October 19, 2011

Eyes on the Prize

Teacher: "Your double pirouettes are perfect. If you would use your eyes, you could easily turn quadruples!" Never mind the disclosure of the benefits of spotting, it´s the word perfect that is still ringing in my ears. I mean how often do you get to hear that word in ballet class? Like never is how often! Now, I´m not experiencing sudden delusions of grandeur, rest assured. I´m perfectly certain that there was still room for improvement. For one, I did not snap-spot my turn. And I´m pretty sure Madame would have said to turn out my heel even more. But the turning itself.. You know that feeling, when you are perfectly centered and turning around your axis like a big spinning top?

It´s plain awesome.

I love pirouettes. I love watching a good turner, I love practising turns. Even when they tilt, fail, crash and burn. Something about pirouettes just makes you want to get back on the horse´s axis right away. There is always another chance. Like spinning the roulette. But pirouettes are not about luck. All dancers know the technique involved. The required plum line, the strong core, the preparatory deep plié, the pushing down to get up, the arms that close, the instant pose. I know this too, and still my pirouttes fail me far too often. My triples, they come and go as they please. As for those quadruples - I could possibly crank one out if my life depended on it. Or if it would get me backstage at Kings of Dance.

I´m not a bad turner. I do, however, suck at spotting. So far I have managed  to turn without, but it doesn´t look as neat. And there are apparently limits to the amount of turns you can do without spotting (unless you´re on skates). I can tell you I have practised a lot. A lot lot. Spot - turn - spot. We have been doing this beginning exercise in class where you stand in 6th, and keep shuffling around with the focus on your spot-snapping head. I have repeated the same exercise at home. It´s the same as in the video above. But when I get to the actual pirouette, my head somehow refuses to spot twice. It´s like it has a mind of its own.

Maybe the problem is my eyes. I´m nearsighted, and wear neither contacts nor eyeglasses to class. By the way, that´s what still keeps me looking young in the mirror. In-built soft-focus lense - smooths away wrinkles like no botox does! Maybe that is not the problem either. I can see both the trees and the forest outside my window, so I should be physically able to spot a spot in class, right? Perhaps I just have slow eyes. Maybe I´m too much of a dreamer. Lots of maybes going on here.. But, it´s one thing to let go and have the music carry you to new places. It´s another thing to maintain control at the same time. Turning is not about letting go. You have to take charge, be the boss of your pirouette. Decide beforehand whether you want turn once, twice or thrice. See yourself turning - and always finish in style!

Occasionally I succeed and all the x-factors come together to produce one super pirouette (for my own standards, mind you). In Berlin I did a triple from fifth with arms en couronne, and it was sweet! In Madame´s class I once did a 3,5 turn - we were supposed to finish facing the other corner and I had too much speed going. So I let it turn. There is definitely potential for more. Maybe even those quadruples. I just need to keep my eyes on the prize.


  1. Oh my! That was some super fast turning AND spotting on that video!
    I'm only in the beginning stages of learning to spot and turn and even one tidy pirouette is still in my dreams.. It's fascinating though. I love all the different physical aspects you have to be aware of. It's an exciting and fun adventure learning pirouettes! My weight often goes too far back, I need practice with that. I've actually fallen on my dear derriere - that's a pretty clear indication where my weight was! ; D Also the tight control of those core muscles needs more work. And of course everything else aswell..but slowly and surely I'm hoping to make some progress!

    Good luck with your quadruples - I'm sure they're not far away! : )

  2. I know exactly what you mean and I have the same spotting problem. You're right and that's the same my teacher always says to me, you can turn without spotting, but you won't ever reach such an high level as which would be possible for you, if you'd do the spotting thing. My problem is definitely my concentration, or better my missing concentration. When I'm in class and we do barre, I try to concentrate and to stay in my working mode. But if we move to center an start jumps and turns etc. I kinda switch into a dancing mode and this two modes seem to work very different, yet. Unfortunately!
    Hmmm, I'm nearsighted too and I also wear neither glasses, nor contacts in class. I never thougt that could make a difference, but as you mentioned... I have to start some experimental series at home. I'm looking forward to your updates and your progress. Wish you all the best! Lola

  3. Hi Iina!

    Yeah, that ballerina sure knows how to spot her turns!

