How to do a Pirouette

How to do a Pirouette

How to do a pirouette perfectly is the question on every dancer’s lips at least once in their dancing journey. We all know the pirouette. That dance move that everybody knows, and everybody tries to do once you say you’re a ballet dancer. Some try and succeed. Others try and don’t quite grasp how to pirouette properly. But, it’s no surprise, pirouettes are kind of a big thing – they take skill, technique, precision. Today, we’re going to share with you how to do a pirouette step by step. Move by move. It’s going to be a ride of twists and turns, figuratively and literally, so hold on whilst we share with you the tips and trick to perfect the pirouette.

I dare you to try to attend an audition and not have to do a pirouette. You’ll stand on the stage and if you’ve not perfected your good turning technique, it’s more or less over. You stand and look around and see everybody else with these gliding turns, double pirouette even triple pirouette and if you’ve not yet perfected your pirouette turns – it can feel hopeless.

The ballet pirouette is notoriously a difficult ballet step. In order to successfully complete a pirouette, you must make a full 360 degree turn around yourself, sounds easy? Now, you’ve got to do that on one leg. Whilst maintaining full balance, grace and precision. Not so easy now?

Pirouette turns can be performed “en dehors” which means turning away from the supporting leg or “en dedans” which is when you turn towards the supporting leg. Pirouettes usually start in fourth, fifth or second position.

Don’t get it mixed up – although “pirouette” means “turning” the skill and effort of achieving effortless pirouette turns has nothing to do with the rotation. Actually, the art of a pirouette comes from “spotting”, preparation, placement and balance. It’s those four components that will work together to create the magic and really master your ballet pirouette.

If you’re still confused as to how to pirouette and still think it’s just about the turning, let me share with you what your body should be doing during a pirouette:

  • A quick yet precise relevé
  • Sharp spotting with the head – focus on something on the wall and aim to get back to that spot as quickly as possible, whipping your head.
  • A lengthened neck
  • Eyeline raised
  • Shoulders down and chest open
  • An engaged core
  • Arms lifted from below
  • The working hip pressed down, parallel to the floor
  • Pelvis tucked
  • The working foot engaged and connected firmly with the supporting knee
  • Stretched and straight supporting knee with the leg muscles pulled and working
  • Body line directly over the line of the supporting leg
  • A high demi-point in therelevé
  • No rolling of the foot

If you think that’s all, unfortunately, it’s not! We’ve not even scratched the surface of how to do a pirouette yet!

Before we go through the process, let’s ensure you have all of the equipment needed to enhance your turns and complete a pirouette successfully:

  • Proper footwear – Ballet shoes, jazz shoes or turning shoes are best for practising pirouettes and it’s all about finding the best ones that are comfortable for you. You need to find a shoe that gives a good range of movement but supports well. Some dancers practise their pirouettes barefoot – this is not recommended. Over the course of time, they will cause painful calluses!

  • Proper clothing – Leotards were made for a reason, utilise them! If you’re looking for a fashionable yet sleek leotard that will make enhance your performance but still look on trend, you can check out the Zarely leotards here.

Now that we’re ready to go, it’s time to go through how to do a pirouette step by step. We’ve got the core knowledge, we’ve got the equipment – now let’s go through what you do with that information and how you can transfer it into an improved ballet pirouette technique.

Step One – The Starting Position

The starting position is so incredibly important. You don’t start a race before getting into the right position. You can’t start a car without getting it into the right position. It’s the same with the pirouette.

Place your feet into fourth position with both legs straight. If your right foot is in front, then the left arm should be facing the front and vice versa. Fix your eyes on a spot at eye level, or just above.

As you prepare yourself, do a quick check of the following:

  • Is my head steady and focused on a immovable object?
  • Are my legs shoulder-width apart with both feet parallel to one another?
  • Are my shoulders pushed back?
  • Is my back straight?

The correct starting position and alignment allows you to maintain your balance and stay onrelevé throughout the turn. You need to ensure that you have perfected the balance and stability. Are you able to stay put in demi-pointe and receive a gentle nudge whilst staying in place or do you collapse on the floor? If it’s the latter, it’s time to work on that balance and keep in tune with your body’s signals and make micro-adjustments to keep yourself put.

Step Two – The Bending

Maintain grace and bend both legs into a deep plié. Focus on sinking both heels deep into the floor so that you can push off into your pirouette. Invision the sensation of sinking deeper below the ground, further than is possible – then give the feeling of sinking some more! But, don’t lose your positioning. Keep your eyes locked on your spotting point and concentrate on holding your body tight.

Step Three – The Spring and Turn

It’s time for the spring! You need to spring and pull yourself into retiré position as you start your turn. You relevé to demi-pointe (or full-pointe if you’re wearing pointe shoes!) bringing your back foot up to the front of your leg. Hold and maintain arms in first position. Focus on finding your centre of balance and hold that tightly. You must ensure to turn your body and legs together as one cohesive unit whilst keeping your shoulders level. Keep your eyes fixed on your spot for as long as remotely possible and then whip your head around to focus on it once more. The key to a perfect pirouette is not losing your spot. You don’t want to spend too long not looking at it. Ideally, it should be less than 0.5-1 second looking away from your spot!

Muscle power is essential for getting you doing a pirouette, but if you’re throwing your weight around in any old direction, you’ll be off balance before you’ve even begun. Focus on an upwards force of energy. Think elevation. Think of yourself pushing towards the ceiling and beyond. The lengthening will keep your aligned as you turn, whilst still keeping your grounded from the toes.

Pirouettes are about focus not force.

Step Four – Completing the Turn

There’s no doubt that you want to complete the turn just as well as you started it. After all, the audience always remembers the finish. The start might be important to us, in not only confidence but execution, but to the audience, the final part is what they remember. Give them something to talk about. Give them something positive to remember. It’s all about body posture and maintaining that position.

Your body must be held straight whilst you complete the turn. Keep your core engaged and stay tight, holding in your abs. Ensure your feet are exactly in place as you turn and keep them there. Keep your legs turned out throughout the pirouette. Ensure, as you are spotting that your head completes the rotation before your body. This creates momentum and prevents dizziness.

Step Five – The Finishing Position

Give them a finale that they will remember

It’s no good having a beautiful starting position, a perfect pirouette and then finishing less so. The finish position is just as important as the start. Finish gracefully in fourth position.

Top Tips for Perfecting a Pirouette

  • Spotting is essential!
  • Keep your core engaged
  • Don’t pre-empt the turn in a preparation. In preparation think about preparation to ensure you don’t unconsciously shift yourself off balance.
  • The turns come from the torso, not the arms. Your arms shouldn’t be pulling you round.
  • Don’t 'double plié', the transition should be smooth and a seamless motion. Don’t stop to ‘re-prepare’ or adjust the feet as it breaks the flow of motion.
  • Practise. Every dancer has fallen or failed a pirouette at least once! It’s okay to get back up and try and try again.

Is it Worth Investing in a Turn Board?

A Turn board, or Pirouette Board, is a slim board that works on the principle of reducing friction between the foot and the floor. The feedback from dancers is mixed, so if you’re thinking about giving them a try it’s all about preference. Try it out and see if you like it.

Some dancers say they are fantastic for helping them improve their spotting and familiarise their body with the sensation of multiple turns which is great for professing to double pirouette and even triple pirouettes whereas others have said it makes the learning process more complicated and encourages bad habits. It’s also worth noting that most dancers say that Pirouette Boards have helped them feel more confidence with pirouettes and encouraged the body to get into placement for the momentum of a turn.


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