Beginner’s Pirouette

The pirouette. The signature of ballet. If anyone ever pictures the dance, they imagine beautiful ballerinas twirling on their toes across the stage. Almost every little girl has danced across her kitchen floor, spinning around in stocking feet.

Suzanne Farrell, Wikimedia Commons

After trying for a while to really hit the pirouette (and frankly, not really knowing what I’m doing), I went to YouTube to dissect its parts. I found the fabulous Alivia D’Andrea’s pirouette/turn tutorial (check it out here). For the first time, I really feel like I can do a proper pirouette, and it’s easier than I thought!

Here are some tips for the pirouette:

1. Start with the Abs

D’Andrea recommends beginning with an ab warmup. I actually include ab exercises in my every day practice (a habit I’ve had since I was a belly dancer). I love the “Ballet Beautiful” exercises by Mary Helen Bowers (who coached Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan). She reviews a few of them in her blog (see here). A number of pilates exercises for the abs work well to warm the up (and tone them too).

2. Passe Should Be a Snap

This is probably the most useful tip I got from Alivia’s video tutorial. Practice snapping your leg into passe with releve. (Make sure your passe is high and straight.) Then add the spin. Lead with proper arms and — voila! Pirouette!

3. Hanging on by a Thread

This is a common tip in ballet — imagine your head is being pulled up by a string.

4. Finishing Fingers

I was reviewing photos after the first time I performed, when I noticed something bothersome. There I was, in a stunning sequined and beaded belly dance costume, hair and makeup on point…and my hands flopping about. I paid absolutely no attention to my hands or my fingers, and it nearly ruined the whole effect.

To perfect your pirouette means down to the fingertips. I found that touching (or nearly touching) my middle finger and thumb together made a lovely effect that felt natural. The video recommends the ring finger and thumb for a “ballet hands” look.

Good luck on your pirouette, and remember as always, progress not perfection! Happy twiring! (Go ahead. Spin around the kitchen floor in your socks. I won’t tell.)

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