Suki Schorer teaching at School of American Ballet. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy SAB.

The "Balanchine Head," and How to Master It—Including Spotting Front

As a teacher and choreographer, George Balanchine—founder of the School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet—finessed even the smallest details. And in his technique, extra-special attention is paid to the carriage of the head, which is both unique and transformational. Whether held forward or at a particular tilt, the "Balanchine head" forms a critical part of the dancer's line. "It's the perfume, the spice," says Suki Schorer, SAB faculty member and former NYCB principal. "It brings depth, character, glamour, and elegance."


What's So Different About the Balanchine Head?

In Balanchine technique, you usually train with your head straight forward while at barre. Megan Fairchild, NYCB principal and SAB faculty member, says this allows you to work your turnout equally. "When you're holding on to the barre but have your head turned away, it's easy to lose the turnout of your whole standing side," she explains. "But if you look straight front, you can work on turning out both sides of your body at the same time."

In the center, the Balanchine technique often asks that you lift your cheeks up and forward "as if asking for a kiss," Schorer says. If you're standing in croisé with your right foot in front, for instance, present your left cheekbone to the mirror or the audience by curving the neck and slanting the head. And that presentation actually begins farther down in the body: "It's not just a two-dimensional turn with the head," Fairchild says. "It's a three-dimensional spiral from the waist up."

Megan Fairchild leading SAB students in a combination (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy SAB)

Let's Talk About Spotting

Additionally, Balanchine's turns in center—whether traveling or stationary—almost always spot front. "When you spot the corner, I just see half your face and half your turnout," Schorer explains. Spotting front opens your face, your chest, and your turnout to the audience.

This nuance is often difficult for dancers trained in other ballet techniques to master. "Look for your eyelashes in the mirror," Schorer advises. But don't travel toward them. In pirouettes from fourth in croisé, prepare with your eyes over your hand, and then spot the front in the first turn. In traveling turns, like piqué turns on the diagonal, find front with your body but maintain the diagonal path of your foot on the floor, without cutting your rond de jambe short.

Lourdes Lopez teaching at the Miami City Ballet School (Sasha Iziliaev courtesy MCB School)

Why Did Balanchine Want It This Way?

Coming to America from Russia, Balanchine developed a technique guided by what he hoped to see onstage. Connection to the audience was high on his list.

"Other styles can have an alienating aspect," Fairchild says. "You may look up and off into space or suddenly turn your head away from the audience to the direction you're traveling." A forward focus, however, is naturally presentational. "You never forget the audience," Fairchild says. "Everything you're doing is for them."

The spiraling-from-the-waist idea? It likely comes from the classical arts, explains Lourdes Lopez, artistic director of Miami City Ballet and former NYCB principal. "When you look at the classical statues and paintings of the gods, goddesses, and muses that the masters did, there's a curvature—almost like an 'S'—to the body that ends with the head," she says.

Ultimately, Balanchine technique just isn't Balanchine technique without correct head placement—and learning it will benefit your dancing beyond Mr. B's world, too. "The use of the head gives the whole dance nuance and form," Schorer says. "It adds a beauty that's useful for all kinds of dance—not just a Balanchine ballet."

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks