Teaching Waltz Turn

Teaching Waltz Turn

When I was 11 years old, I had my first encounter with waltz turns. I can look back at the situation and laugh now, but in the moment it was terrifying and slightly traumatizing. I won’t go into the story here (perhaps another time), but I will not ever forget the impression it had on me which is: When I grow up and teach ballet my students will never be tormented by waltz turns like I have been!

Through the years, I have explored a variety of ways to teach waltz turns and, like most movements in ballet, there are a variety of ways to actually do a waltz turn. Today I would like to outline my chosen method for teaching the step. I have been using it for years now and have found that it brings a needed sense of organization to a step that can easily become jumbled and confused. It also establishes a base students can build upon and adjust for other types of waltz turns.

But First . . . Wait.

I don’t begin teaching waltz turn until around nine years old or until the students are able to:

  • Control their movements to a basic degree.

WHY? Having the ability to control the down and up in a waltz turn is vital because that is pretty much the essence of waltzing.

  • Dance in time with music without a struggle.

WHY? Dancing with the 1-2-3 is another large piece to the waltzing puzzle.

  • Chainé both directions (clean technique is not required, but coordination and mechanics are).

WHY? The turn in waltz turn is usually what trips dancers up the most. Having a basic understanding of how to rotate their body with coordination helps simplify this issue.

The Method

This method is based primarily on using layers (could also be referred to as levels or challenges or any other term that signifies building one concept on top of another). The layers move in this order:

STAGE ONE: PRELIMINARY

1) Walking = Waltzing. I tell my students if they can walk, then they can waltz.

Exercise: We walk down the room as a group. No set tempo. Simply walk with the focus on what it means to walk.

2) Use 1-2-3. Explain the concept of dancing in 3. We count 1-2-3-1-2-3, etc together a few times so they understand fully.

Exercise: We walk down the room counting our steps in 3. We do this together as a group so I set the tempo and everyone is walking in unison.

3) Emphasis On ONE. They are taught the emphasis of the counting and the movement is on ONE.

Exercise: We walk down the room again as before in unison with each first step of 1-2-3 being obviously heavier than the following two steps (I encourage them to almost stomp the first step of each phrase). This time I ensure everyone begins on the same foot.

*NOTE—At this point, some issues may arise. Adding this layer highlights if they can control their movements well enough to move on to the next layer. If their footing becomes mixed up and they are going down on the same foot at the beginning of each phrase, then they need to remain here until it becomes natural. I often count like this: “RIGHT-2-3, LEFT-2-3, RIGHT-2-3, LEFT-2-3” (really emphasizing the RIGHT and LEFT).

4) Up-Up. With count 1 being a heavy down step, they are ready to add up-up to the counts 2-3.

Exercise: Same one as #3. This time we add going up to demi pointe on counts 2-3.

*NOTEIf this goes well as a group, I will find music in a slow 3 and have them go across one or two at a time. I always have them do a short music study first so they clearly understand how the movement fits with the music.

**NOTE—Continue to watch for organized footwork. If this stage is not established, then the following stages will present many challenges.

STAGE TWO: WALTZ EN AVANT

With the basic walking/waltz movement in place we can move on to an official waltz en avant.  From this point forward music is incorporated into all exercises and movement should be done in time with music.  (Do choose music that works with the students’ abilities and not against it.)

1) Add Port De Bras. Give them one place to hold their arms.

Exercise: Begin UL, effacé devant R (demi 2nd).

1-24    8 waltz en avant.

            *No finish

2) Add The Finish. Whatever finish you choose, keep it simple and do be sure to explain thoroughly how to move from the last waltz into the finish. Attention to these small details makes an enormous difference.

3) Add Technique. Technical elements implemented will depend largely on where your students are. But I tend to begin with:  high demi pointe, stretched legs when up, supported plié when down, arms held in front of body, body held tall and still.

4) Put It In Something. When the previous layers are accomplished and you can feel the students aching for more of a challenge because it is just entirely too easy now, we stay. We keep the simple waltz en avant in place and instead add a challenge by placing the waltz into a small combination. Perhaps we add in ballet walks or runs. By doing so, we ensure that they are able to waltz even when the waltz is not isolated.

Possible Exercise:  Begin UL, effacé devant R (demi 2nd).

1-12    4 ballet walks forward (demi 2nd).

1-6    Step R, point fondue L (3rd ordinaire).

1-6    Step L, point fondue R (3rd ordinaire).

1-12    4 waltz en avant  (1st) {The 4th waltz will need to go DOWN-UP-DOWN in order to transition

cleanly into the finish below. I refer to this as the “weird one”. It helps them remember.}

1-12    Step into 1st Arabesque, hold the finish.

STAGE THREE: WALTZ EN ARRIERE

By this point, the students should have mastered the waltz en avant. I don’t incorporate the brush front just yet. I prefer to apply all previous layers to waltz en arriere. Generally, this goes fairly quickly. The goal here is to get the students feeling comfortable moving backwards. While there is not a good deal of backwards movement in a waltz turn, it is there all the same and that brief moment within the turn is typically where the fumbles happen.

