Spotting is an essential skill for every turn you take.
Good for you but not very palatable, frustrating, occasionally nausea inducing, many dancers approach turns with sighs and trepidation. Turns for most of us are the spinach on the menu of class exercises (and grand allegro is the dessert, am I right?). Spotting is one component of a good turn (and being a good turner).
Turn, turn turn (with apologies to the Byrds)
Put simply (thank you, Wikipedia) spotting is “a technique used by dancers during the execution of various dance turns. The goal of spotting is to attain a constant orientation of the dancer’s head and eyes, to the extent possible, in order to enhance the dancer’s control and prevent dizziness”. Using a spot gives a crisp, clean, focused quality to your turns. It can also help you travel in a straight line when doing traveling turns-or, if you move your spot (trickier) help you travel in a circle (referred to in ballet class as “en manege”). Spotting greatly reduces, but does not eliminate dizziness if you’re doing multiple turns-I found it relieving, if a bit disappointing, when a highly technical dancer friend revealed to me that she still gets dizzy after many revolutions or a long turn combo (you mean I’m not the only one who feels sick after all those turns? Hurrah).
Spotting successfully is achieved when your head and your body rotate at different rates. The goal is to fix your gaze on a single location or “spot” at the beginning of your turn, keep it there as long as possible as your body rotates, and complete your head’s rotation quickly by whipping it around and attempting to see your original “spot”. The effect is a smoothly rotating body with a syncopated head movement. Sounds easy, but (like many things in dance) the easy stuff is the hardest to do successfully. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:
- Dropping or lifting your eyes-Keeping their eyes level works best for most dancers. There are a very few that spot low into the corner for traveling turns, but I confess I have no idea how that works (but if you are one of them feel free to disregard this tip).
- Spotting too small an area-Being a VERY literal type, for many years I thought you were supposed to find a small little place on the wall to focus on-total disaster for my nearsighted childhood eyes. Even now, with contact lenses and 20/20 vision I find it easier to spot a larger region. Bonus tip: don’t spot a person unless they stand statue still.
- Spotting too large an area-An entire wall does not qualify as a spotting location, unless of course your eyes are as big as ET’s.
Now that we know what spotting is, let’s break down the mechanics of how to spot. Here’s an easy exercise to practice your spotting skills:
1. Start by facing something spot-able-a full length mirror if you want to use yourself as a “spot” is good. I used to use my fridge (with a nice arrangement of magnets at the appropriate eye level height).
2. Place your hands on your hips or shoulders.
3. Start to rotate your body around (don’t worry about turning out) and keep your eyes on your spot location.
4. once you’ve reached the point where your head can’t stay in it’s current position, “whip” it around and try to see your spot.
I like to have students do this exercise with the body doing a full rotation in four counts and the head doing it’s rotation on the “&4” to get the syncopation. Make sure you practice both sides (and maybe throw in a few extras on your weaker side).
The more you practice spotting, the better you’ll get, and the less dizzy you’ll be. So eat your spinach (which, by the way, is delicious when lightly steamed or sauteed) and practice your spotting!