How to Spot in Ballet to Improve Your Turns
When dancers turn, they keep their eyes focused on one location to avoid getting dizzy. As they rotate, their heads whip faster than their bodies, returning their eyes as quickly as possible to the same spot. This is what is called “spotting”.
If you’ve ever been sea-sick or car sick, you may understand how unpleasant being dizzy can be. In those situations staring at the horizon can help orient your brain and make you feel better. The reason we get dizzy when we spin around quickly is the fluid in our inner ears that controls balance continues to slosh around for a little while after we stop moving. This makes our brains think we’re still spinning, producing the feeling of dizziness. Spotting, keeping your eyes fixed when you turn, like staring at the horizon when you are motion sick, tricks the brain into thinking it isn’t moving. It may not keep you 100% dizzy free, but it will help, and the benefit is, spotting will help your turns immensely.
How to Spot
Stand and fix your eyes on a point in front of you. We usually practice this in the dance studio facing the mirror, and I tell dancers to spot their own eyes, but if you are at home, just look at something small that is at or a little above eye level, like a refrigerator magnet or the “12” of the clock hanging on a wall. Have your feet parallel a few inches apart, in “sixth position,” my teacher would have said. Start to march your feet so that your body is turning very slowly to the right but keep your head facing that magnet or clock (or whatever you’ve chosen as your spot point) with your eyes fixed on that point. When your body has turned so far around that your neck cannot keep your head looking over your left shoulder anymore, turn your head quickly to the right to look over your right shoulder and find that same spot point again with your eyes. Your body will not be facing forward yet – that is correct, your head will be quicker! Continue walking your feet and turning your body slowly until your body matches your head and all parts are facing your spot point. Did you do it? Don’t change your spot point midway through! If you don’t understand this, comment below and I will post a link to a video. Now that you’ve done it to the right, try it to the left.
As you practice spotting, it is helpful to keep your neck and head really loose so that your neck can turn. Spotting is not just in your eyeballs-your chin will be above one shoulder and then you have to turn your head so your chin is over the other shoulder.
Try keeping your chest open and even squeeze your shoulder blades together. You may find your neck is a bit easier to turn this way.
It’s also helpful to keep your head straight up and down and not let your head tilt side to side as you are turning. That way the fluid in your ears will only have one axis of dizziness with which to contend.
Pro-tip: If you are already quite good at spotting, try – during pirouettes – to spot yourself in the mirror using the eye of your standing leg. It’s a really powerful tip that can help your pirouettes.
If you get dizzy after crossing the floor in a series of turns like chaines or other turns, or even after one turn, even when you are spotting correctly, that is totally okay. This is a work is progress and so are you. You will get better at it, and your inner ears will also get better at adjusting to turning over time! In the meantime, here are some things you can do to quickly get un-dizzy so you can keep dancing:
- Jump up and down three times staring at a stationary object. I imagine the fluid in my ears gets jolted out of it’s swooshing motion and gets settled back in place thanks to gravity, as a result of the three little hops. This method works best for me.
- Another thing you can try is to place one hand, fingers together, vertically in between your eyes – splitting your face in half, from your forehead to your nose. I like this method too.
- You can also put your hand horizontally underneath your eyes. I think this gives your eyes an imitation horizon with which to orient your brain, like staring at the horizon except in the dance studio.
- Some people find that a few revolutions in the opposite direction works better for them. Try each one and see what works best for you – different methods may help you at different times.
Neck Range of Motion
Having good mobility and range of motion in your neck can also help your spotting. If you get tense in your neck like I sometimes do, you may not find that sweet, easy spot where you sail around and the whipping action of your head easily transfers down, giving your body a little added momentum each time you rotate. To increase the range of motion and reduce tension in your neck, try this:
First, turn your head to the right and left to test your range. One side may be more restricted depending on what shoulder you carry your purse, how you sleep and other factors. Place the heel of your right hand to the right side of your head. Turn your head to the right again, but this time use your hand to prevent your head from turning. You will be doing a lot of work with your neck and arm but don’t let your head move. After holding this for several seconds, release your head and try gently turning your head to the right again and see if your neck is a bit freer this time. Once you’ve done it to the right, do the left as well. You can also do this with lateral (ear to shoulder) and front any back movements of your head to release your neck. If you have neck issues or this hurts, just skip it or ask your doctor.
Like anything else, it takes a bit of practice and it takes reminding yourself to use your now-excellent spotting when it comes time to turn. When you relax your neck and focus your eyes, almost as if instead of serious dance business, it were more like playing in a grassy field on a summers day – that is when you’ll find the sweetest spot of all.
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