Dance Teacher Tips

9 Key Ideas to Help Dancers Master Attitude Turns

Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet School

Attitude turns have the potential for major wow factor—the position originated from sculptor Giambologna's famous bronze statue of the Roman god Mercury, after all—but many dancers struggle with this kind of pirouette. It's a tricky step, one that requires good placement, coordination and timing. Whether your students are learning this turn for the first time or working on doubles, it's helpful to go back to basics and break down the mechanics.


How to Prepare

Try a creative barre stretch. "Find a barre, or even a table, that's a good height, and put your leg up behind you," says Stephanie Spassoff, artistic director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. "Totally square off, so you can feel the right position." Spassoff suggests doing a series of pliés and relevés, lifting the leg off the barre on the way up and lowering it when the standing heel descends (see photo 1). "It's a good way to strengthen your back and get yourself placed for the turn," she says. Spassoff encourages students to lengthen their backs, too, doing counter-stretches like rounding or rolling through the small of the back (photo 2) to balance the stress of supporting the attitude position.

Photo 1, by Kaitlin Marino, courtesy of Princeton Ballet School


Photo 2, by Kaitlin Marino, courtesy of PBS

Use the action of the plié to get up on the supporting leg, says Nancy Crowley, faculty member at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Whether a dancer is turning en dehors or en dedans, the principles of the preparation are the same. "Make sure the dancer can keep the weight over the supporting leg in the entire turn," says Crowley. To encourage this, she tells students to lengthen the standing side and spiral up through the torso.

Turn out in order to turn well. "When dancers relevé into an attitude pirouette en dedans, the supporting heel should initiate the turn," says Spassoff. "The heel pulls the inside of the upper thigh, so the entire leg is rotating, and the attitude toe is reaching for the opposite shoulder."

Focus on Placement

Align the center of the lower back over the ball of the foot (photo 3) in an attitude turn, unlike basic pirouettes in passé, which require the head to be aligned over the torso and supporting leg. "Students tend to pull their head and torso back to get over their supporting foot in an attitude, which distorts the position," says Janet Parke, director of Ballet Memphis School. "Students should learn how to balance in attitude, preparing from a lunge or fourth position." Parke suggests doing just quarter- and half-turns in attitude, trying to finish in a balance on relevé. "They shouldn't worry about the force of the turn but instead about establishing a balance over the base of support," she says.

Photo 3, by Kaitlin Marino, courtesy of PBS

Maintain placement and strength on the supporting side, advises Crowley. As they relevé into the turn, dancers might push their bodies around and pull off their standing leg. But this approach negatively affects placement: The torso tends to tip forward, the hips slip back and the supporting leg loses rotation. She recommends using an adagio promenade, en dehors and en dedans, to help students stand properly on one leg and understand a slow rotation. "Use it as a study for attitude pirouette," she says.

Don't let the knee get too high in attitude—it can make the position less attractive. "The working hip should not be up, because it can destroy the line," says Spassoff. "The knee should be behind the body as much as possible, with the toe reaching for the opposite shoulder. If it doesn't have that tightness, dancers get that position we call 'dog at the fire hydrant.'" Coming out of the turn, students should continue to lift on the supporting side and bring their hips to a neutral position as soon as possible.

Coordinate the Arms and Legs

Don't relevé first and turn second. Coordinate the rotation of the torso with the relevé action of the standing leg. "It's about being organized and over the supporting side, and having the strength to stay on that leg for the full rotation," says Crowley. The arms should also arrive with the relevé and maintain classical academic shapes. "If the arms look sloppy, it's because they're not related to the center line of the torso and where the center line moves during the turn," she says.

Don't start from a static position. "All turns need some initiation in the core of your body," says Parke. "Dancers should start with a coil of the spine, and it should be so tiny that it isn't visible to the naked eye or distorting the preparatory position."

Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

While summer usually sparks dreams of warm vacations in the sun, many dance teachers don't have the luxury of taking a week off to lounge by the pool. But what if a stellar educational opportunity for dance instructors just happened to take place in sunny Las Vegas?

