Ask Amy: Whip Your Turns Into Shape

Have a question?
Click here to send it to Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancer Amy Brandt.

I know the basics of pirouettes—pull up, hold your core and connect your passé—but I’m still having trouble getting around and sticking my turns. Can you suggest any tips? —MaryCate
There are so many things to remember during pirouettes that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, lose your mojo and start fearing them—which is turning suicide in my book. I’ve been taught some helpful imagery through the years. First, take a look at your passé position. As you spring to relevé passé, feel opposing energies running through your body: one energy pushing down into the ground through your supporting foot, with another rising up through your head—as if your body is being pulled taut like a rubber band. This will help you reach the full height of your position and stay better aligned over your supporting foot. Whether you’re turning en dehors or en dedans, engage your supporting leg’s turnout muscles to lock in the position as you rotate. Then, think of your pirouette as a spiraling corkscrew so that you grow taller as the turns progress.

One more hint: Connect your rotations with the musical rhythm, timing each spot of your head. Doing that always helps me to stop overanalyzing and start having fun.

I’ve had four patellar dislocations—one from a fouetté in class and others from movement like turning in bed to reach for my alarm clock. What causes this, and how can I stop it from happening again? —Danielle
Yikes! Dislocations are no joke. Your patella, or kneecap, is a floating bone encased within the patellar tendon. It has a groove that fits into a notch at the end of your thighbone, so it can slide up and down as you bend and straighten your knee. You could be experiencing one of two things: patellar subluxations (where the kneecap momentarily shifts sideways) or full dislocations (where the kneecap stays out and must be manually adjusted back in).

Jennifer Green, physical therapist and founder of PhysioArts, a New York City clinic for dance rehab, says the structure of your knee joint might make you more prone to dislocations. “If the kneecap’s groove is too shallow, the fit won’t be as good and there’s more room to slide,” says Green. The kneecap is held together by ligaments, and dancers tend to have looser ones. (While you can’t strengthen your ligaments, doing exercises for the muscles around the knee will make the joint more stable.) Muscular imbalances can also aggravate your knee.

See an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible. Even if you haven’t experienced a full dislocation, frequent subluxations “can lead to a dislocation,” says Green, “so it’s important that you get care.” You’ll need physical therapy, and your exercise program will depend on your exam results. If it’s skeletal, your treatment may focus on correcting your alignment and technique, whereas a muscular imbalance will involve strengthening weak thigh and hip muscles, and lengthening tighter muscles. Don’t tackle this on your own! Make a doctor’s appointment before you experience further damage.

I’m in a regional ballet company that does a long Nutcracker run every year. I think I’m developing snowflake burnout. How can I keep my performances fresh and interesting? —Lauren
After a run of Nutcracker, I often wonder how Broadway dancers do it—eight shows a week for months or even years on end. True, it’s easy to feel a little stale after your 18th run of “Waltz of the Flowers.” But the worst thing we can do is phone in a performance—that’s when careless mistakes happen. Luckily, there’s always room for improvement, especially as you grow more confident in a role.

Try setting small goals for yourself to make the shows more interesting. Sometimes I focus on minute details, such as making tighter, faster bourrées or running more quietly. Play with your characterization; vary your facial expressions or gestures so you’re not giving cookie-cutter performances. Make eye contact with your cast mates for an energy boost. And it might help to imagine that there’s someone important in the audience—a dance critic, your parents, your secret crush—to help give your performance extra oomph.

Latest Posts

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

"My Plate Is Full": Sofiane Sylve on Her New Leadership Roles at Ballet San Antonio and Dresden Semperoper

Sofiane Sylve had huge plans for 2020: Departing her post as a principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet, she embarked on a multifaceted, bicontinental career as ballet master and principal dancer at Dresden Semperoper Ballett, and artistic advisor and school director at Ballet San Antonio—and then COVID-19 hit, sidelining performances and administrative plans at both companies. But ballet dancers are nothing if not resilient. In her new leadership roles, Sylve is determined to help shepherd ballet through this challenging time—and transform it for the better. Pointe caught up with her by phone while she was in Dresden.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

The Anatomy of Arabesque: Why Placement and Turnout Are Key to Achieving This Crucial Position

Audition for any school or company, and they'll likely ask for a photo in arabesque. The position not only reveals a great deal about a dancer's ability, but it is also a fundamental building block for more advanced movements, like penché or arabesque turn. Beyond technique, it can be the epitome of grace and elegance onstage, creating unforgettable images—just try to imagine Swan Lake or Balanchine's Serenade without an arabesque.

Yet many dancers are unsatisfied with their arabesque lines, and students frequently ask how to improve their extensions. (Social media posts of dancers with extreme flexibility don't help!) In an attempt to lift the back leg higher, dancers may sacrifice placement and unknowingly distort their position in the process. How can you improve the height of your back leg while maintaining proper placement and turnout? We talked to a few experts to better understand the science behind this step.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks