Exercises for Better Pirouettes

On a good turning day, you might feel as if the stars are perfectly aligned. Your pirouettes feel effortless as you whip around once, twice or more and land with absolute control. For most dancers, these days are rare. Pirouettes contain so many different elements that if just one of them is off, your pirouettes suffer. Working on each of the elements separately can improve your ability to turn consistently.


    Correct eye focus and head motion is essential if you want to be able to execute multiple pirouettes without becoming dizzy and disoriented. When spotting, remember that your head is the last part of your body to start the turn and the first part of your body that finishes the turn. Practice spotting with simple turns on two feet. Start in first position facing front. Lift your heels off the floor and, with little bourrée steps, turn an eighth of a turn to the right. Your head should still be facing front. After the eighth of a turn, continue turning to the right, with your head leading the way. Once your eye focus returns to the front, keep your head immobile while your body catches up. Begin practicing this movement of the head slowly, and speed up the turn once you can coordinate the movement of the head.


    Some dance teachers refer to pirouettes as balances that turn, and in fact, balancing in your pirouette position -- whether it’s in retiré, attitude or arabesque -- is essential. To practice arriving in a balanced position, prepare as you would for your pirouette with a plié in either fifth position, fourth position or lunge. Relevé sharply to your pirouette position and hold the balance. When you can reliably hold the balance, add quarter turns. When you can consistently finish your quarter turns while still maintaining your balance, do half turns. Finally, practice with full turns, aiming to finish the pirouette on relevé.


    Feeling your back muscles can provide you with extra stability, control and power in your pirouettes. Because pirouettes seem to happen so quickly -- they seem to be over before they’ve even started -- it can be difficult to really feel your back lengthening and widening throughout the turn. To isolate this sensation, stretch your arms out to the sides of your body at shoulder height. Bend your wrists so your fingers point toward the ceiling, and imagine that you are pushing something away from your body with the palms of your hands. You should feel that the muscles in your mid back are widening. Practice several pirouettes with your arms in this position. Then, return to your normal arm position and try to retain the sensation in your back.


    While different schools of dance use different arm preparations for pirouettes, all of them emphasize the importance of the closing arm. This closing arm must arrive in the pirouette position immediately, at the same time as your relevé. In closing your arm, keep it on the same horizontal level. Many people have a tendency to let this arm swoop down and then back up. To feel the energy of this arm, you can use a water bottle. Hold the water bottle in your closing arm and prepare for your pirouette with a plié. As you turn, transfer the water bottle to your other hand. This will help you feel the energy in your arms and will help you hold them on the same horizontal plane.

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