Notes on Pirouettes… en dehors… part one

I have been avoiding talking about anything at center as I am trying to focus on my book, BUT a lot of you have asked… a lot… So, when it comes to pirouettes, I probably could write a good 10 pages about them… With that being said, I was never a turner… In fact, I was mediocre back then and by today’s standards, I would be pathetic. I was consistently at a triple, and if I was really on my leg I could get in a fourth rotation, and the most I have ever done was six… And the last rotation was really turned in. I never really had a good turning coach, and probably could have really used one. So, I actually first learned how to turn in jazz class, which helped me when I focused on ballet because I was trained to turn the Balanchine way… But then, at CPYB… they kind of beat it out of me and I lost my ability to turn… Totally NOT blaming, I am saying that because I wasn’t a turner to begin with, it didn’t help that I never really had a super solid foundation… But once I went pro, all I turned was from a Balanchine fourth, and an overexaggerated fourth at that… Like super overexaggerated, I used to be in company class with my friend’s and I would turn from basically a runner’s lunge and try to end in an even deeper fourth… I enjoyed it, but it isn’t for everyone… So here: Part One of my notes on pirouettes.

Notes on Pirouettes a Ballet Education

What is a pirouette?
A pirouette (whirl or spin, which is the translation… but a horrible definition…) is an axial rotation on one leg that can be done either en dehors (to the outside) or en dedans (to the inside) in a variety of positions but the standard position is in passé. Which is kind of right and kind of wrong, because while turning… the passé has to change at different points in the turn. (If you have no clue what I’m talking about, I’m sorry… but I don’t want to break down the basics any more than that because it is all going in the book…)

The Prep (preparation): I am about to generalize a bunch of stuff right now, but I am trying to keep this post under 2,000 words, and saving the elaborate, non-generalized stuff for the book…

There are a variety of ways to approaching pirouettes, and most of them start with how you prepare… Yes, you can prep in fifth, which is actually how I teach pirouettes to young kids, but the standard is prepping in fourth. You can prep in either open fourth in plié, closed forth in plié, or what is called the Balanchine fourth… No matter what position you turn from you have to be properly aligned in the prep and the passé position.

alignment

Closed fourth (straight back leg into plié): This preparation is probably the correct preparation to teach pirouettes from, especially for younger kids… like under 14. This preparation starts in a fourth position with the front leg bent, and the back leg straight, you can actually sit in this position without losing energy because the energy comes from the bending of the back leg at the moment you are about to turn.

Open Fourth (double plié): The preparation actually happens rather quickly, as the focus is usually on the transition to get into the fourth position to build momentum. This style of turning is usually done by super male technicians. The use these larger open positions to gather energy, and then control the aerodynamics and physics of the rotations by closing the aerodynamic space and speeding up the rotations… a lot like ice skaters… The arms in the preparation usually go from opposite fourth arms and the right arm opens to hit a la seconde as the “widest” moment… From the preparation, the fourth position rotates into a second position facing side and then pulls up into the pirouette… your weight, center, and the axis is always centered. You have to have a ton of control for this kind of turn…

turning

Balanchine Fourth (straight back leg): This preparation can’t really be static because the weight is forced into only the front leg. The arms are also elongated/reaching and not rounded. from this position… The energy goes up and forwards before turning… You actually don’t transfer your weight in this pirouette, or at least not as much because the weight is always in the front leg. The (working side) arm never opens to second… it pulls straight in. This method should be used for the more advanced student because it requires all of the strength to turn off of the standing leg. This method is really efficient as it doesn’t have a ton of weight shifting.

alignment passe

The take off:
It is obvious that the force comes from the plié… but what happens a lot of the time is that students kill the plié… This means they lose the elasticity in the prep, or they forget to bend a little more right before the taking off… Another mistake is putting too much power in the plié and forcing the turn… Another boo boo students make is flailing their arms or throwing their working arm behind them before taking off…
Taking off:
The biggest problem while taking off, besides unpointed feet, or sickled feet… is overshooting or underestimating the line of balance… You have to move your body while rotating and hit your axis… It’s quite difficult and takes a while to know exactly where your center of gravity is in relevé passé and how much force you need to get there…

