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what age/grade for ballet pirouettes?


Mrs Brown
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I am just curious. My daughters both dance and the 7 year old came home from school today and said her friend has started learning pirouettes now she is in grade 1. Really? at 7? I thought they didn't learn them until they were higher up grades. certainly not grade 1 in ISTD which is what my girls do. Do people really start learning them so young?

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I'm not an expert, but from observing other classes in RAD it's Grade 4 for preparation, Grade 5 for starting to turn (my DD skipped those two grades and had to learn in Int Foundation by watching the other kids though). Kids who do jazz seem to do them earlier, I assume because they are a bit easier from parallel and on a low demi-pointe.

 

(Edited to add that 'pirouette' can mean other types of turn though, eg 'posé pirouettes', which I guess is another possible turn they are referring to?)

Edited by Cara in NZ
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Yes , it's been the same for our DS. Preparation in RAD grade 4. He's skipped grade 5 as he's now at vocational school where he's practising pirouettes more in his inter-foundation class. I'm certainly no expert, with little knowledge myself, so maybe other DC learn them younger ?? I'm sure the teachers on this forum can help you with your query :)

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DD started learning pirouette after attending an associate audition and was the only one who hadn't been taught them previously she was year 5 so age 9 at the time.

She was studying BBO, I don't think pirouette was part of syllabus-I think she was about grade 3. She now does IDTA & RAD but I have no idea if they do pirouette for exam work, she is now 12 so much older than your DD.

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It depends on the child - I have some really able children aged 6/7 who I start teaching the mechanism of pirouettes, as it's easier to get kids turning when they're younger. If your teacher is ONLY following an exam syllabus, then in RAD they learn turning skips first in grade 2, then turning springs in grade 3, then parallel pirouettes after that, moving to classical pirouettes in grade 4/5 and further.

 

However, I would expect a vocationally - minded year 5 child to be able to attempt a single pirouette. Grades are irrelevant to a certain extent unless your teacher is only following an exam syllabus. The better teachers out there (IMHO) tend to include more than just in the exam spec especially if they have more able kids.

 

Also don't forget that (as others have posted) a pirouette can be parallel, can be a 'spin' on one foot etc etc just to teach the feeling of turning.

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"However, I would expect a vocationally - minded year 5 child to be able to attempt a single pirouette. Grades are irrelevant to a certain extent unless your teacher is only following an exam syllabus. The better teachers out there (IMHO) tend to include more than just in the exam spec especially if they have more able kids."

 

My vocationally-minded child, now in Y8 at a vocational school, has been taught to have a go and is now struggling with them and being berated for not having the right technique because no-one has ever taught him the preparations etc, he didn't have the benefit of leaning them step by step - and this is the voc school that have done it this way! Just having a go is not necessarily the best approach IMO.

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In BBO the pirouette position starts being taught at the Barre in grade 1, and in the centre at grade 3. The first pirouette is in grade 4.

I teach lots of turning exercises before that point to get the feeling of turning into the body. I tend to find the ones who have been taught pirouettes in commercial and jazz classes are the hardest to teach because they have been taught in a totally different technique, inevitably they have been told they are amazing and then just won't take corrections or even classical technique on board.

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The sooner they start turning the better in my opinion, otherwise they get to a certain age and pirouettes become a 'thing' that they are somehow a bit scared of attempting and they get a bit of a mental block that they can't do them.

 

My dd started ballet late, age 9, and although she started at Vocational School this September, age 15yrs, pirouettes are her nemesis. Singles fine, doubles good right, not-so-good left, triples when all the stars are aligned in Jupiter and the wind is blowing in the right direction!! She has decided she is not a 'turner', so ..........

 

Forgot to add, we line in France so no grades here!

Edited by Sam
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thank you - I was just really surprised at that age. I think your thoughts are probably right she is probably starting to learn the preparation for doing one which makes sense. my daughter is a bit put out because she wants to keep up with her friend but luckily she trusts her teacher and knows that her teacher is extremely experienced and will do everything in good time.

