People just can’t get enough of turns. Guys lead ’em all the time (some more than they should) and ladies are fixated on them – learning them, working on them, mastering the really difficult ones (like the ubiquitous yet frequently unnecessary one-footed skater spin).
With so much turning going on, and so many spins and turns classes, and so many private lessons dedicated to the subject, it’s a wonder that so few people really excel at turns – either following them or leading them. Sure, there are plenty of naturally gifted dancers, or those who somehow get it right, or those who have years of classical training under their belts. But there are lots of people who don’t have these advantages and still struggle to follow or lead turns comfortably and satisfactorily.
In pretty much every spins and turns class I’ve seen, I’ve watched as the instructor explained in great detail where to put your feet, how to turn on the ball of your foot, and how to execute the timing of your footwork. The thing is, we don’t turn from our feet. We turn from the same place we always do: our centers. And so teachers make lots of corrections – to your posture, to your arms, to your hips, to your shoulders, to your knees, etc. And then we as teachers expect you to make all of these corrections, even as we pull your brains in half a dozen different directions. Doesn’t that sound easy?
It’s not that your footwork isn’t important. It is. Along with all the other corrections any good teacher will make. It’s just that focusing on the center can in and of itself fix a lot of the other problems that dancers have with their turns: incorrect posture, being off balance, tension in the arms and shoulders, not traveling down the slot, slowing down during turns, and many more.
So how do you focus on your center when doing turns? Thinking about the preparation, execution, and finishing of turns in this dance, I would suggest three key pieces of advice:
- Move your center down the slot to make sure your weight is forward over your feet and to establish linear momentum that will carry you down the slot while you turn.
- Turn your belly button around during the turn to ensure you’re turning from your core and maintaining your momentum through the turn.
- Take your center back at the end of the turn to fix any misalignment of your posture, secure your center over your foot, and prepare to anchor.
Spotting your leader will also help (I suggest a soft spot as opposed to the whiplash-inducing hard spot), as will prepping with the center (reaching the sternum forward to expand the ribs in a way that moves your arms outward). Both of these techniques amplify the movement of the center through the rotation.
The center should also be the focus for leaders. At the start of the pattern, leaders should provide a clear linear body lead down the slot before leading any turns or rotation. The prep should then be led from the center, and while the turn will be executed using the arms, the arms should gently guide and shape the follower’s movement rather than changing or disrupting it. In short, the leader should do the least necessary with the arms, always guiding the follower down the slot with his center, and always paying attention – to her feet, to her balance, and to her timing for multiple turns.
What do you think of focusing on the center instead of other areas for improving turns? What issues do you face with your own turns and how might focusing on the center improve them? How were you taught to turn or to lead turns? Teachers, what is your approach to teaching turns? What techniques or exercises have you found most effective for your students?