Some of the hottest new dance and ballet products out there are geared towards pirouettes – spin spots, turn boards, and turn discs all claim to help dancers execute their turns faster, cleaner, and in greater numbers! But, is all the hype worth it? Do turn boards really work? And an even better question – are these products safe for dancers?
When used correctly and in tandem with proper ballet and jazz training, turn boards and spin spots can be safe and helpful for some dancers looking to up their pirouette game.
However, many factors go into executing clean, technically correct multiple pirouettes, and only some of those factors can be helped by a turn board or spin disc, and in fact, some of the necessities of turning properly may even be hindered by using some of these products. Keep reading as I explain the pros and cons of using turn boards, and give tips for beginner dancers, as well as advice for advanced dancers.
What Is A Turn Board?
Turn boards were originally developed for ice skaters to practice their dizzying, physics-defying turns on a flat foot. Turn boards are usually about the width of a cell phone, about 3 inches, and around 12 inches long. They are usually made of either hard plastic or wood. Some are curved slightly, while others are flatter to allow the board more connection to the floor. Turn boards are meant to be used while a dancer is flat-footed, and the aim is to allow them to find the feeling of achieving multiple rotations. Because of their curved shape, turn boards create instability for the dancer, which forces them to engage their core muscles to stay upright. One of the questionable aspects of using a turn board as a dancer is that turn boards do not allow you to practice turning on relevé, so there is a chance that a dancer would develop bad habits if using a turn board as their primary source of pirouette training.
How Is a Turn Board Different From A Spin Spot/Turn Disc?
A spin spot or turn disc (both terms are used to describe similar products on the market) are round, spherical discs about 5-6 inches wide, with a thick foam padding covering the top. Spin spots are meant to be used while the dancer is in relevé, which is how most dancers in the ballet and jazz genres of dance turn. Because of their spherical shape on the bottom, turn discs provide a similar instability to the turn board but force the dancer to be in relevé, which is the technically correct position for pirouettes. Also in line with what a turn board offers, spin spots and turn discs create less friction between the foot and the floor and allow dancers to execute multiple rotations.
Both turn boards and spin spots are looking to achieve the same goal – to help dancers turn more, better, and faster! But – they aren’t magical tools in and of themselves. Your dancer needs to already have their own technical tools in place for these products to help.
Can a Beginner Dancer Use a Turn Board? How About a Spin Spot?
Yes, a beginner can use a turn board – but with some caveats. Every young ballerina’s dream is to twirl and spin – even children who don’t take ballet love the feeling of spinning and swirling around and around. As dancers train from a young age, they are learning the building blocks of how to turn correctly, and most of those building blocks don’t actually involve any rotation at all! Some of the key components to eventually achieving beautiful pirouettes include:
- Balance – the ability to stand straight on one leg, both on flat and on relevé
- Proprioception – the awareness of one’s own body moving in and through space
- Core strength – using the abdominal and back muscles to support good posture
- Turn out – the flexibility and strength to keep the hips open to achieve the correct position
- Spotting – using the head and eyes to quickly whip around to maintain balance and not get dizzy
As early as pre-ballet, dancers are learning about all of the components that are needed to turn, without actually turning. Because these skills are still being developed, using a turn board or spin spot for toddler dancers is not advised. However, by utilizing a turn board or a spin spot without adding any rotation, beginner dancers ages 8 and up may be able to achieve some of those key components, like balance and core strength, a little bit quicker. The instability of the turn boards and spin spots create the perfect environment to work on balance and core strength in a safe way.
Some wonderful exercises on how to use a spin spot without actually turning can be found here. It may not be as fun as spinning like a top, but using spin spots and turn boards in a more stationary way is surely the safest, most effective way to help beginner dancers, and are certainly worth utilizing in a controlled, supervised way.
Will A Turn Board or Spin Spot Help My Advanced Dancer?
For the younger but more advanced dancer, a turn board or spin spot can help them get over the mental and physical block that sometimes occurs when they plateau at 3-4 turns. Even dancers who use correct technique or are advanced in ballet can often feel stuck when it comes to achieving multiple rotations in pirouettes. An advanced dancer in this predicament will often be doing everything right, but just need to actually feel what 5-6 turns feels like in their body to figure out how to get there on their own. That’s when a turn board or spin spot can be really helpful.
An advantage to using a turn board for an advanced dancer involves pushing past internal boundaries and changes in the body. As teen and tween dancers are growing taller and their bodies are changing, they often lose their center of gravity and their proprioception in the short-term. What was easy at 10 years old becomes a huge challenge at 12 or 13, and it may feel like multiple turns are simply a dream. Here is where a turn board or spin spot can be of monumental help. Adding a turning accessory to pirouette training at this stage, when the dancer already knows and executes the key components to proper turns, can be the answer to your dancer’s prayers!
