Professional ballet dancer Ikolo Griffin has developed a workshop, Just Turns, which focuses specifically on the art of turning. The emphasis on a particular facet (turns) of a particular kind of dance (ballet) has provided a unique setting for intensive training. In a recent workshop, the six attendees ranged from teens to forties and spanned from barely intermediate to highly advanced. Griffin seamlessly worked with all six students despite disparities in age and training, simultaneously acting as coach and cheerleader. Unlike a typical ballet class, conversation went back and forth between Griffin and the students, with each student asking questions and giving feedback after each exercise. The specificity of the workshop allowed for a high level of assessment.
Emmaly Wiederholt: What spurred you to begin this workshop?
Ikolo Griffin: I was always a good turner, and then at one point in my career I really started getting cast in good parts because of it. And people would say, “Hey you’re a consistent turner, could you help me with my pirouettes?”
Later on I was trying to think of a unique way to help the dance community. What can I give the dance community that’s different than just a regular ballet class, because there are tons of master teachers out there, and I know that maybe I can teach a good ballet class, but what about specializing in something? It dawned on me: how about a turns class? I want to help people turn better. I want to help people feel more confident. I want to help dancers have consistency.
EW: Are you targeting a certain age or experience level? It seems like the dancers need to have some sort of basic ballet under their belt.
IG: Intermediate. I have yet to develop my beginning pirouette workshop and that’s something I definitely want to do in the future, but for now participants need to understand “tombe pas de bouree.” I want to teach the nuances, the intricacies of turns, so understanding the fundamentals of ballet is important.
EW: What results have you had thus far?
IG: Officially it kicked off this past summer after I was inspired by the Dance/USA conference. I got a logo, made handouts, etc. I taught at five different schools, all age ranges. This is the second workshop that I’ve personally sponsored. I already taught one at Shawl-Anderson, and then here at City Ballet School, where I teach a five week course. I give private lessons as well, teaching one-on-one. There are a couple of people who have been coming consistently. One young man, who’s particularly intermediate, says already he feels more in control because he has something to think about. It’s getting rid of that “oh shit” moment before a turn. Giving people something to think about is key to getting rid of that feeling, so I’ve kept it simple with four universal rules. When I take class I hear the four rules spoken in different ways all the time. People say straight up and down, or get to the front, or stay in one piece, or finish; these are all things that people talk about that I’ve condensed down.
EW: There’s a myth of a natural turner, someone who is inherently good at turning. How would you respond to someone claiming to not be a turner, or someone claiming to be a natural and not need help?
IG: I definitely think there are natural turners, and then there are people who have to work for it. A natural turner has an easier time balancing and generating momentum. But is their turn a spin, or a pirouette? There’s a difference, and a lot of natural turners, and I was one of them, just spin. Now I do more of a coin flip turn, which is clearer and has more ease. There’s nothing sloppy, and natural turners can be sloppy. My class emphasizes finish.
And for people who are not turners, my class gives them something to do. If you have a clear concept of what you’re going for, it helps your turns no matter what. One or two turns can be beautiful.
EW: What have you personally learned from holding these workshops?
IG: I’ve seen that people are enthusiastic to the idea of this, and that keeps me motivated. The way the class is set up allows people to only focus on turns and not have to focus on anything else, and that’s a nice break from how hard ballet is. It’s broken down and it’s the only thing people have to work on, instead of having to work on jumps, adagio, allegro, etc. all at once.
EW: How do you see the class evolving in the future?
IG: It’s growing, and there’s still a ways to go. What I want to do is be able to figure out all those play on words that help people the best. In baseball, for instance, they talk about keeping the front arm quiet when working on a swing. I want to find those things for turns. What’s the best way to tell people to bend the elbow to bring the arm in? I want to work on my little sayings. I have a good foundation and I just need to continue clarifying my presentation. And the more I do it, the better it will become. I give myself a three year window to really build the class and get down my teaching style. I want to take this class beyond the Bay Area to the rest of California or nationally. The next step would be to teach somebody how to teach the class, so we can get more workshops going. I see it as a business. It could be the Zumba of turns. There could be a larger place for it, perhaps expanding to modern or jazz turns. I want to be the center of the turning universe. I want to demystify and bring confidence; that’s my ultimate goal.
Photos courtesy Ikolo Griffin