Help for Pique’ Turns – a Checklist

If your pique’ turns are “off”, go through this checklist for a quick fix.  Check these ideas out one at a time, fixing any errors you catch.

1.  Check your body placement as you go into your pique’.  Your upper body should lead slightly forward into the turn.  Don’t lean back!  Compressing your stomach muscles firmly will help to keep your body straight as you go into your pique.  When I turn, I imagine that my stomach is like a star, and it is contracting as if becoming a “black hole” 

2.  Check your step up into your pique’. Are you pushing strongly off your supporting leg?  Don’t “climb up” into your turn.  Spring into your turn, almost as if you  are going into a small jump.

3.  Check your leading arm. Are you flinging it out?  Some dancers don’t move their leading arm at all – they just leave it in first position.  That’s fine!  It’s also okay to open it a little as you go into your turn, but don’t “throw” it out.

4.  Check your following arm.  Are you leaving it behind?  Bring your following firmly into first as soon as you start into your turn.  Don’t fling it.  Just press it into first as if someone is behind you, pushing your arm and shoulder around.  Keep your following arm pressing forward and around during the turn as well.  It gives you a lot of power and control.

5. Once you are turning, check your placement again.  Keep your stomach muscles compressed.  (remember the “black hole”)  If you arch your back now, you’ll lose your momentum.  Your turn will wobble.  If you keep your body and your arms in position throughout your pique’ turn, you will spin easily on your axis.

    Good luck!   If you need more help, let me know!

    How to Do Double Pique Turns

    Double pique turns are not hard.  There’s a trick.  The trick is to increase the speed of your turn.

    A single pique and a double pique take the same amount of time.  The difference between them is the speed.

    You can try using  more force to increase speed.  But adding force to a turn will almost always throw it off.

    The best way to increase speed is to decrease the diameter of your turn.

    Imagine a necklace, a fine chain with a ballerina pendant on it.  Unclasp the necklace and hold the two ends, one in each hand.  Spin the necklace like a jump rope, so that the pendant is twirling around in nice big circles.

    Now pull the two ends of the chain outward.  What happens?  The diameter of the spinning circle quickly gets smaller and the pendant spins around very much FASTER!

    My husband is a rocket scientist.  Rocket scientists know a lot about physics.  I am always asking him questions because physics can really help with ballet.

    So I asked him about speeding up turns by decreasing the diameter.

    He said, “The polar moment of inertia equals mass times the radius squared.”

    Now, don’t get glassy eyed and go away!  There is a translation:

    If you decrease the diameter of your turn by half, the speed of your turn will be almost FOUR TIMES FASTER!!!

    Of course, other factors like friction and air resistance come into play.  But the bottom line is that if you use the SAME amout of force and make your turn SMALLER, your turn will spin FASTER.

    I explained that to a class I was teaching, and one of my students nodded her head emphatically and said, “Got it!”  She then did a single pique followed by a quadruple!

    I have never in my life seen anyone do a quadruple pique turn until this student did it!  How did she do it?

    You see ice skaters do it all the time.  They are turning slowly with their arms out.  Then they pull their arms in and their turns spin so fast, they are just a blur!  They simply decreased the diameter of their turn. (or as my husband would say, “They decreased their polar moment of inertia.”)

    I knew a dancer named Jimmy Capp.  He could do a 12-revolution pirouette!  We (the other dancers in the company) were always pestering him to show us his pirouettes over and over again.  He would start with his arms almost in second, like the skaters we talked about.  As he turned, he would gradually pull his arms in.  His turns actually sped up, so he was going faster on the twelfth revolution than when he started!

    Here are a few easy ways to speed up your turns and still keep good ballet form:

    1)     Tighten your stomach muscles:

    a)     If you’ve taken modern dance, you might be familiar with the “center”, your core abdominal muscles.  Think of your core abdominal muscles in terms of cosmology – the stars, the solar system, etc.

    b)     You can expand your “center” like the sun, radiating your energy outward.  Or you can compress it like a black hole.  (“A black hole is a region in space in which the gravitational field is so powerful that nothing, including light, can escape its gravitational pull,” says my husband Ben)

    c)     When you do a single pique turn, hold your stomach muscles with a normal amount of tension.

    d)     When you start into multiple pique turns, compress your stomach like a black hole!

    2)     Pull your arms in a little:

    a)     This one is tricky, because you don’t want to lose form.

    b)     Do your single pique turn with nice big round arms in first position.

    c)     When you start into a multiple turn, bring your hands a little closer together and bend your elbows a little more, so that the circle you make with your arms is a little smaller, but still within correct form.

    3)    Take a smaller step:

    a)    This trick is pretty easy.  This is the trick that my student used when she did her quadruple pique turn

    b)    Estimate the distance you step out for your single pique turn.

    c)     When you go into your multiple pique, take a shorter step.  This works REALLY well for double pique turns on pointe because it actually brings you more on balance at the same time that it speeds up your turn.

    4)    Don’t forget to spot!

    a)    When you do a single turn you spot once.  Your spot actually helps to bring you around on your turn.

    b)    When you do a double turn, you must spot twice.  That means leaving your head, then spotting, leaving it AGAIN, then spotting again.  In my mind, I always say, “LEAVE, TAKE, LEAVE, TAKE”  whenever I do a double turn.

    Good luck, and have fun with multiple pique turns!  Let me know how you are doing.  You can ask questions, too.  Just click on  “Leave a Comment”  below.

    The Fear of Falling

    iStock_000003640152XSmall“How do I get over the fear of falling when I do a pirouette on pointe?” one of my students asked recently.

    I rode horses a lot as a kid.  And, since I loved to ride bareback, I fell often.  The ground is a long way down from the back of a horse.  Once you get used to falling off a horse, falling out of a lift with a partner or falling out of a pirouette is not so frightening.

    But it is in our nature to fear falling.  The prospect of falling causes tension, and tension will REALLY throw off your pirouette.  And then you probably will fall!

    Some suggestions:

    1. When you are on pointe, you are taller, farther from the ground.  Get used to that feeling by doing lots of releve’ with a 2-count balance on each one.
    2. When turning on pointe, take your preparation from 5th.  You have less power (but on pointe, you need less), and you will be more centered in your releve’.
    3. Start with a few releve’ passe’ from 5th, then do just a 1/4 turn.  Do that until you are bored with it.
    4. Then graduate to a 1/2 turn and practice until it is boringly easy.  Then to 3/4, and finally to a whole turn.  You can continue on to 1 1/4, 1 1/2, etc.  I learned to do triple pirouettes on pointe by practicing this way.
    5. If you still can’t do a 1/4 turn on pointe, check a few things:  Can you balance for one whole second on pointe in pirouette position?  (you must.)  Are you using too much force to get around?  (don’t!)  Are you holding your arms in a good round first position?  (do.)  Are you “winding up” on your preparation? (don’t.)  Are you lifting your working hip when you pick up your foot? (try using a lower passe’ for a while.)
    6. If you work on all the details and still can’t do a 1/4 turn, have your teacher check your form.  Pirouettes are very delicate.  A stuffy head can throw them off!

    Good luck, and Happy Turns to You!