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The quiet beauty of a pirouette.


Anjuli_Bai
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This is a Youtube of a 14 yr old doing first 6 rotations and then 8.

 

It is a beautiful illustration of the basic theory - be on balance - and then simply spot the head.

 

There is no need for additional force in the initial push off. In fact, that would be counter productive. No flailing hands - everything is quiet with only the head turning the body. Where the head goes the body must follow.

 

The "secret" is in the quietness of it all.

 

 

To many times, especially in expectation of multiple rotations we think we need to insert greater initial force. But that isn't true. More force just means more problems to control.

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Alys Shee is from the Toronto area. She trained with Nadia Veselova Tencer (who with her husband Solomon Tencer produces the Stars of the 21st Century galas) at the Academy of Ballet and Jazz in Richmond Hill (suburb of Toronto). Alys also received a lot of coaching from Evelyn Hart. She won the gold medal in the junior women's category at this year's Helsinki competition.

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Balance and a VERY strong core to mantain that balance is key. The longer you can balance in pirouette position, whilst being able to make tiny adjustments to your balance and maintaining a secure centre, the longer you can pirouette.... as shown here: (NB it's not my video - and it's not ballet, but one of the girls has just been accepted into the Australian Ballet School level 5 full time from January so the skills are transferable!)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuFnqZZrxok&feature=g-all-u

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And it appears so easy... which I suppose theoretically it is - as you say Anjuli, be on balance and spot the head. Maybe being on balance would be a good place to start then... Any tips other than practise (usually while brushing teeth :D) makes perfect for balancing?

 

Being on balance is always a good place to be!!

 

There are a number of things you can do to work on balance. It begins at the barre - you must learn to let go of the barre during and after every exercise. The barre is an aid - not a prop.

 

Specifically for pirouettes.....perhaps this will help.....

 

Placing the Pirouette

 

 

It is a very common occurrence for the student to fall off a pirouette – or any other turn for that matter. Most often this fall is toward the back. The very act of turning seems to tip the weight backward. Yet it is this very movement that will destroy any hope of smoothly controlling and landing the pirouette. And, the beauty of the pirouette is not merely in the rotation, or number of rotations, but in the smooth finish. No one will care how many rotations you do, if you fall out of it.

 

The key to the pirouette is in the preparation. From whatever position you begin or end the pirouette, the weight must be forward. Let’s take a simple pirouette from fourth position, right foot back, going en dehors (back toward the right foot which will be lifted into retiré). The natural desire is to “throw” the weight backwards toward that right foot even though it will be the left foot that will be supporting the weight. In the preparation itself the weight must be forward on the front foot (left). Even if the weight feels evenly divided, a bit more weight should be on the forward foot, and the ensuing impetus (the push for the pirouette) should be forward.

 

To test this take the fourth position, right foot back and do a simple relevé, with the right foot coming into retiré (passé). Don’t turn. Just try to maintain the balance in relevé on the supporting right foot. See where your weight is. Is it over the ball and toes of the left foot? Can you maintain that balance for a couple of seconds? If you can’t maintain it in a simple relevé balance, your chances of maintaining it in a pirouette are probably nil.

 

Let’s go back again to the preparation in fourth position, right foot back. Your left arm should be in seconde and the right arm is curved in front of you (devant). Just as you prepare to push off for the turn – what has happened to your left arm and shoulder? Have you twisted them to the left in preparation for the push off? In other words are you “winding up” for the turn? If this is the case then already, before you even begin, you are out of alignment. As a teacher watching you, I already know that the smooth execution of your pirouette is virtually impossible. Remember it is not your arms that turn you. You may be asked to keep your arms over your head – or crossed on your chest. The push for the pirouette is in your leg that is going into retiré, the turnout of that knee, and your spotting head.

