by Finis Jhung
As I always say in class, turning is easy. It's standing up that's difficult. The
problem with turns is not that you can't turn; it's that you can't stand up. Why can't you
Most often, you work your arms more than you do your legs. There is a tendency to pull the
arms in faster than you can complete your preparatory plié. When your arms move faster
and stronger than your legs, that energy you are using becomes the weight that pulls you
It is a law of physics that Energy = Mass. In other words, wherever you put energy, that
will become weight. So, if your arms move faster than your legs do, you're going to be
top-heavy, with more weight in your arms than in your legs. And, because you are rotating,
or turning, that weight will go farther and farther away from the center of your body with
each rotation. You have created an upward spiral. This is what pulls you off balance and
makes you hop or fall.
It is therefore important to think of making a downward spiral. In order to do this, you
must coordinate so that your arms are timed with your legs, whether you are doing a plié
or piqué. When you do this, then energy begins going downward through your legs into the
floor, and that sends your weight downward, creating a downward spiral. Therefore, the
longer you turn, the more your weight is centered in your standing foot. You see this
happen often with good dancers -- they always finish their turns on one leg, on balance.
Because they have pushed their weight downward, and not pulled it up and away with their
arms, the more they turn, the more they balance.
I also remind my students: The more you fall , the more you fall. The more you
balance, the more you balance.
A rule to remember: ARMS NEVER MOVE FASTER THAN LEGS. In other words, your arms don't pull
your legs up from the plié to your passé. Your arms also don't turn your head. Your arms
should reflect the coiling of your spine and help your legs to complete the plié.
I'm sure it is obvious to you that you need to wind up or coil in
order to turn. Have you seen a top spin? It rotates or spins because torque, or rotational
force has been applied. Have you spun a top yourself? There are different kinds of tops,
and I like to demonstrate with the kind of top that you can spin with your fingers. After
you have placed it, you begin a twisting movement, right, left, right, left, and then you
can give it a final twist to the right, release it, and it will spin. I then point out
that the top has no arms as a way of emphasizing that the torque we dancers
create must be in the center of our bodies.
Turns are no longer
a mystery. Tops have been around since 2000 BC -- much before ballet was invented. And,
don't forget we can go to the moon and back. We know how bodies move in space!
Have you had teachers say Don't show your preparation, don't move your arms as you
plié to turn. Just quickly pull your arms into 1st position and that will make you
turn. I think what your teacher means is not to athletically swing your arms, as
though you're swinging a bat.
You do need a preparation. The ball bounces because it is pushed to the earth. The plane
flies because the jets push away from the earth. It's all cause and effect. Preparation
and result. You must do the same! All good dancers show their plié and wind
up before they turn. Movement makes movement. Just be sure you make a preparation
that is stretched and smooth. Coordinate your arms with your legs.
Thinking of the spinning top, you need to wind up your spine. If you want to
turn to the right, then you need to coil to the left. This will be reflected by your left
shoulder and both arms stretching to the left as you plié.
Here are some checkpoints:
Keep the weight of your
body on your standing leg.
You've got to go down to
go up. You push downwards in order to relevé.
You've got to begin your
plié stretching left in order to turn and relevé to the right.
Arms never go faster than
Facing the mirror, you
should be able to see your plié begin turning to the right.
Facing the mirror, the
last thing you see is your arms stretched out with your legs in plié.
Facing the mirror, the
next thing you see is yourself finish the turn on relevé.
There is much more to
discuss, but time and space do not permit. Enjoy your turns!
Copyright 1997 by the Author
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