Episode 6 – Music for Rond de Jambe à Terre

Before we delve into our weekly discussions, we’d just like to take a moment to say we hope that everybody is healthy and well. If you’re in isolation, we hope that you’re coping and that everybody has an appropriate level of support with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. We’ve recorded a few episodes in advance so for now we’re going to keep releasing the work we’ve completed so far. We hope that wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, if you’re tuned into the podcast that it might provide you with a few giggles and possibly even something insightful along the way.

In this weeks episode we’re lifting the lid on Rond de Jambe a Terre. We know that Rond de Jambe means rounding of the leg but there’s so much more to the exercise than this. We introduce a port de bra and a balance on the end and discuss how you can support this musically through time signatures, melodies, accompaniment and of course – humour. 

Further discussions include confusion between dominant and tonic cadence when a tutor once thought Akiko said gin and tonic and realising that Chris and Akiko both initially learnt ballet terminology behind the piano using a free app downloaded from the internet! All that and more in this weeks episode.

Music Referenced in this Episode

Transcription of this Episode by Jonathan Still

Taking part: 

MG: Matt Gregory CH: Chris Hobson AH: Akiko Hobson    DY: David Yow 


[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 

V/O: You’re listening to the Ballet Piano Podcast: Lifting the lid on dance accompaniment. 

[Music ends]

CH: Hello listeners and welcome back to Ballet Piano Podcast. I’m Chris Hobson, and as always, in the studio with me today is the rest of our beautiful podcast team—the marvellous Matthew Gregory 

MG: Hello 

CH: The absolutely amazing Akiko Hobson 

AH: That feels very weird, but hello everybody 

CH: And the delicious hashtag David Yow of Instagram 

DY: Hello 

CH: So, in today’s episode, we’re slowing things down a little bit and we’re going to be talking about ronds de jambe. After all my years of sitting behind the piano, I did learn finally that ronds de jambe technically means “round of the leg” and a quick Google search has taught me that actually rond de jambe really helps with increasing turn-out, but after that, I’m a little bit lost, David, so could you help me out, please, and explain what rond de jambe is.

AH: Did you learn that this morning? 

CH: I learned it yesterday writing my show notes. 

DY: Good for you! 

CH: David, can you please help me out and explain to us what rond de jambe is. 

DY: Sure, well, rond de jambe . . . there are two ways of doing rond de jambe. When we, at this point in the class we’ve done a warm-up exercise, we’ve done pliés, we’ve done tendus, and jetés, and we’ve gone faster with glissés. And now we’re going to slow things down again because we’re going to do a different kind of a movement. So far with the speeding up of things we’ve done things generally in straight lines, so from a closed position to an open position, either to the front, to the side, or the back, and now we’re going to join those things up so we’re going to actually start, let’s say, we point our toe to the front with a stretched leg to the front, so you’ve just got your big toe on the floor, and you’re going to draw a line on the floor to the side, and then you end up to the back. That’s a rond de jambe in a particular direction, and we call this en dehors, going outwards. We can do . . . the reverse of that would be en dedans going inwards from the back, round to the side, and to the front, and then passing through first position, and so you’re—on the floor, you’re going to make a capital D shape with your foot, so as you pass from the front to the back through first position, you’ll actually put your whole foot on the floor and then point your foot again in a new direction, either to the front or the back, go round to the side, and then either end up to the front or the back, and then close back into first. That’s one rond de jambe à terre” — “on the floor.” But you can do that also with your foot off the floor, maybe at knee-height at 45º or grand rond de jambe, which would be at 90º, that’s hip-height, all the way round, making the same shape, to the front, to the side, or the back, or reversed. But there’s also rond de jambe en l’air, but we’ll talk about that later. 

CH: Yeah, that comes later on, slightly, doesn’t it. So, rond de jambe à terre, straight after the quick 2/4s or the quick 6/8s as we were talking about in the last episode, musically what do you want from a pianist in this episode, we’re going to go slower, aren’t we?

DY: We are, so you need more time within the musical phrase, so generally we tend to aim towards a 3/4, so it gives us a lot more time to actually fill in the gaps between either front to the side, or side to the back. And that gives the person who’s doing the action time to feel what you’re talking about, turning out from the top of the legs, on not just the gesture side, the foot that’s actually making the actual shape on the floor, but also when you’re standing on your supporting leg, you also have to do a turning out movement in the opposite direction to where you’re going. So if I’m going from the front to the side to the back, on my supporting leg, I’m feeling about, almost feeling I’m going the other, the opposite direction, even though I’m standing on that leg, so you’re getting the most possible action from the top of the muscles, to turn out your legs. 

