Teaching Tips

4 Muscles That Will Save Your Students' Pirouettes, Plus 4 Exercises to Strengthen Them

Every dance teacher knows that teaching pirouettes is a doozy. While much of turning is a head game, there are specific weak muscles and muscle groups that are often at the root of turning struggles. We've compiled a list of these four muscles with strengthening exercises to aid you in improving your dancers' turns. While each student's needs are different and your counsel should be personalized to them, we think these four tips will make a big difference. Check them out!

1. Lats

Lat engagement has a stabilizing effect on dancers. If they can tighten these muscles before, during and after their rotation, they will find it keeps them from dropping their elbows and wobbling from side to side in first position.

Go-to lat-strengthening exercise: (Go to 1:50)

Secondary lat-strengthening exercise: Plank

While planks are primarily used to work the core, they also act as a passive lat strengthener. Encourage dancers to push their shoulder blades toward their heels while holding planks on their hands. Not only will this strengthen their lats, but teach them how to hold their backs and arms while turning.

2. Abdominals

No matter what your dancers are struggling with, strengthening the core is bound to help solve the problem. It's like water—it makes everything better! For turns, strengthening the core and pulling the lower abdominals toward your spine will help your dancers stay compact and stable while rotating.

Go-to ab exercise:

3. Glutes

The second dancers release their buns, they'll immediately sink into their legs and drop their heels, resulting in a failed (and scary-looking) pirouette. Strengthening their glutes allows them to stay held in their turn.

Tip: To get results, have your dancers visualize a burning match right below their bum while they turn. If they release their glutes, they will fall into the fire and singe their legs. OUCH!

Go-to booty-strengthening exercise:

4. Calf/Ankle/Feet Muscles

Keeping high on that relevé is essential to a successful turn. Strong calves, ankles and feet that work together will allow you to stay lifted without crashing or sinking down mid-rotation.

Go-to foot/ankle/calf-strengthening exercise, courtesy of former NYCB soloist, Kathryn Morgan:

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

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"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

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