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As a slightly random aside, I took up ballet v late in life (40 something) and the one thing that really gave me trouble was learning pirouettes. My very experienced teacher regarded me as a challenge and tried all kinds of approaches. I did eventually manage something weedy from 4th but it was a lot of effort for not much of a result. So I wholeheartedly agree with Taxi that getting over the whole rotational movement thing should be done young.

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I can't remember when my DD first did pirouettes in an exam (and the RAD syllabus has changed since then anyway) but her teacher certainly started to teach her to turn a good few years before she need to be able to for exam purposes. She certainly had festival dances with turns  before she left primary school, though whether they were actual pirouettes I can't remember. She also did pirouettes in parallel at a fairly young age in modern/jazz lessons. I don't think she would class herself as a great turner now, but she doesn't particularly stress about it either, so I think starting fairly young is probably not a bad idea. I could be completely wrong, but I think I read somewhere that the new RAD syllabus contains pirouettes in parallel an earlier stage than pirouettes previously used to come into the syllabus, with the aim of introducing the concept safely to younger children so that it doesn't become a thing to fear later.

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Ours is proper pirouettes from grade 4 exam, but there is a pirouette preperations exercise from about grade 1, aimed at learning spotting etc. they've been doing various spins in class for being little I think though. Back in my day there was a turning polka & spotting exercise in grade 1 and pirouettes were in grade 3, Grade 5 seems really late!

Edited by Moomin
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I can't remember when my DD first did pirouettes in an exam (and the RAD syllabus has changed since then anyway) but her teacher certainly started to teach her to turn a good few years before she need to be able to for exam purposes. She certainly had festival dances with turns  before she left primary school, though whether they were actual pirouettes I can't remember. She also did pirouettes in parallel at a fairly young age in modern/jazz lessons. I don't think she would class herself as a great turner now, but she doesn't particularly stress about it either, so I think starting fairly young is probably not a bad idea. I could be completely wrong, but I think I read somewhere that the new RAD syllabus contains pirouettes in parallel an earlier stage than pirouettes previously used to come into the syllabus, with the aim of introducing the concept safely to younger children so that it doesn't become a thing to fear later.

 

That sounds right, Pups. Although my DD missed Grade 4 & 5 (RAD), the classes are immediately before hers so I've been watching to see what she's missed. There was definitely a strange thing from parallel in Gr 4 and I see them doing singles for Gr 5. (DD's very experienced teacher asked her in IF why her supporting leg wasn't straight in pirouettes and she bravely replied that no-one had taught her how to do them. Good for her as it was completely true! She's starting Advanced Foundation now, has singles down pat, doubles to the right and sometimes left, but now has to start doing singles en pointe. Eeek.)

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The sooner they start turning the better in my opinion, otherwise they get to a certain age and pirouettes become a 'thing' that they are somehow a bit scared of attempting and they get a bit of a mental block that they can't do them.

I agree, anyone know why the rad moved pirouettes to a much later stage? Wouldn't you be expected to do doubles en dedans and dehors at intermediate? Seems a big step if you only started in grade 5! Edited by Moomin
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I agree, anyone know why the rad moved pirouettes to a much later stage? Wouldn't you be expected to do doubles en dedans and dehors at intermediate? Seems a big step if you only started in grade 5!

 

I think you only have to 'attempt' doubles in the Intermediate exam. DD said hers were very shaky but she still managed a Distinction. It's certainly a steep learning curve for the average kid!

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Quite often even kids who have great pirouettes, even being able to do doubles, have to be completely retaught if/when they have a big growth spurt. I've noticed this is more noticeable in boys and leads to huge frustration when their "cool" moves like multiple pirouettes and tour en lair vanish and they need to regain strength and do a lot of basic technique recapping to get the feel for it back into their muscles.

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Cara's post on the straight supporting leg took me back to a conversation with DD (who finds pirouettes hard).

