Plz help a reader with her Pirouette Problem!

Got this email from a reader.
Let’s called her K-boom.
K-boom needs pirouette help, you guys.
K-boom says:

“I’ve been taking classes seriously for 2 years, 2-3 times a week. I am the ONLY person in my class who cannot do a pirouette. I can balance in passé, spot etc. but I cannot do even one turn. Its gotten to be a “thing.” Two teachers have said its all in my head since I have the requisite skills but its getting ridiculous. I mean, I actually felt like crying from frustration in class last night. The more I practice, the worse it gets. Basically, what happens most of the time is I “fall” out of the turn when I get halfway around. I have also fallen on my ass more times than I care to admit. I am hoping if you make this a post, lots of people will write in with advice and it will be the turning point (pun intended) of my life.”

What do you think?
I asked for more specific info on how the pirouettes are being taught and stuff and K-boom elaborates:

“I have 2 different instructors and they both do them differently. One does them from fourth, the other from fifth. Fifth is just a disaster for me. I can’t get enough “umph” to get up and around. With fourth, I do better but its still pretty bad. When we do them from fourth, we tendu to the side, go into a wide fourth with back leg straight, turn en dehors and land in fourth with the front arm slightly higher than when we started.
It is not like I am making the same mistake every time. Sometimes, I just feel tired at the end of class and can’t get up to a strong passé. Other times, I feel strong until I start turning and then I “fall out” of passé (sometimes right on my ass). So sometimes it feels like a strength thing and sometimes a balance thing. I also had a knee injury last year (not serious, just overuse) and even though it is healed, I sometimes find I am babying it–afraid to do anything that might cause it to twist/torque. Probably that hesitation is a factor. When I videotaped myself (yes, truly obsessed…) I could see that I am not getting into passé fast enough. I also do not keep the leg that is in passé turned out so as I turn– it ends up facing forward instead of the side.
The frustrating thing is, I practice, practice, practice. I have good teachers. I can stand in passé in releve with good balance when I am not going to do a turn. As I am typing, I am processing and thinking that it is a combination of strength, balance and fear of hurting my knee. Ugh. What to do…”

What to do indeed????? If you have ideas, (and I know you do because you’re awesome) please share, let’s Be That Turning Point! Yeah!

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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39 Responses to Plz help a reader with her Pirouette Problem!

  1. Lis says:

    I can do one sloppy pirouette after a year of classes. The best way of learning I’ve had is actually from second. We tendu side, plié, then come to a flat balance with the foot like in a pirouette (I can’t remember all the French terms!) we do that twice. Then twice again but this time balance on Demi pointe. Then finally turn en dehors from second. It feels a little awkward at first but it really helps keep your body square to set up to the side instead of behind you. It’s a slow turn but it’s worked well for the adult beginners in our class!! I do it at home all the time just to work on balance. Hope this helps :)

  2. Eirin says:

    Take a deep breath! That is my number one go-too when my pirouettes go bad. I feel that it’s easier to turn if I relax and breath and sort of ease into it. Not overthink it, not to much speed. Just relax iand try to let it happen instead of forcing it ;)

  3. ballet bunny says:

    Plié your back knee in fourth position. With a straight leg it’s really difficult! And also make sure your fourth position is not too wide – just tendu to the back, plié, and as soon as you plié – up!

  4. I used to be a good turner when I was a younger dancer. Coming back to it this time around, I’ve had considerable trouble getting my turns back. I have a fabulous teacher who is so good at breaking down these things. Here was her advice for me. If you’re falling out of your turn half way around, try these things: 1) Make sure you’re taking your upper body with you, don’t let it lag behind. To do this, make sure you’re using your lats. 2) Press your standing leg into the ground as you turn, making sure you’re not bending your knee. 3) Engage your lower abs the whole time you’re up there. If you’re not sure how to do this, do a kegel. It’ll automatically engage those muscles. 4) I agree with the commenter who suggested using plie on the back leg as well. It makes it easier to get over that standing leg, at least it does for me.

  5. Also, this has helped me a lot: Just do quarter turns for awhile. Once you feel good about being strong doing those, move up to half turns, etc.

  6. Basia says:

    Maybe from a different point of view –
    Ask yourself what would you have if you don’t ever get the pirouette happening at all?
    You might say – why would you ask that??
    Its about “Pay back”. You must be getting something out of not being able to do them.
    Eg. you may believe that you cannot be a good ballerina as an adult – therefore this issue is PROOF of that belief.

