Turning It Around
“I can’t turn anymore!” is a lament you may occasionally hear, and a problem many dancers face at some point in their training. This statement means more than “I am having a bad class,” or “I am not on my leg today.” This student knows that her turns have been consistently off for a series of classes, has probably tried some preliminary troubleshooting, and is now feeling anxious.
Dancers who believe they have lost their ability to turn need to be told quickly and clearly that turning is only one part of their “game”—only one specific skill in a large repertoire of movements for a dancer. A turning slump should not become a dancing slump.
Students who are having trouble turning often magnify the extent of their problems. The “off” sensation they are experiencing is real but in many cases is simply due to a subtle difference in how they’re approaching the mechanics of their turns. Specific strategies may help get your student back on top of those turns quickly. Struggling students should start by focusing on one area. Ask, “Is your core engaged?” or “What is the toe placement in passé?” or “Are you aware of the pathway of the arms?”
Rather than trying to fix a slump with a series of corrections in one class, we need to methodically help students understand what is making their turns succeed or fail. Having this knowledge will help them regain confidence.
Dancers who have “lost” their turns feel that something has changed. It often has. A growth spurt, a change in weight, or an unconscious compensation for an injury can cause turns to go south. Whatever the cause, I use the same approach to help dancers through a slump: I encourage them to keep at it, remind them that they are not alone, and help them build confidence in other areas of their dancing. And I have them work on one fundamental element of a turn at a time.
Fundamentals of a turn
- Relevé: Practice the position, alignment, and balance of a turn in relevé, without turning. Focus on engaging the abdominals, lengthening the supporting leg, or easing the shoulders down.
- Spot: Where is the dancer looking? How is the movement of the head in the spot affecting the alignment in the upper back?
- Arms: Is one arm doing all the work? Is there stability in the turning position?
- Clean singles: It is ineffective to push for a triple if a single has a fundamental error in placement, spot, or use of the arms. Start work here—but do not stay here! As is often said today, doubles are the new singles.
- Clean doubles: Double pirouettes are very different from singles. Singles have the feeling of coasting around high on top of a relevé—floating, with ease in the spot. Doubles have a quicker “click” to the spot. They also require more “reach and snap” in the arms.
- Spin: Can the dancer spin/rotate/revolve in other shapes, classes, or shoes? Being able to turn in any situation (on any floor, in any costume, with any kind of lights, sets, or groupings) is a sign that the dancer can turn successfully and is ready to push for more.
- Multiple turns: Knowledgeable teachers understand that the technical base must be there before multiple turns can develop correctly. Dancers will feel pressure if other students are knocking out lots of turns. Remember to coach your students where they are, not where they wish they were.
Kerry Ring teaches ballet and modern dance technique at the University at Buffalo [NY]. She is core faculty for Dance Masters of America and is certified in Kriya Yoga.