CH: And when you set it, just, you know, a standard rond de jambe exercise, the start of the rond de jambe where would you want that to be, is that going to sort of like, and a one and a two, for the rond de jambe, or would we be out on the first beat of the bar, out and a . . . does it depend on the way it’s choreographed, or am I completely off? 

DY: No, no, you’re right, it depends. If you’re talking about a more novice student, or someone that you’re teaching, or you want more time within the phrase, you’re going to start going out on the and a one, and also it depends on where you actually start that circle, because you can start anywhere in that circle, either from a closed position, maybe first or fifth position, or you might start in any of those three directions, front, side, or back. It’s up to, you know, whatever your purpose would be. Generally, what tends to happen is that when you’re teaching more novice people, you tend to start either in a closed position, or we have what we call a preparation, where we bend the knees in first position in a plié, and we may degagé,  we might tendu on a bent supporting leg to the front, and then stand up with two straight legs and our gesture leg is à la seconde, to the side of our body, and then we might start the action from that position, and that’s what we tend to do because what we want to do is practise the action of rounding of the leg, so we might do a lot of repetitions of the same action. 

MG: And is it right that the passing through first is on the one of each bar? 

DY: It could be, or it could be ending, so if we were going to teach, let’s say, a very inexperienced person, I might start actually from a first position of the feet, I might just start there, going very slowly, tendu devant, one and a; I might hold there if it’s the very first time they’ve done it, two and a; so they can feel that extended position, three and a four; they might start making a very slow circle from the front to the side of their body, and then they might go from the side to the back, five and a six; that will take two bars, and then seven and a eight; we might return back to the closed position, the first position. So that would then teach them where they’re physically going to actually move their leg within in that movement, and as they get more proficient at it, then we might actually start doing either double time, so you just take one bar of music to go to the front, to the side, and the back, so 1 2 3 to the side, 2 2 3 3 2 3 to the back, and then 4 2 3 close, and then as you get more experienced we might even double up that time, so you’re getting faster and faster all the time. 

MG: So eventually they’re becoming one dancer’s count

DY: Exactly, yes. 

MG: Is that what they’re sort of aiming to get to? 

DY: Yes, so what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to create a precise muscle memory that you could go at any speed that you like, so that you can actually swiftly get round in one count, perhaps, if you need to, that’s absolutely right. 

CH: And that’s preparation for presumably for what’s coming later on in the class, is it? 

DY: There are jumps and movements in the centre practice when you’re not standing at the barre that require this movement, and especially in jumps, and you need a lot of control, muscular control, and balance to be able to do that without the barre, so that’s why it takes a long time, and that’s why we do it so slowly at first. 

AH: And why do you put a port de bras exercise at the end of the rond de jambe?

DY: Because a) it’s slow, and after the actual standing of—the last time you will have moved your body in terms of body bends will have been pliés, so you’ll have done pliés, tendus, and jetés and glissés, so for two exercises in between you’ve not moved your upper body. 

CH: Right, it’s just been all the lower half of the body. 

DY: So now you need to actually release the tension perhaps, and sort of like, remind the dancer that they actually are going to dance with their whole body, and that’s why you put body bends in now, because the tempo is slower now, so you’ve got more time to actually express that really, that’s what the actual purpose is. 

MG: And you will have assumed too, up until this point, that the heart rate’s up, from the battements glissés and jetés.

DY: So you’re warmer 

MG: So you’re warmer physically, the whole body, so it’s a good time to stretch out isn’t it.  

DY: Absolutely 

[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 

CH: I really like it when you get a port de bras at the end of the rond de jambe exercise. Goes back to what we’ve said in pliés, what we’ve said in tendus, about being musically indulgent with yourself, isn’t it, because you’ve got a relatively slow 3/4, like the Chopin E flat, or whatever else we play, Scenes from Childhood, whatever we like to play with the very slow waltz, usually, isn’t it, in the bass, in the left hand it’s “oom chah chah oom chah chah” and then when you get to port de bras, it’s almost like a return to pliés, isn’t it, musically, you get the quavers back in the left hand, or you can start, you know, chording it up a little bit, and almost like, I quite like the melody to go up when the dancers do a forward port de bras, and sort of like you know, musically, and lyrically do the opposite of what their movement is, if they’re going down, I’m going up, if they’re going up, I’m going down, and vice versa, just to add a little bit of spice into there, just for my own enjoyment. 

