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Balancing in pirouette


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#1 jimpickles

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Posted 23 July 2006 - 08:27 AM

I have problems in balancing in pirouettes, and commonly fall out of them. Usually, I try to keep my ankle and whole body as rigid as possible, but then when I start overbalancing the only thing I can do is wave my arms around to correct it, which doesnt seem to help.

However, recently I've discovered something else - that if I make my ankle mobile a little bit, it can help me keep my weight centred over my foot during the turn. Its not much, and probably would be imperceptible to the outside - maybe it moves 1/8", certainly less than 1/4". Is that what people who balance in pirouettes do? Or is it discouraged? If its not meant to be done, then I should stop practicing it this way, as it will become a "bad habit".

If anyone could tell me whether this is right or wrong, I'd be very grateful. I couldnt find anything about it when searching on this website.

Many thanks,

Jim.

#2 spingirl

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Posted 23 July 2006 - 10:43 AM

Hmm...I'm trying to remember what our teacher said in a long discussion of pirouettes last week...

It's hard to describe in words, but mostly she talked about getting everything over your toe: ankle, knee, hip, head. She also demonstrated why it's essential to keep your hips level, because as soon as you let the free hip either pull up or drop, you'll fall over, to one side or the other. So you have to make sure when you go into passe that only your leg comes up, not your hip. And the whole "pull up" thing is important too. She stressed lengthening the area between the pelvis and the ribs, without arching the lower back. Oh, yeah, and you have to spot! Hey, that's not too much to remember, right?? :blink:

I did manage a nice one to the right. I couldn't do it in the combination because the music called for a quick preparation and turn. But when I was trying one on my own, putting the suggestions in practice, I got a really nice and effortless, though slow pirouette.

Turning to the left is a different story altogether!! I've got to keep practicing that side. I think part of the problem is that I have a harder time spotting in that direction. My neck actually turns farther to one side than to the other, so it messes up the spotting.

I hate to say it (because I hate to hear it!) but I think for both of us, a good pirouette means that we may have to go back to practicing the position without the actual turn. In the class where we began working on pirouettes for the first time, the instructor said that the position was everything. Until we get that, we can't have a good pirouette, not to mention multiples. So he said to practice going from fourth up into the correct STRONG passe position about a million times on each side (and hold it!) I don't want to do that--I just want to turn, darn it, but I know he's right! :yes: And especially if I ever get on pointe, I know that I won't be able to pirouette unless I've got the position perfect.

As far as the ankle movement thing, I would think that you need to keep the ankle strong. If you're able to move your ankle, IMHO, your leg probably isn't pulled up hard enough, and you're not pushing foot over into a nice arch. (Make sense??) You should feel the pull-up in your leg under your buttocks (I hate that word, but can we say "butt" on this site?? :sweating: ) However, that's just my opinion, not gospel. I'll ask in class tomorrow.

EDIT: Thought just struck me (ouch). If a dancer is on pointe, the last thing she would want to do is move her ankle, right? So to me that reinforces the idea that your ankle needs to be firm, and the corrections need to come from somewhere else in your body. Again, just my humble opinion!

Sorry for the length, but I'm struggling with pirouettes too. Hope some of what I've learned helps!! :thumbsup:

Lisa

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Posted 23 July 2006 - 11:08 AM

Jim--when you fall out of the turn do you fall forward or back? That might help determine what part of the turn needs correction. Also, have you tried breaking the turns down--first go to retire (no turn), then add quarter turns, half turns, then on to full turns. Also experiment with your arms. Try turning with them on your shoulder or up in third. Often if can produce clean turns with arms in either of those position, your issues will stem from jerking your arms, using your arms to get you around, or throwing your shoulder back.
Best : )

And yes, I would agree the ankle adjustment isn't how you should correct your landing/balance!!

#4 Garyecht

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 08:29 AM

It is not clear to me what making your ankle “mobile” means exactly. Clearly you don’t want any lateral motion. Lowering you ankle slightly, however, does lower you center of gravity, which does make turning easier, and I would think if this lowering is imperceptible, it is something not to worry about.

Personally, I would also not worry about “developing bad habits” while improving your pirouettes. I think that is a notion that is just totally wrong headed. Of course when you learn pirouettes, you have so-called bad habits. I have never seen anyone do their first pirouette very well. By the same token, the way to improve your pirouettes is to do a lot of pirouettes. Clearly, many of those will have mistakes.

I think a much better way of thinking is consider bad habits as natural habits. They are not bad, they are just what your body wants to do. I think much of dance is just learning to control those natural habits and you pretty much spend a lifetime doing it.

When I think of my development as a ballet dancer, the thing I am most proud of is my turning. When I started, I was horrible at turning. Now, I would say turning is my relative strength. And how it got that was just through time and lots of practice. Though I worked on the little details, focusing a lot on them never really seemed to help that much when I think about it.