Adding force:
Rotating the passé adds more torque to a pirouette…
Controlling the rate your foot gets into passé increases g-force, just like bringing in your arms slower…
Raising your passé right before you end your turn adds an extra lift and controls the landing… usually you want to press down in the standing leg while lifting up in the passé to avoid hopping or swaying back.

how to turn

Spotting:
Two ways of thinking about spotting… the body turning first, and the spot follows, or the spot happens first and the body follows. Both concepts are correct and depends on the dancer’s needs… Personally, I don’t spot while turning, mostly because I can’t, or it actually slows me down… But then again, I’m not a natural turner, so I know what works for my body, and some of my students. Another think you want to avoid is locking the neck either forward and having “turtle-neck”, or backwards and have “double chin”… locking up the neck doesn’t allow for spotting… and who wants a double chin?

The Landing:
Most people throw away the landing, and it is a shame. It conditions the body to end a combination poorly. Before you land, you should always lift, and as a general rule of thumb both heels should touch down at the same time… I’ve seen a lot of dancers get the bad habit of dropping their supporting heel first and then swiveling to land, letting the working leg follow… It isn’t technically wrong but is a sign of lack of control and sloppiness.

Tips & Tricks from the teacher … me… well, I guess this whole post is tips & tricks from me… soooo… here are some tips and tricks for pirouettes when having a bad turning day… or you are just bad at turning.

passe moment

-make sure your core is really warmed up… even before going across the floor, I hop down to the ground and do some extra crunches…
-keep your neck relaxed and told hold tension in your neck or traps… hold it in your core…
-It is okay to just do a passé instead of turning… despite popular demands of teachers around the world… the more your turn poorly the more bad habits, and bad equilibrium compensation your body retains…
-pressing down into the standing leg relevé to center yourself is always helpful
-visualizing the turn can help as well… especially for those clean singles that end in relevé
-make sure your supporting leg is strong enough to turn on and that the back of your leg is the part supporting the turn while keeping the knee locked.
and the most important: NEVER EVER KILL YOUR PLIÉ!! the more you sit and wait… you lose the power to develop your turn.

SHOP A BALLET EDUCATION AND HELP SUPPORT DREAMS!

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5 Replies to “Notes on Pirouettes… en dehors… part one”

  1. Reblogged this on StefaniaSanlorenzo and commented:
    Allora vediamo di spaventarci subito…. il primo schema bellissimo rende l’idea dell’impossibilità umana di fare una pirouette. Non è così! Passo passo è peggio ancora, perché in verità non puoi pensare di eseguire una pirouette da fermo. Tutto sta nel movimento. Devi girare sul tuo asse e devi farlo in modo corretto. Per questo step by step è utile sapere come pensare il proprio corpo e dove collocare piede, gamba, braccia e testa, ma anche spalle e collo, rispetto alla gamba che sorregge. Il ritmo è essenziale: la scansione temporale della propria rotazione dipende dal ritmo che riuscite ad ottenere. La velocità è un’altra componente ma gioca in modo diverso. Io ricordo che avevo un Maestro con il quale facevo 4 giri senza rendermene conto e in altri casi mi accontentavo di una doppia 😦 Per non parlare della posizione di partenza e della chiusura! 🙂 Coraggio l’articolo è come sempre molto esplicativo e gli schemi sono curiosi. Siate curiosi e anche le pirouettes miglioreranno! (Thanks)

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  2. I’m not a turner and I started this year (I’m 14). I really can’t understand what’s wrong with my pirouettes: everything I try doesn’t work! Especially during fast combos I get lost and I end up missing the turns…

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      1. Thank you so so much for this tip! Together with thinking about extending my supporting knee, this is my recipe for turns! Now I have doubles, sometimes triples and even four pirouettes from my good side!

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