MG: And they’re probably looking forward to the stretch as well, aren’t they, after doing all the ronds de jambe, so it’s a big indulgent moment, isn’t it. 

DY: It is a bit, yeah. I like the ronds de jambes, because you can really be inspired by the music that you hear, that affects the way that you dance for this particular thing, especially after you’ve done something quick like glissés, just before that. 

MG: And there’s a coordination thing isn’t there for ronds de jambe, because, you know, there’s a port de bras for the [stumbling over his words] en dehors

CH: Put your teeth in [all laugh] 

MG: And there’s a port de bras for the en dedans. 

DY: There could be, yes, there’s lots of variations, you could do that. But I mean in contrast, I mean, we don’t always always stick to 3/4s, I mean it’s always sometimes very interesting to actually have a 4/4 as well, because it actually makes the dancer listen, yes, and so, but, with a 4/4 you’re perhaps trying to use it to alert them to the precision of where they’re going to end up in a particular time of that rond de jambe, the rounding of the leg, at a particular time within the music. 

CH: I always feel that if we’re on a 4/4, even if you’ve got exactly the same pulse, say this is your pulse [clicks fingers] I hope that click came across on the microphone, but if that’s your pulse, on a 3/4, [in tempo] 1 2 3 2 2 3, you could keep the same pulse 1 and 2 and, and they just, even though there is exactly the same amount of time, it doesn’t feel like there’s the same amount of time, and you can see, you know, a little bit of panic come. 

DY: Because they rely . . . it’s true, because when you, as a dancer, I remember really being indulgent at that point, because the music really inspires you to do this movement, so it’s such a help to do this on a 3/4 perhaps. 

CH: What do you like to play, Akiko and Matt. What’s, do we have . . . what’s greatest hits on this, or what’s your favourite combination of, you know, ronds de jambe, port de bras, balance even, or I know I’ve worked with a teacher in the past who’s sent the students down to the floor at the end of a rond de jambe exercise and then brought them up as if it’s almost like the end of an adage. 

AH: I just remember when I started my job, and I didn’t have much rep to play for the ballet class, and I felt like all the ballet pianists are playing Moon River for rond de jambe, so I just always remembered, I have to find the music that’s similar to Moon River, and then I’m going to be OK with rond de jambe, that’s how I tried to find the tune for this exercise. 

CH: Yeah, my go-to this week, has been, because Joshua has just finished reading this–Joshua’s Akiko’s son, who’s what five and a half years old as we record this, is he? 

AH: Yes. 

CH: And it’s quiet this week because he’s on a playdate, but he’s just finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we watched the film with him, so this week has been Pure Imagination for most rond de jambes [sound of agreement from AH and MG] 

DY: One of my favourites

CH: So if you’ve worked with me this week and you’re bored of it now, I promise I’ll play something different next week. 

MG: I mean I don’t know how you feel David, about rond de jambe, but I feel as a musician, this point where we’ve got to in the bar, this is the moment where the dancers, everything is sort of really coming together, the port de bras, their heads, the coordination, the artistry, I feel like this is where they’re really dancing at the barre, and so for choosing something, I’d choose something that’s really emotive

CH: Yeah. 

MG: Not always, but I sometimes play the Schindler’s List theme in 3

CH: Yeah. 

MG: . . . because it’s so chromatic

AH: That’s my adage tune! 

MG: Is it? [all laugh] I’m going to play it for adage as well. 

CH: Oh gosh, by the time we get to the end of this podcast, we’re going to find out we all play the same repertoire for different exercises, aren’t we. 

MG: Well, it’s really emotive and people love it

CH: I really like, what’s it called, My Grandfather’s Clock, on a 3/4, not a 4/4 . . . and I know I’ve . . . [to AH] did I steal that from you, or you played it for me, and I said I was stealing it? 

AH: I think so, well it’s quite famous in Japan, and I actually thought it was a Japanese folk tune, somehow. If I can tell in Japanese for our Japanese listeners 

CH: For our third most popular country 

AH: It’s called Ookina Furudokei, and it’s the direct translation is “old clock” 

CH: Because it’s got the bit, when you listen to most recordings, I mean, the lyrics are a little bit sad because the old man dies at the end, but before the old man dies, he talks about the clocks, and he goes, “And it stopped . . “ and the music stops, and if you do that on a 3/4, you can see the dancers who are musical and the ones who are not, because you don’t play the 2-3, and they sort of look at you and just go “Ooh?” Yeah, it’s nice, a thing like that. 

MG: We used to sing that at primary school 

CH: Did you?!

