Tips for Improving Pirouettes

Here are some great tips for improving pirouettes. Take a look at each one and try to apply these corrections the next time you’re doing a pirouette combination in ballet class. These tips assume you already have a general understanding of how to do a en dehors pirouette in retiré.  These pirouette tips aren’t just for en dehors and can be used for almost any type of pirouette!

Before you begin, make sure you understand what a pirouette is in its basic form. It’s a turn, in a position, around an axis that you create with your body. For the turn to continue around multiple times on your axis, much like spinning a coin on a table, your body must stay aligned. The moment you lose your alignment and distort your body’s position, you will likely lose your balance, just as a coin begins to wobble when it loses its axis. Much of the tips below touch on the importance of alignment and maintaining a position while you turn. If you watch a dancer doing beautifully clean, multiple pirouettes, you will also see superb alignment and position.

You’ll notice there are a fair amount of tips listed here. Try not to overwhelm yourself by trying to apply them all at once tomorrow and expecting them to work perfectly. Read them all, but try to apply one or two at a time until that specific tip becomes second nature. You’ll then be able to revisit these pirouette tips and apply more as you improve. Let’s take a look at some tips for better pirouettes!

Avoid a Double Preparation Before You Turn


A pirouette, no matter the type, only requires one preparation. Its common for some dancers to do the steps, leading into the preparation, then do a double bounce, or lifting a back foot into a smaller (or larger) fourth position before releveing and turning. This is common in, for example, a well-known preparation of “Tombe pas de bourre fourth position, pirouette.”

A dancer doing a double preparation will get to the fourth position, then make another adjustment into another fourth position and then try to turn. This habit makes your dancing appear less fluid and confident. Try the same preparation, but the fourth position you end in after the pas de bourre is the same fourth position that works for you to do a pirouette. Taking out a double preparation will add more clarity to your dancing and get your sooner on the track to improving pirouettes!

Think How a Coin Turns


Stand facing the mirror in retiré with your arms hanging to the side. Now, turn 90 degrees to the side, and take your retiré position again, but turn and look in the mirror. You should notice that you’re flat in both positions, much like a spinning coin on a table.

This is the idea you want to think about when turning, that you’re a flat coin. A coin doesn’t hunch half way up, does it? It doesn’t stick its very top up in an effort to spin more, does it? No, unless someone has bent it with pliers, a coin is flat, which allows it to more easily turn around its axis when you spin it on a table.

Now, you’re not perfectly symmetrical in a pirouette obviously, but its a good exercise to think of this idea. Think about not turning like a wobbly soup can, not turning like a square block, but turning like a flat coin.

Stay Solid in Your Pirouette Position


A pirouette in classical ballet will often not change positions during the turn, and if it does, its a change that looks purposefully done. (like from a front attitude, into passe, into a back attitude for example). But what you want to avoid is having different positions of your body throughout the turn and each time you spot.

This is one of the best tips for cleaner pirouettes. For example, once you establish your retiré leg and begin (the best possible one you know you have, of course), it does not move. It does not figgit around, lowering the hip or changing the position of the foot on your leg. Once you get into first position with your arms (unless of course the pirouettes calls for the arms to go into another positions), try to show the exact same position at every point in your pirouette, so if someone took a picture, the only thing that would change in each picture is your head spotting around.

Try to think that nothing is moving out of place, with the only movement being your head as it spots.  With a cleaner pirouette, the audience will be able to better enjoy and see each individual turn.  This is often how dancers who do only three “look like they did 6!”

Get to Your Retiré Position Fast! In One Count


No matter the type of pirouette, you should always try to get to your turning position in one count. The sooner you get to the proper position, the less chance the movement will throw you off your leg as you’re turning around.  This is one of the best tips for improving pirouettes!

Stay On Your Leg During the Pirouette Preparation


Two of the important ingredients for a pirouette are balance and preparation. But its important to have these two at the same time for consistent pirouettes. In your preparation, try to already be on balance and maintain it as you plié for the preparation. It may seem obvious, but some dancers disconnect the two, the balance and the preparation step, thinking that the balance only happens once they releve and begin turning.

A great tip to improve your pirouettes is to get into your preparation and hold it for 8 counts, really trying to feel that you’re in a strong position and most importantly, on balance. Then, try to do a double pirouette maintaining the strength and balance in your legs.

