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.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

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

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

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

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox