I have read a lot recently on pirouette preparations with respect to competition dance. Since I mainly teach at professional schools (Broadway Dance Center), preprofessional programs (Joffrey Ballet School), conservatory programs (NY Film Academy) and colleges (Molloy/CAP21) my experience with dance competitions is very limited. I am, however, a frequent guest teacher at numerous competition schools across the country; bringing my take on classical ballet technique and the technique of my mentor, Luigi to the fantastic work being done at these studios. Since I do work so often with competition dancers, I am always trying to learn more about what is expected from these dancers in the competitive arena.
There was a thread that I came across in a teachers’ chat group, discussing pirouette preparations. There seemed to be a consensus that “turned out” pirouettes must be preceded by a “turned out” preparation and a “parallel” pirouette must be preceded by a “parallel” preparation.
This thread started me thinking back to my training. Madame Gabriella Darvash, who was a student of the legendary Vaganova and my ballet teacher for my entire performing career, often said: A dancer must be able to turn in ANY position from ANY position. The academic preparations in fourth position and fifth position used in ballet technique class are used to TEACH dancers to turn. These preparations are also typical in 19th century classical ballet choreography, but as our art grew in the 20th and 21st centuries, so did the vocabulary of possible preparations when turns started to grow out of the dance without that moment of “tendu a la seconde, plié in fourth position” which stops the energy and flow of the movement.
Luigi, my mentor and Jazz teacher, spoke of his teacher Bronislava Nijinska. She said that her brother (the incomparable Vaslav Nijinsky) could do 10 pirouettes with no visible preparation. Luigi, in his choreography, endeavored to choreograph pirouettes from positions that wouldn’t be recognized as “preparations” as we typically know them.
So here is my question (after a very long-winded prologue): Since competition studios invite me to guest teach – bringing this work to their dancers – adding yet another layer to their work – should I not be bringing this take on pirouettes? I often teach classes on “Principles of the Luigi Technique for Teachers” and these concepts of pirouette preparation are typically part of those classes. My goal is to keep the great traditions of the past alive…to bring the work from Cecchettit, through Nijinska, through Luigi to my students and from Vaganova through Madame Darvash to my students. But I never want to teach in a museum…all of the work looks forward to the future. And as I teach students and teachers alike, I would never want to interfere with their ability to succeed at competitions.
After exhaustive discussion with many teachers there seems to be a new consensus: Academic preparations should be used by less advanced dancers to ensure that they are working toward excellent turning technique while more advanced dancers should be turning with out a “visible preparation” that stops the flow of the movement. And through these discussions we can all learn, and all grow as teachers; I know that I do.