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 08:44 AM

[quote name='Garyecht' date='Jul 24 2006, 07:29 AM' post='276099']
It is not clear to me what making your ankle “mobile” means exactly. Clearly you don’t want any lateral motion. Lowering you ankle slightly, however, does lower you center of gravity, which does make turning easier, and I would think if this lowering is imperceptible, it is something not to worry about.


When you say "lowering your ankle slightly"--do you mean dropping your heel? I would think that would make turning much more difficult and would be ill-advised...

#6 jimpickles

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 08:47 AM

Many thanks for your replies -

When I turn, I tend to fall backwards. If I lean forward to correct that, I tend to fall to the side.

I think one problem is that often I dont go high enough on demi-pointe - so each time I do it my centre of gravity is away from my toes to a different extent. The reason I dont go high is (1) sometimes my calf muscles are still sore/not working properly from previous workouts, and (2) if I go high, I think I'll fall over (which is the case, of course). So one thing I clearly need is more strength in my calf muscles - though normally I have no problem going right up high on demi-pointe.

When my teacher said keep my hands on my shoulders, there was an immediate improvement. Now the arms are out of the equation, and I know its not them. It also allowed me to judge the right amount of turn coming from the push-off, which I couldnt while my arms were flailing around. And to get the push off, I immediately deepened my preparatory plie, somthing which for some strange reason before I had been unable to do.

I do try doing 1/4, 1/2 turns. They're OK, so it gets boring. But being boring was never a reason to stop practicing, so I should pull myself together and get on with them more. "...practice going from fourth up into the correct STRONG passe position about a million times on each side (and hold it!) I don't want to do that--I just want to turn, darn it" .... my sentiments too, unfortunately.

Anyway, in view of your replies I'll stop trying to use ankle mobility for balance.

BUT - if someone is doing a pirouette, and trying to keep their balance, they have to bend/move something to adjust - what is it that they move?

I remember seeing on a video a Russian ballerina doing a sequence of 29 or 30 fouette turns, looking at the video in slow motion, and I could see that at one point she moved her hips back quite a bit (bending at the hip joint and leaning her upper body forward), presumably to keep balance. I wonder if this is how its normally done.

Many thanks for your help,

Jim.

#7 dianec

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 02:43 PM

BUT - if someone is doing a pirouette, and trying to keep their balance, they have to bend/move something to adjust - what is it that they move?


Hi Jim- I think that what needs to adjust is the upper part of the body, which is what's going to accelerate your being off balance (when you are), as it's moving in a bigger circle than the lower part of the body. (Hope that makes sense!) I try to adjust by lengthening my upper body if I'm sinking into the turn. Or thinking about whether my abdomen is held properly - maybe the same movement that you saw the Russian dancer make?
It doesn't work all the time, mind you....

#8 skippy

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 06:51 PM

Good evening, i know this may sound crazy but have you ever tried blowing/breathing out when you turn (just as you start to releve). When my pirouettes are all over the place my teacher gets me to blow out which relaxes my entire body and somehow i manage a perfect single/double......still working on the triple, could be there a while..hee hee.

Skippy

#9 Garyecht

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 07:28 AM

Jimpickles—

The dreaded leaning back—my natural tendency whenever I do something while standing on one leg—pirouette, developpe, even fondu—and especially so in retire. I’m constantly aware of the tendency I have. A favorite teacher of mine encourages those of us with this tendency to think of projecting the sternum forward and up as a way to correct it. That is what he did to correct the same tendency in himself. I only had modest success in trying that. What worked best for me was to think bending forward from the waist slightly. That worked right away with things like developpe. Harder to apply while turning, however. I’m not recommending what I did by the way. Just mentioning it.

I once had a female teacher who tried to get me to turn while higher on demi-point, which I recall was pretty much a disaster. Later a male teacher encouraged me to forget that and I improved quite a bit while taking his classes.

Another thing I learned is that ill timed turning of the head in spotting can produce that dreaded leaning back while turning. I’ve also found that I’m much less likely to lean back if I turn in coupe than in retire, so if I’m having trouble, often I’ll do a few turns in coupe just to make myself feel better.

#10 jimpickles

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 08:30 AM

Many thanks again for your great replies.

I guess from the variety of suggestions, that one just has to explore a lot of different things while just practicing, practicing, and practicing, and it will come gradually and slowly.

I tried the blowing out too - it does seem to help - I wonder if as well as relaxing the body or distracting the mind, its because the forced exhalation makes one hold the abdomen tighter.

I'm very glad to get Garyecht's comments in particular, because it shows that one shouldnt be frightened of using a variety of approaches and I wont feel so guilty about using coupe rather than retire to get the feel if things arent going well.

