Top Turning Tips from the Experts
Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. "Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.
Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.
Do Yourself a Solid
The stability of the passé position is the heart of every good pirouette. "I wasn't always great at turning," says 12-year-old Sophia Lucia—showing off her skills in the Instagram post above—who holds the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive pirouettes (55). She's learned to go down the RAFT checklist (rectangle, arch, focus, tightness) before each turn. Her shoulders and hips should be level, so the outline of her torso forms a rectangle. Her arch should push over the second toe of her supporting foot. She should focus her eyes on a specific spot. "And there shouldn't be one loose muscle in my body," Sophia says. "I'm not tense, just compact, which holds the whole position together as I turn."
Assess your own passé position in a simple balance. Are you using your highest possible relevé? "You should feel a stretch through the top of your foot, like someone is lifting under your heel," says Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, co-director of The Rock School. The front of the hips should be flat and level; your core muscles should support your passé; and your back and shoulder muscles should support your arms. Be sure to draw your passé up to its fullest height. "In a good position, you'll feel taller than you've ever felt before," says Darla Hoover, artistic director of the Ballet Academy East Pre-Professional Division in NYC. Once everything's properly placed, you should be able to balance easily.
Whip It GoodFeel your weight in the floor in preparation, and pull up quickly into a solid passé.
Photo by Erin Baiano
Your preparation is what sets that perfect passé in motion—and the key is a deep plié that gives you the force you need to get on top of your leg, according to Denise Wall, artistic director of Denise Wall's Dance Energy in Virginia Beach, VA. "Especially in fast-paced pieces, I see dancers bending their knees in plié without really connecting to the floor," she says. Feel your weight in the plié and push off the floor equally with both feet as you go into your turn. "Then find the quickest, most direct way to get from preparation to passé, and don't let the position lose integrity," Wolf Spassoff says. "There's a tendency for dancers to use a lot of force and go for as many turns as possible, but they literally throw themselves off balance. You have to be controlled and coordinated as you squeeze up to that position."
A strong spot will also help whip you around—but don't let your head go wild. "Your head is the heaviest part of your body, and it should drive down into the supporting leg," Wall says. Otherwise, the weight of your head will pull you off balance, causing you to fall out of the turn. "Your eyes should truly see something right from the moment of takeoff," Hoover adds. "If you have trouble spotting, practice by doing chaîné turns, which are simpler and naturally rhythmic, and put up actual targets to spot."
And don't forget about your arms. "You wouldn't want to be on a plane with a flapping wing," Hoover says. Engage your latissimus dorsi (lats), the large muscles that run down the back. If you're having trouble finding that feeling, start by pirouetting with your hands on your hips, keeping your elbows from moving. But don't let your upper body get stiff. "The arms don't have to be static," Wolf Spassoff says. "They should feel supported and buoyant—almost as if they're floating on water."
Troubleshoot (a Video)
The foundations of a good pirouette may be the same for all, but because everyone's body is different, corrections for one dancer don't necessarily apply to the rest of the class. "I'd love to be able to say, 'Go take your pirouette vitamin,' like the answer is the same for everyone," Spassoff says. "But your body is unique, and you need to find out how to use it most efficiently for your turns." (Some of Spassoff's Rock School students are finding their own unique ways to multiples in the video above.)
Ask a friend to record a video of you doing a series of preparations and turns on both sides, and analyze what you see. Falling sideways? You might be hiking up your working hip as you draw your foot up to passé. Falling backwards? You might be raising your shoulders or throwing your arms behind you. Rewind, rewind and rewind again, looking for the keys that will unlock your perfect pirouette. When in doubt, check in with that passé position, and don't get discouraged. "A turn is a living thing you're molding," Wolf Spassoff says.
Everyone has moments of frustration. "The day before a performance, I ran my solo 10 times and wasn't getting my turns," Sophia remembers. "I had a meltdown. But my mom helped me be confident by reminding me how hard I'd trained." On days when your pirouettes aren't working, remember that you've already got the tools you need to fix them in your turning toolbox: science, strength and awareness.
A version of this story appeared in the October 2015 issue of Dance Spirit.
Kalani Hilliker made "Dance Moms" fans sit up a little straighter when she first appeared on "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition" back in 2013. The then–12-year-old ballerina had charisma, she had sass—and, wow, did she have technique! Abby Lee Miller, the show's infamous host, saw Kalani's star potential from the start, saving her from elimination and ultimately inviting her to perform alongside Maddie Ziegler on Season 4 of "Dance Moms." "I was never supposed to be on 'Dance Moms' beyond that one performance," says Kalani, now 16, but she ended up staying on the show for the whole season—and the following three. "It was my first time, but not my last time, causing drama. And it was also the first time I got to meet the other dancers, who have become like sisters."
Move over, Sergei Polunin*: There's a new ballet heartthrob in town.
Well, not "new," exactly: The fabulously talented Isaac Hernández has been a lead principal with the English National Ballet since 2015, and previously danced with Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. (He's also part of a distinguished dance family: You met his brother, SFB corps member Esteban, in our March issue roundup of up-and-coming danseurs.)
But a dreamy new video by filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz—"Despertares" [Wake Up], featuring Hernández dancing in studios and on rooftops all over NYC—makes a strong case for this beautiful dancer becoming your next ballet crush:
You probably already know the dance division at the Boston Conservatory as a top destination for contemporary dancers. But in June 2016, the Conservatory uncovered a new part of its identity when it merged with Berklee College of Music. It's a move that's opening up all kinds of new opportunities for students—especially dancers.
In an audition or onstage, knowing how to use eye contact appropriately is a total game changer. Dancers who aren't afraid to meet the eyes of judges or audience members exude a special confidence that allows them to be seen as capable, talented performers. When dancers look at the floor or around the room, though, they telegraph insecurity. Don't send your critics looking for flaws! Avoid these three no-no's and become a true master of eye contact.
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A few days ago, Demi Lovato dropped by Jojo Gomez's class at Millennium to see what Gomez had made of her hit "Sorry Not Sorry." Gomez's 🔥 choreo—and the incredible performances by some of Hollywood's best dancers/most devoted Lovatics, including Kaycee Rice—didn't disappoint.
Is there anything better than a killer dance photoshoot? OF COURSE NOT! Whether you're taking headshots, model shots, or simply images that'll slay on Instagram, dance photography makes the world a prettier place.
To make sure your next dance photoshoot is as 🔥 as you are, we asked photographer Kenneth Edwards for his dos and don'ts. Follow his advice and your dance photography future will be as bright as your "golden hour" lighting.
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
Last week, after much fanfare and anticipation, we finally met the Season 14 Top 10. Which meant that last night, the hard part began: We started eliminating people.
Here's how it all went down: At the end of last week's episode, you voted (right?). Last night, the whole Top 10 performed again—once with their All Stars plus a solo—and at the end of that episode, we found out who landed in the bottom three based on last week's votes. Then, the judges swooped in and decided who to save and who to send home.
It's a little savage making the dancers perform all over again, even though one will definitely be going home. But such is reality television. And though we had to bid adieu to one worthy member of the Top 10 (we'll get to that), last night's episode was good.