    Or from an entirely different point of view –
    Your body is telling you something about your life that you haven’t dealt with. For example you may be “unstable” somewhere else in your personal/work/spiritual life. And your body is telling you to deal with that.
    Not really your run of the mill advice, takes a bit of quiet time and introspection, but I hope that it helps.

  7. Hope it is all right for a teacher to answer.
    The advice so far is really good. I will just add some things I notice often. :)
    I start my students always from fifth for pirouettes en dehors (which is what I think is meant here) as it is easier to just go “straight up” from there, lifting only the foot (not the knee) up underneath the centre of the body into retiré.
    And make sure weight is on both feet in plié, then push off equally from both; with some students often times the soon-to-be standing leg is nearly straight before the soon-to-be retire foot has left the floor, and that makes it really hard to actually turn.
    Then lead with the first shoulder, but follow with the second shoulder and feel as if the arms are pushing down against an invisible table, so as to activate the back muscles. (as mentioned above)
    Also do quarter turns, then halves before attempting a full one. (remembering that the pirouette “end position” is still in retiré; actually putting that foot down, wherever, is just the punctuation)
    When finally doing a full turn, do not leave head longer than an instant (or about one eighth of a turn) before snapping the face around to face front again.
    Not seeing the student is of course an added difficulty; but those are the some of the most common things I see with my students. .
    Sorry this was so long!

  8. Kelly Pando says:

    Like a previous reply, I’d start with doing quarter or half turns. But before then I might start with just springing up into your pirouette from fourth position – no turning – and practice coming out of your pirouette position in a controlled way back to fourth (or whatever position you wish to end in). Then I would go on to quarter and half turns. Also, check out Finis Jhung’s pirouette videos on youtube.

  9. If you’re falling off/back it means you’re pulling muscularly in a certain direction like backwards or forward. Envision your solid passé releve when you are turning as well as locking that supporting leg and knee. Trust your body even after a prior injury. Working it will make it healthy and strong again- just don’t over exert yourself. Having solid arms in first position will hold you solidly, make sure you don’t cross over or pull your arm back/wind up. You may be using too much arm strength to make your turn which will spin you out of control. If you’re making a single turn don’t even use your arms to propel you. Use your plié.

    Keep your body solid from the ground up. This way every part of your body will then rotate. The only relaxed moving muscles in a turn should be your neck to help you whip your head around to spot.

    Remember to stay confident, keep in mind all the things your teachers have taught you and don’t stress about it too much. Like many have mentioned if people are doing turns in class practice 1/4 and 1/2 turns. Also for a 4th prep don’t place your leg too far behind you. Make a very small 4th, it will be easier to lift from.
    Good luck!!

  10. Ashley says:

    For what it’s worth, I did completely incorrect spins around my kitchen just to get used to the sensation of turning and whipping my head around before adding the technical part to turning. That way I was used to the feeling of turning and knew I could at least get my body around. It helped me. Maybe you need to just relax and spin in circles for a while before trying to make it right.

  11. wedoballet says:

    I’ve never heard of outside turns taught (or really done) from a wide lunge like that… hmmm… anyway. Advice:
    Try a narrower fourth position (back leg will be passé) or fifth as you’ve been taught.

    -Prepare with passé arm forward and releve arm in second.
    -As you plié with BOTH legs slightly extend and open your forward arm (not all the way to second, just a little give).
    -Then as you push from BOTH legs snatch both arms into first. THIS is where you get your rotation, not from something you’re doing with your legs… they’re too busy pushing you UP… on that note, as you push for BOTH legs commit to getting your standing knee completely straight and strong and your releve high in the split second BEFORE you start turning… so like right away.
    -Pulling that arm in from second will start your turn if you do it with conviction, so just commit to it and go… it will also keep you centered (and a bit more forward) if you focus on keeping BOTH arms in first position.

    This last piece of advice may seem silly since you’re probably thinking “come on lady I’m just trying to get around” but plan to finish the turn ON RELEVE. Sometimes we fall out of turns half way around because we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we’re coming down at some point. When you start finishing your turns UP (or trying to) you start feeling so much more in control of the whole process. You can put your foot down in that fourth position AFTER the pirouette, but it isn’t PART of the turn.

