The Anatomy of a Pirouette
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Pirouettes can be tricky and mentally draining. Our goals of hitting 3 pirouettes let alone 10 pirouettes can seem daunting for some dancers. However, having a dance trainer who knows your body and knows dance science can help you achieve the perfect pirouettes. While I could ramble about this topic forever, we’ll keep it simple.
Let’s Talk Alignment
Alignment is crucial for dance technique, especially in ballet. It’s not just crucial because your ballet teacher says so. It’s crucial for optimal performance and efficient muscle activation. When doing a pirouette, the main things to consider for alignment are your hips, spine, and shoulders. Your hips should be facing forward and should be even with each other. Your anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS) should be even. That means no lifting the hip or letting it sink down. The pelvis should be in a neutral position—not arching back or tucking under.
The spine needs to be straight. Of course, some dancers who have spinal misalignments like scoliosis may struggle with this. Ideally, you want your spine to be as straight as you can get it. You’re not leaning forward or back. Your shoulders are right over your hips, and the hips are right over the standing knee.
Many dancers’ shoulders tend to round forward (hello Zoom meetings and texting posture!). By having the shoulders roll back and down toward the scapulae, you’ll be able to have a wider collarbone and open chest to engage the core and keep the trunk in proper alignment.
There’s a lot going on during a pirouette. There’s a lot of muscles that are engaged. The biggest weakness that I see in dancers is lack of hip abductor (sides of the hip) strength. These muscles help STABILIZE your pelvis so you don’t fall over or drop into the standing hip.
Another common mistake I see is lack of latissimus dorsi (“lats” for short) engagement. The latissimus dorsi are two huge muscles that sit on either side of the spine and wrap around the ribcage. The engagement for these muscles is different than just saying “drop your shoulders down.” The activation of the lats feels deeper and greater. This engagement helps keep your core stable and it helps support your body from the backside. In a passé position, your weight naturally leans forward because you have one leg raised in front of your hips. If we don’t engage our musculature on the back side of the body, we’ll fall forward.
What To Do About It
Understanding the anatomy behind a pirouette can be confusing, and training those muscles can be even more difficult to do on your own. The goal of training is always to get your body to move as efficiently as possible. When you move more efficiently, you have more stamina, which means you can dance longer without getting a muscle cramp, for instance.
If you’re trying to work on pirouettes, BodyKinect can help you. Take our 1.5 hour "All About Pirouettes" virtual master class! OR join our new virtual program, "Give Your Turns A Tune-Up" for a 12-week turns transformation.
There’s a lot more to discuss about pirouettes, but the best way to understand it is to FEEL it. Feel the opposite forces acting on your body. Feel the muscles activating when they need. Feel yourself more stable than you’ve ever been. Join us!
If you want to learn more about anatomy in dance technique, check out our Anatomy for Dancers Online Course. You can get 25% off using the code "DANCERS25" at checkout. Click here to learn more.