 

She is hypermobile, and her knees hyperextend very markedly (this is the ONLY part of her dancing that she inherits from me!). As a result, in any exercises where a 'straight leg appearance' is called for, she has to actually hold her leg in a 'slightly bent' [for her] position. (If she puts her feet in 1st position, legs together to the knees but then but fully extends her knees, her heels end up a significant distance apart) http://danceinjuryrecovery.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/hyperextended-knees.html look similar

 

This is a real dilemma in pirouettes - if she 'locks' her supporting leg in the way that someone without the hyperextension would, then the supporting leg is strong, and in a predictable position for weight placement for balance but not straight (and my understanding is that putting high strain on the anyway 'stretched' joint isn't great for injury prevention). If she makes it 'look straight', then her leg is actually slightly bent, less strong and it is not always EXACTLY the same extension so her weight position is slightly variable which cause balance problems.

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I agree, anyone know why the rad moved pirouettes to a much later stage? Wouldn't you be expected to do doubles en dedans and dehors at intermediate? Seems a big step if you only started in grade 5!

They haven't been 'moved much later'. 

 

Pirouettes in the 1990's syllabus first came in grade 5, from 5th, with no prior turning training.

 

In the newer, current syllabus, turning skips are taught in grade 2, turning springs in grade 3, parallel pirouettes in grade 4 and turned out in grade 5. The strength on demi pointe on one leg is also developed much earlier - Grade 1 has a parallel step up onto demi pte, grade 2 has it turned out and parallel releves in the centre. Grade 3 has turned out releves at the barre and it's developed further from there. 

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I only got up to grade 3 rad, so was definitely not after that. It was the syllabus before the change in early nineties though. He exercise was tendu second close 5th in plié up to retire on 3/4 pointe, repeat other side then repeat but with turn and repeat all starting other side. There was definitely an exercise with hands on shoulders and little steps whipping head round and character turn with spotting earlier on. surely I'm not the only one old enough to remember????

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I only got up to grade 3 rad, so was definitely not after that. It was the syllabus before the change in early nineties though. He exercise was tendu second close 5th in plié up to retire on 3/4 pointe, repeat other side then repeat but with turn and repeat all starting other side. There was definitely an exercise with hands on shoulders and little steps whipping head round and character turn with spotting earlier on. surely I'm not the only one old enough to remember

I remember doing the exercise with hands on shoulders - and I don't think I am so old!!

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I refuse to teach the multiple jazz pirouette in the so called Grand Allegro in Grade 5 (more like a modern routine) as I am a ballet teacher and also because as someone said it doesn't really help them do a proper turned out pirouette.  We have decided to do Class Awards, because then we can choose not to teach the Grand Allegro or the transfer of weight exercise - also a modern routine! I also find it wierd that the Grade 5 pirouette exercise has a pirouette en dehors from 4th facing the corner prepared with a chasse pas de bouree, but in IF the pirouettes are prepared from tendu en face. I like using the preparation for pirouette exercise at the barre from the old, old Grade 5! 

 

To get back to the original post - 7 is a bit young for real pirouettes, but practising releves in pirouette position facing the barre is a good way to start strengthening that supporting leg. 

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I just watched it and I agree, its not ballet is it?! And I missed all the traditional parts of a class like double frappe, petit battement, batterie, sissone, assemble? And the strength building work in centre- grand plié, grand rond de jambe, slooow lifts? Is it not there or just less noticeable because of the use of varied exercises?

Edited by Moomin
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I think that the RAD have moved with the times. It might not be classical ballet as traditionally known, but their graded exam syllabi are EXAM syllabi - a series of enchainement to allow a snapshot of the pupil's progress. Good teachers will prepare students using as much or as little of the 'traditional' ballet class as they see fit and these days, dancers need to be versatile - contemporary ballet is performed by all of the main UK companies, after all. 

 

The Vocational Graded examination syllabi have more of the traditional exercises as appropriate. Movements such as double battement frappe, petit battements, batterie, grand plie in the centre, grand ronds de jambe and battements lents are much more advanced than grade 5! These come into Advanced foundation at the very earliest!

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