Pirouette Preparations

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.

Thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Pirouette Preparations

  1. I kinda disagree on the thought that “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.”
    Ballet was been always coordinated with discipline, everything must be almost perfect and by doing so, proper techniques were done. Advance classes should still be doing the “visible preparation” so they could work towards excellence even if they are already good at turning.

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    • Mickaela, I completely agree! …as did most of the teachers in the discussion- with respect to classroom technique. The discussion was focusing on choreography for competition pieces. The consensus on this point was that turning prepariations for the classroom should be academic as you state, but preparations for advanced dancers in choreography on the stage (and in this case, the competition stage), could/should have more artistic freedom. Thanks so much for reading and for your insights!

      Bill

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  2. I think for Choreography the goal is to surprise the audience. So if a pirouette or turn comes out of something other than a “traditional” preparation, that is fine. I grew up believing a turned in pirouette comes from a turned in preparation and vice versa. But I see the differing in opinions.

    My main affliction is when I am adjudicating a routine and see students do an improper preparation. Ie: a parallel prep without proper weight placement, lack of plié or the heel barely raised on the back foot. Or having the front foot turned in for an en dehors pirouette thus displacing their hip etc etc.

    Those are my thoughts.

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