What is a Piqué Turn?
Generally when a dancer is asked to perform a piqué turn in class, he/she understands that it is likely they are being asked to perform a traveling turn that begins with a step onto a straight leg, as demonstrated at the start of this combination (note: this video is an ad for an online teacher’s resource, however, I’m using the following video because the step is clearly performed, not for any advertising purposes):
What may not be clear to some students, however, is that the piqué turn has several variations. The young lady in the video begins her combination with two piqué tour en dedans (inside/toward the supporting leg). In fact piqué tour* (turn) can be executed en dehors (outside/away from the supporting leg), attitude, arabesque, or sur le cou-de-pied. It is also important to mention that piqué can be performed without any turn at all. When the term piqué is combined with a pose such as arabesque or even an action like développé, the implication is that one should execute this pose or action by first stepping onto a demi or full pointe with a straight leg.
A Note on Terminology
Piquer is a french verb meaning “to sting, bite; to give a shot.” Piqué literally means “pricked.” Obviously this implies a quick and precise action and, although this element of a piqué is sometimes neglected, the step onto a straight leg should in fact be just that – quick and precise.
Piqué is also a term applied in ballet to an action of the leg usually found in exercises at the barre. It refers to a quick and precise rebounding of the toe from the floor, typically following a battement dégagé/tendu jeté, or a grand battement. In the following video dancers from Columbus City Ballet School execute such a combination.
Performing Piqué tour en dedans
As the en dedans version of piqué turns is the most common, I’d like to dissect the parts of this movement as well as offer some things to keep in mind during its execution.
- There are several methods of preparing for a piqué turn. Some begin with a demi-rond de jambe, others with a dégagé to side or to the front. Your teacher will probably let you know which version he/she prefers, if not ask!
- No matter what you are required to do with the working leg in preparation for the turn, the shift of weight to a straight leg is powered by a plié in the supporting leg. This plié should be well placed with the knee over the second/third toe and all five toes should have contact with the floor, providing a strong base from which to push off. It helps me to think of the elastic connection between my sits bone and heel during the plié, imagine it being pulled taut or spring-loaded like a sling shot ready to be released.
- There is a subtle swivel of the pelvis on the hip that occurs during a piqué turn. As the working leg’s toes meet the ground, the facing of the hips is toward the direction of travel. Most students naturally make this adjustment without thinking about it but, for those that don’t, discussion of this detail may be helpful. Note: instructors are not wrong to have students practice piqué (without a turn) to the side (it is useful to practice piqué in all directions), however the piqué in a piqué turn en dedans actually steps forward, not side.
- The reach of the working leg’s toe is also important in piqué. You must find the balance between reaching too far and not enough. This may be different for everyone. Too far and you will not make it to vertical before the turn must occur (in pointe shoes this can be dangerous), to near and the working leg will bend or the hip will lift. Keep the hips level!
- Arrive on the demi/full pointe in “one piece.” Engage the abdominals (as always) and be sure that the shoulders and the hips stay in alignment throughout the shift to the working leg. It is a common mistake for students to “leave behind” either the pelvis or the shoulders. Imagine a blanket stretched behind you, providing a push that supports your whole body as you lift to a shape perfectly balanced and stacked over the toes of your leg.
- A related mistake I often see students make in all traveling turns, is the leaving behind of one shoulder (usually the one opposite the working leg) as they rise to demi/full pointe. This creates a spiral in the body which slows down the turn and often knocks the student off balance. To combat this direct your mind’s eye to the diagonal connection between the hip and shoulder and think of maintaining this relationship as you turn.
- Turnout of the lifted leg and the axis leg is essential during a piqué turn. Imagine the stripes of a candy cane wrapping upward around your axis leg which is long and straight. As you turn, don’t allow the knee to pull inward, leading the turn around. Instead, imagine the front of the hip has a beam of light that leads the way as the knee trails behind.
- The hips should be level during the turn as well. Often the cause of a lifted hip in retiré is strength related, although sometimes flexibility is a factor. Practice slowly lifting the leg in retiré while facing the barre. Stop lifting when you feel the pelvis shift (your toe may not be all the way to the knee). Talk with your teacher about ways you can increase the height of your retiré without hiking the hip. I’ve found that students sometimes inhibit their retiré by gripping too much. Try allowing someone else to take the weight of your leg by holding it under the thigh just above the knee – feel how the hip can easily drop into place as though there is a weight on a string attached to your sits bone. Try to apply this same feeling of release as you then retiré on your own.
- Be aware that a piqué turn does not include a full 360º rotation. In fact, it is more accurately somewhere between a 1/2 and 3/4 turn from the point that the working leg makes contact with the floor and then is replaced by the other leg during the coupé. This keeps the turn traveling along its intended path. A full turn will send you off course.
The Upper Body
- The arms should never be behind the body during any part of this turn. I have witnessed students opening the initiating arm too much and also forgetting to take the closing arm with them as they shift weight to the working leg. These mistakes create that spiraling action mentioned earlier and is a very inefficient way of turning that will likely knock you off balance. In piqué turn the “follow” arm is very important and should close vigorously, not lag behind.
- Spotting is essential directing the turn along its path. Spotting is probably a post all on its own but think of the neck as being long, soft, and supple as you spot. Something to remember when traveling piqué turns along a circular or curved path is that you will direct your attention to a new spot with each weight shift.
- Your shoulders should stay relaxed and the back should feel wide.Students have a tendency to lift their bodies into piqué with the shoulders instead of creating force from the plié and utilizing the core. Imagine hanging like a tree ornament from a point at the top of your head, beneath this point your neck is long and your shoulders hang low and wide. I often see shoulder blades pinching together as dancers rotate in their turn. Rather than thinking of creating a hoop that hangs from the front of your body, imagine a full circle created by your arms and back.
- As you shift weight back to the supporting leg from retiré, remember that the leg should stay lightly attached to the working leg. Think of drawing a line down the leg with the soon-to-be supporting foot. (Note that the toe should have been attached during the turn as well!)
- Coupé means “cut.” This action of switching back to the supporting leg is another sharp and precise movement that shoots the working leg back to its preparatory position so that it is free to move on to the next turn or other subsequent movement. It replaces the working leg’s foot in space. A common mistake is to make contact with floor somewhere behind the working leg, which is likely to take the rest of the body backward. An aesthetically pleasing piqué turn is “tight,” without a lot of space between the contact points or placement of the feet as they travel across the floor.
Teachers, is there anything else that should be mentioned in regard to the performance of piqué turns en dedans?
Teachers, need some pointers on TEACHING a piqué turn? Click here for more on teaching pique turns.