By David Arce
When a student’s upper body is not active in a pirouette, the turn itself begins to suffer. It’s not only important to maintain a turned-out passé, high relevé, and strong spot; a dancer’s torso (the back and core muscles) must also be engaged throughout the turn.
A good way to help students with this is to pay extra attention to the placement of the lower part of the arm. Adjust students’ hands so the insides of their pinky fingers point to the ceiling. I’ve found that this slight rotation helps harness the turn’s centrifugal energy along the entire arm, allowing more control while in motion. This adjustment also helps keep the latissimus dorsi and pectoral muscles engaged, promoting a lifted and supported torso.
A common bad habit when finishing en dehors pirouettes is disengaging the gluteus maximus and tilting the hips back before the leg extends from passé to the floor. Although a front-legged lunge is a standard finish to an outside pirouette, it still needs to be taken with care and adjusted from time to time.
Try breaking the step down at the barre. Have students do a passé balance and then extend the passé to a soutenu à terre. Check that they aren’t tilting the hips back and that the toes of the working foot and heel of the supporting foot touch the ground at the same time. From the soutenu, have them move into a lunge with the back foot placed firmly on the floor. Have students perform this transition slowly and repeat on both sides. Once they’ve done it correctly, have them attempt it in the center, first with a passé balance, and then with single pirouettes.
David Arce is artistic director of Juline Regional Youth Ballet and a teacher at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California. He trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School and danced 12 seasons with SF Ballet.