In her seminal collection of wisdom on classical ballet technique and pedagogy, Basic Principles of Classical Ballet: Russian Ballet Technique of Agrippina Vaganova, she states:
“The first condition of good tours is an absolutely straight, held-together body. One should not lose the spot of the finish, and should always ‘feel’ the front so as not to get dizzy. For instance, if in the popular 32 fouettés the dancer should lose the spot in front of her and not face the front while doing plié, the fouettés would not come off.” (p.128)
Welcome to the latest installment of my series on the “Seven Basic Movements” of ballet and classical dancing.
Thus far, I have explored Plier/to bend, Étendre/to stretch, Relever/to rise, Sauter/to jump, Glisser/to glide, and Élancer/to dart in blog articles, videos, and podcasts, and created a Playlist on YouTube about the 7 Movements to support learning about ballet technique, theory, and practice. Soon to come will be more resources on putting it all together and more!
Today we turn to Tourner, turning, rotation & revolution.
Rotation & Turning
Rotation and turning are essential to human locomotion, as basic as turning our heads to see something, rolling our bodies over, and once we’re on the move, turning to change directions. As babies and children we love to spin and roll, and these constitute necessary actions that we perform many times daily.
In yoga, it’s useful to become familiar with our basic functional anatomy, such as which joints work best just bending/flexing and extending (knees!) and which do well with twisting (spine, especially thoracic?), and which can internally and externally rotate and even circumduct (shoulders and hips). We focus on honoring the proper function of the joints to establish steadiness and ease in their movements through Internal and External Rotation, Circumduction, twisting, and turning.
Ballet turning technique
In ballet, our ability to perform brilliant turns comes from being on-axis, then creating managing momentum. Verticality must first be established, and a point of focus for spotting.
We start with establishing our poise, and my The Body in Space – anatomical dimensions, planes, and posture and Stability & Aplomb: Integrity in Action articles are great ways to become more familiar with and dynamic posture and balance. Moving through a variety of positions, anchoring ourselves to the floor below through our feet, building a relationship with it, engaging our core of support that holds all the body parts together as a whole, and honing our focus are all important skills to develop for turning.
Then we practice rotary motions with one leg at a time (rhond de jambes a terre and en l’aire), en dehors and en dedans orientation, then pivoting on both feet (such as detouree and soutenu), eventually learning to control acceleration and deceleration/stopping, allowing us to do multiple revolutions of the body turning foot-to-foot (like chaîné turns and strings of soutenu and pique turns) and on one foot (pirouettes and fouettés), or even while jumping through the air.
Turning in practice
[Sorry I didn’t realize at the time of making this video that the sound quality of my vocals is all warbly, presumably due to the internet connection. I believe that it is still understandable enough to get the information, so have yet to re-record it, and practicing spotting with the music at 04:47 is especially useful and sounds good.]
Development of turning-specific abilities, such as creating momentum and spotting, needs to happen alongside and in addition to strong, coordinated arm and leg movements and shapes. Along these lines, Vaganova further warns: “One should not neglect the elementary exercises leading toward the aim of teaching the legs their proper position during all phases of the tour. Without this gradual study of all movements of the legs contained in the execution of the tour, the student may easily acquire a careless, approximate manner of execution. Just as strict should be the study of the correct participation of the arms in the execution of tours.”
Throwing ourselves into haphazard spins is not the balletic way, please go carefully and step-by-step to create beautiful and sustainable turns!
Imagery for turns
- Gingerbread People / Lebkuchen Menschen, firm, two sides/dimensions
- Revolving around a plumb line
- Flipping over a card from the deck, card characters from “Alice in Wonderland”
- Rolling like a pencil or popsicle stick
- Spinning like a top
- Gathering energy in, releasing energy out (physical forces: centrifugal/centripetal)
Life’s twists & turns
Metaphorically, our lives can take many wild and unexpected turns. I know that mine has! In the The Artist’s Way Week 9 essay on “Creative U-Turns,” Julia Cameron explains,
“We are now on the road [to artistic recovery], and the road is scary. We begin to be distracted by roadside attractions or detoured by the bumps…In dealing with our creative U-turns, we must first of all extend ourselves some sympathy. Creativity is scary, and in all careers there are U-turns. Sometimes these U-turns are best viewed as recycling times. We come up to a creative jump, run out from it like a skittish horse, then circle the field a few times before trying the fence again…A successful creative career is always built on successful creative failures. The trick is to survive them. It helps to remember that even our most illustrious artists have taken creative U-turns in their time.” (p.283-4)
So have some grace and patience with yourself when you are working to finesse a turn of any kind. It can be scary, but when we feel like we’re spinning out, we just need to get our bearings and keep practicing, being willing to start again when we fail.
Questions for Reflection
- What sorts of turns are you experiencing and working on in your life right now?
- What have you changed your mind about?
- What plot twists, hairpin curves, missed exits, and detours have you experienced?
- How do you practice focus when challenged?
- What elements of turning technique do you want to improve?
- Reflect & Journal on the prompts above or free-write (you can also check out my Journaling & Reflective Practice article)
- More turning fun and basic building blocks of ballet on Instagram @ablythecoach
- Strengthen your ballet skills with exercises from my Ballet Barre YouTube Playlist
- Share the fun you’re having on social media and tag me, and spread the word to those you know who would also enjoy this content
- Send me your thoughts and questions directly by email, on social media, and if you’re not sure exactly what next steps are right in your dancing journey, schedule a complimentary consultation for personalized support
Thanks for taking this little turn with me!
DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.