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The Art of the Perfect Pivot

Pivot turns are notoriously tricky bastards, requiring no small amount of balance and/or cooperation with your partner. The trick is to recognize that pivot turns follow a different set of rules from other turns. But what the heck are pivot turns anyway?

A pivot can mean many things in ballroom dancing, but here we are referring to a turn where the forward and backward feet remain locked in position throughout. To get a visual, imagine a circle compass (like the image to the right), where the standing foot is the needle, and the free leg is the pencil tracing a semi-circle.

Now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s into what we do to make this step a cinch!

Stay on Your Axis

In other words, finish each pivot with the same foot you started with. One of the first and most common mistakes every beginner makes is to ‘fall through’ the step, so they have to catch themselves on the next to avoid falling over. Not sexy.

As you learn the tricks below, practice pausing at the end of every pivot, to test your balance and make sure you haven’t shifted you weight off the foot you began the turn with. The next tip will be particularly helpful for this.

The Heavy Suitcase

Imagine yourself carrying a heavy suitcase that you have to brace against to stay balanced. When you turn, your free leg can generate a lot of momentum which – like the suitcase – can pull you off your centre.

You can counterbalance your free leg by stretching your upper body slightly away from it during the turn. Stretch backwards by opening the chest further and imagining the back of your head being pulled slightly. Stretch forwards by shifting slightly forward on the feet, leading through the navel.

Squeezing a Tennis Ball

If your challenge is keeping your legs locked in place, your thighs are your best friend. By keeping them squeezed together during the turn, you can keep the feet from moving out of alignment.

That’s where the tennis ball comes in. Squeeze it between your thighs, and make sure it doesn’t drop while you turn. As a bonus, this prevents you from using your legs to swing you around, causing further balance issues. As you get better at this, you might switch to squeezing a ping pong ball, or even a tissue.

Trace a Semi-Circle

As with other turns, keeping your feet brushing on the floor can give you that much-needed edge of stability. So on each pivot, let that free leg trace a semi-circle along the floor, adding pressure only when needed.

On a related note, you can’t stay connected to the floor if you ‘tip’ into the turn. Keep a strong core and an upright posture, so your foot-brush doesn’t become an unexpected arabesque instead.

You now know how to nail perfect pivots by yourself, but what about doing them with a partner? See you next week!


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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