Dance Teacher Tips

How to Tune Up Your Spotting

Joanne Chapman teaching turns (photo by Dan Boskovic, courtesy Joanne Chapman School of Dance)

Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.


Despite how foundational spotting is to solid dance training, it's probably one of the first things to go on autopilot. After all, as "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and current BalletMet dancer Jim Nowakowski points out, you've got a lot on your mind when you're turning. "You're thinking, 'Am I on my leg? Am I cramping? Am I pulling for 2 or 3? Is my knee stretched? Is my foot stretched?' " he says. Giving the old head-whip a tune-up might be the key you need to take you from a maybe-it'll-happen-but-maybe-it-won't double to the perfectly polished triple (or quad!) of your dreams.

Think About Your Eyes

Skye Mattox in "Carousel" on Broadway (photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy DKC/O&M;)

When she's teaching her youngsters how to spot for the very first time, Joanne Chapman, studio owner at Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada, has dancers put their feet together and their hands on their waists as they stare at their own eyes in the mirror. Before she has them swivel their bodies around, she tells them "to see only their own eyes. We'll say, 'Don't look at anybody else's eyes!' " It may sound rudimentary, but actively concentrating on the pathway of your eyes can be a big help, says Miami City Ballet soloist Samantha Hope Galler. "A teacher of mine always said, 'Think eyes-eyes,' " she says, referring to the first focus of the eyes, pre-turn, quickly followed by the eyes' return to the starting position of the turn—beating the rest of the body's return.

Math and Numbers Are Your Friend

As a dancer in Broadway's Carousel last year, Skye Mattox had a particularly complicated turning sequence in the number "June Is Bustin' Out All Over." So she turned to the counts to help organize her spot. "When all the pirouettes happened, I could key into: The kick is on 1, and the head spot is on 4-5," she says. "I knew my head was coming back around to the front on 4 and 5."

If you have a turning combination that requires changing spots, Nowakowski recommends planning carefully. "Know where your focus is going to be and where you want your spot to be," he says. "It could be, 'I'm spotting the corner, then two spots to the side, three to the corner, and another spot to the side. Know your mathematics!"

Just Relax

Even though a successful turn requires organizing the body in a very specific way, remember not to hold tension in the head, neck, or shoulders—keep them relaxed. When Galler first started with MCB, one of her most frequent corrections was not to force her chin down during pirouettes. "It was the first thing they caught," she says. "When I put my chin down, my neck and head go slightly up and forward, which makes it more difficult for me to whip my head around." After daily reminders from the MCB staff and a conscious effort to loosen up, up top, she's starting to finally master her chin issue. "When I'm relaxed, I don't hold tension in my upper body," says Galler.

Do Your Recon

Jim Nowakowski performing with BalletMet (photo by Jennifer Zuma, courtesy BalletMet)

Even the best spotters can get discombobulated when they're staring out from the stage at a black void. Without your reflection or anything to focus on, how can you spot? The trick, says Nowakowski, is to do your research. "Every theater is different, so when I get to a theater and we have tech rehearsal, I'll see if I can spot something in the first few rows or find another spotting landmark." Chapman tells her dancers to look for the exit sign or the sound booth during competitions. "It's usually just above the judges' heads," she says. "That keeps them from dropping their chins, which can happen if they only focus on the front row." Galler relies on a red light at eye level that she's found exists in the house of many theaters. But even if she can't find a light, she knows she'll be OK if she just stays calm and centered. "If I just visualize myself doing it like I did in the studio and don't get nervous that there's not something to focus on, as long as I'm doing the same motion with my head and eyes, it should work," she says.

Definitely don't let yourself get intimidated by the complexity of spotting. "It's really about just letting your head do the work it's been trained to do," says Mattox. "Sometimes I'll think, 'I'm not going for a triple pirouette—I just need to get my head around three times.' "

A version of this story appeared in the January 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "How To Tune Up Your Spotting."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Getty Images

When your students graduate and move to the big city to pursue their dreams, they'll almost immediately discover that there's a void left where your studio once was. Not only will they miss your instruction and daily support, but they'll miss having a physical space to work through challenging movement, polish their technique and improv with no one watching. Help them with their adjustment period by telling them about the studio spaces they can rent out when they need some one-on-one time with the mirror and the music.

Here are five for you to share with them—you're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, more than 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Kyle Froman

A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
YouTube

"WOD" is back for Season 3, and once again, the internet is loving it! How much do they love it, you ask? Well they've watched many of the dances millions of times, so it's safe to say—A WHOLE LOT! We did some research and discovered which dances have been watched the most since Season 3's premiere, and the results may surprise you.

Here are the top-four most viewed "WOD" videos of the season so far! Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: As a dance teacher, which products do you prefer, Apple or Google?

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

The one thing that can unite all of us on April 15 is the fact that everyone hates doing their taxes. Though they are necessary, they are exhausting and time-consuming, and just plain no fun for anyone!

To help you cope, we've captured what doing taxes feels like through a series of dancer memes.

YOU'RE WELCOME!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Bartlett, front and center, leading a class. Photo by Arthur Fink, courtesy of Bartlett

When Hollis Bartlett began attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 2007, the modern-dance faculty urged students to explore the relationship between composed music and dancing. Coming from a studio that typically used popular tunes or songs with lyrics, rather than scores by Philip Glass or John Cage, Bartlett found this valuable, yet challenging. "Now, as an artist I can fight that rule," says Bartlett, who's danced with Doug Varone and Dancers for seven years.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox