A former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet, Julie Diana Hench is the executive director of American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
Alison Miller (front) in Stanton Welch's "The Ladies" (Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet)
Few things ruin the magic of a performance faster than the sound of loud pointe shoes. "When an audience watches someone dancing, they don't want to hear tap-tap-tap," says Houston Ballet first soloist Allison Miller. Pointe shoe sounds can be distracting to you, too, breaking your concentration and keeping you from getting lost in the moment. So, how can you step more softly? Doing so takes thought and practice, and maybe some changes to your shoes themselves. But it can also help you stand out—quietly.
San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung in rehearsal (Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet)
Even for natural turners, pirouettes from fifth can be a challenge. You need to take off from a small crossed position and stay straight over your supporting leg, from start to finish. "It's the hardest place to turn from, because you can't access your plié as much as you can from fourth," says Jennie Somogyi, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and director of Jennie Somogyi Ballet Academy in Easton, PA. "I'm always telling my students to plié more!"
If you're struggling with pirouettes from fifth position or want to refine your approach, try these pro tips.
DO keep your body straight up and down. "Many dancers tend to pull their hips back and tip their bodies forward in step-overs, but that makes it difficult to get around," says Nanako Yamamoto of American Repertory Ballet.
Photo by Kaitlin Marino, courtesy American Repertory Ballet
"Lame duck." It sounds like nothing else in the classical ballet vocabulary, right? Also known as step-up turns or step-over turns—or, more technically, as piqués en dehors—these tricky pirouettes show up all over the classical ballet repertoire, perhaps most famously in Odette's Act II variation in Swan Lake. Here's how to keep your lame ducks from looking, well, lame.
Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranga suggests picking different places to spot along your manège's route. (photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy Boston Ballet)
A beautifully executed manège—a whirlwind series of steps performed in a circular pattern around the stage—can create a powerful, dramatic climax onstage. But while a manège is always impressive to watch, it isn't always easy to perfect. Even the pros struggle with them: Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga remembers one rehearsal of John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet where she "cut through center stage, and didn't even realize it!" during a manège of sauts de basque and step-up turns.
So, how can you master manèges? The secret lies in figuring out how to keep your balance while constantly changing direction.