The graceful turns of elegant ballerinas are the iconic move that many have come to love about this revered style of dance. Although to the untrained eye, many of these spins and turns may appear indistinguishable, there are in fact certain discernible characteristics which make each one unique. Generally speaking, these types of ballet turns include female and male pirouettes and their offshoots.
Here is a list with the different types of ballet turns that ballerinas employ to craft their captivating performances:
Chaînés, meaning “chains” in French, is a basic two-step turn that is performed when both feet alternate back and forth to keep moving in a line or circle. The continuous movement means that the dancer will complete a full rotation within two steps. As the burden of balance is shared between both legs as opposed to just one, this is considered a relatively easy turn and is among the first taught to aspiring dancers.
This is likely the first turn that comes to mind when most people recall watching a ballet performance. A pirouette is a complete turn of the body on one foot. The supporting foot can be either on pointe or demi-pointe, with the working leg positioned in various configurations.
As the body can rotate in two directions, there are two distinct types of pirouettes: Pirouette en dedans, which is an inward turn a pirouette which turns inwards towards the supporting leg. Pirouette en dehors, on the other hand, is an outwards turn in which the body turns towards the raised leg, so if the dancer turns on the right foot, the dancer turns to the left.
3. Grand Pirouette
This type of striking turn is an expanded form of the basic pirouette. In this bolder configuration, one leg is raised up at 90 degrees. These turns are most often performed by male ballet dancers.
These types of ballet turns begin with the dancer’s feet in the fifth position and continues with a grand battement into second position. The legs lower into demi-plié to propel the turns. The arms start in second position and close in first, the right leg is raised into second with a swift movement for each turn en dehors.
Meaning “whipped” in French, that is exactly what the raised foot does in this animated turn. Creating a “whipping” motion, the foot passes in front of, or behind, the supporting leg to the opposite direction. Although this is the basic premise, there are many types of fouettés and will require basic ballet barre training before it can be mastered.
5. Italian Fouettés
This turn, a variation on the standard fouetté, starts in arabesque. From this position, the dancer goes from a deep plié into a series of relevés en pointe or demi-pointe while swinging the back leg to the front. The arms are also involved in this variation and they alternate positions between first to fifth. These types of ballet turns can be completed in either a full or half turn iteration.
In a half turn, the body moves away from the lifted leg and ends in arabesque. In a full turn, the leg is held infront until the body shifts through arabesque to start the movement again with the leg swept from the back.
6. Russian Fouetté turns
The so-called Russian variation started in the fourth position. From there, the dancer does a pirouette en dehors and then a demi-plié while the working leg is thrown into second. While the supporting leg relevés to pointe the dancer turns bending the working leg’s knee and passing the foot from behind to the front of the supporting leg. At the start of the series, the arms open in second position to follow the leg and are brought into first while turning.
7. Cecchetti Fouetté turns
Very similar to Russian fouettés, in this variation, instead of extending the working leg into second, the dancer first throws the leg towards a crossed front position before sweeping it into second. They then turn while bringing the working foot from the side to the front of the supporting leg.
8. Piqué Tours
Meaning “pricked” or “struck,” this turn can be performed one of two ways. In a piqué tours en dedans, the dancer steps en pointe onto a straight leg and turns while the opposite leg is brought into passé. Alternatively, a piqué tours en dehors works opposingly. In this turn, the dancer steps en pointe onto a straight leg, half turns to place the opposite leg on the floor and picks up the original leg into passé. The turn is then done away from the supporting leg.
Among the most difficult turns in the ballet repertoire, this move is generally taught only to more experienced dancers. In order to complete this turn successfully, a dancer must stand on one leg with the other lifted (either in the front or back), bent at a 145-degree angle, before making the rotation. It requires a great deal of strength and control to perform this turn seamlessly.