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Students at The Ailey School practice balancing in retiré. Photo Courtesy The Ailey School.

"In Cuba, everybody turns," says Caridad Martinez, a ballet faculty member at The Ailey School and a former principal with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Here, she walks us through the exercises and techniques that comprise "the Cuban secret" of pirouettes in general, and fouettés in particular.

Pirouette Basics

Two legs in plié: The Cuban methodology teaches the fourth position preparation for turns with both legs in demi-plié. The benefits of this approach are speed and control, says Caridad Martinez. "That push of the back leg to passé, at the moment of relevé, makes it easier to generate more turns."

Finish up: For all turns, says Martinez, "we teach to finish on relevé, because that's when you really finish. Hold the position a little bit more—gluteus in and up, turn out the standing leg, open the knee and stay! Don't leave anything behind."

Spotting secrets: To find a more active torso, says Martinez, "have the sensation that you quickly bring your back to the audience." This "switch" of the torso propels you farther around, and with more energy. In addition to spotting with rhythm, try telling yourself "Back! Back!" You may find you effortlessly have the force for that extra rotation.

Round arms: "We keep the arms rounded," says Martinez of the Cuban method, though she notes that it's not incorrect to extend to allongé. She gives a simple exercise to help her students coordinate their port de bras in turns: Hold an object in your opposite hand (the left, if you are turning to the right) as you prepare. At the moment of the relevé, quickly pass the object to your right hand as you turn.

Fouettés, Cuban-Style

The progression: Following the Cuban training method, Martinez builds strength and coordination for fouettés systematically in class. "It's very important not to skip any steps," she says.

  • Begin with consecutive relevés in retiré, both at the barre and in the center.
  • "Then do that with a quarter turn, then a half. That is awful! But later you appreciate it."
  • Progress to three consecutive full pirouettes, holding the leg in retiré as you plié between turns.
  • Repeat the above, this time extending the working leg à la seconde with the plié between turns. Then add a beat, back-front, to the passé as you turn.
  • Pirouette, plié á la seconde, pirouette is one way to fouetté. "When you have the coordination and the technique to control that, the next step is to go to the front and then seconde," says Martinez.
  • Work up gradually, starting with three or four fouettés.

Options: As noted above, the working leg in fouetté may extend directly to the side with plié or rond de jambe from front to side. With rond de jambe, you have a further choice: You may relevé with the à la seconde and then turn, or open the leg in plié and relevé at the moment of the pirouette. "We use both," Martinez explains, depending on the choreography.

The twizzle: Rather than pushing off from fourth directly into a high passé, many students allow the back foot to linger on the floor as they begin to turn, causing the passé to over-cross and the standing leg to turn in. In fouetté, the consequence of this is that the working leg drops too low when it extends. "That leg does not come down," Martinez cautions. "Feel that you isolate from the hip to the knee, and keep that distance the same."

Extra Tips

1. "Practicing balance—that is the students' homework," says Martinez. She suggests trying promenade on relevé at the barre, going en dehors with the leg in retiré and en dedans with the outside leg in cou-de-pied.

2. During fondus or ronds de jambe at the barre, Martinez works on the transition from plié attitude en avant into écarté derrière: "Extend the standing leg and get to écarté at the same time—that coordination is important when we are thinking about fouetté." Practicing attitude, as opposed to extending fully to the front, helps prevent over-crossing.

Ballet Stars
ABT principals Christine Shevchenko and James Whiteside rehearse "Swan Lake" in Singapore.

In the middle of American Ballet Theatre's spring season, principal dancer Christine Shevchenko takes a break from her comedic role of Pierrette in Harlequinade to (briefly) transform into a swan. During the half hour rehearsal, Shevchenko seamlessly transitions from Odette to Odile, running through her various solos without pause—save for the short conferences with ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, which switch between Russian and English almost as quickly as Shevchenko whips out her fouetté turns (but more on those later).

"The rehearsal process is a lot different right now because every week it's a new ballet," Shevchenko says during a rehearsal break last week. "I'm really trying to squeeze in as many Swan Lake rehearsals as I can, and at the same time, I'm trying to prepare for Don Quixote, which is the week after," she explains of juggling the season's eight programs. "This is my first year as a principal during the Met season, so I'm learning how to figure it out as we keep going. In a way, I'm used to doing parts last minute because that's how I got most of my roles," she says. Ahead, Shevchenko shares exactly how she's gearing up for her Met debut on June 20.

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Every ballerina grows up aspiring to nail the fouetté turns in the coda of Swan Lake's Black Swan Pas de Deux. From classic primas like Natalia Makarova to current pros like Gillian Murphy, the 32-fouetté sequence has become so iconic that even our non-dancer friends know about the tricky turns. But yesterday, American Ballet Theatre principal Christine Shevchenko introduced us to a totally new take on the fouettés that we've been watching on a loop, in awe.


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Giphy.

Ah, fouetté turns: They can make even a veteran ballerina shake in her pointe shoes. Performing a seamless series of perfectly placed fouettés requires both strength and finesse. Struggling to get to 32? Dance instructor Stephanie Kaiser Green from Eleanor's School of Dance and other studios in Albany, NY, told us her 10 best tips for improving fouettés.

Close Your Ribs

During fouetté sequences, "many dancers let their ribs splay open in front," Green says, which throws off their alignment. "I tell them to think about wearing a corset, so their rib cage stays closed."

Stay Aligned

It's important to keep your body straight up and down in any turn, but especially while you're doing fouettés. Imagine a pole running down the center of your body, from the top of your head through your supporting leg and foot.

Go to dancespirit.com to keep reading.

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A beautiful pirouette is one of ballet's most elusive elements. Sometimes you float through multiple rotations and sometimes you can hardly balance on one leg. Here are some of our best tips for nailing your turns, every time.

  1. Go back to basics. Make sure you've mastered the fundamentals of correct alignment before you go for multiple rotations.
  2. Know that there's more than one right way to do it. Struggling to adjust to Balanchine-style pirouettes? Focus on shifting the majority of your weight forward over your front foot and extend your arms to find a long position.
  3. Use positive thinking. Getting over the fear of turning and making yourself stay up on pointe to finish your pirouette is paramount to success.
  4. Up the ante. Do you fall apart during fouettés? Focus on your coordination and build stamina in your standing leg.
  5. Get scientific. Understanding the physics of how pirouettes work can help you conceptualize ways to adjust your technique. This TEDx talk breaks down the physics of a fouetté into easily understandable terms:

Happy turning!

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Fouettés are mysterious. When they're on, they create a practically transcendental relationship between gravity and alignment, making everything feel effortless. But when they're off, they're way off. It can feel like you don't know how to stand up, let alone turn.

There are a million different aspects of your technique to keep in mind, and even more ways to visualize a successful fouetté sequence. But when was the last time you considered the science behind the step?

This TEDx talk gets into the nitty-gritty of force, momentum and torque, explaining how your plié, legs and arms work together to sustain the turn. Sure, the narrator gives a cringe-worthy pronunciation of fouetté, but the clear explanation of angular momentum might be just what you need to pull in for that triple.

Check it out below!

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

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