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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Musicality questions


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Could someone please give a detailed explanation of what it means to have the accent on "in" or "out" in tendu/dégagé? Which is more common? Also, in pique turns for instance, are you stepping up and turning on the accent? Or coming down on the accent? Same question for jumps, is the accent on the plié or at the height of the jump? I struggle with musicality but I do love music and can get a sense of the rhythm -- I've just found recently that I can be with the music (or at least feel like I am) and doing things rhythmically (I hope) but still off. I can usually fix it pretty quickly but sometimes it's a struggle. Thanks for any help. 

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The accent is movement taking place on the strong beat of the music--the beat you clap or tap your foot to.  Musically, without getting into compound time, that generally refers to the first beat of a measure (for duple or triple time).  (For quadruple time, for our purposes, generally the accent refers to the movement on the strong and medium beats.)

For dégagés and tendus, I would say that the accent is overwhelmingly IN (unless you are doing traditional Cecchetti tendus).  The accent being "in" means that you are in your closed position (5th, 3rd, or 1st) on the strong beat.

For jumps and turns, think of the strong beat by another of its names--the downbeat.  You're up on the upbeat and down on the downbeat. (So plié on the downbeat, jump on the upbeat)  Music for dégagés, jumps and many turns often has an anacrusis, so that it starts with the upbeat, making the movement easier to initiate (and making the overall feeling of the music "lighter").  Counting-wise, it is the difference between:




Same amount of beats, different placement of the "&", which refers to the upbeat.

I hope that helped!

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Oh boy!  I don't know if there is a "usually" as far as accenting the 'in' or "out".  It really depends on where the teacher wants it or how they denonstrate.  

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I would also add to my original post that an accent being "in" is a fairly fast tendu, so if you are in classes geared more towards beginners, you may be more likely to find tendus "on the count", as in "tendu one close two", in which case both movements would take place on the strong beat.

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Good response ascballerina! It personally helped me to think of  accent in as closing on the number (tendu on the &, close on the 1, tendu on the &, close on 2) and accent out as closing on the &. 

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Generally, in ballet, the focus is on being up.  It's one of the things that makes ballet...ballet!  The emphasis on doing things on releve and pointe, the aesthetics being "ethereal" and "light" and floating, flying, skimming, etc.  That's one of the characteristics of ballet that makes it different from, for example, modern, which is characterized by "weighted", "falling", "grounded" movements. 

So, in general, in many of the classes you will find out there, the emphasis as you move into center is going to be on being UP.  Except when doing exercises where the focus is plies, the plie will be on "and", because that's your preparation for the move.  We generally don't hold plies in ballet.  They are purely transitional things that get us where we want to go*, so the emphasis is not on the plie but on the thing that comes after it.

There will always be exceptions.  Fact: Whatever your teacher gives you is what you are supposed to do in that moment, in that class.  

Back when I was auditioning for things, I once heard an artistic director say, "The closer your musicality is to the person in charge of you, the better your musicality is."  And I believe this is true, which is to say that in ballet, as in all arts, some people tend to think you are better if you interpret things the same way they do.  While I don't think anyone will argue that there's no such thing as an upbeat or a downbeat, ballet teachers have opinions like everyone else.  The more your interpretation of the music matches your teacher's, the easier your class will feel.


*Okay, not purely.  They also make us stronger and stretch out our calves, but you see what I mean!

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Not much to add - especially to ascballerina's clear explanations. 

What I'd add are a couple of points about counting: the joke about dancers is that we only count to 8. And that we don't start with "1" - we start with "and". This is especially the case with glissés (sometimes called jetés) and fast tendus. I notice that beginner dancers find this one of the most tricky things to get into their bodies. So in jumps, the plié is on the "and" the jump on the "1" (usually).

The other thing is that musicality varies by type of step - in petit allegro it's good to be on the accent (or even a tad before it to be ready), but in adage, you can really fill out the music, and be a tad behind so you get the light & shade between the connecting steps and the big movements.

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There is a difference between the musical accent in music and the physical accent of movement in dance. To dancers, the accent is where the swift physical exertion has occurred whereas in music the accent will always be on the whole note, the down beat. Generally speaking in easier classes, depending upon time signature, the accent of the movement should correspond with the accent of the music. A 4/4 will allows having the physical accent evenly out and in. A 2/4 will allow the physical accent on the upbeat ("and" beat) while the musical accent is on the closing or landing of the movement. A waltz or 3/4, the musical accent is the 1st beat or 1 which generally speaking is the demi plié. Ballet moves forward from there. Once musicality is understood, the physicality of dance increases in many ways however speed and mechanics are a major focus.

You will find that different methods and styles of ballet use music differently which might add to the confusion if you are taking class from different teachers. Also if one is taking class to "canned" music, the teacher may not be able to find the correct music to teach musicality therefore finding music that works becomes the priority. This is less than ideal, but better than no music at all.

Lower level classes which move more slowly than intermediate and advanced classes, work on basic rhythms, Simple 4/4s and 2/4s to teach the physicality and musicality of dance. As mentioned previously,  4/4, OUT on 1 and IN on 2, etc.. Or 2/4 OUT on "and" and IN on 1, etc. Within those rhythms, students will learn sub-divisions of double and triple timing movement. In order to learn these rhythms, they need to be drilled so that patterns become familiar. Unfortunately in adult classes there is a lot left to surmise. I would suggest that you put yourself in a beginner class to work out the various options of musicality. Also, explain to your teach3er that you are having difficulty understanding accents. A good teacher would compose exercises that would allow you to understand this important aspect of dance.


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