The exercise known as petit battement usually comes right before the grand battement in the ballet class. In French, petit battement means “little beat,” which is a good clue for the pianist who is providing the ballet class music.
This is a movement that enhances quickness and agility in the lower legs. The working leg begins in a position know as sur le cou-de-pied. Cou-de-pied translates from French as “neck of the foot,” and refers to the thin portion of the calf directly above the ankle. Consequently the position known as sur le cou-de-pied is achieved by placing the foot on the neck of the opposite foot. It can be positioned to the front of the ankle, on the side, or in the back following the specifications of the dance teacher.
In performing the petit battement, the beginning foot position opens half way toward second position. The leg does not completely extend at the knee. The working leg returns to sur le cou-de-pied but now it is opposite of where it started. This simply means that if it started in front it is now in back, etc. There is no motion from the knee and the thigh during this move. They stay in exactly the same place.
The pianist can use a quick 2/4 selection with a compelling rhythmic underpinning. I like to think of the petit battement music as “chugging along.” The pianist needs to set up a rhythm in the left hand that is relentless and hypnotic, the sort of pattern that captivates the listener and makes them wish it would just keep going and going. The right hand provides the accented phrases to correspond to the quick movements of the feet and lower legs. These can be quick patterns of small note values that add sparkle to the exercise. Think of fireworks but don’t over do it. All ballet class music is more effective when done with subtlety.
For more descriptions of how ballet class music is performed for the various ballet class exercises, read the posts about grand battement, plie and eleve.