Do you struggle with pirouettes? Is it your dream to do 10 pirouettes like Skylar Brandt? Whether a seasoned dancer or a beginner taking the next step in ballet learning how to turn, literally everyone struggles with pirouettes!
Pirouettes are one of the most eminent steps in ballet that requires coordination, perfect alignment and balance. If just one of these things is off, one cannot go around in the turn. In this blog, we will share our best technique tips and tricks on how to improve your pirouette game and get your turning faster, stronger and more confidently in no time!
Pirouette Position: Retiré Passé
First off, be sure to review our separate blog post on Ballet Basics: Passé & Retiré. Most pirouettes are performed with the leg in the retiré position, so make sure you have a strong retiré passé alignment before attempting any turns!
Exercise Drill for Retiré Alignment:
In addition to following this Standing Retire Turn In and Turn Out exercise from our other blog post to work on your one leg balance and turn out action of the retiré leg, try doing this simple side plank pose to improve your stability.
Remember, in a pirouette you are turning on one leg in a vertical axis, thus that supporting leg needs to be completely solid in order to get you around in your turn. Try not to move in this side plank position just as you don’t want your retiré moving around in your pirouette!
Next, make sure you have the coordination between your arms/hands and your legs/feet when you take off for the pirouette. Start in your desired preparation position for the pirouette (fourth or fifth position). Make sure that as soon as your legs push off to reach the retire position, your arms also reach first position at the same time. If your whole body is not coordinated to reach your turning position together, then the pirouette will not be performed as one unit. Instead, your pirouette will be disconnected and harder to control and land nicely.
Exercise Drill for Coordination:
Practice just a passé relevé balance while holding a water bottle in your hand. Make sure you grab onto the bottle with the hand that is closing into first position as you relevé up to your retire to make sure everything arrives simultaneously. Try to hold and balance in your retiré as long as you can – theoretically, the longer you balance for, the more turns you are capable of doing!
Once you get this drill down, try doing ¼ pirouettes around in a circle to get a turning feel to your relevé balance, then bump up to full pirouettes.
Turning Fast: Spotting
The head motion of spotting is very important in doing even just a single pirouette. A strong and focused spotting of the head can lead to more and controlled pirouettes. Be sure to keep your eyes open to spot and relax any tension in your neck. The neck should be in line with your spine; the chin should be parallel to the floor, but not jutting forward. In addition, your head should be comfortable spotting in a pirouette. If it feels uncomfortable, take a look into the mirror and adjust your neck alignment.
Exercise Drill for Spotting:
Place your hands on your shoulders and focus your eyes on a focal point at eye level in front of you. If you are looking into a mirror, try to focus on your nose reflection. Slowly start to rotate your body around in a circle whilst keeping your eyes on the focal point. When your body can no longer turn and keep your eyes on the focal point, immediately snap your head around and find the focal point again. Continue to rotate your body to catch up with your head. Repeat this drill turning in both directions.
Remember, your head must stay straight and must not tilt when you spot. If you are craning your neck to keep your eyes forward at the spot, then you are turning too much before snapping your head around. Keep the spot sharp and fast like a whip. Spotting should not be sluggish and lazy.
Other Helpful Exercises
Promenade or Pivot in Retiré Passé:
This exercise will help reinforce your retiré position stability. You must keep your whole body locked into place in order to complete the promenade or pivot turn. When doing this exercise, imagine you are the ballerina on top of the music box!
One Leg Rises:
Having a strong and high demi-pointe is essential for turning. The turning platform of your pirouette is just the ball of your foot! Doing rises will strengthen your relevé and balance to hold longer for stronger turns.
Remember, the core is the center of your balance and alignment. Without a strong core, you are susceptible to wobbling and letting go in your pirouette before you land. Building a strong core foundation will aid in holding your turning position firm.
Single Leg Bridges:
Keep that retire in your pirouette frozen high at your knee and turned out with this glute and hamstring exercise. We don’t just want to slap your foot at the knee to turn, we also want a beautiful position to turn in! To do this exercise: lie down with one leg up in the air and the other leg bent with the foot on the floor. Use your glutes and hamstrings of the supporting leg to push your hips up in the air and then roll down controlled.