Not long ago Adult Beginner posted the following appeal to her blog: Plz help a reader with her Pirouette Problem! 28 March 2014 Adult Beginner:
“I’ve been taking classes seriously for 2 years, 2-3 times a week. I am the ONLY person in my class who cannot do a pirouette. I can balance in passé, spot etc. but I cannot do even one turn. Its gotten to be a “thing.” Two teachers have said its all in my head since I have the requisite skills but its getting ridiculous. I mean, I actually felt like crying from frustration in class last night. The more I practice, the worse it gets. Basically, what happens most of the time is I “fall” out of the turn when I get halfway around. I have also fallen on my ass more times than I care to admit. I am hoping if you make this a post, lots of people will write in with advice and it will be the turning point (pun intended) of my life.”That appeal elicited 38 responses from around the world including one from me which contained the best tip that I had received up to that date. Ironically it came from Southern California just like Adult Beginner.
Now I have exactly the same problem as K-boom (Adult Beginner's correspondent) and it has also bothered me. The problem with pirouettes is that if you know how to do them you just can't see a problem. You just can't understand why folk can't pick them up just as you did and indeed just as most other students seem to do. Well there is a problem and that it that the dancer has to do a lot of things at once. Fine if you are child, teenager or even a 20, 30 or 40 something beginner but not so easy if you are pushing 66 in February.
First, we have to learn how to rise and stay up in demi for more than a microsecond. Not easy when we are old for everybody's balance deteriorates with age. Next we have to learn to balance in retiré. Again not easy for us old fogeys for the same reason. And balancing on the supporting foot in relevé with the other foot in retiré in the centre of the studio is a very big ask indeed. But that's only for starters. Dancers have to remember to "push catch" (as one of my teachers calls it) turning clockwise on the left foot which is itself counter-intuitive (or the opposite when turning anti-clockwise), find something in the studio to gaze at (otherwise known as spotting) and remember to position the non-supporting leg neatly behind in 4th at the end of the manoeuvre. All at the same time. Oh brother. Is it any wonder that our hair turns grey!
Now the useful tip from this Dutch video is to master the relevé and retiré bits at the barre. I have been copying Mr Wijnen using a towel rail for barre for the last hour or so and I think I have been making some real progress. I can't stay on demi for very long but I am getting better. At least I think so. Of course, the next stage is to do the pushing, catching, spotting and landing in the right sequence and that has to be done in the centre. But if I can balance on demi with my right paw in retiré I can at least get off what our erstwhile colonial cousins call "first base" in their version of rounders.
I found Mr Wijnen's video on the Dutch National Ballet's Facebook page which I shared on my timeline but as not all my readers use Facebook I thought I would embed it here. It comes from a website called "Jump" for young fans of the Dutch National Ballet. It is something that our ballet companies might like to consider.