    • wedoballet says:

      Now that I think about it more, that lunge for an outside turn is kind of a Balanchine/SAB thing. It isn’t totally insane, but it isn’t working for you and seems like a strange way to teach adult beginners who will never dance for NYCB. Oh well. I hope some of the advice she’s gotten has helped at this point.

  12. Dudes, I’m sure K-boom will chime in, but in the meantime *I’m* feeling super hopeful about the future of my own unreliable pirouettes after reading your ideas. Thank you and high-fives all around!

  13. Joanna says:

    A teacher told me something encouraging in class this week–that there is no correct way to teach a pirouette, because everyone has different bodies and what works for one person may not work for another. He said people fear pirouettes because they’ve probably been taught to do them in a way that is only relevant to a third of the class. (For example, he pointed out that people with smaller feet take less time to reach releve, whereas taller people with longer feet must think “up!” right away to be in passe in time.) He then taught us four different ways of thinking through the turn, just with small adjustments to the arms. I found that my pirouettes from fourth improved when I stretched my front arm in arabesque forward more, and kept the palm down before bringing the arms into first. A weird, slight adjustment, but it has helped tremendously. So, long story short, my advice would be to try different teachers. I know the feeling of being frustrated to tears, but keep sticking with it–you’ll get it!

  14. Stephbo says:

    I’m an adult beginner belly dancer, not a ballet dancer, so I don’t do pirouettes. However, we still do spins in releve, and we’ve been taught to keep all of our abs (lower, upper, and lats) engaged when spinning so as not to fall over. I’m also guilty of over-protecting my knee. Have you tried using the opposite leg so you can get a sense of how to do it properly without risking the bum knee? Just a thought. Good luck!

  15. bella says:

    I’m awful at pirouettes, but i’ve gotten a lot better using these:

    practice quarter turns, then half turns, then three quarter. seems stupid but really helps

    visualize!!! if you imagine doing it perfectly, then you will

    pretend you’ve done it a million times. Don’t tense up from fear, that’s a sure way to mess up. stay relaxed

    try doing a harder version, like cross your arms and don’t use them. then when you go to do it normally, it feels way easier

    find a place, like a small hallway or closet, where you can releve in passe, then use your arms to turn yourself around

    think “UP” ( some one is pulling a string out the top of your head ) ” not “turn”. turning makes you think of falling. up does not

    also, don’t think of going fast around in order to get there. go as slow as possible. I can’t really explain that one, just try it

    practice at the barre (or a chair) where you can grab it to hold yourself up for an extra couple of seconds

    Good Luck!!!

  16. I believe that any person (man or woman) who starts ballet at an “advanced age” (excuse the term) will likely struggle with learning a pirouette. But it’s not because of what you think. Adults have fear. Apprehension. Insecurity that most children do not have when ballet is introduced. I have watched children do lots of things that are foreign to them when it comes to ballet. I am always surprised when it is not picked up right away. The difference? They don’t feel that “it’s impossible” feeling that adults feel when we try to do things in ballet. I believe it’s because adolescents have no concept of mortality. They are young and free and the feeling will never end. Adults don’t have that luxury, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a chance to learn ballet. No in the least bit. Just remember one thing: it takes a child to learn ballet (solid, classical technique) in 5 years (roughly) Do you have 5 years??? Yes!! You do!! So don’t psych yourself out with one pirouette. Stat tight in your passé. Don’t forget to spot and let it happen. You can do this. So what if it takes you a little more time. In the end, the accomplishment of making one full revolution on releve will be so sweet. Words will not be able to describe.

    Head up. Smile bright. Dance on. LB out!

  17. Paulina says:

    I agree with Legalballerina. I learned pirouettes as a child and I do not even think about them. Sorry, that won’t not help you at all. Keep trying and remember: learning ballet is a long journey;-)

  18. Felouk says:

    As one of my teachers said: if you always fall to the same side, that is good news. It is easier to fix then falling to different sides. But in both cases carefully note to which side you are falling. Then next try, ‘lean’ your weight a bit more to the opposite side. (Or tense your muscle on the opposite side so when falling back make very sure you are not doing a mini back bend en close your ribs more/ pull your abs in more etc). Rinse and repeat.
    Advise that has helped me: Your body goes towards your arms. Hold your arms low (belly button), most people naturally bring them up while turning which will make you bend back slightly.
    In your preparation really squeeze that muscle on the underside of your butt (or just your butt in if you can’t find that one) and put on your ‘corset’. And like the others said: do half pirouettes so you can focus on technique and go for this super calm floating feeling.

