Improving Spotting

Spotting is a giant part of pirouettes.  Today’s video and blog post will teach you the anatomy and physiology of the head spot as well as how that all relates back to the mechanics and importance of spotting in ballet and dance turns.

I hope this tutorial, reading, and video really helps you improve your technique and pirouettes.  A great companion to this information is my Improving Pirouettes blog post.  If you would like a corresponding video for the blog post there, please leave a request on the Requests page.  Thanks so much for reading, and let’s jump right in!


Importance of spotting

In a pirouette, the spot does the following:

  • Provides enough force for the turn
  • Helps with balance by preventing dizziness
  • Secures the number of turns you would like to be completed in the pirouette

Let’s go more in depth with the first one: providing force.  The spotting motion of your head, or the whipping around of the heaviest part of your body, naturally gives a lot of motion for the turn.  If the spot is not performed properly, you don’t have adequate force for the turn.  Then, you will begin to compensate that lack of force by doing other weird things in your turn – such as winding up with your arms or turning in your supporting leg before you begin to turn.

I mentioned this word in the paragraph above – but let’s talk about it again really quick.  Compensation.  How is it defined in the dictionary?  Something, typically money, awarded to someone as a recompense for loss, injury, or suffering.  Well, in our case, that money is force, and what is being compensated for is the lack of it.  Our technique is suffering from the lack of force, so we create other little habits to help us get around that loss of the spot.

These little habits that we’ve created are really hard habits to break.  So, if you aren’t spotting right from the beginning, it’s very difficult to learn how to.

So, all of that wrapped up in one thesis statement: Young ones reading this, please practice spotting, and don’t turn unless you know how to spot.  There we have it.

Anatomy and physiology of the spot

The spot is a movement of the head across the transverse plane.  The transverse plane runs through the center of your body across the hips.  It is the only horizontal body plane.  Here’s a photo of the transverse plane:


(The red line indicates the transverse plane)

As I mentioned in the video, imagining this plane elevated to just below the chin creates an ideal visualization technique that can be utilized in order to create an even head movement and stable center while turning and spotting.  In other words, if we think of the head moving swiftly across the transverse plane, it will prevent a twisting motion that will ultimately throw you off balance.

As I mentioned very briefly above, the head is the heaviest part of your body.  If you are throwing it all over the place and giving it a weird motion in your spot, it’s going to pull you off balance, and it’s going to ruin your turn.  So, it’s important that we learn how to spot across the transverse plane before we actually jump right in and start turning.

So, now let’s dive SUPER DEEP into some anatomy of the neck and cervical spine.  So, your first and second vertebrae at the very top of your spine have special names.  The very top vertebrae is called the atlas, and the 2nd is called the axis.  Here’s a quick diagram:


Okay.  so, can you see the little, round-like protrusion that is sticking out above the atlas vertebrae?  It is labeled the “Ondontoid peg.”  This is one of the most important parts of spotting.

The technical name for this is the ondontoid process, but it is very commonly known as the dens.  It actually originates at the top of the axis and inserts up through the atlas.  It then attaches to the skull.  This is the bone that allows the head to rotate on the transverse plane (a.k.a. spotting).  Here’s a quick diagram of axis vertebrae and the ondontoid process:


So, basically, you need to be thinking of that little process sticking up and rotating your head.  It’s just like putting a marshmallow on a sewing needle.  If you spin the marshmallow is it going to wiggle around and fall off?  Of course not!  That little process is the sewing needle, and your head is a giant marshmallow.

(Wonderful analogy, right?)

Specification in spotting

Another extremely important component of spotting is the specification of your spot itself.  If you are spotting a “general area” such as a “yourself in the mirror,” does that mean that you’re spotting your left ear?  Your eyes?  YOUR FEET???!!!  (that’s not good.)  If you choose a very specific and well-placed spot for your turn, the less likely you are to miss it, therefore doing a weird twisting motion.

So, now you ask, “Where shall I spot?”  Well, that’s a very nice question.  Your eye level changes from plié to flat to a relevé to pointe to a jump.  So, if you are spotting eye level, you should definitely not choose that place on flat.  As you rise up to relevé for your turn, look at your FOREHEAD.  If you look at your eyes, that’s really close to looking down.  If you spot your forehead, it’s going to be a REALLY BAD spot if you end up looking down.

You ask me, why is it so bad to be below eye level?  Well…IF YOU LOOK DOWN, YOU FALL DOWN!!!  That’s the basics of getting from point A to point B in ballet.  Never, ever, ever look down.  Got it?  Good.

Review and further reading

This is a new section that I would like to be inserting into my anatomy and very informational posts.  This will be a list of important concepts in addition to links to other articles on this blog and other videos to help you develop your knowledge and understanding of the topics mentioned here.

Important concepts:

  • Spotting is important because it…
    • Provides enough force for the turn (prevents compensation)
    • Helps with balance by preventing dizziness
    • Secures the number of turns you would like to be completed in the pirouette
  • The ondontoid process provides for your head’s movement across the transverse plane (originates on the axis or 2nd vertebrae).  Imagine your head spinning on a needle as you turn.
  • It’s important to be specific in both the narrowness of your spot and the actual location of the spot.

Vocabulary to remember:

  • Spotting: The sharp returning of the head to a certain spot in order to provide force, help balance, and secure the number of rotations in a pirouette.
  • Compensation: Making up for the loss of a spot by doing other bad habits in order to increase force.

Further reading:

  • Improving Pirouettes: This is a blog post I did about improving all types of turns and pirouettes (piqué turns, step over turns, en dehors, en dedans, etc.).  Please request a corresponding video if you would like one.
  • Attitude and Arabesque Turns: This blog post is designed to help you with turns and balances in attitude devant/derrière and arabesque.  Spotting is also a necessary mastery before these skills and concepts can be completed.
  • Anatomy and Physiology Terms Flashcards Set: This can be very helpful to aid in your learning of the lingo I put to use in anatomy and technique blog posts like this one.  They are awesome Quizlet sets I’ve created for you – if you find any typos, please comment on its corresponding blog post!

Thanks for reading today’s blog post and watching the video.  I hope you absolutely love it and find everything very useful.

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