STAGE FOUR: LEARNING THE BASIC WALTZ TURN

This stage presents the largest challenge of all.  The turn.  Because it is the most complicated part of the movement I teach it in layers much like we have already done.

1) Connect Chainé To Waltz Turn. I like to connect concepts they already know to new concepts that may not seem to have any connection at all. Chainé and waltz turn, while both turns, don’t really have too much in common. However, we can use the familiarity of the direction a chainé rotates to help students understand which direction a waltz turn will rotate. I have them think through which way a chainé will turn while moving to the right and which way it will turn when moving to the left. Waltz turn is the same! I will demonstrate waltz turns and help them observe how the directions are the same.

*NOTE—This might not help some students. Everyone is different. I have found some students do better when you say “turn your body to the right” or “turn to the back of the room” or “turn away from the mirror”. Really the objective is to get them to fully comprehend which direction the rotation goes. Whatever trick you can use to do that is great!

2) Rewind And Turn. We go back to the early lessons in waltzing and remember that waltzing is walking. For a time, I remove the down-up-up entirely and focus solely on getting the turn aspect in place. We walk forward normally 1-2-3 and on the next count of 1 we turn to face the back. We then stop and make sure everyone is on the correct foot. I will do this a few times. Walk forward 1-2-3, walk and turn 1, stop.

3) Finish The Turn. With the turning portion established, we complete the two steps moving backwards. The goal is to end up with three walks forward, one walk to face back, two walks backwards. While this is not a waltz turn, it sets up the waltz turn. Students should be able to go across the floor doing this basic waltz turn continually.

*NOTE—The turn happens on the first step of each phrase. FRONT- 2-3, BACK-2-3, FRONT-2-3, BACK-2-3.

**NOTE—Pay close attention that their feet, the turn, and directions are all in sync and coordinated. It is important to not move forward until this feels natural and easy to them.

4) Add The Other Layers.  At this point they are ready to progress through the layers once more:

  • DOWN-UP-UP.
  • Add port de bras.
  • Add the finish.
  • Add technical elements.
  • Put it in something.

STAGE FIVE: THE BRUSH

I save the brush for later in the process because I have found that it requires a level of coordination that many students are not yet ready for at the beginning. Down AND brushing simultaneously can be easy for some students, but significantly more complex for others. I have never seen a student’s progress suffer by waiting on this element to be taught, but I have seen students suffer when it is introduced too soon. Therefore, in classroom settings, I wait.

Tips for the stage:

  • Practice over and over: down/brush. You could do only this across the floor.
  • Be certain the brush has no forward momentum. Often dancers pull themselves off their supporting leg making the steps that follow uncontrollable. The brush should go down, not forward. Eventually that forward momentum can be implemented, but not until the control is there.
  • Even though the Down-Up-Up and the footwork has been established in the previous layers, the brush has the ability to throw all that off. Move as slowly as you need to here. Practicing waltz en avant with a brush until it is well in place and then moving on to waltz en arriere with a brush.
  • I personally don’t teach waltz turn with a brush en arriere, but I do teach waltz en arriere with a brush at this point because I feel it is an important step for the students to know.

FINAL STAGE:  THE CLASSICAL WALTZ TURN

I prefer a waltz turn that goes as such:

  • Waltz en avant w/brush, balancé entournent (my more advanced students do a Balanchine-type waltz turn).

But once you arrive at this stage, the students should be so well versed in the ingredients that go into a waltz that they should easily be able to pick up on any variety. The point is to be clear on what you wish them to do and constantly look for errors in coordination/musicality/rotation direction/footwork.

I have found this stage to be the easiest of all.  After the other stages have been mastered students are so ready to take on this challenge and quickly want to learn how to make their waltz turns sweepy and breezy. From here you get to focus in on the tiniest of details: heels pushed forward, fingers floating, dynamics, etc.

Waltz turn is an incredibly empowering step to do because it means you have accomplished so many aspects of ballet and have been able to pull all of those aspects together into one continuous refined movement. The step can also be manipulated to encompass an array of feelings and musical expressions. It can be arranged in a variety of ways that alter its very appearance. Plus, it is just so darn fun to do them down all the long hallways that exist in this world!

Teaching waltz turn does not have to be frustrating. Learning waltz turn does not have to be scary. Find your method, go slow, master each layer, and before long the waltz turn has been born and has taken flight.

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Teaching Waltz Turn

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for this detailed explanation. I use many of these techniques and really appreciate it being broken down so precisely. Thank you! Miss Kim

    Kim July 10, 2017 at 11:25 AM #
  2. I teach pas de valse with step similar to balance: first step forward (backward) , second step closing behind and third step travelling forward again. So it is not that similar to walk to me. Please correct me if I am wrong or I misunderstood something. Thank you . Gina

    Yevheniya Permynova July 23, 2017 at 5:45 AM #

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