See Spot

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? Sometimes when I practice turning over and over, I start to wonder if the act of spotting is just something we do to trick ourselves. Maybe it’s just a myth.

To test if spotting is an observable phenomenon, I strapped a GoPro point of view camera to my forehead and did some turns. The footage was rather informative. First, you CAN see the effect of spotting on the footage. I suspected that you might be able to see it, but I was surprised how clear the spot was. 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.

I used the footage to make the video you’ll find embedded here.

My conclusion is that spotting is a real, observable phenomenon. Thank goodness!

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About micheletobias

I lead two lives - one as an artist and the other as a scientist. More and more I'm finding my two worlds colliding, and it's not the disaster you might expect. View all posts by micheletobias

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