What Is a Pirouette?
A pirouette (French for “turning”) is a simple ballet turn in which the ballerina spins 360 degrees on one foot. Pirouettes can be done “en dehors,” when you spin away from the supporting leg, or “en dedans,” when you spin toward the supporting leg. When you begin a pirouette, you can start from second position, fourth position, or fifth position, though fourth is the most common and is the best choice for beginners.
While a single pirouette is a great beginning step, it’s also a foundational movement for more experienced ballet dancers. After you learn a single pirouette, you’ll be much more prepared for more complex steps that build on it —from double pirouettes to triple pirouettes to fouettés.
How to Do a Pirouette in 5 Steps
Here are the steps for a perfect pirouette:
- Get into position. Start in fourth position, making sure that you feel balanced and stable. Both of your legs should be straight. Deciding which arm is in front depends on the choreography requirements. For example, if the choreography requires that your right leg stays in front of your body, your left arm should be the one extended out ahead of you. (If you’re performing freestyle, the choice is up to you.)
- Do a plié. Pliés, French for bend, are a simple movement in which you bend with your knees without your heels leaving the ground. Your pirouette should start with a plié to give you the momentum to spring up into your pirouette. Learn how to do a plié in our guide here.
- Push off into retiré position. From your plié, push off with your back foot to begin your turn. When you push off, pull yourself up into retiré position (also called passé), where one leg is on the ground in demi-pointe (or full pointe, if you’re wearing pointe shoes), and the other leg is drawn up so that your foot is touching your supporting leg’s knee.
- Turn. Hold your retiré position and allow your body to spin in a complete turn using the momentum from pushing off with your back leg. To maintain your balance when you spin, it’s vital that you “spot,” which is the practice of choosing a spot to look at while you turn, only taking your eyes off of the spot to snap your head back around. Spotting helps keep your head and eyes oriented, which stops you from getting dizzy or looking unpolished while you twirl. When spotting, make sure your head completes a turn before your body does—not only will this also help avoid dizziness, it will also give you a little extra momentum.
- Turn into finishing position. To keep your pirouette looking graceful, come to a controlled stop, returning to your starting position—most often, this will be the fourth position. The finish is what the audience will remember most, so be sure to practice this without appearing dizzy or off-balance.
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