5 Safe and Effective Ways To Use A Spin Board

8:50 AM

Spin boards, or Turn Boards were actually created for ice skaters, not ballet or jazz dancers. Dancers  on the ice need to be used to spinning very quickly on a flat foot, and maintaining their balance, whereas dancers who work on relevé in a shoe have a totally different alignment required for their turn.

What does this mean for your pirouettes?

It means that if you're practicing your dance turns on a spin board, you're doing more harm than help.

  • Spin boards give the dancer Centrifugal force, rather than opposition.
  • Spin boards make the dancer turn fast, which is not good turning (good turns are slow and controlled).
  • Spin boards train the dancer to spot too quickly, and the dancer can't break the spot down into the 3 specific parts that are necessary for a good spot! (Did you know there are 3 parts to a spot? More on that later!)

But that doesn't mean they're useless! Here are 5 great exercises to do with a spin board that will make a HUGE difference in your technique.

One last note - Spin boards can be great ways for dancers to learn to do more than 6 pirouettes. But they should not be used for turns before you have 4 or 5 turns consistently! That means every time you try for 5, you nail it. When you can't hit 6 or 7, that's when I'd pull out a spin board.

Spin Board, Turn board, Pirouettes, turning tips, dancers

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#1 - Basic exercise - Activation of the Piriformis
This exercise helps dancers find their piriformis, or their "seat." The muscle is a very small muscle under the pelvis, and is the supporting muscle for maintaining turnout. When your teacher says "Squeeze your butt," she's talking about the piriformis.
  1. Begin standing on 2 spin boards in parallel position (feet apart, hip width).
  2. Demi plié with the tailbone down, and activate the seat. You should feel like you're trying to turn your hip knobs, but don't allow yourself to actually turn. You are now activating the piriformis).
  3. Stretch the knees straight, maintaining the activation in the piriformis and the length of the tailbone.
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#2 - Movement exercise - Rotation of the Hip
This helps dancers feel where rotation comes from, how to properly turn out without cheating, and how to use the piriformis (as mentioned above) to maintain and keep their rotation while dancing. It is eye-opening to say the least!
  1. Begin standing on 2 spin boards in parallel position. 
  2. Rotate the legs, slowly, to 90 degrees. 
  3. Feel yourself hold and maintain the rotation without letting it slip. When you can do this, increase the rotation of your hip until you feel that you've reached your full range of motion. Check that the tailbone is lengthened (note, not "tucked!" just lengthened.) 
  4. Demi plié in your full rotation, and stretch the legs straight, maintaining the rotation.
  5. Control your legs back to parallel position (i.e. don't just let them go back - be in charge of the turning of the knobs back to parallel).

#3 - Before You Learn To Turn - Deep Lateral Rotator Exercise 
This should be a requirement for all dancers before they learn to do a pirouette. If you cannot maintain the position stable, how are you going to maintain it while moving?
  1. Begin in parallel position on one spin board, with the other foot in retiré.
  2. Turn out the working leg, keeping the standing leg stable and not letting it rotate (engaging the seat), then rotating back to parallel.
  3. Turn out the standing leg, keeping the working leg stable, and return to parallel.
  4. Turn out both legs, and return to parallel. 
  5. When students can do this with strength and control, repeat the exercise in relevé. 
If the student is majorly struggling with this exercise, ask them to do it in sur le coups de pied instead of retiré.

#4 - Spotting - Partner Spot
This is awesome for students who are ready to turn, but who struggle with a correct and effective spot. 

  1. Have the dancer begin in retire or sur le coups de pied, in a rotated and turned out position. The arms can be in 1st, 2nd, or on shoulders.
  2. The partner should check that the dancer is flat and in good alignment (advanced dancers can execute this on relevé).
  3. The student should look straight forward at themselves in the mirror. The teacher or assistant should hold the dancer's hands or arms and begin to move the dancer as if they were doing a pirouette. The dancer should keep their eyes and chin pointed towards themselves in the mirror the whole time.
  4. When the dancer has reached the extent of their neck range of motion, begin turning the dancer back around the other direction. 
Advanced version:
Once the student can sufficiently "Leave the head," they can begin practicing a spot in the same position. move the dancer to a quarter turn, let go of the dancer, and allow them to spot their head in order to get around. It is important that the teacher does not push or turn the dancer - stop the dancer a little past the quarter turn position, and let go! The dancer will then spot their head, find their eyes in the mirror again, and maintain balance. 

5. Rotation and Balance - Promenade 
This is a highly advanced exercise designed for teaching students to execute promenade correctly, but also helps strengthen the muscles in the ankles, and improve balance.

  1. Begin in a turned out sur le coups de pied or retiré position.
  2. Working slowly, do a promenade around by turning out the standing leg and allowing the spin board to move. (This is an en de dans promenade).
  3. If you are sufficient in the en de dans promenade, you can try an en de hors promenade, which is much harder on the spin board! You'll have to be fully in control of your rotation and your body.

Bonus Ideas!
  • Do your pliés on 2 spin boards, rotating every time you plié and relevé, and trying to maintain your rotation. Make sure your turnout isn't coming from your ankles!
  • Work through this releve combination on 2 spin boards for extra burn in your turnout.
  • Do a simple adagio in the center on your spin board. (a series of developpes, rond de jambe en l'air, and promenades work great for this).

What other things can you do with a spin board besides spin?

Photo credit: kcdsTM via Visual Hunt / CC BY

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