African pirouette, Asian pivot

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 1, 2013

Along with the ‘pivot’, the ‘pirouette’. Taken together with ‘lean back’, it constitutes a remarkably energetic and physically engaged foreign policy strategy for President Obama’s America. The pirouette, a mid-17th century word that literally means ‘spinning top’, needs to claim its place in the language of the strategic shimmy.

foreign policy dance, Afghanistan, India, China, Bhutan, CELAC, Haiti, USA

Ballet terms work brilliantly to describe the strategic shimmy: Pierina Legnani (left) was the first ballerina ever to be titled as Prima ballerina assoluta

It entered the discussion a few days ago when a journalist asked the Pentagon press secretary about US engagement in Africa and if it were a pirouette that fit alongside the pivot to Asia. According to those who were there, the word was repeated a couple of times.

It is a charming idea to use ballet terminology in foreign policy discussion. Much is explained without saying very much.

Consider five other ballet terms that might usefully flesh out our understanding of the way governments conduct foreign affairs:

Allongé: a position as stretched out or made longer (arguably, President Obama’s lean back is part of this)

Aplomb: stability of the position, something all world capitals constantly strive for but don’t always achieve (Libya?) and more longer-term, Haiti

Balançoire: seesaw, with the dancer swinging a leg out front or back (the Bhutan-India-China shimmy)

Ballon: to bounce, so that the dancer can show the lightness of the movement, appearing to pause mid-air before landing (Indian initiatives involving Afghanistan?)

Bravura: A flashy, elaborate style that involves elaborate steps (the recent CELAC-EU summit?)