The Nuts and Bolts
Whether you’re new to ballet or you’ve been studying for years, it never hurts to break piqué turns down into their basic components. Doing so will make you conscious of maintaining correct technique and placement every step of the way.
First of all, Larissa Ponomarenko, who is the ballet mistress at Boston Ballet, suggests starting in a good plié with your body weight over the supporting leg, so the push onto demi-pointe or pointe is well controlled. “Your hips should travel from the supporting leg over to the working leg in one smooth movement,” she says. “And the piqué should happen on a straight leg. If you’re going to the right, the right heel and the top of the right leg lead the turn.” The arm, shoulder, side of your rib cage and hip should stay in line with each other, helping to bring your body around. (If you're turning to the right, the left side of your body should be in a line and vice versa). As you reach the halfway point of the turn, keep your shoulders down and neck relaxed as you spot your head. At this point your arms should arrive in a neat first position. Your working foot should stay attached to the standing leg just above the back of the knee. During the last quarter of the turn, the working foot should remain attached to the standing leg for as long as possible as it slides down toward the floor.
"When working on pique turns, my dance teacher would always tell us that our legs are working in opposition. Your standing leg should be pushing down into the floor and that your working leg is pulling up in a nice, high passe."says Elizabeth Cole, a dancer with the Northwest School for Ballet.
Common Problems and how to fix them
The most common problems with piqué turns can be easily fixed, with some extra attention. If you tend to piqué onto a bent knee, or let it relax during the transition between turns, try thinking of having a “peg leg”—one that never bends, and a foot that never stops pointing when you’re on pointe. “If you’re hyper-extended, it’s a bit more difficult to get over your leg when it’s truly straight,” says Frances Chung, principal at San Francisco Ballet. “You have to really step out and use your back foot to plié and push yourself over your standing leg as far as possible.”
Do you lift your hip as you bring your foot into retiré? Make sure your knee doesn’t rise higher than the crease of your hip. “You want a high retiré without compromising your hip placement and throwing off your balance. I try to relax my hip as much as possible and draw just my toe up.” Chung adds.
If you have trouble spotting and tend to get dizzy, make sure you have a clear object to focus on each time you bring your head around, and think about fully relaxing your neck. “Imagine you’re disconnecting your head from your body,” says Callie Manning, principal soloist at Miami City Ballet. “Think of your head as one thing and your body as something else, instead of them all going together to the same place.”
"When I'm doing pique turns I like to have someone to spot. If no one is with me, I'll tape up a picture of a celebrity or someone, so I can spot that. It really does help during practices but not so much when I'm rehearsing for a ballet or performance. Having that picture there, does help train your head to whip around really fast." adds Elizabeth.
Taking It to the Next Level
Once you’ve mastered basic piqué turns, you can add a greater degree of difficulty by throwing in some doubles and varying your arms, direction or speed. “When I do a double, I bring my foot to retiré as soon as possible to make sure I can fit both turns in time with the music, and I spot twice in a clear rhythm,” says Chung. Manning thinks of not stepping too far out when she does a double piqué turn. “You have to almost stop your forward momentum or else you’ll start falling out of the second turn,” she says. To piqué very fast, Manning lowers her leg into a coupé position, rather than retiré, and keeps her arms out to the side—both of which save time in a quick string of turns. She also thinks of darting rapidly onto pointe.
You can change up your port de bras, too. When Chung does a string of piqué turns, she’ll keep her arms in demi-seconde for the singles and then snap them into first position for the doubles to add a little visual interest. You can also try turning with your hands on your hips, which might remind you to keep your hips down, too, or your arms in fourth position. Usually dancers lift the right arm (if they’re turning to the right) because it helps pull up the supporting side.
"I find that when I'm doing more than one revolution during pique turns, I like my arms in fourth crossed. For me it's easier to turn faster. And it looks cool." adds Elizabeth.
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