A pirouette, a ballet term taken from the French, is a full turn on the ball or toe of one foot; in classical ballet, the other leg will be held in a passé position, with the foot pointed to the knee of the other leg, but in other forms of dance, the foot can touch the other knee. Pirouettes and multiple pirouettes are difficult to do, because, besides athleticism, they require balance, focus and grace both while up in the air and in landing. That said, with years of proper training, dancers can achieve them.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Ballet shoes
- Dance floor
The pirouette is one of the cornerstones of classical ballet, a turn that can evoke speed and passion, or alternately, simplicity. In modern ballet performances, the pirouette is performed by a female dancer en pointe (balancing on the edge of her toe-boxed ballet slipper), or in relevé, on the balls of the feet by men dancers in less-constructed ballet shoes.
The pirouette is performed with the help of the arms alternating in first and second position for momentum, i.e., rounded to the front at waist-height, or open to the side; it is usually done from a standing position, such as fifth position (legs turned out, and in a closed formation) or fourth position (or écarté, with the legs planted firmly one in front of the other, at a distance of two feet, and turned out).
Pirouettes can be either "pirouette en dehors," (outside), or "pirouette en dedans," (inside), meaning that the pirouette can either be accomplished moving clockwise or counterclockwise.
One critical part of learning to do a pirouette has to do with a technique known as "spotting," wherein the dancer, to keep from becoming dizzy while spinning, keeps her head upright and focuses on a spot on the wall or in the audience, snapping her head back to the same spot.
Another part of learning to pirouette has to do with gaining momentum while pushing off. If you push off too hard, you will fall; if too softly, you won't be able to turn.
To execute a pirouette, take a quiet breath, and prepare in the chosen position.
Next, push off by bending the knees a lot (this is called a plié), and find your gravity centre in your stomach muscles. As the turn is occurring, rise up onto the ball of the foot, bring the other foot up to passé, and snap the arms shut while spinning the head back around to the appointed spot.
In landing, execute a neat finish by returning from the relevé to the ground, opening the arms to second position, and returning to the desired position. Take another breath, and smile.
Once a pirouette has been mastered, the challenge lies in accomplishing multiple pirouettes. There is no trick to this other than practicing your bending, rising, spotting, and using the arms gracefully and efficiently. It is said at many ballet schools that it is harder to do one pirouette well than to do multiple pirouettes.
After tackling multiple pirouettes, fouettés are the next challenge. A fouetté is another ballet turn (the word means "beaten"--like whipped cream), one that is completed by bringing the leg to passé, bending the knee as the leg extends to the front at waist height, then whipping the leg around to meet the standing leg again in passé relevé, as the body turns 360 degrees. This step requires much more training than a pirouette, as well as leg strength, but the same amount of control.
In the second act of the ballet "Swan Lake," the Black Swan dancer performs thirty-two fouettés in a row.
Tips and warnings
- If you are untrained, performing single or multiple pirouettes can result in injury. It is best to follow your dance teacher's instructions when performing pirouettes, and to do them in a controlled situation such as a dance class.
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