I have gotten lots of emails with very urgent questions about how to turn en pointe well. I had this problem for a long time, and I just recently got over my fear! So, here is the answer to all of your questions.
Getting Over the Fear
The biggest problem with people turning en pointe is that they are too scared. When we are scared, our bodies tend to tense up, especially in our neck and head area. This restricts and deters us from freely spotting our head, and therefore being able to go around for multiple rotations. So, you could think of what you’re aiming for – to loosen and relax your neck …but it may be more effective to dig down to the root of the problem.
The question you can ask yourself is: why are you scared to turn en pointe in the first place? You can do four turns on flat, but you can barely get around for a double en pointe. Professionals tell you that turning en pointe is easier for them because there is less friction! This seems like a very distant and exotic statement to you at the moment.
Trust me, I’ve been there. The key to getting over your fear is to embrace it and just practice again and again. The more you turn en pointe, the easier it will become over time. In ballet, sometimes there is a “click,” as we like to call it, or an “aha moment.” With turning en pointe, that never really happened for me. All of a sudden I was just going around two times with ease, and triples are slowly approaching in my repertoire. You have to perform a movement a certain amount of times before neural-muscle memory sets in. Therefore, the key to being able to turn en pointe well is to practice!
The Short-Term Struggle
Our teachers love to push us and put difficult steps in performances or dances that we can’t necessarily do well yet. We’ve all been there – 16 fouettes en pointe is a required part of the curriculum, and therefore it’s in the end of year dance! Well, hardly anybody can do 16 fouettes en pointe! However, I do have some tricks for improving your turns in the short term.
When we are on stage, our fear gets even more intense and our neck and face muscles get even more tense. If your dance is full of turns, you need to make sure that you can feel the rhythm of your head spot and the wonderful feeling of turning without freaking yourself out. If you practice like a crazy person in the minutes before your performance, often times you will freak yourself out and not be able to turn at all. This will make the problem even worse!
One of my favorite tools for this purpose is the turn board (purchase here). You can do 6 or 7, even 10 turns, without worrying about your balance or how it will actually go in the performance. It’s an amazing avenue to just let go and feel your head spot. I love doing it before a performance because it makes it easier to feel the release of all your tension mid-turn. I highly recommend this technique!
To turn you also need equilibrium. Make sure you are balancing well at the barre and practicing the position you need to turn in. One thing that has really helped me is just doing repetitive double pirouettes en pointe facing the mirror. After every rotation, look at your position in the mirror and see what’s out of line. That will help you recognize your bad habits. As long as you apply those corrections in your actual dancing, your turns will improve very quickly.
All in all, turning en pointe is all about practice and turning repetitively. Good luck to all of you with performances soon, and have a great time in your Nutcrackers! I’m currently heading into my second weekend of shows. 🙂