MG: My Grandfather’s Clock

CH: Stick it back in the repertoire, let’s bring it back for 2020. 

MG: It’s going back in! 

CH: And then you get the port de bras after it and as you said, you go into the indulgence, and then if you get super lucky, you can get the second side straight in. 

MG: And I think if we’re being kind to the dancers we’ll probably pull out that port de bras, wouldn’t we? 

CH: Yes. 

MG: We’d sort of just stretch out that tempo, so they’ve got time to do all those, because sometimes they do full circular port de bras, and only four counts sometimes, and they’ve got a long way to go, haven’t they, so, I think, we would be kind, wouldn’t we, and just pull it out a little bit. 

CH: I’ve started being a bit, I think it’s really funny but no-one’s laughed yet, this week, I’ve been playing for someone who does a relevé for 16 bars at the end, 16 bars of 3/4


CH: And I’m sticking in You raise me up because I think that’s really funny! But no-one’s laughed or smiled at me yet, so either they don’t know the repertoire, in which case, I need to retire, or they’re not listening, so I hope it’s the fact they don’t know the rep. 

DY: Standing there for 16 bars of 3/4 is quite a long time. 

MG: I know it’s quite a long time [laughter/inaudible]

CH: When you’ve done 32 and 32 and then you do 16 in relevé, or 14 in relevé and then spin around to the second side

AH: Sometimes you think it’s like eight counts to you know, finish, and if they want more, you just have to add another eight counts. 

CH: This is where you get to the end, isn’t it, especially if, you know, if there’s going to be a relevé or you suddenly get shouted at “relevé” this is the first exercise really as a pianist where you’ve got to be able to continue

AH: Yeah. 

MG: Oh yeah, that’s true. 

CH: And you’ve got to be prepared for anything, you could be asked for an eight to balance, or you’ve been told you’ve got an eight, and they want an extra eight, and then sometimes the teacher will say at the end of that, “And four bars to the second side” so they want the introduction again, and then we go again

AH: Or two chords to end. 

CH: Yes. But if we’re going along that methodology of training, yes. 

AH: I just had one teacher a long time ago, he asked me to finish two chords at the end, and at that time I didn’t really know what it was, and I just kind of said to him, “Oh so I just have to play dominant and tonic to finish?” But he misunderstood me and he kept saying in the ballet class, “Yeah, yeah, that, the gin and tonic to end.” [all laugh] 

DY: Brilliant, I love that! 

AH: He just kept calling it “gin and tonic ending” 

DY: I’m going to steal that, that’s brilliant

CH: I used to work with a teacher who would have a “gin and tonic” ending at the end of every exercise, and he was great, you know, he was a personal friend, and he’s going to hopefully come on the podcast at some point in the future, but he has a gin and tonic ending at the end of everything, and it took me a while to know what that was for. And I was told it was, you know, to either hold the position in relevé or just to have a brief moment of reflection just to keep that moment of focus, you know, just for a couple of seconds, then he’d say “and” again, and then we’d do the gin and tonic to finish with, 

DY: To bring everybody together 

MG: I always play my balances really quietly, because I think, they’re concentrating, the dancers are concentrating, they don’t want to be bombarded with all this music, but they want to hear something, so I always play my balances a little under. 

CH: I think I spent years almost like fluffing through the balances, because I never knew how long it was going to go on for, because quite often, the balance is going to be the bit that that’ll be overlooked when a teacher’s set the exercise, so you’ll know exactly how long the exercise is, if there’s a port de bras at the end, you’ll know exactly how long that is, and then they go, “and we’ll just balance at the end.” Is it eight? Is it 16? Is it, is it an eight and a turnaround for four and then we start the next side, what? And that can be a bit that’s overlooked sometimes, can’t it, I think? 

AH: Yeah.

MG: And is rond de jambe exercise the first exercise where there’ll be a sort of balance in passé or an open position? 

DY: Umm . . . [hesitates] 

MG: Because I’ve played for obviously lots of exercises and then it’s, you know, the balance is either passé or attitude, or something 

DY: Because you’re making, you have a lot more time within the music, yes, the balances are going to be longer, and often the positions that you’re going to balance in are bigger, so they’re bigger poses, perhaps, because you’ve lots of time. 

MG: Because we’ve done grands ronds de jambe, haven’t we, and so the dancers presumably are really warm at this point. 

DY: Before this . . . 