Try Less Pirouettes if You’re Having an Off Day


Sometimes advanced students or professionals get caught up in doing a certain number of pirouettes, even when they’re struggling with them. If you can usually do three or four pirouettes but keep falling out of them… don’t keep practicing three or four pirouettes! Dial it back a little and try a double. Or even a single.

Trying to do a nice and controlled double pirouette from start to finish can tell you a lot about your alignment, spot, timing.. everything that is needed to, properly, do multiple pirouettes. Once you’ve figured out what you were doing incorrectly, you will be back to your usual number in no time.

Pirouette with Your Body, Not Your Arms


Its a common mistake to try to whip your arms around, or to focus so intently on them that they seem to make up 90% of your pirouette. It should be the exact opposite. Try instead to think of your whole body, equally, making the pirouette position. If anything, you want to focus more strength on your standing leg, making sure it is straight and your retiré leg is properly attached in a nice and high position.

The tip here is that arms in pirouettes are just for decoration. If you always rely on whipping your arms into first position, how would that work if the pirouette is instructed to go straight to a high fifth instead? It wouldn’t. Also, if you tend to whip and focus too much on your arms, there’s a good chance you’ll be throwing them around which will cause your torso to become misaligned with your legs.

Keep Your Chin Level for Easier Spotting


Thinking of keeping your chin level will translate to a better aligned head and neck, which makes your spot smoother and pirouettes easier.

Your head and neck play a big role in allowing you to to turn and spot.  In order for this to be a fluid and efficient movement (that is also easier to balance and continue turning with) the line of your chin needs to be parallel with the floor. When the line of your chin is parallel, it means your head can turn around your neck more smoothly.  Try not to dip your chin, or have it too high, or it will throw off your alignment and make it harder to balance and turn your axis.

This tip is really keeping your head and neck better aligned, but many dancers find its easier to think about the position of their chin.

Align Your Neck for Easier Spotting


Sometimes a dancer’s neck, in an effort to turn more, sticks out forward, out of alignment with the spine. Having your neck forward makes it harder for the essential mechanism of a turn to work… your spot! Take a look in the mirror and make sure your neck is straight and inline with your spine. Try to focus on how this alignment feels. If it feels very uncomfortable, it may be because your neck is always too far forward and your posture is always out of alignment; you shouldn’t have to force your neck back.

The pirouette tip here is to always be aware of the line of your neck. If you properly place your neck in line with your spine at barre, it will translate into good posture, which helps your pirouettes because your body is properly aligned. Another image that may help is to feel a connection, like a rod, between the back of your head, into your neck, down your back and into your standing leg and on to the floor.

With your neck properly aligned, it will be easier to spot because its on the axis you’ve created, not sticking out in front of it.

Strengthen Your Ankles and Legs for Stable Pirouettes


Dancers who often come off releve, but appear to be mostly aligned, may need to strengthen their ankles and legs. If releving more than a couple seconds really tires out your calf muscles quickly, you need to try some therapy band exercises to improve the strength in your ankles and calves.

A great exercise is the simple flex and point with a therapy band around your foot; an exercise that strengthens both your ankles and calves. Also, make sure your standing leg is getting to a fully stretched position once you releve. If your standing leg isn’t engaged and maintaining a strong, straight position, it will be hard to do any number of pirouettes. At the barre, try some fondu exercises that go into releve, really feeling that your leg is straightening fully with your foot getting to your highest demi-pointe.

Keep a Loose Neck while Spotting


Its is a common mistake to force your spot in pirouettes. Much like other steps in ballet technique where you should engage your muscles, not tense them, to maintain a position, your spot is no different. If you tense your neck and thrash your head around in an effort to make an “active” spot, it will only work against you, causing you to lose your balance.

Improve your pirouettes by keeping a loose neck and allow your head to move smoothly and quick around as you spot.

About the Author: Christopher Ellis

Christopher Ellis
Chris was a professional ballet dancer for 12 years, dancing at Orlando Ballet, Colorado Ballet, and BalletMet, where he enjoyed performing a variety of soloist and featured roles in classical and contemporary ballets. He trained at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre in Atlanta, GA. Currently, Chris is the Editor of