How-To

Spotting 101: Help Your Students Master This Turning Essential

Even before 19th century Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani first performed the feat of 32 consecutive fouettés, dancers have known that “spotting"—or whipping the head quickly around during a turn so that the eyes remain focused in the same location—is an essential part of multiple turns.

Spotting keeps a dancer from becoming dizzy during pirouettes, and it also gives turns a certain aesthetic sharpness. Dancers use spotting as a way to balance themselves and keep track of where the body is in space. Most dancers learn to spot when they first learn to execute pirouettes, but there are a few specific points that can improve even an advanced dancer's spotting technique. Here are some tips from the experts to help you teach better turns.


Focus

Vaganova-trained choreographer and teacher Nikolai Kabaniaev stresses that students should focus their eyes when spotting, picking an object on which to concentrate and coming back to it during each revolution. “The entire time, students should really see what is in front of them," he says. Teaching your students to maintain a specific focus will help them orient themselves and improve balance.

Many dancers like to spot their own image in the mirror, but they should be reminded that during a performance, they will need to find other objects on which to focus. It's helpful to have your students practice by picking out specific items to spot, even when working in a mirrored classroom.

Maintain Alignment

According to Dr. Kenneth Laws, professor emeritus of physics at Dickinson College and author of Physics and the Art of Dance, many dancers misguidedly believe that spotting provides the impetus for turning. However, even though it may feel as though whipping the head around one last time helps eke out a final rotation, it is not physically possible for spotting to create enough force for an extra turn.

“In a correct pirouette, you don't move your head from the axis of rotation," Laws explains. “And there's not much you can do to change the rotational momentum or speed with just your head, if it's properly aligned." Although students should relax their necks during a turn so that they have the maximum range of motion from side to side, allowing the head to dip and swoop does not add any momentum to the turn. It's important to correct students who try to “nod" their way into one last pirouette.

Jorge Esquivel, former principal dancer with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and now a teacher at San Francisco Ballet School, tells dancers to choose a focal point that keeps the eyes high, so that the neck is lengthened and straight. If the eyes are cast slightly downward, he says, the head has a tendency to droop forward slightly, throwing off the axis of rotation.

Let the Spot Lead

Esquivel explains that most students do not allow the spot to “lead" the turn; they tend to leave the head behind too long at the start of each revolution. “The turn of the head must not be delayed," he emphasizes. “There must be a strong accent of the head, an attack. Get your dancers to find the spot fast!" If the head stays too long before whipping around, as Esquivel shows by leaving his head until his chin is nearly in line with his shoulder, the neck muscles begin to pull the head back slightly. By attacking the spot, the dancer can more easily keep her vertebrae in line.

If a student's spot seems slow, Kabaniaev suggests the following exercise: Have the student stand on two feet with the arms in front as if she were executing a pirouette. Then ask her to perform three or four turns by taking small steps, concentrating solely on the technique of spotting as she does so, to build correct muscle memory. “You can start with a slower speed and then go faster as the coordination improves," says Kabaniaev.

Keep the Rhythm

“It is important for students to use the spot to keep the rhythm of the turn," Esquivel says. Have your students coordinate their spots with musical beats, if possible, so that their turns begin and end in time with the music.

Esquivel advises teachers to help students choose the pacing of the spot to suit the number of pirouettes. “The spot for one or two pirouettes is very different from the spot for five or six pirouettes," he says. “It varies from student to student, but the dancer must know beforehand the right rhythm and the exact amount of force needed to fit either the slower pirouette or the faster pirouette." Helping your students find that perfect amount of force will allow them to execute multiple turns cleanly and musically.

PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

Thinkstock

Q: Do you have any advice for how to clean competition pieces?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Kenedy Kallas (via Instagram)

Every true dancer knows just how valuable a perfectly arched foot that curves effortlessly from the ankle to the end of the toes is to a performance. In fact, it's so important, it seems we've all taken an unofficial pact to spend inordinate amounts of time stretching our feet with ominous looking contraptions that cause us severe pain. We are completely crazy! With good reason, but crazy, nonetheless.

In order to keep us all inspired to stretch our toes until they are drool-worthy, DT compiled a list of five dancers whose feet we have a very real crush on. Honestly, these guys should get their toes insured! Truly, they are perfect.

Check 'em out!

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

Q: After running my studio six days a week for 20 years, it's time for me to delegate. How can I transition into a shared-workload system with my teachers?

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Thinkstock

Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. "Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling," says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio
What are your non-negotiables? Share on Dance Teacher's Facebook page.

It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have a student who's going through a growth spurt, and I'm wondering what advice I should give her. Is there anything you recommend?

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored