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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Help with pirouettes / mental attitude


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Hi everyone,

After a 10+ year break, I'm back in ballet and working towards my RAD Intermediate exam later this year. For the most part, I'm loving the challenge, but I am really struggling with the pirouettes section of the syllabus (singles and doubles, en dehors and en dedans). I find myself getting incredibly frustrated whenever I practice the exercises and I can feel myself being quite defeatist about the whole thing.

I've read lots of useful technique tips on these forums, but wondered if anyone has any advice for boosting confidence / overcoming a mental block?

Any advice would be very gratefully received!

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No specific suggestions, but it's my experience that the more you worry about them the worse they get. Tension is the absolute enemy of a good pirouette. Think calm?

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Yes, it's a weird thing about pirouettes - the more you worry over them, the worse they get (or is that just me?)


My teacher has set a studio turning challenge for March, and is posting on the studio's FaceBook page each day a video of her attempts to get back to a clean triple (after a long time away from dancing as opposed to teaching).


In class on Thursday, she had us all just turning. She set a simple en dehors from 4th as part of a tendu exercise, and then after we'd done that, very slowly (it's hard turning slowly!) she put on a different piece of mysic and encouraged us all to just turn, in any way we wanted to - so I did continuous turns from 5th, others did fouettes, others did en dehors from 4th, and a lot of the beginners just whirled around. She wanted us to get over feeling scared of turning (which is normal for adults) and just to get the feel of turning around quite fast.


So that could be a way? Just let go, don't worry too much about technical things and just get the sense of doing a double freely and easily. Then clean up the technique?


I know that might sound "bad" or counter-intuitive, but it could help you rediscover the freedom in whirling around.

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Guest Pas de Quoi

Hi Redbookish - Doesn't sound bad at all! Kids come in to class spinning and doing cartwheels and handstands, jumping as high as they can - those things, cleaned up and made (my word - "dancy fancy") make for some great ballet technique. Well .... perhaps not the cartwheels and handstands :)


You have a very wise teacher! Thanks for sharing this experience. Yes, adults need encouragement to just go for it. That's why dancing keeps us young, right?

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My current teacher is terrific. She gets complete never-studied-ballet-before adults moving and dancing.

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"Tension is the absolute enemy of a good pirouette." SO right, gav! Worry and overthinking cause tension, and tension stops movement.


Redbookish, your teacher's idea is great! Anything that can get them to relax, breathe, and ENJOY turning instead of being afraid of it is a good thing. :D

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I remember having read somewhere that we are only successful at something if we can imagine it. You might try to picture with your inner eye doing super perfect doubles, triples and so on. You never fail, they feel good and you feel like flying. Best would be to do that before you fall asleep. Then you might dream doing them rigth and the next day you might do them in reality. It's like successful sportsmen, they know they will win, otherwise they won't win.

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Thanks for the replies, everyone. That all makes a lot of sense - my best attempts are always when I just go for it and don't spend time worrying beforehand. Redbookish, your teacher sounds great!

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I wish I could see you pirouette! Then that could determine a lot of things. As a lot of people mentioned before, overthinking a pirouette can be super killer for turning. When you manage to turn multiple turns, you will surprise yourself at how it just happens... literally, it feels "like sailing" we all say in class. It's just a whoosh, turn turn turn feeling and you feel almost sad that you stopped yourself, because it feels like you could've gone on and on (and likely, you could, because you were centered and aligned).


Now, since I cannot see you, I'll just throw a few things out there.


1.) Head & Neck: how loose is it? How easily are you able to whip it around without tension? I feel that so much of the turn is also in the head. Any amount of tension or imbalance (ie moving the head around not according to normal spotting) can throw you off.


2.) Arms & Shoulder: How much is being thrown? I hope you aren't winding up. Winding up almost never helps. The amount of turns is usually pretty equal to the momentum/strength of hard the open arm is closing as well. If you are going for a single turn, but closing that open arm too forcefully... again, that'll throw you off. If you are going for 3 turns, but that arm closes to softly, and gently, again... it ain't gonna happen. How you carry your arms is up to your teacher/style. Some people carry their arms a little lower, some people cross them slightly when they do very many multiple turns, I carry my arms so that my middle fingertips are at about my bra's underwire height. One thing I do know, in all styles, arms are strong. They are in control and not dangling or spaghetti noodle like, otherwise the turns probably can't happen also. This is where back/shoulder muscles come into play.


3.) The strangest and most random last tip is, how are you falling? Do you fall forward? Do you fall backwards or sideways? Usually if you are falling forward, you might be spotting a bit low. If you fall backwards, you might be spotting a bit too high. Try adjusting your spot (which will inadvertently adjust your head carriage actually) and see if that helps in correcting where you fall. If you fall to the right side, you have to place your center over your left metatarsals more squarely, feeling as if you are lifting your entire torso and pelvis to be centered over the ball of your left foot. Vice versa if you are falling to your right. Also, keep your retiré knee back as much as possible so it is as much to the side as possible... that's usually why some people fall towards the front/side-ish direction too, is that the retiré knee is in a strange angled position that is not quite side, but not quite "jazz front".


I hope these tips help!

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Also just an additional thought on the actual RAD exercises themselves - you need to practice the pirouettes separately from the examination combinations The set work is beautiful, but highly choreographed, with quick preparations for the turns and lots of different weight transfers to keep you on your toes and turning in all sorts of directions! Be sure you aren't just doing the whole exercise again and again - take time out to perfect the pirouettes "on their own" as other teachers have suggested, then incorporate that into sections of the exercises, then piece those sections together when you feel ready. Don't feel you have to do it all every time.

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Thank you, LaFilleSylphide. Those tips are very helpful! I tend to fall back and towards the side I'm turning, so I'll experiment with a lower spot. I think I might be letting my elbows droop as well, so I'll work on maintaining a strong first position. Miss Persistent, my teacher gave us a really good non-syllabus pirouette exercise which progresses from just bringing the foot to retiré, then relevé-ing, then half, single, 1.5 and double turns, so I'm trying to use that to improve my technique. I'm reasonably confident with the non-turning parts of the RAD exercises - just wish I could get my pirouettes to a similar standard!

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