Outreach & EducationPhysics & Dance

Lifts and Turns

Much of the dancer’s ability to turn is balancing and body ALIGNMENT. With the addition of torque, the twisting/ angular FORCE, the dancer can cause their body to rotate a few times on one leg. Larger preparations provide more torque than small ones (from 5th position) because the legs are further away from the rotational axis and generate more FORCE. Preparations that are smaller, however, enable the dancer to find body ALIGNMENT more easily by lesser shifting of the weight from 2 legs to 1. Single leg preparations happen with less FRICTION available to help generate force but allow for minimal weight shift change.

Partnering with Lifts and Turns

Partnering is another very important part of ballet and many types of dance. Partners add an entirely new aspect to dance. There must be a sense of trust between the partners especially when performing lifts and turns.


One move that is performed in many ballets and is part of many of the pas de deux, or dances for two, sections of these works is the supported pirouette. A dancer is en pointe, and turns with the help of a partner. An experienced ballerina will perform this move in as close to a balanced position as possible. This way, the partner only needs to apply subtle forces as he assists her in turning. Again, this is where training and experience come into play. If a dancer is off balance and the partner overcompensates, the result will be falling out of position. In the same way, if the dancer en pointe attempts to regain her own balance while the partner applies his own force to correct the situation, another loss of position will occur. In any partnered turn, controlling both the balance and the rate of turn requires the cooperation of both partners.


Lifts are another dramatic act performed by partners, often during a pas de deux. Lifts allow dancers to achieve greater height and duration of movement than can be achieved by a single dancer.

In a straight lift, one dancer (usually a male) lifts another dancer by his hands at her waist. Even though this is a simple lift, there are many considerations that must go into this motion as well. It would seem that the smaller the dancer being lifted, the easier it is for the one lifting. However, the smaller dancer must bend lower in preparation of the movement and lifting a person is much more difficult when a lift must start close to the floor. Also, the lifting partner does not do all of the work. The partner being lifted must also jump to assist in the process. Through training, dancers gain valuable experience in preparation and timing of these moves.

Overhead lifts are much more dramatic and impressive to audiences than the simpler front lifts, but the danger is also much greater. A flawed overhead lift may result in injury to both dancers. In all of these lifts, the dancers must trust one another and work together to achieve the desired effect. If hand positions are not just right by the lifting partner, the result could be the loss of control of the lift. The partner being lifted can also adjust her position to some degree to help control her center of gravity relative to the supporting hands of the lifting partner.

In the Classroom

Support base:
Below is a compilation of physical exercises that will help students understand and appreciate the skills of the performers. These activities should be done in a safe, opened area in small groups of 2-3 students. These exercises could be conducted during a gym class. Demonstrate and/or have students work through this progression of movements first attempting them with the support of a partner- holding the hand or shoulder.

For objects or people to maintain balance/ stability the center of gravity must be located over the base of support otherwise they will topple. Our center of gravity is somewhere behind our navel. In working through this sequence of exercises students should be able to detect better stability when holding onto a partner which enlarges their support base. When they do the same exercise without holding onto a partner, point out to them that the base of support is greatly reduced and for them to be able their center of gravity must be directly above their area of contact with the floor (feet, foot, toes.) Discuss with them adjustments they had to make to maintain balance- what were they doing with their CG.


  • Standing on two feet
  • Standing on one foot
  • Standing on one foot with the other extended forward
  • Standing on one foot with the other extended backward
  • Standing balanced on toe/ balls of the foot ( the purpose is not to be on the tip of the toe but to balance on a smaller support base than the entire foot)
  • Standing on the ball of the foot with the other extended forward
  • Standing on the ball of the foot with the other extended backward
  • Turn forward on one foot
  • Turn backwards on one foot