Training Ground: A Running Illusion
As children, we aren’t taught how to run, we just start running. But once we break down the technique of running and walking in class, we suddenly find both completely unnatural. And once pointe shoes are on, creating a smooth—and silent—run becomes even more challenging. Kristina Windom, a Washington Ballet School faculty member, says, “I didn’t develop a good run until my second or third year as a professional!” It takes hours of practice to find a comfortable run and walk that is your own, and can captivate an audience with each quiet step.
A Technical Approach
Unless otherwise choreographed, classical runs go from three-quarter pointe to three-quarter pointe, rather than transferring onto a fully pointed toe or a low demi-pointe. Nadia Thompson, ballet mistress for Milwaukee Ballet, advises dancers to keep their weight on the back foot and push off the metatarsal, instead of kicking the legs out to the back or front. The heels should never touch the ground while running. A quick walk is similar, done on high demi-pointe with the heels lifted; however, slower walks often move through the entire foot. For all runs and walks, don’t bounce—try to keep your head level the entire time.
A common misconception is that you should run with straight, completely turned out legs. “Keep your knees supple so your run doesn’t become mechanical,” says Windom. Many teachers suggest running with about half of the full 180-degree turnout. Thompson tells dancers to lead with the heel and inner thigh. “If someone runs really well,” she explains, “you don’t notice whether they are turned out or not.”
A smooth roll through the shoe makes runs and walks more fluid. This articulation requires strong, refined foot muscles, developed first through relevés at the barre. “Jumping in pointe shoes is also great for learning to roll through, land toes first and articulate down,” says Thompson. Practice slow sautés in first, and work on prances in parallel at the barre, one foot at a time.
As for the upper body, arms shouldn’t waggle or pump. They should be held from the back supported by a strong core, with the chest open. No matter where the choreography places them, Thompson believes there should be air underneath the arms, with elbows away from the body—always alive, not frozen.
Make It Something More
Once the technique is mastered, you must create your own style. “You have to find a rhythm inspired by the music,” says Windom.
The character you’re dancing must be imbued in your gait from your toes on up through your body. Atlanta Ballet dancer Kristine Necessary says that, while dancing Juliet, her runs are quick and energetic, like a young girl in love; Giselle’s mad scene steps are turned in and frolicy, while the Wili walks are calculated and somber. “The character has to infuse into the walks, the feet are used like sign language,” Windom explains. “Kitri’s feet show off her confidence; she almost saunters around.”
While characters have a clear motivation, abstract parts require different imagery. “Contemporary running sends energy down, it is heavier and grounded,” Thompson says. Often, these runs and walks are closer to pedestrian style—arms sometimes move freely or pump, legs may be parallel, feet occasionally go heel to toe—but they should still have an internal motivation.
Ballet runs and walks round out the dancer as a mature artist. As Windom says, “Running is still a part of the audiences’ experience, so take time with it.”
Jen Peters dances with Jennifer Muller/The Works.