From time to time different training aids and products hit the market designed to give dancers an advantage and improve on what nature provided. More recently a training aid called a Turn Board has been creating a buzz around the dance world and is now for sale on-line in Australia. Dancers may have seen this particular turning aid featured in the dance movie First Position. The advertisers claim that the Turn Board helps dancers to “master” their pirouettes, improve confidence in turning and fine-tune their spotting, balance and posture. But do these boards really make a difference?
While the vision from First Position is certainly spectacular, are there any dangers in using this training aid? What happens when dancers step off the Turn Board and try a pirouette without one? Does an octuple turn on the board really translate to a multiple turn without the board? A number of teachers and physiotherapists are not convinced.
A Turn Board is a slim rectangular board about 27cm in length. It works on the principle of reducing friction between the foot and the floor. This results in very little resistance from the floor, allowing the dancer to spin fast. The feedback from students is mixed. Some claim that the board has helped them to improve their spotting and allowed them familiarise their bodies with the sensation of multiple turns. They also say it teaches the effect that small adjustments to body placement have on the momentum of a turn. Sophie Mayo, a full time student at Academy Ballet in Sydney, says that the board has “helped me to feel more confident with my pirouettes and enjoy the turning feeling”.
The effectiveness of the Turn Board needs to be considered from the context of different dance styles. In classical ballet, a turn is performed with a releve to either demi or full point. The Turn Board, however, has to be used with a flat foot, and has the potential to create problems with technique. Sinead Vidler, the director of Academy Ballet in Sydney (and Sophie’s teacher), has a number of students who have used the Turn Board and she has noticed its impact on their technique. “Increasingly I’m seeing students spinning on a low demi pointe rather than pulling up and turning on a high demi pointe as required,” she says.
Melanie Fuller is a physiotherapist with Pondera Physio and Pilates in Brisbane. She also points out the difference between turning on a flat foot to turning on a demi or full point. When using the board, “the foot is not in the same position and the weight distribution is different than for pirouettes in ballet, so I question the specificity of training and how that would cross over to help a pirouette.”
The physicality of a turn, with an adjusted centre of gravity when on flat to demi or full point, is very different with and without the board. For beginners who are just learning the technique it is likely that the Turn Board would complicate matters. It could make learning pirouettes harder or encourage bad habits.
This is an extract from a full article by Michelle Dursun exploring the benefits of Turn Boards in the current issue of Dance Australia. To read the full article, buy the magazine from your favourite dance shop or select newsagent, or download our app here.