Pas Marché


This is an brief excerpt from The Technique of Eighteenth-Century Ballet concerning the execution of the pas marché. This section is incomplete as it stands here, since the excerpt is meant to address only the question of the whether the knee of the traveling leg bent while being carried through.


The Pas Marché

The pas marché (‘the walked step’) was a basic building-block and was known by more than one name. Instead of the French expression pas marché, the German sources commonly use the German term steifer Schritt, that is, “a stiff step (which is otherwise called a pas tendu, or ‘stretched step,’ because the knee is somewhat bent before the foot is taken forwards, or is also called le pied en l’air et le poser ensuite in Chorégraphie, because the foot is set down on the floor after being stretched” (Taubert 1717: 581). The French term pas tendu, however, is employed in Martinet (1797: ?) to mean a relevé. Some sources, such as Taubert (1717) and Hentschke (1836), employ the term pas ordinaire (‘ordinary step’) for the walking step as well.

Other writers use the expression pas élevé (‘raised step’) to denote a marché done on the toes rather than on the flat of the foot. Feldtenstein (1772: 79), for example, uses the term thus, such that he can describe the pas de bourrée, with its demi-coupé and two marchés on the toes, as a step which “is made up of a bent step and two raised steps (see figure thirty-four of table two). The latter two are called pas élevés, while the bent step is called a plié.” This passage from Feldtenstein in turn is plagiarized partly by Kattfuss (1800: 86). Roller (1843: 105) likewise writes: “Pas élevé, thus are called all steps which are done on the toes of the feet with the heels raised high,” although Roller stresses that these pas élevés were also done without unfolding movement at the knees.

Two further options here were the expressions pas simple (‘simple step’) and pas naturel (‘natural step’), the former also used to refer to any constituent element of a composite step (§7.?). These two terms appear in Italian translation as the passo semplice and passo naturale in both Dufort (1728) and Magri (1779), the latter writer seemingly using them to refer specifically to the civilian walk, in contrast to the passo marciato (‘walked or marched step’), which he seems to reserve for the walking step of dance. As his table of terms makes clear, Dufort (1728: 27-28), however, gives these Italian expressions as translations of French forms and clearly uses them to mean the pas marché of dance, just as Magny (1765) uses the term pas simple to refer to the marché found in the minuet step. A further term here was the pas grave, mentioned by Sol (1725) – not to be confused with the temps de courante or the pas glissé, which could be similarly named (§?; §?).

The use of a more or less natural walking step, together with the equivalents of the terms natural, simple or grave step to denote such a movement in dance, predates the eighteenth century. The term passo naturale is found in Caroso (1600: 22), Negri (1602: 37) and Santucci (1614: 28), the former source noting that this artless step was “also done when not dancing but just walking.” Esquivel (1642: 19-20) also speaks of pasos (‘steps’) executed by a dancer “with natural ease, as if he were walking down the street.” According to the latter source, these walking steps moreover could be done grave (‘grave’) and sencillo (‘simple’), the latter simply a shorter version of the former. Both Montagut (1619?: 14r, 21v) and de Lauze (1623: 36) also speak of a demarche grave (‘grave walk’), evidently nothing more than a simple walking step executed slowly. The term passo naturale was still in use in the early nineteenth century as a translation of the common French term pas marché (Costa 1831: 33).

A further option was soutenu (‘sustained [step]’). According to Josson (1763: 24), for example, the minuet step is “made up of four temps, the first two of which are called coupés or coulés, the other two soutenus or marchés.”

Despite the frequency with which the pas marché appears as a constituent element in composite steps, only Taubert (1717) gives a separate description of the step with any detail. It is clear from a variety of sources, however, that there was more than one way of doing the pas marché. Dufort (1728: 36), for example, writes that this step could be done “in three different ways,” either as a pas droit, pas ouvert or pas glissé. As will be seen below, the step, moreover, could be done with or without bending the knee of the traveling leg. In other words, the step could be executed in the manner of either a développé or a dégagé, and in the former case, the knee of the weight-bearing leg could bend a little or remain straight as the free leg was stretched to its end position. Finally, the traveling foot could be set down in three different ways, onto the toe with the heel raised, onto the heel with the toe raised, or onto the toe and heel at the same time. Let us first look at the common form of the pas marché as used in ballroom dance.

A reconstruction of the pas marché with an unfolding leg and vertical foot.

