Losing your turns
What's a pirouette? Here's the Wikipedia defintion--and, as a former dancer, I can attest to its correctness:
One of the most famous ballet movements; this is where the dancer spins around on demi-pointe or pointe on one leg. The other leg can be in various different positions; the standard one being retiré. Others include the leg in attitude, and grand battement level, second position. They can also finish in arabesque or attitude positions. A pirouette can be en dehors - turning outwards, starting with both legs in plie, or en dedans - turning inwards.
The above definition may seem Greek to you (actually, of course, French) but to me the terms are as familiar as English. The terminology of ballet, repeated to me from the age of four till my late thirties, when I quit dancing, gets drummed into the brain until it becomes reflexive.
The diagram, for instance, shows an en dehors turn, since the dancer is spinning in the opposite direction from the leg supporting her weight, and her other leg is held in the postion known as passe.
But I'm not here to teach you dance--fortunately for both of us, since that would be quite a trick, online. I want to talk about the psychological phenomenon every dancer knows about, which is known as "losing your turns."
All of dance is hard for the dancer, although it's incredibly satisfying and rewarding, a completely absorbing meshing of the physical, musical, artistic, and spiritual. But turns are notoriously, especially hard for most people.
Certain people are different, however; they're that rare phenomenon known as "natural turners." Some strange trick of brain and inner ear, some unusual sense of centered balance, allows them to turn easily almost from the moment the step is first introduced to them. Natural turners almost never lose their turns; but the rest of us not only have to struggle to learn to turn, but always retain the perception that the knack can be lost.
Every person has a preferred side to which turning is easier, almost always the right. There have been only a few famous dancers who are/were "left-turners" (the extraordinary Fernando Bujones and the elegant Anthony Dowell come to mind), so most ballet choreography features turns to the right. The favored side for turning has no relation to handedness, by the way; it's an entirely separate issue (I'm left-handed and a right turner, for example).
So the way the brain is structured is definitely part of what makes turns easy or hard. Turns are also especially challenging because, more than any other part of ballet, they require strength and relaxation in almost equal measure. Tension is a great turn-killer, especially tension of the head and neck, which have to work together to move fluidly in the manner known as "spotting" in order to avoid getting too dizzy (spotting involves keeping the eyes on a single "spot" until the last moment of the turn, and then whipping the head around quickly to come back and focus on that object again).
The best comparison I can think of is to baseball: the batter's swing and the pitcher's curve ball. Both are notorious for disappearing for unknown reasons, sometimes for a long time (sometimes ending a career, actually), and then mysteriously reappearing. When a batter loses his swing, he works with a coach, trying to locate the problem, fine-tuning things till it returns.
Likewise with dancers. You can see them practicing their turns after class, over and over and over, looking in the ever-present mirror to see if they can detect that elusive flaw that's spoiling their turns. Because when turns go, it's not a pretty sight. Balance is a thing that's either on or off; a person who could once do four flawless revolutions from a single push-off preparation will now have trouble getting around twice--perhaps even hopping to complete the revolutions or, (for a female) falling off pointe, which can involve an ignominious and dangerous pratfall.
Virtually all dancers know that losing one's turns is a possibility every time they take the preparation for a turn (unsually a momentary pause in fourth or fifth position with the knee bend known as a demi-plie, eyes fixed on ahead for the "spotting," arms poised to whip and then close in for a bit of added impetus [see diagram]) . It's a leap--well, not exactly a leap--of faith, a push into the unknown. Will the turn hold? The dancer has to have the confidence that it will, and relax into it, bringing together all his/her technique and knowledge without really thinking about it. It's part of the dancer's body memory, and trust has to enter into it.
Strangely enough, writing a blog has some aspects of this process, too. No, it doesn't have that element of physical release--au contraire, it's physically quite static. But every day, or even several times a day, the blogger faces that blank screen and has to take a little preparation and push off, assuming the turn (of phrase) will come. It's different from other types of writing, because there's so little time to prepare, and even less time to polish. One must produce at a fairly fast clip, digesting the news and what's being said on other blogs (sometimes swallowing whole without chewing enough) and then saying one's piece.
I'm not complaining; it's a self-imposed labor of love. Sometimes I face that blank screen with eager anticipation--I've got an idea, the words flow, and the thing practically writes itself. A quadruple turn, as it were. Other times I cast about for something to say, or I have an idea but my thoughts are hard to sort out, or I realize that to do justice to the topic I'd really have to write a small book. Sometimes the product is only so-so; sometimes I'm just hopping around and fall off pointe. But the next day I usually return to take my place again, make my preparation, and try to relax into the turn with confidence. And, if it doesn't turn out quite right, I try again the next day.