You don't need to be a ballet dancer to appreciate the beauty and strength behind each arabesque or grande jeté. If you've ever watched a ballet performance, such as "Swan Lake," you've most likely been mesmerized by Odile's seemingly never-ending fouetté, or "whipped," turns, which happen 32 consecutive times. Let's break down the physics of that turn, which is said to be ballet's hardest move:
1. The dancer starts turning by pushing off the ground with her foot to generate torque. The hardest part is maintaining the rotation.
2. As she turns, friction between her pointe shoe and the floor reduces her momentum. Between each turn, the dancer pauses for a split second to face the audience. Her supporting foot flattens, then twists as it rises back onto pointe. This generates a tiny amount of new torque.
3. At the same time, the dancer's arm sweeps open to help her keep her balance. The turns are most effective if her center of gravity stays constant, meaning she must keep her turning axis—her body—vertical.
This process helps drive the fouetté. Why do you barely notice the dancer's momentary pauses? Her other leg is constantly moving. By staying in motion, that leg is storing some of the momentum of the turn. With each turn, the momentum travels back and forth from her leg to her body. In the following videos, learn more about the physics of ballet and watch this move in action.