Tips & Exercises to Improve Ballet Pirouettes

Tips & Exercises to Improve Ballet Pirouettes

Few things frustrate dancers as much as pirouettes. A perfect pirouette starts with a solid, grounded plie, continues with a smooth rotation -- or two or three -- and concludes with a clean, silent landing. On good days, it all flows and you feel like a million bucks. On bad days, nothing seems to click. Basic preparatory exercises, and some tips from expert turners, can take the guesswork out of pirouettes.

Playing With Your Proprioceptors

Good balance is key to tight, clean turns. You can work on improving your balance by doing basic proprioception exercises -- exercises that enhance your body's sense of position in space. One of the most common and basic proprioception exercises is the single-leg stance. Try standing on one leg and holding the pose for 60 seconds or more. Bump up the intensity by adding a releve, raising and lowering your heels slowly with total control. If you're alert, you'll likely sense your body making many tiny adjustments in an effort to keep your posture. To make the exercise more challenging, close your eyes, tilt or turn your head from side to side or move your arms in different directions. Alternatively, experiment by standing one-legged on an unstable surface, such as a small puffy pillow or a balance board.

The Core Connection

When you turn, a firm core helps you stay lifted up and over your base of support, whether that's the ball of your foot or the tip of your pointe shoe. Professional dancers -- and the teachers, doctors and physical therapists who work with them -- have become increasingly aware of the importance of core training, both to improve technique and to prevent injury. A basic core routine that includes some combination of front and side planks, bridges, standard crunches, bicycle crunches and supermans can boost strength in your abs, back and hips. Whether you're performing single or multiple turns, strength in these areas is crucial if you want crisp, stable pirouettes.

Meet Your Feet

When you turn, you might be most aware of your arms and the sides of your back. You probably understand -- and feel -- how they help propel you around. But don't underestimate the importance of what's happening on the ground. Because your feet and ankles are also major players, it's important to build strength in the muscles that assist their function. To work their ankles, many dancers turn to the trusty resistance band, a cheap, lightweight and highly versatile tool. To work the foot's small intrinsic muscles, use your bare feet and toes to pick up small objects and transfer them to a bowl or bucket.

Being Mental

Good turning involves mental awareness. Always start with solid, grounded preparation so your hips and shoulders are squared to the front and you create a stable plié, suggests Amy Brandt at "Pointe Magazine." Try using mental imagery, such as picturing yourself as a human corkscrew, screwing yourself into the ground as your head remains lifted and your torso "grows" taller. Aim to draw your leg into passe as quickly and sharply as possible and spot each turn separately and distinctly to prevent dizziness.