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 stand?

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 off balance.

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:

  1. Keep the weight of your body on your standing leg.

  2. You've got to go down to go up. You push downwards in order to relevé.

  3. You've got to begin your plié stretching left in order to turn and relevé to the right.

  4. Arms never go faster than legs.

  5. Facing the mirror, you should be able to see your plié begin turning to the right.

  6. Facing the mirror, the last thing you see is your arms stretched out with your legs in plié.

  7. 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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