 

After doing the simple relevé balance to see where your weight is, try to do quarter turns – just turn one quarter of the way around, and see which way you fall. Do you fall toward the back? Then you were not over the ball of your foot. Are you falling forward? That is much less of a problem and it will most naturally correct itself. But the ultimate aim is to go up to what feels, when you are first trying this, VERY forward, and then just come down to a flat foot of the supporting left leg (right leg still in retiré).

 

Whenever I had trouble with my pirouettes I would go back to these basic exercises. A simple relevé up and then just come down on your standing heel (right leg still in retiré). I knew if I could do that – land on one foot – I would have no trouble at all in finishing my pirouettes on two feet. And, there are times when the choreography calls for finishing a pirouette on one foot – with the other foot going somewhere else – like into arabesque or attitude (devant or derriére).

 

The real brake, the real way to stop a pirouette is with the heel of the standing leg coming down. Another crucial lesson is to learn just how much (and how little) energy you need to turn. It’s like driving a car, if you go faster it takes longer and is more difficult to stop. The amount of energy you need depends more on the condition of the floor (slippery/sticky) and your shoes rather than the number of rotations. You have to learn to use the precise amount of energy necessary to bring you to relevé and initiate the turn and no more - and then let your head do the work.

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Oooh I love threads on turning - always searching for the secret answer to multiple turns!!

 

Anjuli, I've just stood in the kitchen doing all your suggestions and was shocked by how much I automatically sit back and down when I prepare in 4th position :(

 

I understand the reason for keeping weight forward, completely logical if you're going to be turning on the front leg - but does this mean when you plié in 4th you are not "in the middle" of your plié, but pitching forward - would this not cause the back knee and foot to roll forwards?

 

First ballet class today in weeks and relieved my precious doubles from 4th are still there but am now wondering how I'm managing to turn them!! Maybe if I practice Anjuli's techniques they will be trebles soon!!

Sx

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Swanprincess are you sure it's bent? If you're swayback maybe it just feels like it is. If it is indeed bent its probably a case of practising releves using a mirror to find the correct 'straightness' of the knee! Pulling up without swaying back.

 

When doing plies in 4th, at the barre say, the weight should be centred, equally distributed. For a pirouette prep en dehors from 4th you want to put slightly more weight over the front foot but not all the weight. That tiny adjustment shouldn't cause rolling or twisting.

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Oooh I love threads on turning - always searching for the secret answer to multiple turns!!

 

Anjuli, I've just stood in the kitchen doing all your suggestions and was shocked by how much I automatically sit back and down when I prepare in 4th position :(

 

I understand the reason for keeping weight forward, completely logical if you're going to be turning on the front leg - but does this mean when you plié in 4th you are not "in the middle" of your plié, but pitching forward - would this not cause the back knee and foot to roll forwards?

 

First ballet class today in weeks and relieved my precious doubles from 4th are still there but am now wondering how I'm managing to turn them!! Maybe if I practice Anjuli's techniques they will be trebles soon!!

Sx

 

If you are in 4th position with both legs in plié - then the weight is equally distributed. That's what the "book" says. However, I observed a master class for men taught by the late Principal Dancer (ABT) Patrick Bissell - and he said that even then the weight should be ever so slightly greater on the front leg. Men are fabulous at turning and I was always listening in to their viewpoints on this aspect of dance.. Should one adopt this viewpoint - the weight on the front leg is so slightly increased as to not affect the knee or foot at all of the back leg at all. Under no circumstances should the knee (or foot) be allowed to roll in. That is not only dangerous for the structure of both - but also arrest the turn.

 

The body has to operate as a single entity - except for the head. Any other moving parts will arrest the turn and/or take it off balance. For instance - if you try to turn to the right but tilt forward your right shoulder - the turn won't happen. That shoulder will stop the turn. On the other hand if you open the shoulder too much it will take your balance off the center of the supporting foot. This is true too if you allow the knee to fall inward.

 

 

I hope I've said something here which helps. I will put in more information as time goes forward.....:)

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in my pirouettes to the left, I can't seem to 'lock' back into the knee, thus causing the leg i am turning on to be bent. Any tips on how to prevent this? I have swayback knees, if that makes any difference.

