Even if you are never going to dance ballet in pointe shoes because of gender, casting, dance style or because you are starting ballet at a later age, how to improve pirouettes is important. Pirouettes are fun, showy, and prominent in classical ballet choreography as well as other dance styles.
The postural plumb line is where you start, in looking at what is going to make a pirouette succeed. Firstly, can you stand with good posture?
If so, can you rise up and down, firstly in a cou de pied position, on one leg, without losing your postural plumb line? If so, can you do a series of releves holding a good position, without neck or shoulder strain?
If you do lose it, correct your posture, then see if you lose it going into your demi plie. Is your weight sitting back? Do you lose any placement at the hips? Do you lose any turnout?
If any of the three things above occur, you need to get those fixed and forget about pirouettes until you build strength to maintain the basics of posture, turnout and a correct demi plie. You will still do your pirouettes in your ballet class, but for your daily practice routines, you need a step-by-step approach to get stronger.
If everything is good so far, raise your leg into a retire position and check that no placement gets lost at the hips. If this occurs, you need more stretching in the hip and pelvic area. Or, perhaps you need to rearrange the tension at the hips and you will find that you can get your hips level after all.
While the feeling of the spin is important and not to be lost for the sake of good technique, it is still vital that you be able to do sixteen, twenty-four, and then thirty-two strong releves in retire on both sides, without strain. You need a relaxed neck and shoulders to spot properly in multiple turns.
Especially in pointe shoes, you need to do these repetitive releves, to see that you can stay on one spot and not travel around. If you have trouble with this, use the barre. Check your balance at the bottom of your demi plie, as well as in the releve position. Seeing where your weight wants to go tells you where the weakness, or excess tension is. To build strength is important, and to train the muscle memory properly is too.
The reason why I recommend back-peddling to basic exercises in order to correct or build on an exercise, is because practicing things incorrectly is a waste of time. Asking your teacher for help or getting another student to buddy with you on practicing and correcting each other, is really worth the while.
It is more fun just doing turns, but technical inaccuracies will catch up with you and hold you back. Instantly, when you put on pointe shoes.
On your rest day, be sure to relax, stretch out the tired and tense muscles, using a rubber ball for the tight and tender spots. Ice the sore spots for 15 minutes, two or three times a day.
If you have worked so hard in ballet class or rehearsal that your legs are throbbing, lie down and stick them straight up the wall for a few minutes. It is easy to fall asleep that way...
Whenever you find yourself thinking "how can I improve..." just go back to the basic, slow motion movement to discover what classical ballet principle of technique is missing. Regardless of your dance style, simple ballet exercises done well, build strength. And then it is even more fun.
Click here to get the definitive home practice manual written by an expert dance medicine specialist, The Perfect Pointe Book.