You may have heard the term before and possibly seen a couple ballets but still ask yourself “What is a pas de deux?

Pas de deux [pah de duh] is a classical ballet term meaning “a step for two.” It is a duet that is usually performed by a female and male dancer.

giselle pas de deux second act shows two dancers in duet

Marianela Nunez and Carlos Acosta in the second act pas de deux from Giselle. Photo by Johan Persson

Most classical ballets have at least one pas de deux, if not a couple. Most recognizable may be pas de deux from Swan Lake, Giselle and the Nutcracker. They are usually danced by soloist or principal roles. For example, the second act pas de deux from Giselle is danced by Giselle and Albrecht, the two principal characters. In the Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with the Cavalier at the end of the second act.

During a pas de deux, the ballerina is often lifted for jumps, balanced during turns and supported for other balancing steps such as arabesques and promenades.

leonid sarafanov nadejda gonchar Tarantella pas de deux

Leonid Sarafanov & Nadejda Gonchar in ‘Tarantella’. Photo by Natasha Razina

However, a pas de deux can also have very little partnering, as seen in “Tarrantella”, where a male and female dance a long duet with all sorts of turns and jumps that are mostly done alone but still interacting with each other.

For a pas de deux that has lots of partnering, it is important that the dancing is approached in a “50/50” manner between partners, each realizing what they must do to help a lift, turn or other step work correctly, smoothly and safely. Even as the male dancer carries a ballerina over his head in a big lift, the ballerina must be aware of her alignment and position.

A pas de deux in most classical ballets consists of 4 parts. The actual “pas de deux”, which is usually the longest section and where the two dancers dance together, is often an adagio that has slower movement but can also be fast and upbeat. Then, the male will typically dance his solo, called a variation, which is then followed by the female solo. Finally, both dancers join together again in a coda, or finale, that highlights the pair both together and separately.

Pas de Deux outside of classical ballet

Pas de deuxes aren’t just in classical ballets. Remember, a pas de deux is simply “a step for two.” So a duet in a modern or contemporary piece is also considered a pas de deux. That being said, since it is a classical ballet term, it is usually not used to describe duets in tap, jazz, hip hop or other non-balletic forms of dance.

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