MG: So they can find an open position balance 

DY: So before this, you might at the end, perhaps—Chris was just alluding to this, perhaps at the end of every exercise, you might do a little sort of an ending, and you might build up the way that you get  the position that you’re going to balance in. So like, standing on two feet to one foot, in cou de pied, that’s the neck of the foot, placing your gesture foot, sorry, against the ankle bone of your supporting leg, and then you might go up to retiré which is just perhaps round about the knee height underneath the knee in retiré, and then as we say, into more, bigger positions, bigger poses, like attitude, or extensions, in any of the directions, so you’re quite right. 

MG: So the balances have progression throughout the barre as well as you know, the actual exercises.

DY: Yes, and you said earlier, you can also use your upper body to do rounding movements as well, so you might bend in double all the way forward, go to the side, let’s say, towards the barre, and then go all the way backwards and back round to the side, and that would be a whole circular port de bras, you’re quite right. 

CH: It just takes a while to get to know the terminology as a pianist sometimes, doesn’t it, and you’re always learning because, I mean, I know ballet can seem, you know, the way it’s taught can seem to be very set, almost sometimes historical, in terms of the choreography, but it is an art form that is you know, set in its history, but is constantly moving forward with, you know, different influences like, be it sports science, or different ideas and different approaches, it’s nice to have that. 

MG: I’ve got to say, I came at this from a different direction, didn’t I, being a dancer first, so I had all that ballet terminology from training, and then when I came to play for class, I mean, I guess I took it for granted. But it was the whole musical side of me that I was playing catch-up with, the technique of playing the piano, and playing for ballet class, the actual music technique that I was playing catch-up on, all the ballet terminology was second nature. 

CH: You see, it’s funny because we’ve probably taken things for granted you and I, and Akiko, but just completely opposite, you know, I, I took for granted that I could play the piano, and I could do the exercises, I just didn’t know what I was meant to be doing when I started. Whereas you knew exactly what you were meant to be doing but like you say, just playing slight catch-up with . . . 

MG: Didn’t know how. Yeah yeah yeah. 

CH: . . . with the physicality of it. 

AH: I remember like downloading this free app for ballet terminology on my phone just to understand the words in the first year. 

CH: I was once, well I was working in my first ever ballet job, and it was, pas de cinq, and I’d got no idea, I didn’t even know that ballet terminology was in French when I started, and  I wrote a note, and I think I spelled it like P-A-R-D-A-S and then I wrote “sink” or something like that. 

MG: As well, because of having played for so many different ballet teachers, I found I’ll never forget ballet terminology, or the names of steps, because I, you hear them all the time, either at school or company level, open classes, kids classes, and so if a teacher has forgotten the name of a step, I’ll be like, oh you know, that’s a coupé passé or that’s a one of these, coupé jeté, you know, so I found I’ll never forget the names of terminology, ever. 

AH: Wow.

CH: I’m the complete opposite, I don’t know what half the steps look like, but I know what they are, but I wouldn’t sometimes recognise them 

AH: I’m the same, and I still cannot spell most of the words correctly, so any ballet pianist who share the same ballet score with me, I’m very sorry, I spell everything wrong on the markings. 

CH: The spelling wrong is not an issue, it’s when you write in Japanese [all laugh]. I tried to play the class that you’d been playing for for a while and I got your notes, and 30% of it’s in English, but the rest of it’s in Japanese. 

AH: It’s English and Japanese and some numbers. 

CH: Oh well listen, I think we’ve discussed everything and more in this episode, let’s bring it to a close. Don’t forget, if you like photographs, as we all do, why not get in touch with us on Instagram @balletpianopodcast. We’re pretty live on there, we’ll share a story every now and then, and hashtag us in there with whatever the modern kids do. 

MG: It’s all about TikTok now

CH: It’s all about. . . what’s TikTok? 

MG: It’s the new thing. 

CH: Right, I’m going to stick on Instagram for a while. 

MG: Do a Ballet Piano Podcast TikTok. 

CH: OK, we’ll TikTok at same point. Is that the right terminology? 

AH: And any Japanese welcome—feedbag, hashtag

CH: Yeah, we’re @balletpianopodcast so make sure you join us next time, where what we’re going to discuss is possibly the most sexiest exercise at the barre ever, it’s the one that really gets my juices flowing, and it’s called fondu. [MG laughs] It’s going to be a good one. And so until next time, it’s goodbye from me

MG: Goodbye from me

AH: Bye bye 

DY: Bye

[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 

. . . ENDS. . .

© 2020 Ballet Piano Podcast (Christopher Hobson, Matt Gregory, Akiko Hobson, David Yow)

 Producer: Christopher Hobson  

Transcription by Jonathan Still 2/5/20 

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