In the portion of a ballet class referred to as center, the dancers begin by repeating a few of the barre exercises without the use of the barre this time, usually adage, tendus and degages with the appropriate ballet class music. Then the class moves on to an exercise known as a pirouette. Quite simply, a pirouette is a full 360 degree turn.
In a pirouette, the dancer creates the turn by keeping the supporting leg straight and properly turned out and the turn is done either on rise or en pointe. The other leg is positioned with the foot by the knee of the standing leg, with the working knee pointed to the side.
It the dancer turns toward the working leg it is called a pirouette en dehor, and if the dancer turns away from the working leg it is called a pirouette en dedan.
In regard to the ballet class music for the pirouette exercise, to help the dancers with the turns, the pianist usually performs a waltz in a moderate tempo. There are a couple of tricks the pianist can employ that are extremely helpful to the dancers. Pirouettes are usually performed across the long diagonal of the dance floor in small groups, so in a large class this exercise can go on for a while. The pianist should give each new set of dancers a clear starting point so they don’t feel like they are jumping into the middle of something.
While there is room to shape the tempo and the phrasing, the pianist needs to keep the tempo fairly strict with big downbeats so the dancers clearly hear where to lift into the turns and where to land. When the exercise involves a short repeated movement or set of movements, such as pirouettes, those clear downbeats and the strict tempo help the dancers immensely.
It is also helpful to make the downbeats wide and phrase them in two-measure groups, with the downbeat of the first measure being dynamically larger and wider than the down beat of the second. The two-bar micro-phrase will then become more pronounced toward the end of the larger phrase to create the appropriate arrival and starting point for the new phrase.
To listen to music for pirouettes you can visit Ballet Class Music and hear free samples by composer/pianist/dancer Don Caron from his First Class Album series of ballet class music.