Tips & Tricks for Pesky Pirouettes
Preface: This should have been up ages ago. So my apologies, you lovely person who asked me for help!! I hope that you can still use this information in your maybe-new year’s resolution to work on your pirouettes! Also: Pirouettes I don’t actually think you’re pesky please don’t forsake me now!)
I got my first question from the Contact Me page! Can you tell I’m happy? The words sent to me from the lovely Miss imitationballerina asked me for help with pirouettes!!
First off: thanks! I love turning, and it’s the one thing I can say for sure that I’m good at. That being said, I’m always looking to improve (the studio I dance in currently has floors with a lot of friction, but one guy in particular can do four pirouettes on flat every day like nobody’s business. That’s my goal by the end of the year. Anyway…)
Of course I can help you! I hereby present to you are a list of discoveries I made to help me, taken from advice from multitudes of sources over the years, as well as some things to try while practicing that might help, in no particular order!:
- Practice quarter turns, half turns, and singles turns.
- Seriously, when you find yourself struggling, go back to basics. Even I do this, even professionals, even natural turners. When having trouble, slow down, do less rotations, and figure out piece be piece what may be going wrong.
- Forget about your technique! I’m only half kidding. Pirouettes are a feeling, not a position. It is so much easier to find the feeling to turn and then correct the position that the other way around. So don’t worry about what it looks like, that can be fixed later, or in class with your teacher.
- Spot!!! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen dancers – older dancers – not spot their turns. It’s amazing, cause they still manage doubles or triples, but how? And a faster spot can lead to more and faster turns.
- Practice varied types of pirouettes. Practice turning both slow and fast. And practice both sides too. Trust me, we all have that side we hate (I’m looking at you left en dedans) but it will help you in the long run.
- Get to your position quickly doesn’t mean to turn faster. You want your foot in passe fast, but don’t twist and distort your body by simply moving faster. It isn’t the same thing!
- Make sure your body is in alignment. Don’t let it twist weird; the only thing that should move separate is your head. If you are turning to the right en dehors, then yes, you “wind up” a bit to gain some momentum and power, but only enough to propel you. Your left shoulder should be in line with your hip, and not come across to far.
- Going with alignment. your entire body should feel like it is rotating around a vertical axis running from the top of your head down through your toes.
- Make sure your hips are level. If you find yourself falling to one side, say to the right, you may be lifting that hip up or leaning into it funny. Try to learn from what your body does (this can be applied to more than just pirouettes)
- And don’t overlook your arms! Your arms can either help or hurt you a lot. If you can, video yourself to have a look. If one arm is higher than the other, or your torso is bent an odd way, that could be throwing you off. And try turning with your hands on your hips or shoulders for practice. It forces you not to use your arms and to focus on your torso instead. Also practice your arms in fifth. If it is easier or more difficult, notice your shoulders and back and adjust accordingly in other positions.
- This one goes for anything you might struggle with in ballet: Don’t dread doing the step/combination. For me, it’s adagio. I used to constantly think how much I hated it, and I dread doing it. While I still get those days, I’ve found it helpful to tell myself I love doing it, and slowly I have tricked myself into looking forward to it more. Think of it as a personal challenge to yourself. I will help you become less frustrated and more relaxed, which I’ve found helps me a lot.
That’s pretty much everything! I’m sure you’ve already heard at least half of them before, but sometimes it helps to hear things in a different way for it to *click*. All these are things I still think about today, and each has made me a bit better.
Unfortunately, all I can do is share some information I’ve gotten about pirouettes, and what I’ve found helpful. And there may be more I remember later, which I will be sure to add if anything new pops up. Ultimately, it really helps to try and “listen” to your body. Watch a video of yourself, analyze how it feels, go slow and correct one thing at a time. Experimentation! Exploration! Accomplishment as you land that triple pirouette!
I do have to say one thing though: in the beginning, when first learning how to turn? Honestly? It was because I practiced like crazy. Sure, some of it may come naturally, but I really wish I had a video of the first class we were introduced to pirouettes (I actually can still remember it- we were all a hot mess!) I can remember a good solid year where all I did was turn in the back of the class. I was never very flexible, and it was something I could practice in a small space. While girls were taking their turns in the center combinations, the other students would wait their turn patiently, or talk to their friends (which we weren’t really supposed to do, but it happened). I almost always went in the first group, because I picked up on combinations quickly, so I spent my time waiting doing pirouettes over, and over, and over again in the back corner.
So yes, at first it sucks, because really, they take practice more than anything else. But having a sense of what is going on in your body, and how to fix what you might be doing wrong helps a lot. And as I’m sure you do, I have spent my fair share of time online looking up anything and everything that could help me in ballet!
~Your Friendly Neighborhood Ballerina-to-Be
P.S. I’ve found that pirouettes, more than anything else in ballet (except maybe partnering) are extremely sensitive to you psyching yourself out. As you might trust your partner in a pas de duex, trust your body! As much as you have to think of corrections, if you overthink or freak out right before, you will tense up and not do as well. You got this!