22 Dec Tweaking your Turns: Enhance your Pirouette Skills with these 10 tips
An exquisitely executed pirouette is one of ballet’s most elusive elements. Universally known and a requisite of ballet history, these turns involve full-body synergy and the right amount of impetus and speed. After you execute your first successful turn, you can’t wait to try a double, triple, or even quadruples. Even though a ‘pirouette’ means ‘turning’, a large quantity of the skill and effort of executing beautiful pirouettes has nothing to do with the rotation. Spinning is probably one of the easiest components of a pirouette; it’s the spotting, preparation, correct placement, and balance that achieve the goal. Whatever our skill level at present, it still takes years to master a natural turn, but with consistent effort and focus, you can always improve. BFW shares some tips to help you keep twirling.
Make sure to look with determination and fixate your gaze on where you want to go. Spotting becomes more important once you start going for doubles and triples and especially for fouettés. So even if you generally spot well, if you are aiming for multiple turns, go back to the basics and practice spotting, ensuring your head doesn’t tilt to one side on your way around.
Engage your Arms
If you do not engage your arms they are a dead weight which can pull you off balance. Hold your arms in a clear position and get into that position quickly; otherwise, the longer you leave the arms lingering, the more likely you are to lose your balance. Generally, it is good advice to keep the arms relatively close to the body and at rib cage-height or above. If the arms are too high you will end up arching back and if the arms are too low, your shoulders will slump forward. Practice transitioning through the arm movements while stationery to find the right height for you.
Think up, not around
Remember: lifting the chin helps improve your posture and alignment. It lengthens the spine and keeps you upright. When turning think more of going up and less about going around – this keeps you over your center of gravity and makes you less likely to fall out of your turn.
Because many of us find turns intimidating, we panic and we tend to use more force than we need. We throw ourselves into turns rather than creating a feeling of being lifted and centered. Often with turns, less is more. Mentally strive for a controlled turn, which ends on a demi-pointe, and finishes up rather than down. This means the turn should gradually slow to a halt, rather than collapse into an end position. With this focus on controlled turning, we reduce the intensity and often turn better. Think of it this way – greater force in the wrong direction requires more adjustment to find our balance. So, in the early stages, keep it steady.
Two turned out legs
When it comes to multiple turns, we need to create a counterbalance, meaning both our legs should remain turned out for the duration of the turn. If your working leg turns in (on an en dehor pirouette) you will end up turning into the leg and getting stuck. To complete a full turn, think of the working leg as fully turned out and leading the way. Then think of the heel of your supporting leg as turned out and forward. You can learn a lot from how you fall out of turns, if you fall back, your releve is likely not strong enough and your supporting foot is collapsing mid-turn. Falling forwards is often an indication of too much impetus or disengaged arms. Falling to the sides can indicate weak or imbalanced obliques. Find out which way you fall and then self-correct.
Control your shoulders
Slumped shoulders can throw you off balance because it not only interferes with the alignment of your head (and therefore spotting) but also with your ability to correctly hold your arms (which involves engaging your back muscles). Thinking of two square shoulders, broad and pulled back, helps to keep us balanced. Most of us have one arm which is stronger than the other and therefore we tend to use unequal force when turning, which ends up pulling us off to one side. Squaring the shoulders and engaging the back helps to counteract this.
A strong releve
A key element of being able to turn well is strengthing our feet. We must be able to sustain the releve for long enough to get around. If you find the supporting leg is collapsing mid-turn, then it is time to go back to basics. Start with simple rises and releves at the barre and work towards trying to balance in the pirouette position (for a minimum of 4 counts). Try this both at the barre and in the center. We must be able to hold a position before we can turn in it. Throughout your turn, there should also be good contact between your foot and calf and this should be sustained at the same height throughout a turn. Therefore both of your feet are integral to turning, the stronger they are, the easier you will find it!
A fixed starting position
Make your starting position clear, whether it is third, fifth, or fourth, ensure your weight is in the middle, and start with a good deep plie. Plies can help us to get our weight into the right place and they also provide the impetus needed to turn. The starting position is very important because if your weight is in the wrong place you will need to self-correct while turning, which is very hard! A good foundation is a good start. Practicing releves from a fourth or fifth position is a good way to prepare for pirouettes. If you are still struggling, practice quarter turns.
Eliminate micro adjustments
Many people slightly pivot the foot before going into a pirouette, either because they are exaggerating their turnout and are therefore unbalanced in their starting position, or because they haven’t learned to use the right muscles for turning. From a plie, go straight up into turning without adjusting the feet. Micro adjustments create a feeling of being disjointed and unbalanced because we are creating more steps than there need to be. This in turn reduces our ability to turn because we exert some of our power in the micro-adjustments rather than in the turn. Think of going up into a turning position in one swift motion.
Finally and perhaps the most crucial, experiment with smiling when you turn. It has a bearing on all of the above steps. When you smile during turns, the tension flows out of your face and body, in turn enabling you to lift your chin, pull back your shoulders, and use less force. Mentally relax into turns and create a sense of fluidity – this will completely transform your experience. In the worst-case scenario, you fall out of a turn entirely – and then you try again tomorrow!