 

Well, you don't want to "lock back into the knee" especially if it is swaybacked. You want to pull up into the thigh - not back into the knee - ever. Having a swaybacked knee does make a difference in that it allows you to push back behind your center of balance more easily than someone with a straighter knee.

 

Practice doing it without turning. Just into relevé. Practice the preparation - rise onto demi-pointe - pulling up through the thigh - stay there a moment or two, then come down smoothly,. when you have accomplished that then add in quarter turns. Then half turns. It's always a good idea to go back to the basics to truly incorporate a concept.

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thanks, Anjuli and Aurora, that makes it a lot clearer. tried a half-turn before class yesterday and ended up doing a full turn which stayed balanced en demi pointe having done the rotation! (was very smug because id seen that step in a Vaganova video, lol!) Aurora, yes i have tried turning with the mirror, and the leg is noticeably bent. will try those releves Anjuli suggested :)

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Ha! Swan princess I love that feeling when you complete a turn and are still in pirouette position, AND on balance when you get back to the front, rather than my usual position of frantically falling into a closing position!!!!

...Shame it's only happened a handful of times, practice, practice, practice!

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Thank you for the really helpful tips everyone. No wonder I can only manage a very inelegant double (or occasionally treble with a very startled expression on my face!) as I can only balance for about a second in releve without turning and still often fall out of it! I'll be joining you in practice, practice, practice Just Ballet...

 

Interesting points about the turnout of the leg affecting the balance of the turn too, as I have a feeling I let mine wander a bit. Also about pulling up the supporting leg as I have the opposite problem to swan princess, my legs never really looking fully straightened unless I really concentrate on it. But then I tend to think, ah well my legs don't straighten properly and just let them go soggy. Tut tut!

 

Bring on those releves and first class back after the summer this week, so I will have space and a mirror, neither of which I have in my new house yet!

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It helps to remember that the way you end a pirouette is by lowering the heel of the leg which supported the turn. Even if the choreography calls for you to land on two feet. The supporting heel comes down a nano-second first and then the second foot. That way you must stay forward and over that supporting demi-pointe. The second foot coming down is merely an ornamentation - not the true stop of the pirouette.

 

Other things to check....

 

After you've ended the pirouette where are your arms? Have you allowed them to drop? Have you allowed them to drag behind the turn? Have you allowed them to swing past the turn? Any of those situations means you've lost control of the arms. Since the arms are connected to your center/core - then that means the four quadrants of the abdomen are not holding. You've gone loose in the middle.

 

Another interesting thing to consider......

 

One of the best teachers I ever had – and I only took from him for a short time - was the late Robert Rodham, principal dancer NYCB. He stressed using one's breath in dance and it became the breath and breadth of dance for me.

 

Your breath literally becomes part of the counts – the pulse of the music. For instance, in a preparation for pirouette and then the pirouette itself, it would be something like this:

 

Start in 5th position right foot in front, en face to the mirror. As you tendu to seconde – inhale; close to 4th position derriére – exhale; pirouette – inhale; finish pirouette – exhale. Notice that the inhalation occurs during the pirouette which helps to sustain you. Obeying all the other rules –like turnout, spotting, etc. – you will find that this synchronization of breath adds life to the pirouette.

 

Nijinsky said that he inhaled at the height of his grand jetés. This matching of breath to the pulse of the music is also very helpful in adage. It becomes infused and also suffuses the dance that you are presenting. Try it first in the simple pirouette combination I illustrated above. Takes some practice – and then it just becomes a part of you.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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Totally agree about the breathing - it was what got me my doubles as a youngster. But then I didn't really have the teaching which instructs the balance etc.

 

Interestingly, Anjuli I tried having students today resist the urge to put down the foot from retire when wobbling, but to lower the heel of the standing leg instead. We do an exercise involving balancing in retire for 3 counts and then today I did the same exercise with a single turn ending facing the front with the heel down but maintaining the retire and it really helped so thanks for that tip!

