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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Pirouette en pointe advice

Je Suis Aimee

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Here's the thing - I practice pirouettes at home regularly so I can get used to them and how they feel. I can manage them pretty well rather consistently.


The thing is, I feel a big reason I can do them at home is because I haven't just had an hour of difficult barre - I am only practicing the pirouettes, so I am less tired. In class, the teacher will often put the pirouettes at the end of an exercise that already had echappes en croix and various sissones/passes releves. Even by the time I am at the passes, my legs and feet are already getting quite tired, and so of course when I attempt the pirouettes at the end, they are horrible and don't come out. I can't pop up firmly enough and pull up, and it feels like my platform sticks to the floor, impeding the turn. This is so frustrating!!


Does anyone have any advice? Will I just become strong enough in time, and then I will be able to finally do it? Is it just because my technique isn't good enough yet? Any help or thoughts are much appreciated!

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Stamina training - you need it. Sadly, pirouettes and all the exciting bits of ballet tend to come after a lot of work at the end. Take the 3rd Odalisque, for example... you've got all these big assemblés and balances in attitude, you waltz around and only then do you get to a long strenuous succession of pirouettes en diagonale. To make it worse, it ends with a series of step-up turns/lame ducks/tours pique en dehors. :) It's just something you should build strength to get up to or you'll never make it to the fouetté coda that Petipa so sadistically puts at the end of an entire pas de deux and solo variation.

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That is exactly what I was thinking about the other day - I was picturing all of these variations where the dancer executes pirouettes, fouettes, etc. all after so much dancing... and with so much ease! Just thinking about it makes me exhausted. I marvel at that strength and stamina.


So as for stamina training - how exactly would I go about this? Ballet-related stamina exercises, that is. I usually exercise on the weekends, a combination of light weights with cardio, kickboxing type stuff, but to be honest, this is sort of starting to pale in comparison to the kind of stamina needed for ballet and especially pointework. :)


Would repeating my class exercises at home help? Perhaps following along with a class on video, like the ones Finis Jhung has? Should I take up some running?

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I can only really think of taking more ballet classes. You have to get used to doing a full barre, petite allegro, full center, etc. before getting onto rehearsal and variations. Maybe some cardio-aerobics type classes on the side might help. I would recommend taking more classes or back to back classes.

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Hmmm... well, right now I am taking 5 classes per week... granted, I just started this schedule at the start of March, and when I moved up to this level, I was dying in class. Now, not as much, which would indicate my stamina has increased. I guess I am just being impatient! I was just thinking yesterday that rather than just practice the pirouettes at home, I could simulate a similar exercise with the pirouettes at the end. Since my cardio DVDs aren't really cutting it too much anymore, I'm thinking of perhaps swimming... I'm fortunate to have a pool so might as well, right?


Thanks for the advice! :(

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Are you overworking, making the barre exercises more difficult than they need to be and tiring yourself out? Are you breathing properly?

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Personally, I think it sounds like you're already doing what you should be! Practicing pirouettes at home when *not* tired is reinforcing the motor patterns that allow you to execute them well. Since they clearly don't go as well when you're tired, I'd worry that practicing them this way will just reinforce incorrect technique. There's no reason not to do some combinations leading into them at home, but I would build up gradually and keep it at a level where the pirouettes are still working most of the time. Save the really challenging stuff for class, where your teacher can catch any bad habits before they form!

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^^ Good points!



It has been postulated that doing complicated movements when the muscles one usually should be using for them are fatigued will unfortunately result in using other muscles, which are perhaps not as effective for proper execution of said movement.


This theory was offered in response to questions such as, "why do pirouettes tend to get worse the longer one practices them?" at a dance-med. congress I attended a while back. :)


So, as Chihiro says, probably it would be better to stop practicing them (for that session) when they really go wonky, as that may mean those muscles are over-tired. :P





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  • 2 weeks later...

Gav - Well, the barre exercises tend to be quite difficult sometimes - especially the adagios! As for 'overworking', I'm not really sure... I give my maximum effort to every exercise because I always thought that is necessary for improvement... :crying:


Chihiro and Diane - That is very interesting and great information. I actually stop practicing when I'm tired primarily because of the psychological effect - I like to stop on a good note, if you know what I mean. But this point about fatigued muscles is another good reason that I will always keep in mind! :P

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You want to work hard, yes, but you do not want to overwork. In my experience, one of your goals in ballet should be to move as efficiently as possible -- faciliated by proper alignment, proper use of the muscles, proper movement pathways, proper breathing, etc. If you concentrate your effort largely into perfecting these things, especially at the barre, everything else will follow with repetition.


If your barre work is difficult to the point of your having to muscle your way through everything, maybe it's too difficult for you at this particular moment? Or, at least, you might consider combining that level with something lower in your weekly schedule, too.

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