Spotting: From the Dancers’ Perspective

Spotting. It’s that seemingly magical movement of the dancer’s head that is supposed to keep the dancer from getting dizzy and stabilize a turn. It also helps a dancer know how many revolutions they have finished.

How does it work? The dancer focuses their eyes on one place in the room or theater, keeping their head still as long as possible, even though their body is rotating in the turn. When the dancer can’t keep their head still any longer, they turn their head in the same direction as their body is turning but faster, and focus their eye on that same place in the room again. The visual result is only a brief moment of spinning, rather than the sensation of spinning for the whole turn.

But is it just an illusion?  Maybe it’s just a myth.

To test if spotting is an observable phenomenon, PTDT dancer Michele Tobias strapped a GoPro point of view camera to her forehead and did some turns. The footage was rather informative. First, you CAN see the effect of spotting on the footage. It is surprising how clear the spot is. Second, the video lets you see just how quick a turn is. A double pirouette takes about 2 seconds! In the moment, a turn feels much longer since you’re constantly making adjustments.

Spotting isn’t just observable in a pirouette.  Michele also filmed a compass turn, a leap turn and a back fall (not a turn, but it’s still interesting), and PTDT dancer Nicole Bell filmed an aerial cartwheel (a cartwheel with no hands!).  The spotting is visible in all of the turns and the aerial cartwheel (she spots the floor).  In the back fall, you can see that the dancer’s head also stays steady and the view is fairly limited.

Want more?  How about a series of different leaps?  Or partnering work?  Or performing a full piece of choreography?  We’re in the planning stages for new videos and we want to know what you want to see.  Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

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