The Dance Teacher Web Conference and Expo, happening August 4–7 and founded and directed by longtime successful studio owners and master teachers Steve Sirico and Angela D'Valda Sirico, gives dance teachers and administrators a chance to learn, network and recharge during a one-of-a-kind working vacation. Here, attendees can rub shoulders with esteemed industry professionals, get inspired by a variety of workshops and even walk away with a new certification or two:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.

At the end of her virtual town hall meeting Monday, March 30, dance studio business advocate Misty Lown said to the more than 700 studio owners who attended (remotely): "We've gone through difficult things before. We will survive, but let's thrive. Let's come through this closer, more compassionate, with greater courtesy and contributions than ever before."

Lown, who operates a studio in Wisconsin with enrollment of 900, outlined the steps she and other studio members affiliated with More Than Just Great Dancing have taken to provide service continuity during COVID-19-related closure of dance studios and schools. In the 90-minute session co-hosted by Dance Teacher and Dance Business Weekly, she shared strategies to assure the best outcomes going forward.

Our Current State

Based on a survey completed by the first 500 studios to register for the video call, only 7 percent had elected not to move their classes online; 48.8 percent of those who had moved to online reported they were continuing to charge full tuition rates for online classes; 28.6 percent were offering a discount for online classes; 22.6 percent were not planning to charge for online classes.

A survey question about recitals showed that 41.4 percent were moving forward with spring recital plans, hoping to salvage this significant piece of their revenue for Q2 (April, May and June)—typically the highest income quarter of the year; 25.7 percent indicated they were not sure they'd be able to produce their recital; 32.9 percent were planning to reschedule or relocate their events.

Competition activity has been greatly affected: 76 percent of the responders had experienced a competition cancellation; 42 percent of those had received a refund or a mix of refund and credit; 58 percent had received a credit only.

Transitioning to Online Learning

Lown presented some inspiring examples of studios who have successfully transitioned to online classes, each with a unique imprint.

Exemplary Training Effort

Focus on Retaining Students

Give Extra Attention to Faculty and Parents

Clear Communication

Adding the WOW Factor

Asked about families who declined to participate in distance learning, Lown noted that often it wasn't because the parents questioned the concept of distance learning and why it was necessary. There was usually a secondary concern to be addressed, such as: "I don't want to do it in my living room"; "it's too crazy here;" or, "she wasn't really that much into it anyway so let's just wrap it up for the year." But if you do everything you can to convince your customer and they still want to leave your studio, she said: "Let them go, because you want them to go with a sweet taste in their mouth." As always, you're creating a reputation in your community that will serve you well in your future.

Tapping Into Funding Options

Lown invited CPA Mary Jo Werner to help explain how the CARES Act can benefit dance studio owners. (See Dance Business Weekly's explanation of the stimulus details here.) Werner suggested to look first at the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) which provides funding for the equivalent of eight weeks of payroll expenses (and more, see details in our article here) and is forgivable loan for those who maintain their current payroll levels.

Then there are loans up to $2 million under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL), with interest rates of 3.75 percent for small businesses, 2.75 percent for nonprofits—and up to 30 years to repay. Before applying for either, it's important to slow down and really look for the net benefit, Werner advises.

Also of note is that independent contractors and self-employed individuals will now be covered by unemployment compensation.

Call to Action

If all this seems overwhelming, you're not alone. But Lown compares it to the project of planning a recital, something every studio owner has done many times. "We are the most creative people on the planet," she said. "If we can't do this, I don't know who can."

For additional resources, please visit Studio Help Source.

Watch the complete presentation here.


Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

With studio closures and shelter-in-place restrictions throughout the country this week due to COVID-19 concerns, dancers are putting creative skills to use in a myriad of new ways with each given day and new scenario. If you are stuck at home, consider a few of these projects that frequently get pushed down our long "to do" lists.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox