This weeks homework is easy, because all you have to do is have a read! There’s no at-home exercises or tutorials to follow. We’re just going to have a chat about pirouettes…
What is a pirouette?
A pirouette is a turn or spin* on one foot. The other foot is raised into a retiré (a bent turned out leg) with the toe in line (but not resting!) on the working legs knee. Pirouettes can be performed en dehor (outwards) or en dedan (inwards).
*Never call a pirouette a ‘turn’ or ‘spin’. Ew. Gross.
My first rule…
When I’m teaching pirouettes, one of my first pieces of advice is to think of the pirouette as a ‘balance’ – not a ‘turn’. The moment you start focussing on ‘turning’ you forget to lift and pull up through the waist. To achieve beautiful suspension towards the end of the pirouette, you need to focus on balancing first.
Preparation is key!
Pirouettes typically start from fifth position or fourth position of the feet.
In fifth position, the foot on the retiré leg has to trace up the shin bone to the correct position. I like to think of this foot as a suction cap, that applies a little pressure before scooping up into the retiré. A common mistake is shooting the foot away from the centre line and then bringing it back into retiré, which confuses the bodies centre line.
In fourth position (more common), the retiré leg has to come from behind into the retiré position. A common mistake is starting in too wide a fourth or not getting the retiré in quick enough. If your fourth is too wide, your body has to work harder to find your centre line.
Both techniques use a plié to start the pirouette. It’s important that the plié is controlled, elastic and active.
Be calculated and meticulous…
I always say, you have to tell your body what to do. Don’t hope for the best and throw yourself into the pirouette.
Everything needs to be calculated; the arms need to be controlled in a strong frame, the legs need even rotation (at the hips) in the retiré and the shoulders need to be pressed down as you relevé strongly onto demi pointe.
Another part of the pirouette that requires very meticulous training is the plié during preparation. If your plié isn’t elastic enough, the pirouette won’t have the energy it requires to take off. However a plié with too much attack and depth makes the pirouette look clumsy and forced.
No matter what happens during the pirouette, it’s SO important to finish properly. As ballet dancers, we’re conditioning the body to finish movements gracefully and confidently regardless of their perceived success. Instead of throwing the entire exercise away due to one poorly performed pirouette, you must compose yourself and carry on.
I feel like this unwritten rule in the ballet world also teaches us a pretty valuable lesson that can be applied to many areas of life…
- ‘Balance’! Don’t ‘turn’.
- Preparation is key!
- Don’t forget your frame (arms).
- Keep your fourth position (of the feet) small and controlled.
- Evenly turn out from both hips in the preparation plié and retiré.
- Press shoulders down.
- Use an active, elastic plié during preparation.
- Finish the pirouette!
I hope these thoughts help! What part of pirouettes do you find most difficult?
Grace & Grit,