Tuesday, May 17, 2016

See, Spot, Turn - Spotting Techniques for Pirouettes


 I confess to being a pirouette-aholic. I love to study pirouettes: how to make them better and stronger. I love watching good turners and examining the minute details of their alignment, momentum, and spotting. I do this "pirouette recon" so I can share the information with the students in my workshops. I want to give them more tools to fix their turns.

We all have good turn days and bad ones but instead of throwing up our hands and saying, "Oh well, the pirouette gods are not smiling upon me today," we should be asking ourselves the specifics of "Why?"

Why are we falling forward or back?

Why are we not completing a full rotation (or 2 or 10)?

Why are we getting dizzy?

In my most recent workshop, I tackled spotting, which is the bane of many dancers' existence, especially students who come to ballet later in life. Frankly it's easier to get dizzy when you're an adult, harder to just "go for it" and throw caution to the wind. Adults think about falling and are generally uncomfortable with being dizzy. Kids, on the other hand, have far less trouble with that! (See also, amusement park rides)

The 3 L's of Spotting: Loose, Look, Linger

1. Keep a LOOSE neck - in order to spot properly, your neck needs to be relaxed and not tense. Shoulder rolls and neck rolls definitely help to remind us that our heads do not sink directly into our shoulders. Try to keep your shoulders down and allow your neck to relax so it doesn't turn the head as one unit with the upper torso.

2. Actually LOOK at something - you need to truly see an object in order to spot it. Some dancers sort of glance in a direction without actually seeing something there which makes it harder to spot cleanly. This then throws off their turns as they lose their spots. Focus on a singular object (for some, it helps to spot close to them while for others, it helps to see something farther away) and don't lose sight of it.

3. Allow your spot to LINGER - once you see something, grab onto it and don't let go. Your chin needs to remain level in order for your spot to stay on an object. If you tilt your chin up or down, it's harder to remain fixed on an object because your head does not swivel on your neck smoothly. It needs to compensate and then it often comes "unglued."

In my recent research, I read a comment from a teacher that spotting is intended to trick the body into thinking that it's not moving because when it realizes that it's moving, it wants to do other things - like stop turning! I think that's when people tend to simply drop their heels or their arms. They realize they are moving so they do the first thing that seems natural, which is to stop.

If you want smooth pirouettes, aim high: keep your gaze at releve level, see an object, hold it with your gaze, allow the body to float around, and then quickly find the object again.

And relax...happy turning~

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