Turns and spins in ballet can really “wow” the audience.
A perfectly performed series of turns can be graceful, dramatic and exhilarating to watch all at once.
The skill and body control required to execute these dance turns is no joke. Learning to turn can be a frustrating experience that takes a lot of determination and consistency.
One of the most well-known and popular turn types is the pirouette, which literally translates to “whirl”.
This guide will focus on the basic steps and pointers for performing a pirouette. With practice, you will be able to pull it off like dancers at the best ballet companies in the world.
Table of Contents
How To Perform A Pirouette
Before practicing your moves, it is best to do warm-up exercises on a good ballet barre. This prepares the body for dancing and warms the muscles to prevent injury.
The pirouette can begin from either second, fourth or fifth position and can be done by rotating to the outside (en dehors) or to the inside (en dedans).
For this guide, you will learn the steps to completing a pirouette turn from fourth position.
As mentioned, you will begin preparation for the turn in fourth position in plié. You can begin from a closed or open fourth.
Whichever position you begin from, your body must remain in proper alignment as you go into the passé.
Preparation from open fourth: Preparation from this position begins in a deep double plié. This allows you to generate a lot of force and use your momentum as you transition.
Preparation from closed fourth: You begin in fourth position with your front leg bent and back leg straight. Bending the back leg as you are about to turn provides the momentum here.
2. Sink Into Plié
Initiate the movement by sinking into a deep plié. This is where you will generate your power and momentum from.
Keep your eyes fixed on a single point in front of you to maintain neutral neck alignment. You should also keep your core muscles tight in order to maintain torso alignment as well.
As you sink into the plié, drive both of your heels into the ground to allow you to push off hard.
3. Spring Into Retire And Turn
To begin your turn, drive up from your plié into a retiré position. Make sure you get into a high retiré position as it helps to create more momentum for the turn.
Hold your arms in first position as you relevé to a demi or full pointe.
Focus on whipping your head around to return your eyes to your focus point.
Your neck, shoulders, and torso must remain in complete alignment. You can tighten the muscles of your core as hard as possible to aid you in holding this aligned position.
To stop you from getting dizzy, ensure that your head turns to your focus point before your body does as you spin.
4. The Finish
Landing gracefully and in control is absolutely key, a good turn can easily be ruined by the landing.
When you are ready to finish your turn, be sure to lift slightly. This will allow both heels to make contact with the floor at the same time upon landing.
Having both heels land at the same time is a good general rule to follow when you are finishing your turns.
Finish the turn by gently returning back to fourth position.
Tips For Improving Your Pirouette
Spotting is crucial to maintaining proper alignment and balance during your turns. To spot effectively, pick a point on the wall or mirror in front of you and fixate your eyes on that point before beginning your turn.
You should aim to keep your eyes on this point the entire time.
As you turn, keep looking at your spotting point and only turn your head away at the very last moment before quickly returning back to the exact same focal point.
Engage Your Core
The muscles of your core are there to keep your trunk aligned during the turn. You must become familiar with how it feels to actively engage those muscles.
The feeling of an engaged core is the tensing up of your stomach muscles. Imagine something is about to hit you in the stomach, you would automatically tense those muscles to protect yourself. That is the feeling of an engaged core.
Warming your core muscles up with a series of planks and crunches can be a good way to help you feel them and get them firing before you dance.
The plié is where your power for the turn comes from. It doesn’t matter what position you are beginning from; a strong plié is a necessity.
Dropping into a deeper plié will engage more muscles and produce extra force as you spring up into your turn.
Do not hesitate by sitting down into your plié for too long either. The longer you sit in plié, the more power you will lose.
Focus On Springing Up
As you spring up from your plié, try not to think about springing up and around at the same time.
Your focus should be to spring directly up first before you begin your turn. This will make it easier to hold your position and keep your balance.
You can practice this by perfecting it without even attempting to turn. Once you get good at springing directly upwards before starting your turn, you should find that you have a lot more control and the turn itself will become easier.
Strengthen Your Ankles
A strong relevé position is crucial for keeping your balance. If your ankles are too weak to support you, you will find yourself wobbling, which will completely throw off your turns.
Strengthening the muscles around your ankles such as your calves and tibialis anterior should help to support your weight in relevé.
You must also constantly practice holding the position to force your ankle to adapt to it by becoming stronger. If you begin to feel pain, do not overdo it. Always give your body time to heal and recover. Otherwise you could end up suffering some serious long-term effects of ballet on the body.
Visualize And Repeat
Finally, you need to force your movements to become second nature to you. This can be done by constantly visualizing a perfect turn before you attempt them and by practicing your turn again and again.
It can be frustrating at times, especially with a skill as technical as a pirouette, but the only way to perfect a skill is to be consistent with practicing it.
Dedicate yourself to mastering it and it will eventually become second nature to you. This is true, even if you are a less-than-graceful football player taking ballet to improve your balance and coordination.