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Totally agree about the breathing - it was what got me my doubles as a youngster. But then I didn't really have the teaching which instructs the balance etc.

 

Interestingly, Anjuli I tried having students today resist the urge to put down the foot from retire when wobbling, but to lower the heel of the standing leg instead. We do an exercise involving balancing in retire for 3 counts and then today I did the same exercise with a single turn ending facing the front with the heel down but maintaining the retire and it really helped so thanks for that tip!

 

You are very welcome -- glad it helped. It was taught to me by a very old teacher (my first) who had been a student of Alexandra Baldina - that's pre Vaganova technique.

 

It not only aids in keeping the balance forward - but it makes ending a pirouette in either attitude -front/back - or in arabesque or with the leg lifted in second possition - quite simple since one is already used to ending on one foot.

 

The other thing she taught was never to use the arms for propulsion. She made us turn with our hands on our shoulders. Arms were only used as an adornment. She also only taught pirouettes from 5th to 5th. She said that was the most difficult and once one had "mastered" that beginning and/or ending in any other position was easy. And so it proved.

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I love watching my dd try pirouettes.She has great balance and spotting which makes them look good but her supporting leg turns in,will this get better as she gets older and stronger?is there anything she could think about which might help?

 

Perhaps rather than the supporting leg turning in - what might be happening is the retire leg is turning in and thus affecting the turning leg.

 

Could be.

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Anjuli,

Her other leg looks like it is turned out very well.but at the very beginning as she starts to releve the turnout is lost,I can see it in her foot.it's hard for me to explain,sorry,

 

It sounds to me like as she does the preparatory plié, she is allowing the muscles to relax and her core is no longer engaged. Doing a plié - is just that - a bending of the knees - nothing else happens. The back doesn't go soft, the abdominal muscles don't let go, the hips don't relax - just the knees bend.

 

That's a difficult lesson to learn. As one of my teachers once told me - (Prima Ballerina Sonia Arova) - "plié is not a time to relax." This is true for all the pliés one does throughout the ballet vocabulary. So, if you are doing a petit allegro - all those pliés between every small jump - is not a time to rest - it's a preparation. A prepartion means everything is working.

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I thought this might be of interest........

 

 

 

 

Spotting Lends Coherence to the Turn

 

The major components of turns, in my opinion, are the following:

 

Preparation: first, second, fourth (broad or narrow - open or closed) or fifth position (with or without tendu as part of the preparation)

 

Impetus (the push off from the floor)

 

Stability (balance while turning)

 

Rotation (the turn itself)

 

Spotting - gives the turn coherence

 

Finishing with control.

 

As every dancer soon learns spotting will keep the dancer from getting dizzy, will keep the dancer informed where he/she is, can add rotations to the pirouette and will aid in the balance of the turn. Certain rules have to be followed. The head has to revolve on a level plane. It cannot be held too high nor dip down. It should not deviate from that level plane during the entire turn.

 

I think that the most important thing the student has to learn about spotting a turn is to truly “see” what is being spotted – not just look – but really “see." If one stands in front of a mirror one can spot one’s own eyes. If the dancer is spotting on a diagonale it is not enough to simply look at the corner – an object must be chosen – this object should be eye level and kept within view and become the aim of the spot. And truly seen. It must make an imprint on the brain.

 

An interesting exercise to help achieve this is to have a friend stand downstage on the diagonal and as the student does a traveling turn, such as chainés or piqués, have the friend flash up fingers. As the dancer turns she should be able to call out how many fingers are raised each time. That way one can tell if the dancer is truly “seeing” the spot. I used to do this regularly with my students in class. Everyone needs a reminder now and then. Practice it with the easier turns first.