Actually, things are improving gradually - though slowly. So the practice seems to be having an effect. And on my good ankle its getting, if not almost towards respectable, at least not completely disgustingly awful, so that shows that the mental part is capable of working, and that on my weak ankle* where I'm not that far, its the fault of my ankle and not just my mind.

Interesting about the comment on relaxing, which echoes earlier comments about relaxing, not thinking, no tension, etc. It certainly helps if I relax. I guess the reason, is that things happen so fast in a pirouette, that you have limited conscious control once you start. Its got to come from your automatic reflexes to be fast enough.

(* result of old injury)

Thank you all very much,

Jim.

#11 Hans

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 10:05 AM

A few quick questions: when you do 1/4 and 1/2 turns, do you finish them on demi-pointe or do you close 5th immediately at the end of them? You should be able to remain on demi-pointe for a moment at the end of each turn before moving on to full turns.

Are you doing pirouettes from 5th, 4th, or 2nd?

Do you have trouble balancing during any other movements?

Pirouettes must be performed on full demi-pointe, and the dancer must be able to balance consistently on full demi-pointe before attempting them. It's been my experience that many teachers introduce pirouettes too early without having the students do enough work on demi-pointe at the barre and in the center first.
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#12 jimpickles

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 08:27 PM

Hans - when I do 1/4 and 1/2 turns, I try to stay balanced at the end.

I'm trying my pirouettes from 5th, as I find this most difficult. 4th is relatively easy, as I can fling myself round with my leg and also use it to keep balance but I feel this is doing nothing to improve my style, which probably looks very sloppy. However, from 5th seems to be defined as a much "tighter" move right from the beginning, and one that is essential for getting proper control.

Yes, in general I have trouble balancing, for a number of reasons.

One reason is that one foot pronated very badly for years, and is still out of shape, and I have poor reflexes from that ankle. When stepping onto it when turned out the ball of the big toe does not meet the ground firmly enough, so I have a poor base for balancing.

So I think I'm aware of what's going on, and am working to correct it.

"Pirouettes must be performed on full demi-pointe, and the dancer must be able to balance consistently on full demi-pointe before attempting them."

Yes, I think this is (one of) my problems. Thanks for pointing this out. I'll work hard at this. I'm certainly not confident in balance in general.

Many thanks for your suggestions,

Jim.

#13 balletboyrhys

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 09:00 PM

I've seen a lot of guys who people claim to be "amazing turners" use that ankle mobility you've discussed. I think that while it might be helpful and inperceptible now, later it may exagerate and then you'll get stuck in this awful floppy supporting ankle rut.
So i guess my opinion is that of everyone else.

#14 K123

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Posted 27 July 2006 - 04:07 AM

One of my teachers last week gave me an image which helped with balance - the best balancers are rope walkers in a circus. They are pulled up but not rigid. They adjust and compensate and balancing is a continuous smooth relaxed action rather than a position. I think that this ties in with what everyone is discussing about ankle mobility. My teacher implied that the subtle adjustment was coming not from the upper body leaning and moving, which eventually just spirals into bigger an bigger movements and throws you off, but from underneath, the feet on the rope. I understood it as allowing a little bit of adjustment in the ankle - nothing huge, almost just a sense of it rather than a movement - it helped me. Although I can see that you would have to be very careful not to let this become an actual relaxation of the ankle.

Also, if turns are easier without arms (arms on your shoulders) then might that not mean that the back isn't being held properly when you turn with arms and the body isn't turning of a piece? Maybe the movement of the arms is enough to introduce movement into the top of the body and throw off the turn. - can somebody with more experience and knowledge advise me on this? I have found that when I can get good strong arms and an open back I definitely turn better, but it has to be strong without being tense or I just throw myself off. Tension is the killer for turns so I agree that breathing out is helpful too. Often when I try to get a strong and supportive arm position, and also a good connection between my ribs and pelvis at the front so that I don't open up and lean back, I discover that I am far too tense altogether and then things don't work. Very occasionally I manage to do these things and still have a sense of calm in my upper body and then I turn better.

Don't know if this is of any help - actually I'd be glad of help with it all myself. Turns are something I find really hard to improve...

#15 kasaba

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Posted 15 August 2006 - 09:00 PM

Pirouettes must be performed on full demi-pointe, and the dancer must be able to balance consistently on full demi-pointe before attempting them. It's been my experience that many teachers introduce pirouettes too early without having the students do enough work on demi-pointe at the barre and in the center first.


Now THAT is helpful advice. We did sort of launch directly into pirouettes, and I still can't really do it right after two years :wacko: I think I will spend my three-week break just working on demi-pointe retires and passes until I have good steady balance there.