Technique: Katrina Killian

How I teach a pirouette

Katrina Killian and Jasmine Perry at SAB

The pirouette is a dazzling feat when performed onstage. But for a teacher in class, it can be a great revealer, unveiling possible flaws in a student’s technique. Does she hold tension in her neck, open her ribs or sink in her supporting hip? Do her arms hang, unconnected to her torso? While all codified methods offer a distinct approach to successful turns, pirouettes properly performed within the Balanchine technique are the most striking.

George Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein in 1934 and established a syllabus to prepare dancers for Balanchine’s choreography, which pushed them to new technical achievements. “He wanted a length throughout a dancer’s body,” says SAB faculty member Katrina Killian. “In his technique the whole body is active. Gorgeous, long lines are created.”

Beginning and ending in an extended fourth position, Balanchine’s pirouettes are spotted front. “It helps the supporting leg, back toe and arms all pull in together,” Killian says. “But even piqué turns from the corner are spotted front so the audience can see a ballerina’s face.”

Though Killian teaches at all levels, she has a particular affinity for ages 11 and 12, SAB’s fourth division. “In that year, they learn everything they need to know. They come in with the basics, but then they learn the bigger jumps—they learn battu. They also start turning. It’s fun to push them.”

Yet students at that age are unpredictable, and every day brings new challenges. “I can have an idea of what I want to cover when I enter the classroom, but as soon as they stand at the barre, I have to change those ideas in the moment,” Killian says. Proper technique for all movement begins at the barre, and she stresses weight placement and lower-leg precision. “Just standing in first position, it’s important to make sure a student never locks back in hyperextension. Her weight is never on her heels; it’s forward. She has to lift up out of her sitz bones, and over the balls of her feet.”

Here, Killian shows how these concepts transfer to a wide fourth, in preparation for pirouette, as she and her student Jasmine Perry demonstrate a pirouette en dehors, a step first introduced in soft shoes at age 11.

Katrina Killian studied ballet at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet before attending the School of American Ballet. At 18, she became a member of New York City Ballet. As a soloist with NYCB, she performed in many leading roles, including Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jewels and Stars and Stripes. In 1988, she originated a principal role in Jerome Robbins’ Ives, Songs. Killian became a full-time faculty member of SAB in 1998, and she currently serves as ballet mistress for NYCB’s Education Department. In this role, she stages student productions for Ballet Bridges, an education outreach program serving over 2,000 public school children each year.

Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Jasmine Perry, 15, is currently completing her first winter term at the School of American Ballet. Follow her on the latest season of “Dance212.” Visit: www.dance212.com.

(Photo by Matthew Murphy at the School of American Ballet in New York City)

Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"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."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Diary
Claire McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.