 

If one takes a baby’s toy – a top – and spins it, one will notice that as long as the top maintains it stability the rotations continue, until the force begins to dissipate and the top begins to wobble and finally stops. So it is in pirouettes. Men are especially good at multiple rotations in pirouettes and it is fun to watch them. I have read that the initial force for the pirouette is usually only enough to last for about 3-4 rotations, after that other dynamics come into play.

 

If the dancer can maintain his balance, then he can produce additional rotations beyond 3-4, simply by spotting his head. I have watched this done in class and found it fascinating. I have a tape of Baryshnikov doing this for 12 rotations. Since no other movement can be allowed to happen, as it would destroy the balance of the pirouette, only the head is free to move and continue the rotations. The entire thing is very rhythmical. The head does – look – snap – look – snap –

 

The body usually goes where we look. When we ride a bike or drive a car, there is a tendency if we look off to the side, to drive in that direction. This is true of pirouettes, too. So, the student has to learn to spot where she wants to go, and where she wants to end up. If she is asked to do a pirouette with one and a half rotations, which finishes upstage, then she begins the pirouette, and as her eyes pass upstage, she leaves the head there, and snaps the head around ending the spot upstage, where the pirouette also ends. She has to truly “see” that upstage spot as she passes it.

 

Doing moving turns, chainés or piqués for instance, in a circle (which is usually spotted as a square) or figure 8’s the student, has to find a spot for each change of direction. We go where we spot.

 

Once again the spot gives coherence to the turn.

 

We can divide turns into various categories - en dehors (outward - away from the standing leg) en dedans (inward - toward the standing leg), moving turns (chainé, piqué,), turns sur la place (in place - pirouette or detourné).

 

But we can also categorize turns in other ways; from one foot to one foot (piqué), from one foot to two feet (piqué soutentu), from two feet to two feet (detourné/soutenu sur la place), two feet to one foot (pirouette). And a turn done on no feet - tour en l'air. I have just given one example for each type though there are more, and I realize some of us may call them by different names.

 

There are also turns that are large jumps like sauté Basque. Turns can begin and end in all the numbered foot positions - as well as ending on one foot such as attitude (derriére and devant), seconde, and arabesque.

 

But all turns have one thing in common - the spot of the head. It is the "brains" of the turn.

 

An interesting way to prove this to students I found, is to set a combination of piqués (en dedans) and fouettés down the diagonal - alternating. For instance, piqué, piqué, fouetté fouetté. On the first two piqués the spot is to the corner and this is a moving turn, but for the fouettés the spot changes to the front, as this is done sur la place. Yes, I know that fouettés can move, too, but not for this combination. I found this change of spot direction, illustrated to the student not only how the spot lends credence to the turn, but how it moves it along the ground, or not.

 

The spot lends intelligence to the turn - the student must control the spot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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A question for Anjuli which I hope you don't mind me asking - have you written a book with all your wonderful tips in? I print them off for my daughter to read and then keep for reference, she finds everything you write makes perfect sense to her.

 

Thank you for all your guidance from both of us.

Jane

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Dear Jane and Fiz:

 

The idea of a book has been mentioned through the years and I have considered it.

 

However, as I mentioned in another thread on this forum about a book which I did write - on another subject - but have not had published in hard copy (it was serialized by an online "newspaper/journal") - getting something published in hard copy is a very difficult task.

 

It can take years finding an editor and that editor then finding a publisher. It involves a lot of energy, time and tension. And the, if one is successful then comes the efforts for publicity - book tours - mini-interviews at 6 a.m. - and other mayhem. I spent over 4 decades in the energy consuming world of dance: taking class, rehearsals, teaching, worrying about students, performing,designing and making costumes, lecturing - and now I am retired. I relish my quiet evenings - and days - and they are short and growing shorter - with my husband of 50 yrs.

 

So, that's the long answer (much too long) to your kind caring question.

 

And - while it would be a fun ego thing to see my name on a book, the really important thing is that, to whatever degree, there is any benefit derived from my help - that is enough for me.

 

Once again - thank you - I appreciate that you ask.

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