Tips from Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel from The Ballet Companion

March 18, 2009
Pirouette Tips from Gillian Murphy

  • Don’t move your front heel before you turn.
  • Push off with both legs, but keep your weight forward.
  • Relevé strongly and quickly. Pull up from the back of the leg right under your buttocks to get on your supporting leg.
  • Use your spot. Free the head and relax the upper body.
  • Good turns come from your work throughout the barre and center, especially from pliés, relevés and petit allegro.
  • You know both a good and a bad turn immediately, and in a bad turn, you know to cut your losses. A good turn feels easy.
  • Don’t sacrifice form. There’s no point to lots of turns without form. In fact, everyone just wants them to stop.
  • There’s a smaller turning surface when turning on pointe, but not much difference in placement. You feel higher off the ground.
  • You gain mastery through repetition—but not repetition of your mistakes. Make sure to practice correctly.

Pirouette Tips from Ethan Stiefel

  • Learn to turn first. Form is important, but it comes later. Get the coordination of the spot first, and then clean up your position.
  • There’s a moment of stillness essential to the preparation of a turn. For me, it’s at the outset in fifth position, before the quick rond de jambe into fourth. Power and momentum in the pirouette actually originate in that moment.
  • Relax and exhale so you can float through your turn.
  • Get to retiré position quickly. I prefer a high retiré above the knee, but there isn’t necessarily one perfect position.
  • Success in a turn depends on a strong center. Strength and calmness come from your center; when doing air turns, it’s your only friend.
  • There are turns, there are pirouettes and then there are spins. Don’t squeeze out an extra pirouette onstage; don’t throw in the ugly one.
  • The music decides when a turn is done, and the turn decides for itself; its momentum tells you to finish.
  • My favorite pirouettes are plain old pirouettes en dehors in retiré. It’s a perfect position. There’s a reason we turn in this position. Clean never goes out of style.
  • Turns en dehors felt natural to me, but en dedans did not. What helped was a change in attitude. Don’t think of turning as a numbers thing. Do the right thing to set yourself up and let it happen.
  • Repetition is the key. To improve your turns, practice them over and over again.