July 6, 2012

Pirouette, Balanchine Style

Do you ever have those days when your pirouettes are just not working? You veer off to the right, try to correct yourself, then tilt backwards, correct yourself again, then you can't hold your passé retiré, then it's the working leg or the arms coming in too slow. Pirouette-panic starts to creep in.. What happened to the awesome double/triple of last week? At this point, all I can say is relax. You are probably overthinking your turns and putting too much pressure on yourself. Pirouettes are complex steps, but they can also be fun little merry-go-rounds - we should enjoy the turning! However, if you can't shake it off, try something else.

Which is exactly what I did yesterday, after class. I wanted to work on a Balanchine style pirouette, which is rarely done here. I do remember a class many, many years ago.. Jarmo Rastas from Finnish National Ballet was teaching, and being a natural turner himself, loved to challenge us with a variety of pirouettes. I was fairly new to ballet, pretty clueless, but also fabulously fearless! When Jarmo wanted us to do manly hopping turns in seconde, we did just that. Double fouettés en dedans, at the barre - done. Double en dehors from fifth, with arms en couronne - done. Hey, where did this girl go to? I hardly recognize myself from these memories.. I guess I should channel my younger self back into class. Not my body, mind you. I'm perfectly happy with what I have now. But I definitely need to recall her free spirit!

What about the pirouette? Right, when Jarmo asked us to do the turn Balanchine style, it was more of an experiment and never became part of our regular rep. It's possible some teacher somewhere along the road had us do it again, but I'm not entirely sure.. Occasionally I have tried it for myself, for fun. You know, like everything else in ballet. But yesterday I wanted to give it a more serious go, and asked our teacher Silvia about the specifics. Big fourth position with stretched back leg. Check, I knew that one. Arms in 3rd arabesque position, and you pull them in quickly. Most weight on the front leg, and the back leg does only a tiny plié at the very last moment. Okay, I can do this. Big position, breath, plié  - and I turned a clean double! It was totally different from my regular en dehors pirouette! It was bigger, wider.. American style! Awesome. Want to do it again!


  1. Hi!!! I'm not natural with pirouettes, actually I'm pretty bad at them. I didn't know that those were balanchine style, I usually do them on the contemporary company class.
    Anyway I usually have trouble landing my pirouettes and avoid looking like I'm about to fall but today i tried again and actually did it.
    Not double but one and one and a half pretty well landed. I guess that your post inspired me to try again and actually worked. Thanks a lot.

  2. Way to turn! Good work! :)

    And something that I forgot to include in this post: always finish your pirouettes, even when you are having trouble landing. We tend to focus wayt too much on the turning, and forget that the pirouette has a beginning and ending too! When you push yourself to finish in style, you are the boss of your turns - not the other way around. :)

  3. So true about the finish! My teacher is Russian trained and is very specific about finishing CLEAN! Spent 45 minutes of my last private lesson learning how to pirouette (properly), hope I can do a clean turn from start to finish soon!

    1. Yes! Even professional dancers have sometimes trouble with their turns. But you can't let the audience know! :) And even if they should fall flat on their face or butt, dancers know to continue in style. That's the mark of a true professional. Same in class. Of course you're allowed to make mistakes and fail and even fall - but never give up on clean beginnings and landings. Eventually the middle part will sort itself out too.

      You can do it! :)

  4. En courrane is French school right? Lovely, I only trained in Vaganova and Balanchine. I've always been very curious about French training. Our Balanchine teachers were very strict about that back leg - not even the tiniest plie was allowed, just push from the toes and up you go..

    1. Yes, 'en couronne' is French (school) for arms in fifth, or third - depending on your school. Same arms, different terminology. But I like it... Thinking of your arms as a"crown" gives a much more elegant visual than a number! ;)

      My current teacher is indeed French, but I can't say that she teaches 100% French School (that would be Paris Opera Ballet). There are influences from Balanchine, from Bournonville and other teachers/training she herself has had over the years. But I do love it! :)

      Last week, after class, that Balanchine pirouette came up again.. One know-it-all teenager said that the only difference is in the beginning position: allongé fourth, like before en dedans turns. I told her that there is no preparatory plié on the back leg, and that the weight has to be on the front leg. Only at the last moment you push off with the toes of your back leg. Looks like I was right!! :)

      Thanks for commenting!


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, ...