In almost every class I teach, I find myself reminding my students “Don’t be in such a hurry to fall over,” or “Remember, you can’t turn faster than you can fall!”
What I mean is that they should slow down the closing of their arms and make sure that they go to “the end of the plié.” If students don’t know how to make an almost-isometric plié, their feet and legs are relaxed. Not having a muscular connection from the supporting toe to the supporting hip, students are forced to pull up out of the plié. They lift their bodies up by pulling their arms in. They depend on the inward closing movement of the supporting arm. When I see students do this, they look very tense and appear to be dancing “on top of the floor.” They look like they’re following their arms, because all of their energy and weight is in their arms instead of in their supporting legs and feet.
Excerpted from my book “The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students”
Every movement you make should be powered by the action of your feet (or foot). In terms of preparing for the pirouette en dehors from the fourth position, keep the following in mind:
- Your supporting foot grips the floor in order to bring the body and legs into place for the preparatory pose and the plié.
- Your supporting foot grips the floor in opposition to the upward stretch of your head. This engages and connects all of the muscles in your supporting leg from the toes to the hip. How can you expect to line up your leg bones properly unless you engage the muscles that move them?
- Your supporting foot grips the floor in order to bring all of the weight of your body into it.
- Your supporting foot grips the floor and determines the placement of your back foot.
- Your supporting foot pushes down on the floor so that you relevé and turn on a straight leg.
- When your back toe leaves the floor that is when you turn your head and spot.
Excerpted from my book The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students
Pirouette Reminder: When you pirouette from fourth position, and you stop and hold the plié, make sure you “double the plié”—release it a bit and give that supporting knee a second push PAST the supporting toes. This will make sure you don’t pull up and fall away from your supporting toes and, instead, enable you to drive your weight down into the floor for a well-balanced pirouette. Check out all the component parts in my instructional video “Pirouette Class 2.”
Pirouette Class 2
Why do we demi-plié? In order to spring up on half-toe or jump, and then to lower ourselves to the starting position. When you make a deep demi-plié with feet and legs relaxed you must then pull up out of the plié which will tend to set you back on your heels, make you fall off your turns, and lessen your elevation. You don’t need—or want—a deep, relaxed demi-plié—but you do need strong feet and ankles. Every movement we make comes from the floor. It begins with our toes and ends with our toes. In order to strengthen your feet and ankles, try to initiate your movements with an almost-isometric plié. I say “almost” because if it were simply isometric you would not move at all. Almost-isometric means that you move quietly and steadily with steely strength and intense opposition. The upward energy through the back of your neck equals the downward energy in your toes, feet, and ankles. Here’s how to learn what the almost-isometric plié feels like: Flatten both hands. Place one atop the other, palms down, fingers in opposite directions. Curl your fingers over each other. Grip strongly and pull as hard as you can without uncurling the fingers. Can you feel the muscles working in your fingers, hands, arms and shoulders? Now do this with your feet and legs. Stand in first position, grip the floor with toes curled and arches domed—you will feel your ankles tense—and slowly pull your knees into a small demi-plié. Resist the downward movement by stretching the back of your neck, keeping your hips as far from the floor as possible. The plié is minimal. Don’t lift your heels. You should feel a line of muscular engagement from your toes all the way up to your hips. Don’t think position; think power. Now you are ready to relevé: quickly press the balls of your feet against the floor, flatten your toes, and spring up to the half-toe. Keep driving your weight down through the floor until your legs are straight. Keep pushing your insteps over your spread toes. You should balance easily as long as you are in “Number 1” (correct posture). Try this with battement fondu en croix. Try it with a pirouette en dehors from both fifth and fourth positions. Yes, I know it is not in the ballet books. But we haven’t always had TV, the internet, and hip and knee replacements. Times have changed. So should you. This is explained in detail in my instructional video “Ballet Barre for the Adult Absolute Beginner” which is available on my website and Amazon.
Spotting makes the difference: After class today, Ari was practicing her pirouette en dehors with arms fifth high. She could not find her balance. The reason was that she was pulling in her supporting arm in order to turn and did it so quickly with so much force she ending up spinning faster than she could spot and could not control the turns. I told her to slow it down a bit and make each spot separate and distinct. First, plié and push down, then snap your head quickly , which will bring your body around, and then bring the arms into position. At first she didn’t get it, but after a few tries she did exactly as instructed and made a multiple pirouette with four sharply spotted turns. We could see each turn separately—her spotting was that clear and distinct and her balance was perfect. She showed us a series of individual balances: one-one-one-one. After she did it, she was amazed. So were we!
Photo of Belle McDonagh (Elance Adult Ballet School, Victoria, Australia) by Stephen von der Launitz
A PLIÉ IS NOT A PLIÉ
Go beyond the position. What are you going to do with that demi-plié in fifth position? What is it for? If you are making the plié as a preparation for a pirouette, pose, or jump, make sure you place your weight over what will be your supporting toe. This will make it much easier for you to rise perfectly balanced on one foot. Form follows function. More details on this idea are in my instructional video “Use Your Head & Turn!”
Use Your Head & Turn!
The biggest challenge a dancer faces each day is being able to repeat the correct preparation—for a balance, turn, or jump—over and over, day after day—with a sense of newness and discovery. It’s always the same, but you have changed.
The more you practice incorrectly the better you get at doing it wrong. It does not matter how many classes you take—wrong will never be right. Open your mind to the possibilities of new ways to do old things.Try doing things differently and surprise yourself.
Whether you pirouette en dehors (turning to the right on your left foot) or pirouette en dedans (turning to the right on your right foot) go ahead and use the right arm to initiate and complete the turn. When you turn to the right and fall to the right, it is because you are bringing your left side to the right. Divide your body in half: left side, right side. Learn to keep them apart—the left stays left, the right stays right. One side should lead the other. One side is more important than the other. First you do this, then you do that. For both turns to the right, first reach back and twist to the left, and leave it there. Then turn your right arm back and around to the completion. It doesn’t matter what leg you are on. As long as you turning to the right, lead with the right arm. And, vice-versa. And don’t forget to give the supporting knee a push past the toes and press the ball of your feet firmly to the floor. And, spot! Check out the video on inside turns: http://finisjhung.com/shop/pirouette-class-3/
Skies are grey today. Temperature has dropped. Hurricane is brewing. Rainy chilly days are coming. But above it all the sun continues to shine. Just because you can’t see it or feel it does not mean it’s not there. Don’t be fooled. Think big. Life goes in cycles. You will see the sun again. Your pirouettes will return.