As already mentioned, the pas marché of la belle danse was in fact derived from the common genteel walking step of daily life, described in the foregoing section. This is in fact pointed out by Magri (1779: 1/35), who writes that “the walking step, which is called the pas marché, is like the pas naturel and is in fact the same.” Magri does go on, however, to note that there was a basic difference between the two, for he specifies that “only the toe of this [traveling] foot must touch the floor, the heel remaining raised.” That is, when used in dancing, the walking step was normally done on the toes without the heel being set down on the floor. Furthermore, the step was normally executed with a maximum amount of turnout, like other dance movements. These two significant differences are highlighted in Taubert’s separate description of the dance marché (1717: 505, 506): The pas ordinaires of dance “are named after the usual steps in walking and are executed in just such a way, only that they are done on the toes, not on the flat foot as with the latter.” In his breakdown of the step, Taubert again notes that the stepping foot is “set down on the toe,” and that broadly such steps were to be done “with the feet turned out and the heel raised high off the floor.” Behr’s fleeting description of the marché (1703b: §4) also makes clear that the walking step of dance was to be done “on the feet, which are raised and turned out.” In connection with the coupé, Weaver (1721: 139) writes that “in Walking it was observ’d, That the Heel was always taken from the Floor first, and set down again first; but, in Dancing, it is otherwise, and especially after a Sink, the Toe always comes to the Floor first.”

These two major differences are also apparent in fleeting references to the pas marché figuring in composite steps. In connection with the step as found in the pas de bourrée, Taubert (1717: 684), for example, notes that “in this as well as in all the other following fleurets, the feet must always be well forced out and high on the toes.” Sol (1725: 51) likewise speaks of “steps in the minuet wherein one walks on the toe of the foot with the legs stretched.”

The most usual manner of executing the marché in the ballroom was evidently to perform the step as a pas droit (‘straight step’), “by having one or the other foot walk naturally” (Dufort 1728: 36), that is, by having the free foot pass under the body on its way to its end position, traveling through first position. Thus, “with the body standing steady and straight on the one leg,” the dancer assumes a disengaged position, with the weight fully placed over the supporting leg, while “the heel of the other foot is raised off the floor with the knee a little bent,” as Taubert (1717: 505-7) explicitly prescribes in his description of the marché to the fore. Then “the whole foot is raised fully 3) and taken forwards bent just off the floor to the heel of the other foot.” Taubert adds further that “nor must the feet be raised too high off the floor but must always be carried forwards low, just off the floor, steady and well turned out.” (Cf. Méreau’s prescription (1760: 156) that the toe was to be held “a good inch or two” off the ground for the walking step from daily life.) Still to this day, the pas marché in classical ballet is done with the stepping foot kept low, Warren (1998: 60), for example, giving the following as a basic rule: “Barely lift the feet from the floor.”

Taubert goes on to note that this drawing in of the free leg was to be done “with a moderate flexion at all the joints, that is, the hips, thighs [i.e., knees], and feet, so that the traveling leg is always carried close past the other leg a little bent, just as in walking naturally.” Taubert clearly preferred having the free foot held slightly flexed as it was brought in to first position off the floor. A somewhat flexed foot is also depicted in some of Tomlinson’s plates showing a dancer performing the walking steps in the minuet step (figs. 1.21, 24, 26, 29). There was, however, disagreement about the precise disposition of the free foot in bent-kneed positions and that a placement with the sole of the foot held perpendicular to the floor may have been the most common in our period (§6.?). Indeed, Magri (1779: 1/35) prescribes a pointed foot in the pas marché, he instructing the reader to “raise this foot, and arching well its cou-de-pied.”

Having brought the free foot into first position off the floor, with the knee of the gesture leg bent and its foot held typically perpendicular to the floor, the dancer must extend the same leg to the fore, stretching the knee and instep; that is, the free foot “is extended a good shoe-length (depending upon whether the person is tall or short) just off the floor either to the fore, rear, or side in the direction one is dancing.” As Taubert makes clear, there was no set breadth of stride for the walking step, for he gives the vague measurement of “one to one-and-a-half shoe-lengths,” and it was noted above (§6.?) that the breadth of stride broadly in dance was determined in part by the dancer’s build and the needs of the choreography. Regardless of the exact breadth, the gesture leg must be stretched straight before being lowered to the floor, that is “stretched out well and set down gradually.” Indeed, it is a general feature of this dance that “in all the steps save the pliés you must always have the legs firm and the knees well stretched” (Sol 1725: 73). The free foot then “is set down on the toe, well turned out and neatly closed,” that is, crossing somewhat in front of the weight-bearing leg.

There was also some disagreement about whether the feet were to cross or not when placed in fourth position, for some writers have fourth formed opposite third, while others have the position formed opposite first. A further option was also fourth opposite fifth, which may have been used on stage specifically when dancing en face (§6.?). (This lack of agreement about the precise disposition of the feet in fourth is also evident in the description of the civilian walk described in the foregoing section.) To end, “the body, steady and well-balanced, is carried forwards onto it,” that is, onto the toe of the foot which has taken the step, without lowering the heel to the floor. When continued, the marchés were ideally to have “all the same breadth.”