  19. Jane Lambert says:

    I have a similar problem to K-Boom and I found a lot of help in this thread on BalletcoForum “Pirouettes – delving into the mechanics and mystery” which she will find at http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/5790-pirouettes-delving-into-the-mechanics-and-mystery/

    Although BalletcoForum is a British website and most of the contributors come from the British Isles this discussion was started by a lady from San Diego. She is a teacher with man y years of practical experience so I think her advice is worth heeding.

    On a completely different point I see that one of your contributors is called “Legalballerina”. I see that she is a young personal injuries lawyer in the USA. I am a very elderly intellectual property (patents, copyrights, trade marks, designs, etc) lawyer practising in England and Wales. We lawyers – especially those of us who go into court – have a lot more in common with dancers than one might think.

  20. RO says:

    Ohhhhh grrrrr those pirouettes… She described the story of my life.
    Been in class again for 5 years now and I can hardly get a clean double. For me, it was a combination of not spotting correctly and also wanting ‘too’ much.

    Relax, breathe, and try not to worry about it too much. It took me more than 3 years to get a decent, stable, clean single pirouette. You’re only at 2,5 years so who knows what the future will bring?!

  21. RO says:

    Oh, and I’ve also fallen on my ass when trying to do doubles. No shame, no shame.

  22. Lis says:

    Ok so of course we did loads of pirouettes this morning in class and I channeled all these tips and they were way better today!! Doing kegels is like a miracle during a pirouette, woah.

  23. ms.spectator says:

    Reblogged this on Entrechat. and commented:
    Excellent hive-mind help for a dancer with pirouette worries! Similar problems over here – I am yet to truly get my pirouette, too. I do think confidence is a big issue. And starting off with quarter-turns is not a technique that’s been used in my classes. Give it a good read all you pirouette over-thinkers!!

  24. ms.spectator says:

    I have such similar problems/worries with pirouettes! This is such a great hive-mind problem solver – why did I never think of practising quarters?? Thanks everyone Xx

  25. Carla Escoda says:

    Pirouette = 80% balance + 20% actually turning, so if you have the balance thing down you’re close! You have to be able to get to the balance really fast, though, from the push-off. And you have to get to a perfectly straight standing leg in relevé with the VMO engaged very quickly. Practicing with music (best @ a brisk 3/4 tempo) can really help to nail the coordination and the fast push-off.
    Pirouette en dehors from 5th pos. is anatomically easiest. Try pushing off and bringing the foot to sur le cou-de-pied (at the ankle) instead of all the way up to retiré – this minimizes the chance that you’re hiking the hip up. Pirouette from 4th pos. lunge is a Balanchine preparation – it’s challenging! If you must work from 4th, be sure it’s a reasonably small 4th, so your weight shift into the balance on one leg doesn’t have to be too dramatic. Pirouette from 2nd pos. is a less challenging alternative to 4th.
    Another common problem is dropping the chin or otherwise tilting the head at the moment of take-off. You generally need someone watching you to tell you whether you are doing this or not – it’s hard to self-diagnose. The head is heavy, so the slightest tilt off the vertical can sabotage a turn.
    Arms going wild are the most common problem. That’s why when we teach beginners, we usually put the arms somewhere where they can’t cause too much trouble. That is usually hands-on-shoulders, or hands-on-hips (I prefer on shoulders, because it helps to keep the back upright.) You can do the entire preparation with the arms immobilized, or start the preparation with the usual arms but bring them immediately to the shoulders or hips when you push off the floor. Taking the arms “out” of a pirouette can feel incapacitating if you’re used to practicing with arms, but since the arms should not be involved in initiating a turn in the first place, you should get the hang of it fairly quickly.

  26. Rebecca says:

    Wow, some great advice here!

    a) Madame says we still hear our mother saying to us as children ‘Don’t do that, you’ll get dizzy and fall over!’ So we do. Block her out.

    b) If we fall backwards (rather than forwards) it’s because our weight isn’t correctly over our second toe in the relevé – improving my alignment in relevé has improved my pirouettes no end.

    Good luck!

  27. Suzanne says:

    Wow, there are some great tips on here. As an adult returner/poor turner, I will definitely be trying some of these out. One thing that has helped me recently is watching youtube videos of other non-professionals practising pirouettes. From that, I’ve realised I’ve been trying to turn way too fast and without bringing my arms into the correct position. Correcting those things has made a huge improvement. I think maybe I find it easier to learn from watching someone who looks like me demonstrate a decent single pirouette, rather than watching a professional execute a million doubles/triples!

