Christine Winkler mid-pirouette in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Boiling Point (by C. McCullers)
Ah, pirouettes. They’re delicate little operations. Nothing beats the rush of finishing a set of solid multiples, but even the smallest mistake can keep you from nailing that triple. With many variables to think about—placement! timing! spotting!—it’s easy to feel frustrated when you’re tackling tricky turns. DS spoke with a team of pros to help you identify and fix common pirouette mishaps.
Help! I can’t get it all coordinated!
If your pirouette feels like a washing machine spin cycle, chances are you’re suffering from a lack of coordination. Roberto Muñoz, ballet program director of the Colorado Ballet Academy, often sees dancers anticipate pirouettes en dehors by turning in the supporting foot before even taking off. That causes them to open their working hip and shoulder as they continue around, dragging their port de bras behind. “Their arms never catch up with their hips,” he says.
Instead, try to arrive at your passé position immediately by simultaneously springing to relevé and bringing the arms in to first. Focus on keeping the supporting leg turned out, and initiate the turn by pushing off the back toes. Hold your core in one piece—from shoulders to hips—and think of your arms as the steering wheel guiding it around.
To feel the connection of your shoulder to your ribs and hip on the supporting side, Atlanta Ballet dancer Christine Winkler recommends practicing single pirouettes from fifth position en face (landing fifth back), since that preparation is more compact than the preparation for pirouettes from fourth. “You feel like you’re pulling in rather than going around,” she says.
Help! I can’t spot!
An indecisive, lethargic or overeager spot can easily throw off your pirouettes. First and foremost, determine where you’re spotting before you turn—changing mid-turn is a recipe for disaster. Pick a specific object or point in the room to return your eyes to each time. “Your focus is so important,” Winkler says. “Know what you’re looking at and commit to it.”
Some dancers disrupt the momentum of their pirouettes by spotting too slowly, whereas others whip their heads around with too much force. Bo Spassoff and Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, directors of The Rock School in Philadelphia, tell their students to pay attention to the musical rhythm of the spot, and to think of each rotation as a pearl on a necklace. “The necklace is a whole made up of distinct, individual pearls,” says Wolf Spassoff. “Likewise, each pirouette should have a clear identity, defined by the spot—one, one, one—so you get the full picture of each turn.”
The Rock School’s Rachel Richardson prepares for a pirouette. (by Tiffany Yoon/courtesy The Rock School)
Help! I can’t keep my balance!
Whether you tend to lift your working hip, sit in your supporting side, or throw your upper body back, poor alignment will surely knock you off balance. “Body alignment and strength are key to turning successfully,” Spassoff says.
“It’s not enough to think ‘pull up,’ ” he continues. “What does pulling up mean?” Of course, square hips and shoulders, rock-solid abdominals and a strong supporting leg are vital. But he also recommends analyzing pirouettes from a physics perspective. What forces are necessary to maintain your balance?
To stay on your leg, think of opposing energies going up and down as you relevé, like a bow and arrow. “Push down into the supporting foot while at the same time lifting the passé foot,” Spassoff says. As you press down, think of growing taller to avoid sitting in your hip. “A lot of dancers never reach the full height of their pirouette,” Wolf Spassoff says. “If someone came and poked them in the supporting side of their derrière, they’d grow two inches!”
Help! I can’t turn on pointe!
Pirouettes on pointe create a whole new set of problems. For one thing, that tiny platform means less surface area and a lot less traction. “You don’t need as much force on pointe as you do in slippers,” Muñoz says, “so you have to adjust accordingly.” Winkler recalls pulling in from 32 fouettés with extra punch during a performance, hoping to finish with multiple pirouettes. She ended up on the floor, sitting and spinning in her tutu. “I was doing some sort of breakdancing thing,” she remembers, laughing. “I used too much force, and it wasn’t timed correctly.”
Many dancers approach pirouettes from pointe more tentatively and
consequently arrive in passé too late. “You immediately have to get to the
full height of your passé,” says Wolf Spassoff. In addition, try not to give in to the clunkiness of the pointe shoe box. “Think of a quick, light toe coming right under the center of the body, and pull up and out of the shoe.”
From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.
But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.
With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.
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That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
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The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!
What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.
Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.
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Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.
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Dance teachers have to deal with a lot. While open communication with your teacher is obviously key, lame excuses for less-than-great behavior are guaranteed to get on her nerves. Always avoid these seven excuses that will 100 percent get your dance teacher's blood boiling.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
There are dance routines, and then there are dance routines. Andrew, a 21-year-old dancer with Down Syndrome, performed the latter on the new British reality dance show "The Greatest Dancer." He brought the audience to tears as he unabashedly freestyled to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling."
Today, January 11, is #AlexanderHamiltonDay: A very happy 264th birthday to Alexander Hamilton! Thanks to this most unlikely of Founding Fathers—a brilliant and ballsy orphaned immigrant who dramatically rose, then fell, then rose again—we have possibly the most successful musical of all time. We also, of course, got priceless GIFs such as this one:
Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, while we can't get you "in the room where it happens" with tickets to the show's current Broadway, touring, or Puerto Rico productions—the last of which opens tonight!—we CAN offer up some fun ways to fête A.Ham's day of birth. Just you wait:
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As the name suggests, summer intensives are, well, intense, encouraging you to eat, sleep, and breathe dance for a significant chunk of the summer. But they're not for every dancer—or every summer. Maybe you're not ready to be away from home just yet, or you want to spend your last summer with family before going off to college. Intensives can also be expensive, and not every household has the financial flexibility to cover the high cost of auditions, travel, room and board, and tuition. Whatever your reasons for seeking alternatives, it's important to recognize that, when it comes to summer study, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. "The most important thing is to keep dancing," says Lindy Mandradjieff, owner of the Dance Conservatory of Charleston in South Carolina. "Without the added stress of school, you can improve as much in one summer as you would in an entire school year." Here's how to keep up your training even if you don't plan on attending an intensive.