Four Tips For Building Reversing Skills

Building Reversing Skills

I willingly admit to being a reverse junkie. If there was time enough, I would have my students reverse everything. I find the puzzle of reversing enthralling and always come away from it feeling a little more the wiser for having pieced it all together.

Choosing to reverse exercises or steps that aren’t generally reversed can also lead to some innovative choreography. Or, at the very least, get a dancer thinking outside the box of how steps are generally done in ballet. This makes reversing not only an exercise of logic, but also of creativity.

Reversing well requires a strong understanding of ballet vocabulary and theory. Want to find out who has some excellent ballet smarts? Ask the class to reverse. The ones who get it will instantly dive in. They probably won’t figure it out perfectly, but they will have enough knowledge to guide them along the right path. The ones who sort of get it will tread carefully. They will likely question every direction they go, but they will continue to move because they are not entirely lost. And the ones who don’t get it will pretty much crumble straight away. They will have no concept of how to even begin, let alone carry on.

4 Tips to Building Reversing Skills:

Learning how to reverse is a skill. And like every skill, it must be taught. Most dancers can stumble through and basically figure out the basics, but to reverse a complex petit allegro or pirouette exercise requires strategic thinking and an organized approach.

1. Start Young

I instill the concept of doing things backwards very early on. Three year olds can understand that when their arms move outward, the opposite (reverse) is inward. Five year olds can do tiptoe runs forward and then instantly switch and go backwards (reverse). Seven year olds can learn how to skip backwards (in reverse). And on we go. If we teach them about reversing early on, it is not a new concept once they reach the elementary levels.

2. Go Basic

I first teach that reversing is not doing the last step first. It is keeping the order of the steps but doing each step in reverse. I will give a most basic combination (Ex: Battement tendu devant, plié, sous-sus) and then ask them to reverse it. If they accomplish this fairly easily, then we move on to a slightly more complicated combination (Ex: Battement jeté devant {cts 1-2}, battement piqué dessous {cts 3-4}, 3 battement jeté devant {cts 5-6-7}, hold {ct 8}). Once they can reverse this one easily, they have demonstrated they understand the basics of reversing.

3. Do Not Use “Right” and “Left”

Except when necessary and appropriate, I try to not use the directions “right” and “left”. Instead, I will use effacé, en dehors, dessus, etc. When a student understands that they are not turning to the right, but instead doing an en dedans pirouette it will be so much easier for them to reverse that pirouette into en dehors. There will be far fewer mediocre questions like “do I use my left foot?” because if the passé was dessous before it will now be dessus and that tells us everything we need to know. So much easier!

4. Reverse the Ridiculous

The crazy fast advanced petit allegro? Reverse it. The sweepy waltz? Reverse it. The ferociously long adage? Reverse it. The crisp footwork en pointe? Reverse it. Reverse it all. Obviously there is not time to reverse it all ALL the time, but using some minutes of class to prioritize reversing something will help build this skill. Soon your students will be reversing whizzes. I know this because I have witnessed it. And truly, it is loads of fun to observe. Plus, when they get it—really get it—they are so much more confident and pick up choreography so much more quickly.

While reversing can seem overwhelming, it does not have to be overwhelming. Start where your dancers are and build from there. Slowly. There will be moments of frustration because it isn’t easy. But this is ballet, so nothing is easy. Just keep on. Help your students remain determined to master each concept along the way and the results will be ever so rewarding, for both teacher and student.

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