    Pirouettes are complicated steps. Not easy, but fun to learn! There are a lot of components you have to figure out, not just your axis but also your plié and your balance. Balances are never dead poses, you gotta think of them like living trees. Rooted and growing towards the sun. Now make that tree turn :)

    Seriously, start with your balances. Stand with both feet flat on the floor, in a wide sixth or second position. Close your eyes. Feel your center. Rise. Then open eyes and go for your best pirouette position (passé retiré). Use a mirror if you can. Check everything:

    - is your bottom/popo/derrière pointed down?
    - is your upper body "stacked" over your axis?
    - is your supporting leg turned out?
    - is you working leg turned out, heel in line?
    - core strong?
    - back long?
    - knee stretched?
    - eyes forward?
    - shoulders down, arms not too high/low?

    You can see, there is lots to consider.. Which you are doing already! Eventually it will lead you to solid and multiple turns.

    Dance on, hon. :)

  4. Hei Johanna!

    Thanks for that! It's so useful to see all the factors written down - something to refer to again and again. I find it a lot easier to learn things when I can both read them AND do them! You have a very clear way of explaining things. (it means you have a good understanding of pirouettes!)

    I like the idea of a tree as a visualization! I'll try that and will let you know how I'll get on. : D

  5. Hi Lola!

    Let me know how that visual experiment turns out :)

    What you said about concentration and dance modes is a very good point! Sometimes I "switch off" in center, and just dance in my own little bubble. But when the focus is inward, it is impossible to use your eyes and spot those turns! I will try to remember this next class and dance full out with my eyes on the prize :)

    Thanks Lola for commenting. What do you think, should we suprise our teachers? And ourselves? Spot, spot, spot..

  6. My main teacher's new year's resolution one year was to get us better at pirouettes. So much of the time we drill them at the end of class, sixteen single turns from fifth (or fouettes) to each side. Helps with the spotting when you're not trying to stay up more than one revolution.

    (My record is fourteen to the left. Right leg can do at best twelve. But I used to die after six.)

  7. Hi Candice!

    Drilling those single turns from fifth is an excellent exercise! We have it done it on occasion, but not enough to make it really stick. I think I will ask my teacher.. :)

    Fourteen is a good number, and twelve is twice as many as six (I have impressive math skills). Good for you! :)

  8. The 'shuffling in sixth' exercise sounds awfully like what I used to have to do as a child to learn spotting - going round in an endless circle trying to catch the clock on the wall... I still occasionally stand at the back of class when it's not my turn in centre and do that. Still can't spot though. Well, I can, sometimes to the right, incredibly rarely to the left. Pirouettes are my ongoing bugbear though, so much to remember! When I get it right there's no other feeling like it in the world though *sigh*

  9. Hi Nellie!

    Does that happen outside of class? You know, if you see a big clock somewhere? ;)

    Seriously, I wonder why others have an easy time spotting and we do not.. Someone should make a study of it!

    Maybe if I would do my regular no-spot pirouette, and just as the speed is slowing down spot one anyway? Like think of the first two turns as preparation for the last and third one?

    Anything to rewire the brain.

    I´m glad though you´ve had the what a feeling experience as well. Keeps us dancing! :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Johanna, en tunne suo mutta nyt luotan suhun täysin.
    Oon tanssinu 5-vuotiaasta 11-vuptiaaksi balettia. Sitten pidin kahden vuoden tauon jolloin tanssin jazzia. Nyt 13-vuotiaana tanssin 2 tuntia viikossa balettia. Minulla on vain suuri haave, haluaisin toukokuussa Kansallioopperan balettioppilaitoksen pääsykokeisiin. Näin lukee oopperan sivuilla:

    Nuorisoasteen  pääsyvaatimukset

    Oppilaalta  edellytetään balettitekniikan perustaitojen hallintaa, liikkeen ja musiikin keskinäisen suhteen ymmärtämistä, hyvää liikekoordinaatiota sekä alalle soveltuvuutta. Fyysisiä ominaisuuksia  tarkastellaan valintakokeessa erikseen.