  28. amykauai says:

    This is all great advice. Have you tried a turn board? It doesn’t help with all aspects of the pirouette but for me it helped get my upper body straight. Also floor barre has helped me tremendously. ..I do a dvd at home. I was very weak in the hips and lower back and this was hindering my ability to turn.

  29. Lots of great advice here already! What helped with my pirouettes was realizing that I was not putting all of my weight on my forward leg, so when it was time to go up to releve for the turn, I had to throw my weight forward to get over my leg, so I would fall out of the turn every time. Once I started putting all of my weight on my forward leg in the prep position, then I only had to go up, and I was able to get a stable turn.

  30. mommyfrog says:

    Wow. Everyone else has great advice, and definitely far better technique advice than I could give. I bet something in there will help, and I will be trying some of their advice as well. But you know what really seems to help me?
    To smile while I pirouette. :-)
    It must be something related to smiling making me relax, or breathe out, or something, but it’s easy, and worth a try.
    Seriously, try smiling. AT the very worst, it doesn’t work, but you had a moment of joy.

  31. hey,

    I just stumbled onto your blog (I saw it linked on 4dancers.org) and thought I would check it out. I am glad that I did, because it seems like a pretty awesome site!

    I have to confess that I don’t know much about ballet, but I am interested in it… so your blog is a perfect entry point for me. I will be coming back again…

    I would love to contribute to your discussion, but not being a ballet dancer, I am probably not the person to ask about how to perform much of anything!!!

    Thanks for taking the time to write such an awesome blog.

    Tom

  32. Heather says:

    I think doing en des hors from a 4th position lunge (with your back leg straight) is a Balanchine thing? At my studio, we do them from a 4th position plie, which you might find easier if your teachers are ok with you trying it. Since you say you can balance in passe no problem, I would suggest trying to just do a quarter turn. Once you’ve mastered that go for half, then three quarters, and finally, the whole pirouette! I think breaking it down and gradually building up to the turn might help train you to be less afraid. I’m coming off an injury myself and have just recently started turning again. It’s frustrating! Before my injury I was finally hitting double consistently, but now? Not so much.

  33. jennifer says:

    K-boom, I’ve been doing ballet for 15 years (6 yrs as a child and 8 yrs as an adult, with a 13 yr break in between) and have yet to have a good solid single pirouette. Very shaky still. I should be doing solid doubles or triples at least by now. I’m convinced its’ psychological but I give myself a break because my tendu is pretty fierce :)

  34. ms.spectator says:

    Just thought I’d check in to report that I was turning really clean HALF p’s in class last night! It felt great! I just need to figure out how to get the rest of the way round now. Thanks for all the tips you lot, it definitely helped and I enjoyed centre work so much more.

  35. You guys, I read through all of these before class this week and was totally feeling psyched, and then got to class and the barres were all moved around and I ended up in a different spot than my usual, and I know that’s good for me and New Perspective and all that, but I was so distracted by the different view in the mirror that all the help spun right outta my head.
    Oh well, Next Time Is Gonna Be Awesome Because You’re All Awesome.

  36. Pingback: Pirouette Update | Entrechat.

  37. Kathleen says:

    K-Boom here (love the nickname, AB. Think I’ll keep it). Thank you all for your incredible tips, advice, encouragement, and stories. I am trying these suggestions in class and while I may not be improving technically, my attitude has done a complete turn-around (wow, ballet puns are everywhere….) I have stopped thinking so much about what all the different parts of my body are doing (or not doing) and I’ve stopped worrying about what my sort-of-pirouettes looks like. I’m just going to dance. And if I fall on my ass now and then, so be it. Of course, now when I do fall on my ass, in my head, I hear, “K-Boom!!” which makes me want to laugh hysterically, something I try to avoid in class. But all your posts have helped tremendously. Thanks everyone!

  38. Yvonne says:

    For me it’s very helpful to really hold my arms, to “push” my ribs together as if i was holding a ball between them, and imagination. Think of helpful pictures and imagine how you do it perfectly.
    And, if nothing works, I had this with double pirouettes: let go! I was totally unable to do it in class and this week, in the evening, in my kitchen while making coffee, I did a double pirouette. I was just relaxed. Sometimes pressure kicks one out.

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