When I was a kid I would imagine there was a god of pirouettes and if I pleaded enough, I would finally nail that double turn. I couldn’t figure out the magic that made some pirouettes sail around with little effort and others fall flat–sometimes even flat on the floor! Maddeningly, the “pirouette god” didn’t seem to hear my pleas. But as I practiced and studied and began to have more success, I started assembling a mental checklist from various teachers and here are a few things to think about to help you with pirouettes. I’m not knocking the gods, I’m just giving them a leg up. (Heh. See what I did there?) These tips are specific to outside, or en dehors turns.
1. Take off: An outside pirouette often starts from a preparation in fourth position like these dancers above. For your right pirouette, your left foot is in front in fourth position. Start your pirouette with more weight in your front leg. It will set you up better for your take off–your passé releve. Plié in fourth position and releve, springing to a strong and high passé releve. The standing leg should be straight. Your passé knee should be turned out as far to the side as it can go without involving the hip of your standing leg. The foot of your leg in passé should be pointed at your knee. but not resting on your knee.
2. Balance: Remember that a pirouette is essentially a balance. That is your first goal. Your second goal is to get around. Doing a passé releve with no turn can be really helpful. Test yourself how long you can balance.
3. Arms: Bring your arms to arabesque like in the picture above, or to a low fourth with your left arm in second and your right arm in front of you, in first position. Open your right arm to second position, then both arms come together to first position for your turn. If you are using arabesque arms for turns, reach your front arm very far forward, lengthening out of your waist just before you plié for your pirouette. That reaching action lengthens your spine as you reach and is a great trick.
4. Spotting: When you ‘spot’–(a verb, not a noun…or a dog)–use the eye of your standing leg. Try this: If you are turning to the right, and standing on your left leg, look at your left eye in the mirror as long as you can before you whip your head around and find your left eye again. This is the best spotting trick because it keeps your weight over your standing leg.
5. Landing: Landing your turn is like the take off but in reverse. You want your leg reaching back to 4th position again as you started while the rest of you reaches forward and you land back in your fourth position.
Finally, all the tips in the world won’t held help you unless you practice. Come to ballet Tuesday night 7-8 pm. At 380 Broadway buzzer #5. See you then!