    Balettioppilaitoksen nuorisoasteelle on mahdollista tulla oppilaaksi myös ns. välipyrkimisen kautta. Tällöin oppilas osallistuu tulevan ryhmänsä tunneille vähintään kahden viikon ajan ennen lopullista valintapäätöstä.

    Nuorisoasteen balettiluokille voidaan valita oppilas myös ammatillisen koulutuksen pääsykokeen kautta, jolloin kahden viikon osallistumista ei tarvita.

    Kaikki nuorisoasteelle valittavat oppilaat opiskelevat ensin enintään yhden lukukauden kestävällä  koeajalla. Sen aikana oppilaan soveltuvuutta ja mahdollisuuksia tavoitteelliseen baletinopiskeluun voidaan vielä arvioida. Nuorisoasteen  opiskeluoikeus vahvistetaan koeajan päättyessä.

    Minulla on hyvä koordinaatio ja tasapainokin ihan okei ja olen aika notkeakin luonnostaan. Mutta en ole balettitanssijan kokoinen, paino n 50 kg ja pituus 161 cm ja rinnat 75A. Ja en ole kärkitossuilla. En uskalla myöskään kertoa opettajalleni että olen ollut kärkitossuilla ennenkin ja että haluaisin balettitanssijaksi.
    Toivoisin sinulta jotain sanottavaa tähän, mitä vaan.

    Kiitos, blogisi on rohkaissut paljon!

  11. Hei!

    Voitko kopsata tekstisi myös sinne Balettikassin blogiin? Se olisi sopivampi paikka, varsinkin jos jollain muulla lukijalla olisi jotain hyviä neuvoja.

    Muuten on mahdotonta sanoa mitään kunnolla tuntematta ja näkemättä sinua.

    Painosi ja pituutesi ja muut mitat ovat ihan sopivat, kunhan katsot että syöt terveellisesti ja riittävästi. Tanssija tarvitsee paljon energiaa!

    Mutta ei sun pidä pelätä opettajaasi, hän voisi kuitenkin auttaa sinua. Yritä myös saada lisää balettitunteja viikolle, vähintään 3 mutta mieluiten viisi.

    Olet tanssinut pitkään. Ratkaisevaa on kuitenkin minkälainen opetus sulla oli ennen taukoa, ja miten pystyt ottamaan muita kiinni. Joka tapauksessa se tulee vaatimaan melkoista omistautumista ja paljon työtä.

    Tsemppiä! :)

  12. Kiitos vastauksesta!
    Mutta en viitsi kopsata tekstiä, kirjoitin sen tänne koska en halua että tanssikamuni lukevat kommentin. Se jotenkin tuntuu yksityisasialta josta ei voi puhua kaikille... Ymmärrät varmaan.
    Huomena ehkä kokoan itseni ja kerron opelle. Vai onko tieto tärkeä että oln ollut kärkkäreillä?

    Kiitos! Jos minusta vielä tulee tanssija, sinä saat vielä ilmaiset liput näytöksiin!

  13. Hei,

    ymmärrän kyllä. Kaikkia haaveitaan ei halua paljastaa, varsin kun ei tiedä miten siinä käy..

    Mutta tietenkin kerrot opettajallesi että olet jo ehtinyt harjoitella kärkitekniikkaa aikaisemmin. Miksi haluaisit salata asiaa häneltä?

    Muista kuitenkin että tie tanssijaksi ei ole helppo. Vaikka sulla olisikin kaikki tarvittavat edellytkset, on baletin opiskelu rankkaa ja vaikeaa. Olet myös jatkuvasti muitten arvioitavana. Ja jos pääsisitkin kouluun, ja valmistuisit sieltä, ammatti-ura ei ole taattu. Kilpailu on todella kovaa.

    Toivon että haaveesi toteutuu. Tsemppiä! :)

  14. Olet yhtä ihana kuin blogisikin :)


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...