach your shoulder if you’re standing straight. Otherwise, keep your weight a bit over your toes, so that you are ready to catch the force from the girl coming flying – stability, remember?! Also remember: If the girls momentum is too big, and you can’t stop her instantly, it’s better you take a step back, than the girl continuing to the floor without you…

RK: Mystery solved!  I didn’t know that the man steps back for that reason, I just thought maybe it was the choreography!

Don’t forget to send in your questions so we can include them in our Question and Answer post!  Contact us either on twitter, or you can sign up for my email newsletter so that you can email me your question!  If you would like to receive weekly updates from TENDUS click here!


  1. A teacher helped me with my shoulder sit by saying:
    that the girl’s left leg (for a right side sit) should tuck into the guy’s side. she can wing her foot to wrap around under the guy’s rib cage to the back. It provides a great stability point to a difficult shoulder sit lift

  2. Thank you so much for this advice! this helped my pas de deux so much! i was just wondering if there are any tricks for pirouettes? what can the girl do to help in the pirouette?
    Thank you so much again! 🙂

    • Christiana-

      Thanks for your comment! I am so glad to hear that this advice has helped you. For the woman in partnered pirouettes, the more important thing is to keep a consistent spot and to hold your passe position strong. Be very aware of your center and use your abdominals. All of this will really help your boy put you on your leg.

  3. I am glad you enjoyed it Balletomane3! Keep plugging away at your classes!

    All the best!

  4. Thank you for teaming with Henrik on this topic. I started taking ballet as an adult so chances are that my ballet classes will never require me to pas de deux. But I am rather happy about this because it looks scary. I am good with solo but the great responsibility of not dropping a woman like a sack of potatos would be too much. You professionals are made of sterner stuff.

  5. You know it is better if you try to get his shoulder right where your hamstring meets your sits bones. However, any further down and you will be a bit too top heavy for your man. You may not get his shoulder right where you are shooting for, but this placement allows for a little leeway.

    I bet you could do the running shoulder sit. Never underestimate! 🙂

  6. That's really interesting, thanks for sharing, Rebecca! I might get enough guts one day to try it again perhaps 🙂 A shoulder doesn't seem to have that much space to sit on, but perhaps my partner and I weren't completely in sync and I wasn't sitting on the right spot that one time.

    A running shoulder sit… perhaps in another lifetime 😉

  7. Oh no! Yes he was not being helpful at all! That is what we are talking about when we discuss what we are looking for in partners!

    Sometimes it does happen that you don't quite make it on the man's shoulder when doing a shoulder sit. In this case, you need to do everything you can to hold on! But if executed correctly, it actually is not uncomfortable at all! It really just feels like sitting on a chair!

    A running shoulder sit is so much fun! It really is much more simple than it looks.

    Thanks for writing in Jennifer. We appreciate it!

  8. I had a partner imitate mockingly something he thought I did wrong in pas de deux class once, I almost clocked him in the face! Definitely not helpful to creating a trustful relationship.

    I haven't done a shoulder sit in over a decade but something they don't tell you is that you are teetering on the edge of his shoulder, barely hanging on (at least, that's how I felt). I don't know how the professional ladies do it, the shoulder sit never looks uncomfortable that in performance (or…it shouldn't anyways).

    I couldn't even imagine doing a running shoulder sit! I'll appreciate it from the audience perspective. 🙂

  9. Awesome sequel post! I really enjoyed reading it! 🙂

  10. Lorry-

    That is a great story! I am sure that those are the thoughts that go through every man's head during that moment! The challenge is to keep that look off your face and that keeps the magic of the "trick" alive.

    Thanks for commenting and for your kind words. We both appreciate all your support.

  11. Thanks for another great partnering post! The way you write together really is nice partnering!

    The shoulder sit reminds me of a performance that I saw last year where the dance ended with a shoulder sit. I will not say who it was because that would be mean, but the girl looked perfectly happy sitting up there and the boy had this look on his face that just said "get off of me, you weigh a ton!" It was hard not to giggle. Why lie… I laughed and got caught because I was front and center. We both gave each other "oh sorry" looks and I wished I had brought chocolate to throw.

    Great partnering can be so moving and rewarding for the audience to watch and, for me, knowing more about how/why makes me appreciate the dancers even more. Big thanks to both of you!

    Looking forward to the Q&A!


  12. David, yes, trust is the most important between the partners. Otherwise, it's going to be REAL heavy, and it's not going to look well, either.
    Glad you liked the second part too – Q&A coming in a couple of days 🙂

  13. David,

    Great comment! This is exactly what we mean! Trust is huge, and without it, things will just simply not work out. If the woman fights against her man, it will make things much harder on him. Sometimes he needs your weight in order to see where you are and to do his job effectively.

    Thanks for writing in! Glad you enjoyed post two!

  14. Another awesome post – it has been really interesting to hear from the Pro's about Partnering – thank you so much for doing this 🙂

    Even from the one workshop I've had on partnering I've realised how important trust is – one of the girls I worked with didn't seem to trust me initially, and just simply tilting her while in sous-sous was way harder than with the other girls. She kept on trying to shift her weight back over her feet (not trusting me to keep her held up) and so it didn't really work. When she started to trust me later on, the partnering suddenly got a lot easier!


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