Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teaching Tuesdays

This is kind of silly because I am on summer break-just like regular teachers, and I haven't taught a class in a week. However, that doesn't mean that I don't have a tip for this week. Since I know this is an area dancers struggle with I will talk about turns IE) pirouettes. I will talk about piques another time-valuable info just very different from pirouettes.

I am a natural turner (don't hate on me!) I can whip out a triple pirouette easily into my mid 20's! So for about 10 years I've been doing multiple turns. This is what I've learned, what I teach, and what I use to accomplish successful, gorgeous, stay on balance pirouettes!

1). PREPARATION-as far as I'm concerned, if you don't have good preparation, you're dead in the water. I like to have a comfortable 4th position; with either ballet turn-out or a natural turn out for jazz or lyrical. Unlike in a ballet preparation, I DO NOT cross my fourth (meaning my right toes DO NOT line up with my left heel). I like to have a box, or square preparation that feels comfortable and stable. Usually the right balle of my foot lines up with the left instep (creating a wide 3rd position almost). Weight should be evenly distributed between BOTH feet-this is a contested issue. Some people will have you cheat your weight slightly forward to the front foot to eliminate full weight transfer into the pirouette-which I understand......but to me it's kinda cheating. Plus I think dancers appreciate feeling stable prior to turning and sitting in the middle of both feet accomplishes this. I prepare my arms in ballet 3rd position in opposition. The rounded arms help prepare the dancer to feel the rounded-ness needed in turns. The position of the feet and position of the arms set the dancer up for a successful turn.

2). PLIE-Love me some plie. Seriously. I feel like a good plie will carry a dancer FAR! I love to use plie and think that those with short Achilles or poor plie are cursed-sorry :( I am thankful I do NOT fall into the later group. It's very important for a strong, even plie for a successful pirouette. The plie is your "gas in the tank" so to speak. A weak plie=a weak turn. A plie is potential energy (for you physics peeps). I like a plie that hovers lower than a demi-plie, just slightly. More energy, more turns (not entirely true....but I'll get to that in a sec). Dancers should feel comfortable with the position of the feet, arms and depth of plie. Nothing about this moment should feel awkward, uncomfortable or unstable.

3). THINK UP-when working on stability and multiple turns I NEVER tell my kids to think "around" or think "spinning". By having them work on turns, their brains are already firing signals to their body to turn-albeit subconsciously. DO NOT REINFORCE THE IDEA OF SPINNING! You will end up with dancers on the floor and wobbly pirouettes that resemble tops not dancers :) By telling students to spin, dancers automatically break their body into segments along the horizontal plane, forcing the body to work against itself with different parts turning at different times! Not efficient. "Thinking up" is 2-fold. One, by thinking up, the student automatically works towards putting their weight straight up and down, on top of the supporting leg. Secondly, by thinking up, the dancer is aiming to work in a vertical line from supporting foot/leg to head, matching up shoulders to ribs to hips. This enforces proper alignment on the vertical plane. Proper alignment-"stacking"-improves balance, which allows students to balance longer and therefore accomplish multiple turns!!!!

4). FLOAT-while I admit you need power to turn more than once (remember power comes from the plie not the force of your turn), senior students often have difficulty accomplishing turns because they are working against themselves. I have found that when attempting to complete a difficult turn sequence/multiple pirouettes, students automatically put undo stress and tension in their bodies, making their bodies compact-squishing them like a slinky down to the floor, instead of thinking compact-like tight, turning inside a paper towel roll, which reinforces the 'up' feeling. By pushing the body down to the floor, shoulder up, no neck, tension, no spotting, the students easily fall out of the turn. Enforcing the feeling of "floating around" the pirouette eliminate unnecessary tensions, particularly in the upper torso, shoulders & neck. This allows a proper spot to happen naturally and a feel of ease in the dancer. A successfully completed pirouette should feel 'easy' with relative tension (only in feet and legs with a bit in the arms). Students will look and feel different if you try this 'float' technique....it also wakes a lot of students up to the ease of turning-I've seen SO MANY light bulbs go off teaching this technique.

Those are my 4 main steps. A couple other helpful tips include:
Cork Screw-I often demonstrate (with my hands/arms) a "hands up" corkscrew, which helps with the feeling of down/up and describes the use of energy. As the student plies, I have them think about turning the corkscrew down into a cork, with each turn, the cork screw sinks further (deeper plie) and is getting ready to pull/pop the cork out!  (pictured)


Then I demonstrate that as you push the arms of the corkscrew down, the cork pops straight up-just like them! (pictured) it's a great visualization, especially if your students are using enough plie/energy in their preparation. It also reinforces the use of releve!

AO Joint-aka atlanto-occipital joint. This is where your skull connects to spine. It is VERY high up on your spine....start at the bottom of your neck and walk your fingers up toward and into your hair. Slowly lift your chin and you will feel a dent/dimple...your AO joint is just above this notch and this is where spotting happens! Students who have difficulty spotting, often have shoulder, neck or jaw tension creating stiffness and poor spotting (not able to whip head around quickly enough). By having students find this joint on themselves (it is nice to help them find it if they are having difficulty), will help them realize that spotting happens higher than 'the neck'. Have students nod 'yes and no'/up and down, focusing on the AO joint and how high up the movement originates. Then have them shake their head from side to side/'no', again feeling where the movement originates. While practicing pirouettes, have students physically open their mouths, wide like a choir singer. This forces the jaw to relax, thus releasing unnecessary tension, which allows spotting to happen/occur more naturally and easily (if that's possible).

Dancing faces you towards Heaven, whichever direction you turn. ~Terri Guillemets

OK that's enough about turns! Hopefully you and your students will benefit from these tips. Even if you're a "kitchen ballerina", these are pretty straight forward, anatomical and logical concepts. Test them out next time you're whipping up your favourite meal and impress your kids and/or spouse!!!!
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room. ~Kurt Vonnegut

1 comment:

Jill said...

Great tips! Good physics too :) Even being out of the dance world for a bit, I still have opinions on all of this. One being that the single pirouette is highly undervalued. In today's competitive dance world there's so much pressure on 2+ turns that dancers often don't learn the fundamentals that you've just outlined. I think there's a lot to be said for a strong, controlled, technically sound single pirouette!