A constant point of contention for dancers, being a “good turner” is often political in the dance world! It can mean the difference between getting that cool solo or spot in the turning section. Better dance turns take time and training, so keeping frustration and anger in check will be key. Here are some informed pirouette pointers to give you a push on your journey.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first…
You know, you love it… it’s spotting. Spotting not only helps you control your balance and placement, but prevents dizziness and subsequent falls. Doing it and doing it technically well are different things, however. As you improve, your spotting mark can be vaguer and you’ll be able to do tight turns blinded by stage lights. But in the beginning, really find a spot! A photo frame, a dot on the mirror etc… Nail your focus to that spot. Your head should be the last part of you to move. As soon as you physically must turn your head, it should snap back in a millisecond to find your spot again on the other side.
2. “Relax” Your Shoulders
A common issue with form is tensing and raising the shoulders, so that they nearly press up into your ears. Take deep breaths before a turn – releasing your shoulders. Obviously your back and shoulders must be engaged, but winding them too tight will throw off your balance and interfere with your form. It seems many try to “save” a turn by bunching up their shoulders to regain control. Unfortunately, it won’t work – and it will screw up your form!
3. Visualize Your Turns
We know it sounds silly, but visualizing yourself relaxed and comfortable, completely a clean and easy turn, is very powerful. Close your eyes and focus on the physical sensation. You may find during this practice that your body actually responds, dropping the shoulders, lifting your chin etc… Being in the right headspace will affect your turns. If you enter into a turn frustrated with slow progress, annoyed and rushed, this will show on your body and how you hold your muscles. But you’re artists – you know this!
4. Start from a Good Plié
It’s all about the foundation! Starting your turn from a well-placed, grounded plié will make or break. Make sure your plié is solid and safe: your knees are aligned over your toes, your weight is distributed well between both feet, your torso is lengthened and engaged, your tailbone is pointed straight down, and the plié is deep. From there, you set yourself up not only for good form once your pull into your turn, but to generate enough power for multiple revolutions.
5. Train Your Balance
A good turn doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are many prerequisites to a solid turn that you must continue to train and develop. The good news – these skills will help you everywhere and with everything in your dance career. Practicing your arabesque is a great way to train your balance on one foot. Hold your arabesques with correct form: hips and shoulders squared, arms and back engaged in helping you retain balance, high on relevé.
6. Strengthen your Ankles & Core
Rises, rises, rises! In first, second, third, fourth, and fifth – try to develop a rises routine. Even just fifteen minutes a day, 20x rises per position, the effect will be visible and felt. Make sure you are not repeating bad form and creating muscle memory for it. Ensure your feet are not sickled, your ankles are over your toes, your legs are lengthened and engaged, your torso and tailbone are aligned, and your chin is high. Your ankles are critical as a dancer, and you will not regret the time and energy spent strengthening them.
While you’re at it… Create a short core/abs routine! Youtube Kayleen Babel has an awesome (and quick!) 7 Minute Ab Workout for Dancers if you’re looking for inspiration.
Don’t be afraid to pull one of your dance teachers aside to chat about turns. They know you best, your muscle/form weaknesses and typical downfalls, and can give you specific and personalized advice on how to improve your turns. Don’t let your equipment foil you on your mission to better turns: Try Bloch Spin II Half Sole food undies for contemporary and jazz and Block Infinity Stretch Canvas Ballet Slippers for ballet (we recommend split sole and canvas shoes for the purposes of training your turns – less rigid than full sole and leather!)