Dancer Diary: Top Turning Tips

April 22, 2024

Turns can be elusive—even if you’re a seasoned professional. As we age, navigate injuries, have children, or even just explore different types of rep, our bodies are constantly changing, with certain muscles becoming weaker and others stronger. Those changes can shift our centers of gravity and throw off our turns.

So what can we do about it? I caught up with Karli Koelliker, a Utah-based dance teacher and former BYU Cougarette, to get the tips we all need for maintaining consistent turns.

Again, Please

As with most things in dance (and life), investing time in your turns is essential to maintaining them. Koelliker, who is the co-creator of the program AKA Turns Technique, says repetition is the key to turning success.

But for professionals juggling class, rehearsals, auditions, and day jobs, that’s easier said than done. Consider swapping out your next musical theater or contemporary class for a leaps-and-turns class, or taking a few minutes between combinations in ballet or after rehearsal to practice.


That said, practicing won’t pay off if you’re not training correctly. “I’ll have students say, ‘I’m 18, I’ve been turning my whole life and it’s never come easy to me,’ Koelliker says. “And I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, your relevé is really low, and that’s really hard to sustain a turn on.’ Or, ‘Your ankles are super-wobbly, and that’s why you’re moving around.’ ”

If you’re in the middle of a turn regression, it can be difficult to diagnose the problem on your own. Getting a second pair of eyes to point out your current weaknesses is essential. Once you have a clear idea of what you need to work on, you can begin targeting those areas of weakness in your workout routines.

Let’s Get Physical

Whatever your experience level, strength and stability are key to solid, reliable turns. For general improvements, Koelliker recommends the following exercises.

Core Work

These three routines “engage that deep core and help dancers lift their passé higher,” Koelliker says, which will steady their turns.

• Lie on your back, bend your knees so you’re in a turned-out grand plié with your heels off the ground, and place a yoga block or Pilates ball between your heels. Straighten your knees, pushing away from your head, so your legs hover just above the ground. Lift your legs up to the ceiling, hinging at the hips to create a 90-degree angle with your legs and torso. Repeat 4 times.

• Lie on your back with your legs straight and raised to the ceiling, creating a right angle with your torso. Place the ball or block between your heels. Maintaining that stretched position, lower the legs until they hover just over the ground, then lift them back to the starting position. Repeat 4 times.

• Lie on your side with your left elbow propped up on a yoga block. Keeping your legs stacked on top of each other, take 4 counts to lift your bottom hip off the ground until you’re hovering over the floor. Draw your top leg up into a turned-out passé position for 4 counts, then draw it back down the leg for 4 counts. Lower your hip back to the floor in 4 counts. Repeat 6 times per side.


Relevé exercises “help stabilize the ankles and work the arches so dancers can get into their highest relevé” as they turn, Koelliker says, which promotes better balance. 

• Place a yoga ball on the floor against the wall. Facing away from the wall in parallel, rise onto the balls of the feet, placing both heels on the ball. Either holding onto the wall behind you or placing the arms in first position, plié into a forced-arch position for 2 counts, then stretch the legs for 2 counts. Repeat 8 times.

• Turn to face the wall and take a step back, bringing the ball with you. Rise into a relevé passé, and place the ball under your standing heel. Plié on your standing leg so you are in a forced-arch position, then release the heel into the ball, squishing it down slightly. Return to the previous forced-arch position before stretching back into a fully stretched relevé. Do 4 repetitions on each leg.


“This exercise engages the adductors and helps dancers maintain a connected passé while turning,” Koelliker says, which will better support those multiples.

• Stand in passé on a yoga block. Place a Pilates ball between your working leg’s toes and your standing leg’s knee, squeezing your inner thighs to keep it in place. Plié on your standing leg, and lower your working leg down toward the floor, moving the ball with it. Return to the starting position. Repeat 8 times on each leg.


Koelliker says the resistance from the band in this exercise will support arm strength, engage the lats, and keep the shoulders down in turns.

• Put a TheraBand underneath a yoga block. Stand on the block in passé, holding one end of the band in each hand. Raise your arms into a wide T position. Keep your arms straight, with the palms down and the shoulders away from the ears. Lower the arms back to your sides. Repeat 8 times. Then, lift the arms into a wide T position, close the arms to first position, return to the wide T position, and lower the arms to your sides. Repeat 8 times.

Mindset Shift

Even after all that work, your turns probably won’t improve without a shift in perspective. “Growing up, my teachers ingrained in our souls that turns are 70 percent confidence and 30 percent ability,” Koelliker says. “Everyone at my studio truly believed they were amazing turners, and I think there is something to be said about just knowing you’re going to hit the turn.”

To encourage your mind to think that way, Koelliker recommends rhythmic mantras—using words or phrases whose syllables match the number of rotations in the turn you need to do. “When you’re trying to get a triple, say something like, ‘Yes I Can,’ and spot on each word,” she says.

My Experience

I took Koelliker’s advice and incorporated these tips and tricks into my training for the better part of a month. The result? Some real improvements in my turns! My ankles are stronger, and I feel more confident in my rotations.

For more of my conversation with Koelliker, and demonstrations of some of these exercises, head to Dance Magazine’s YouTube channel.