How Do You Use a Turn Board?
The key to using a turn board as a more advanced dancer is the old adage, “Slow and steady wins the race”. Turn boards are slick on the bottom, and for a first-time user, it will be incredibly unsteady and slippery. Make sure your dancer has an open, clear space to practice without anything in the way. Turn boards are best used on hardwood floors or a dance floor, and should not leave any marks.
Step 1 – Practice Balancing on Your Turn Board
Just like for a beginner dancer, the first step to using a turn board is to focus on balance and core strength. If you’ve chosen a turn board, in which the dancer will be balancing on a flat foot, it is best to practice simply standing on one foot on the board before adding any rotation. They should get a feel for what changes when their weight shifts to the front, back, and side, and notice what their standing foot is doing while all of this happens – is it wobbling? Sinking into the center or falling out towards the side? (Parents, for this next part, your dancer should know what all of these ballet terms mean – feel free to share this with them if you go ahead with your purchase of a turn board!)
Step 2 – Use Your Normal Pirouette Preparation and Muscle Engagement
After they’ve become comfortable with standing, now it’s time to add some torque (the twisting force used in the core, shoulders, and arms when turning). Be sure your dancer is mindful about how much torque they’re using – with a turn board, less is more. Because of how slick these products are, a very gentle start to a pirouette is necessary so that no one goes flying! Start out with one to two rotations. Just like a pirouette without a turn board, the dancer should begin with proper preparation, placing the standing foot on the turn board (either parallel or turned out, depending on which kind of turn they want to do), and the working leg either in parallel fourth or turned out fourth. They will press off from the working foot and bring the working leg to passé or coupé. Make sure to maintain engagement of all the core and leg muscles just like you would when turning normally.
Step 3 – How to Stop
Some turn boards have “brakes” at the back to help dancers stop themselves from turning out of control. The easiest way to stop yourself is to simply put your other foot down on the floor.
It will take some time to work up to doing multiple, consecutive turns on a turn board. But, if the dancer uses all of the components of good turn technique that they already know from their regular dance training while using a turn board, multiple rotations will happen before they know it.
How Do You Use A Spin Spot?
Spin spots or spin discs are meant to be used while the dancer is balancing on the ball of their foot, or to use the ballet term, on relevé. Similar to the turn board directions, it is best to begin testing out balance before adding any rotations when first using a spin spot. Unlike a turn board, which only rocks front and back, a spin spot is wobbly to the front, sides, and back, creating an even more unstable surface on which to balance.
It may take a bit more practice to develop the control to balance on relevé on a spin spot, which is fine! Don’t let your dancer get discouraged. It cannot be overstated that slow and steady wins this race to multiple turns.
Your dancer should follow the same instructions as the turn board when practicing on a spin spot. There are no “brakes” on a spin spot, so putting the working foot down is the best way to safely stop turning.
Not Sure Which Turn Board or Spin Spot To Buy? Check Out Our Favorites!
Just like most products for dancers, there are a ton of options! Here at Dance Parent 101, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite products for stretching, strengthening and flexibility, including turn boards and spin discs. You can find our recommendations here.
The technical proficiency of dancers grows by leaps and bounds every generation, and products like turn boards and spin spots, when used safely and correctly, and in addition to proper training, are a worthwhile investment for dancers looking to push the boundaries of their pirouettes. Happy turning!
What are turning boards made of?
Turn boards are usually made of either hard plastic or wood and are about 3 inches wide and around 12 inches long.
Can you make a homemade turning board?
Yes, you can make a homemade turn board and there are tutorials out there on how to do this made from pieces of a cardboard box stuck together and covered with material. But how well do they work is another question as well as how long do they last? I have also seen people complain that the DIY versions have too much friction not allowing you to spin like the ones you can buy, with suggestions of adding a sock over the top to help spin Our Editor in Chief Samantha will be testing the instructions on how to do this and will compare a DIY board with the real thing in some videos on the Dance Parent 101 Youtube Channel, so make sure to look out for those!
Do turn boards scratch the floor?
Turn boards are best used on hardwood floors or vinyl (Marley or Tarkett) dance flooring, and they should not leave any marks. That being said, they do make a drilling motion and therefore constant spinning on the exact same spot may start to affect flooring. If your turn board scratches the floor contact the manufacturer you bought it from as it might be faulty.
What is the best turning board?
The Turnboard Pro is a great option as not only does it do its job, but you can Bluetooth it to a device such as your phone and record how many spins you can accomplish. Check out our resource page here for more information.