Double Pirouettes, Saut de Basques and Ballet Brain-Freeze

Since coming back to class in the New Year there has been some trying times. Before Christmas there would be a few random ‘time for doubles’ thrown in during various combinations. After Christmas these random doubles became regular doubles. Week after week ‘time for doubles’ has filled me with absolute dread. Even more so when combinations are done in groups as there is NO hiding.
Great, another reason to go into pirouette-panic-mode. Throw in some stupid jump-turn-things from the corner at the end of class last week that you cannot do because you are suffering from a case of ballet brain-freeze, and you get a full ballet break down. Somehow that ballet high you enjoy after class every week has been replaced with a big dark cloud of ballet doubt.


Ballet doubt is a horrible thing. For two years you float along through ballet class every week. You get better at things. You learn pirouettes, a few fouettés, you enjoy big jumps and are surprised at how quickly you can pick up combinations compared to just a year ago. You get pointe shoes! Your technique may not be perfect but there isn’t anything that has been thrown at you that you haven’t been able to conquer over a few classes. Then all of a sudden, even after those few classes you realise you’re not getting any better at anything. In fact, some things have gotten worse, like not being able to pirouette on the demi with a straight supporting leg.
Yes that is me. See what the dreaded doubles can do to you!

I hit a ballet brick wall.

I had to something about it because I have been in love with ballet for such a long time and I wasn’t prepared to let it go that easily. No matter how grey it was making me feel.

Firstly the posé turns needed sorting. Well, actually not so much the turns but the ability to spot properly while executing these turns. Spotting has been a long ongoing problem for me. I have gone from my head turning as though it is fused to my neck and my neck is fused to my body, to ‘double spotting’ (head almost getting round but just using my eyes to spot the rest of the way). And then there are days when I spot properly, head moving all the way round, eyes focusing on the same spot wherever I am going and then I think I have had a breakthrough. I can guarantee you that the next class will always be back to ‘double spotting’ or not even spotting at all.
Now, call me slow (two years of posé turns) but I think I may have had this breakthrough in class the other day. Whenever I have been told I am spotting correctly, I get dizzy. I don’t get dizzy when I do it wrong. So I corrected myself, turned my head round just that little bit further, got dizzy and was told I was doing it right. Two years of not spotting properly because it makes me dizzy. Spotting makes me dizzy. This is back to front.

Oh well, two out of three problems addressed.

Next on the list was the stupid jump-turn-things. These are better known in their correct term of Saut de Basques. When we did them last week for the first (?) time, memories of getting frustrated with the horse in horse-riding lessons came flooding back. That horse would get to the jumps and just stop, stalling, not moving regardless of what I was wanting it to do. Off the horse I got, and riding crop thrown down on the ground, and out of the arena the 9-year-old me stomped.

Stomping out of ballet class is exactly what I wanted to do. I could see exactly which foot I was supposed to jump off on and land on but hell, my brain was not sending ANY messages to my feet. Having failed miserably at any attempt of a double pirouette just before the stupid jump-turns, I was not feeling my best. Deflated, yes. Questioning my abilities, very much so. Feeling like a complete idiot, like never before. Regardless of how many times I was shown these steps my feet were not moving. My brain had frozen up. This was ballet brain-freeze at its worst.

Over the next week, I tried figuring out these steps in my head. Nope, could not get my head around them. I must have watched a 7 second youtube video thirty times of some guy doing saut de basques. It still didn’t go in.

Then, I went to have a little go at them in the kitchen yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t stop doing them! Just like that.
They say it is more difficult to pick up ballet if you learn as an adult. I don’t think that they said it would take a week for your brain to s-l-o-w-l-y process the steps so you could execute them.

Two out of three.

And then there’s the third problem. Double Pirouettes.

You can’t turn like Tamara Rojo, if you don’t practise like Tamara Rojo.

When I first started taking ballet classes I used to practise the things I couldn’t do in that week’s class so that I could do them in the next. I remember being shoved into intermediate class after around four beginners classes as beginners had been cancelled and thinking ‘what the hell are my feet supposed to be doing’ when we did frappés. (I left that dance school shortly afterwards). They are pointed then not? But this is ballet, your feet should be pointed. I spent the next week practising in the kitchen so that in the next class I could do them.
When we moved house and I got enough room AND wooden floors I spent weeks practising fouetté turns. When pointe shoes came along, I must have done a hundred relevés and echappés so that I was decent enough in class.

Recently I lost all pirouetting ability all because of the word ‘doubles’. In full panic mode, I went from clean singles to falling out of balance, turning on a bent supporting leg, turning on a low demi instead of a strong high one. I started to dread the moment in class when we began our turning combinations.

I needed to do something. Here’s the recipe to fix the dreaded doubles.

Listen to Tamara even when you’re not at the Prix de Lausanne or a budding ballerina/danseur. She says dream big, have confidence in yourself. I felt as though I had completely lost mine. Why not dream big and better yourself even as an amateur?
Dissect your pirouettes. Start with the preparation, the relevé. I repeated this part over and over, in front of a mirror in the kitchen, making sure it was strong, constantly pulling up, and balancing in passé.
Spotting. My long ongoing issue with spotting. I realised the reason I was not spotting was because I was too busy watching the rest of my body making sure it was doing the right thing. I used the mirror and placed it so I could only see my head, and repeated single pirouttes until my head was spotting properly. Hint: If you can take in the rest of your surroundings with your eyes as you turn, you aren’t spotting properly. That head should be getting round.
After a lot of singles, some bad, some good and clean, making sure that I didn’t come down until I had turned that full 360 degrees, I moved on to doubles.
Over and over again, on both sides.
I managed clean doubles turning to the right and a couple to the left (weaker side).
This all took an hour.
My legs and butt muscles were aching a little by the end, but by the time I got to class that night I was looking forward to attempting these properly.
My singles were clean and strong, but more importantly I am no longer scared of doubles and even managed to execute some during combinations without falling out of them and panicking about them first.

In fact, I am already looking forward to doing some more. I definitely feel some more doubles practise in the kitchen before next class.

I’m back in the ballet-game, and I am not letting ballet get the better of me again.

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