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Whip It: A History of the fouetté and our 32 Fouettés Project

I’ve heard it’s proper to start clapping at 12. I’m as entranced as any ballet goer when a ballerina starts doing fouetté turns – usually at the end of a grand pas de deux in the coda, as she and her partner take turns wowing the audience up until their last impressive pose. Whether you know the technical term “fouetté” (to whip, in French) or not – you have most likely seen these impressive, one legged turns. A ballerina whips herself around on the same standing leg, using the force of her other leg to propel her around as the leg passes through the passé position (her toe pointing to her knee) then extending out to á la seconde and repeating, all executed as she turns on relevé, or in a risen position on her tip toes. At the end of the Black Swan pas de deux in Swan Lake, a dancer will do 32 fouettés and as the audience becomes entranced, counting each turn, you’ll hear the applause start (sometimes around turn 8 but as I mentioned above, I’ve heard it’s more proper to wait until 12) as she keeps turning and turning. Fouettés feel as synonymous with ballet as tutus and pointe shoes themselves.

Pierina Legnani, an Italian powerhouse, first did 32 fouettés in Cinderella in 1893. Italian dancers (from the Cecchetti School of Ballet) were more athletic than their French and Russian counterparts and they also knew how to spot when they turned (spotting means you focus on one fixed point, whip your head around and return to that point, thus keeping you from getting dizzy.) Spotting, strong calves and thighs are all essential to doing fouettés and Pierina could whip them out.

So why are we focusing on fouettés? They’re essential to any ballerina’s dancing vocabulary; they take strength, stamina and dedication. If you click onto the link about our 32 Fouettés Project, you can see Leading Artist Julianne Kepley doing a neverending set of fouettés – and it’s not just the technology making her look effortless. The intense dedication that gets a dancer to the level of Julianne is the same kind of dedication we are asking of you, our donors and supporters. By giving a small monthly donation to the ballet, our strength as an organization grows and endures.

Just as in the training of ballet, things happen one step at a time – you must learn how to relevé on pointe, before you can start doing fouettés. These little steps give a student the foundation of technique, eventually transforming them into an artist of the craft. We are asking for the same approach - $5 a month transports one of our Relevé students from ALBA, Allen-Field or Dover Elementary Schools to the studio for their weekly ballet class, $15 a month will pay for Julianne’s pointe shoes all season long, $35 could scholarship an in-need student for an entire year of study at Milwaukee Ballet School. As we look forward to our classical season-ender, Coppélia, consider being a part of the 32 Fouetté Project. Your dedication and support are as impressive as Julianne’s fouettés.

Alyson Chavez
Director of Education