None of the sources describes how the step was to be done when traveling sideways. Presumably the manner of execution remained the same, and only the positions changed. Thus one would expect the dancer here to step to second rather than fourth, or if moving sideways from an open to a closed position, then to third or fifth rather than fourth, with the free leg still brought in bent into first position in passing from beginning to end position.

There is, moreover, some evidence that the weight-bearing leg could also bend a little while the free leg was stretched from first position to its open end position, such that the bend of the weight-bearing leg reached its maximum depth the moment the other (traveling) leg achieved its fully stretched line, with the weight-bearing leg beginning its bend only after the free leg was brought into first position bent.

As will be seen below, the pas glissé could in fact be done in two ways, by keeping the knee of the weight-bearing leg stretched straight throughout, or by bending it a little as the sliding foot was taken forward from first position (in the case of a pas droit) or from second (in the case of a pas ouvert). At bottom, the pas glissé is nothing more than a marché wherein the traveling foot is slid rather than carried to its end position. Indeed, Dufort (1728: 36) equates the glissé and marché, he giving the former as simply one alternative variant of the latter. Taubert (1717: 508) similarly notes that the difference between a glissé and marché was slight, that “the difference between this step [the pas glissé] and the common step consists in the foot being slid forward here, but carried forward with the latter.” And in his description of the marché done between bows in the minuet, Brives (1779: 3-4) explicitly mentions a small bend of the knee in the supporting leg: “That done, you are to rise [i.e., straighten up the body again after the bow], bending the right knee ever so little, in order to have the left foot disengaged to fourth position behind.” Such bending is still possible in the pas marché of classical ballet:

This is the dignified, classical walk of the ballerina and the premier danseur. The step is commenced with a petit développé R with a strongly arched instep, followed by a fondu on the supporting L leg. Step forward on the R foot in the fourth position croisé so that the toe reaches the ground first, then lower the R heel with the foot slightly turned out, transferring the weight forward. Repeat on alternate feet. (Grant 1982: 80-81)

And the same seems to be implied in Furetière (1690), under the rubric of pas, who speaks fleetingly of a “step with a mouvement,” that is, with a bend and straightening of the knee.

There is, moreover, some suggestion that the marché could also be done without either the weight-bearing leg or the traveling leg bending at all in the course of stepping, so that the movement was performed in the manner of a simple dégagé rather than a développé, with the knee held quite straight throughout.

At first sight, some handbooks do seem to describe a straight-kneed execution. In connection with the minuet step, for example, Ferriol (1745: 1/79) instructs the reader to do “two walking steps on the toes of the feet without bending the knees,” after the two initial demi-coupés. In connection with the same step, Josson (1763: 25) writes: “Lightly take two steps also to fourth position without bending.” In the same context, Magny (1765: 240) instructs the reader to “do the last two pas simples to fourth position, with the insteps and knees stretched in each.”

The directive not to bend here appears to mean nothing more than to refrain from doing a plié, rather than strictly keeping the knees stretched straight throughout the stepping movement. Indeed, Taubert (1717: 505) defines the pas ordinaires as steps “done without a bend,” yet his description clearly reveals that the knee of the stepping leg was in fact to bend and straighten in the course of doing the step. Roller (1843: 103) also describes the pas marché as a movement wherein “the foot, with the heel somewhat raised, is taken, just off the floor, from one position and set down in another, without bending or doing any other added movement, as in the fine regular walk,” yet his detailed description of the walking step (1843: 45-53) clearly alludes to a bend and straightening of the free leg in the course of stepping.

Taubert (1717: 507) does, however, allude to the practice of some ballroom dancers performing marchés without bending and unfolding the stepping leg. In fact he instructs his reader not to do “as many do, stalk along as if utterly without joints on wooden legs or crutches.” A critic giving an overview of notation in the Journal de Trévoux (May 1704: 702) describes the “pas de bourrée en avant, this step is composed of three pas simples, the first of which is the plié et élevé, and the other two are marchés without any movement in the knees.” As mentioned in §7.?, this goose-stepping manner of walking was also employed by some in daily life and in military marching, although all of the sources that allude to it dismiss it as affected in civilian life. In fact references to walking steps done without bending the knee can be found in sources that predate our period, although again one cannot be sure here whether it is to a plié or rather to a développé that the writer refers. Montagut (1619?: 13v), for example, writes that “it is needful that all the pas or demarches be done gravely in a straight line, without bending the knee, with the toes of the feet well turned out, and that their movements proceed from the hip.”