For many years teaching how to turn was inconceivable; natural turners were born with the knowledge and the feeling of it.  In the 1960s Rudolf Nureyev and Yuri Soloviev of The Kirov Ballet reshaped the definition of pirouettes (turns on full or three-quarter pointe on one leg) by making both relevé (a rise from the whole foot to demie, three-quarter or full pointe) and grand retiré (a position that requires the working leg to have its foot pointed to the front-side of the supporting leg’s knee) higher.


Tendu à la seconde                        Plié à la seconde                      Un grand retiré à côté


Today with proper training almost every student can learn how to turn.  There is however a number of rotations that is predetermined for each person by the amount of force that they can produce according to their body types.  Natural turners understand how to go up on their leg quicker than the others and they can generate a greater amount of momentum because of their special proportion that facilitates the process.  Yet to improve, they must also learn how to turn as one solid piece by obeying certain rules such as:

  • Maintaining a balance on one leg with high relevé
  • Activating the upper body
  • Spotting


Maintaining a balance on one leg with high relevé:

One leg balance is the key to success if a pupil wants to turn multiple pirouettes.  A helpful tip would be to imagine the whole body as a top, a triangle where the bottom of it is the shoulders and the pointy part is the ball of the foot.  The student must learn how to keep most of his weight on the ball of his foot (meaning on the toes) since during the turns he has to rise (to relevé) to decrease the friction.  All five toes should be on the floor yet the weight distribution should incline toward the big toe and not the little toe.  With daily training, he must strengthen his ankles and build stamina to increase the amount of pirouettes.  When all joints are aligned correctly (foot, ankle, knee, hip and neck), he will reach a very stable equilibrium, giving an effortless and weightless impression to the audience.

Some modern teaching styles insist on leaving the weight equally on the heel and on the ball of the foot (being grounded) to gain better overall control and speed.  However a dancer who wants to go on pointe has no other option than elevating on the tip of the toes where the whole weight will ultimately be carried.  The sensation of it is as close as it gets to executing a movement in the center, on one leg, up in the air with multiple turns: The Supreme Goal of the Classical Ballet Training.


Activating the upper body:


90 degrees                                         89 degrees (correct position)


Correct position


Elongating the entire spine primarily is the back bone of the Classical Ballet Training.  When executed properly, the torso will be about at an 89° angle in lieu of a right angle.  This may feel awkward at the beginning but since the toes are slightly in front, the weight distribution is marginally on the big toes and the spine is in an S-shape even in its straightest posture, it makes common sense.  A perfect preparation for pirouettes would consist of:

  • a pulled up upper spine (the neck).
  • a precisely leveled head and chin (ready to spot).
  • an impeccable second, fourth or fifth position with a correct plié (a movement that requires the bending of the knee or knees without rolling the working foot forward) where most of the weight 60% is on the supporting leg, and the rest 40% on the working leg (In fifth position since there is no space between the two legs, the weight should be equally distributed on both legs.)



The arms should open (only from the elbows, keeping the shoulders horizontally in the same place) when doing plié, and they should close with relevé.



We should realize that at the barre, when we do a plié our supporting arm lifts up a tad and does not come down with us.



During the preparation for pirouettes, the same notion should be carried out by elongating the arms slightly higher than the starting point.  That way both arms will bear their own weight, be active and reach an ideal position with a high relevé by creating a horizontal oval shape with the middle fingers nearly touching in between the navel and the beginning of the sternum (second arm position in my new concept.)

Having the forearms nigher from the elbows to the body will produce a more controllable arm position for pirouettes.  The supporting arm should never be left behind and closing the arms gradually may offer more force.



Spotting is glancing over the shoulder and then with the snap of the head turning it sharply.  A common mistake is to leave the chin up in the preparation as we are programmed to look graceful and confident by doing so.

Focusing with the eyes, being extroverted and conscious about a precisely leveled head will ensure that “the glancing over the shoulder” does not happen in an inclined head position.

The amount of spotting is directly responsible for the amount of pirouettes and when a dancer performs it correctly, it prevents him from getting dizzy.

Utilizing a turn board and wearing contact lenses would also greatly improve the ability to spot since eyeglasses are unsafe during ballet class.

Every student must learn how to spot multiple times in a row by practicing daily and habitually since no other specific exercise would teach the exact feeling of it.

We should always spot where we are going to end, and stop turning when we reach our highest three-quarter relevé (a ballerina who is on pointe will continue to spin as long as she pulls up on her leg.)

Watch Cem Catbas do quintuple pirouettes.

Watch Cem Catbas do 32 à la seconde turns.

Watch Cem Catbas spot 9 times from a different angle.