If you are a beginner, to improve your turns in solo jazz, first you need to focus on the basic techniques of turns. Preparation and spotting are the 2 most important elements of turning. In this blog you will discover the essential tips for improving your turns.

If it doesn’t look easy it is that we have not tried hard enough yet
Fred Astaire

Preparation in solo jazz dance turns

Preparation is the key to stability and direction, hence balance and coordination in solo jazz dance turns. In preparation you decided on which leg you turn and which direction is your turn (front left/right or back left/right). It’s important to know where your weight is at every and any stage. The worst case scenario is when you have weight in between your legs and you have no clue where you go.

How to prepare for a turn?

Preparation depends on the type of turn and the step you are coming from into the turn. There are simple rotations, spins and rhythm turns. Start working on your turns in solo jazz dance with simple rotation. Simple rotation is essentially just going somewhere via a rotation.

  1. Spin is a fast turn.
  2. Rhythm Turn is something related to jazz dance and tap specifically. It is when you create a rhythm in your feet when rotating.
  3. The turns can be on one leg and on both legs.

Preparation as well depends on the direction of your turn, amplitude and speed.
Normally, all the standard turns are done with the weight on / over the balls of your feet. For variation and eccentric style we can turn on the heel, toe, or other parts of the leg and even body. As for the basic turn technique, start with focusing on weight distribution on the balls of your feet.

Why do we fall when turning and how to keep control?

We fall from the turn often because of 2 issues that are somewhat related:

  1. the weight is to much on the heel, hence your shoulder fall back and you fall back
  2. the shoulders tend to move back hence you go on your heels and you fall back

Make sure to keep your weight over the balls of your feet and turn on the ball of your feet.

Where do I start the turn from?

The wheel of the typical standard turn are your shoulders. Not your nose, not you legs or arms, but your shoulders. When we go into the turn we do not sporadically throw ourself to one side. We push from the floor with our feet and create direction with our shoulder. Try moving your right shoulder slightly to the right and see how your whole body want to turn.
There are 2 categories of turns: with disassociation of the body parts, a sort of delay or echo effect, and when we turn as a block.

  1. one is when you start the turn in one point of the body and then the whole body comes later into the rotation
  2. the other is when the whole body goes into the rotation at the same time, so the shoulder - hip -knee - toes look the same direction and rotate at the same time.

Start to practice the second type of the turn for solo jazz dance. This way you will learn the basic technique from where you then can start practicing other more advanced turns. In the beginning all we want to achieve is to get controlled and smooth turns.

ksenia parkhatskaya toe turn rock that swing festival solo jazz dance show
Ksenia Parkhatskaya doing a toe turn in her Revival choreography to Christian McBride at Rock That Swing Festival. Photo by Tamara Pinco

 

Spotting when doing a turn

Spotting is another key to success for good turns in solo jazz dance. You will hear the word "spot" in a dance class on turns nearly hundred times.

Remember the two simple rules:

  1. My eyes and nose leave into the turn the last, but return from the turn first. The key idea is to keep an eye on something to know where are you going into the turn from and where are you arriving after the turn. The the eyes need to focus right after the rotation, before you put the leg on the ground to finish the turn.
  2. My neck and head leave a separate life from the body. You do not turn your head together with the body. The neck and head stays spotting and only then goes into turn.

Why do I feel dizzy when turning and how to prevent it?

Spotting will help you to stop feeling dizzy. Dizziness comes because you are not spotting, which is to say that your eyes are not focused and your vision field is blurry. If you go into the rotation and not spot (which is to say your head will turn at the same time as the body), you will feel dizzy pretty quickly.

Landing from a turn

In vernacular solo jazz dance styles it is acceptable to land with a slight soft bounce down. Make sure you do not collapse into it though, but still have control over weight distribution. In jazz dance styles like solo jazz dance, the lindy (hop), swing, 20s Charleston and so on, you do not need to push up when turning, you can keep low and parallel to the ground with bend knees.
One of the biggest inspirations in jazz dancing regarding turns is Nicholas Brothers. Their furious, energetic style of rhythm turns and spins is very inspiring for dancers of all styles.

Conclusion

Practice few minutes at a time and take breaks. Feeling dizzy will definitely not help. Spend time in preparation to make sure you spot and have weight distribution according to how you want to turn and you know your direction.

You can check out this video, it’s a partial recording of my class on turn technique in jazz dance:

You can study turn techniques with Secrets of Solo online dance classes. It is a very convenient way to improve the turns in solo jazz dance. You can study in your own pace in front of the mirror, filming yourself. Most importantly you do not need to be worried or feel embarrassed in a class with other people. You can take the online class as a first step to establish your basics and then feel more comfortable and confident in a live class.Solo Jazz 101 course

(perfect for any level)
Jazz Steps IV: Signature Breaks chapter

  1. Lesson 28: Lock Turns 9
  2. Tips: How not to get dizzy in a turn 2
  3. Lesson 31: Half Break & Lock Turn 1
  4. Lesson 32: Lock Turn Break

Variation Lab. vol II: Fall Off The Log course

  1. Variation 12: Syncopated Turn 2
  2. Variation 13: Kick Turn
  3. Variation 14: Back Turn 1

Secrets of Improvisation course
(perfect for any level, especially if you are working on improvising)

  1. “How to step?” Rotation 2
  2. Chapter IV: Form & Rotation 1 (check all classes in this chapter)
  3. Fall of The Log. “Rotation” tool 2

This article is a developed answer to a request on Ksenia's Quora acccount,

 

My students very often are interested if I practice solo jazz dance: what, how and how often.

I am a solo jazz dancer, that’s my life, love and profession. Oh yes, I practice. It’s the best way to discover things and improve. I practice solo jazz dance physically and mentally. As often as I can. Normally I work on the weekends: jazz festivals, swing dance festivals, dance intensives. That leaves me 2 - 3 days during the week when I dedicate 1-3 hours per day for my self-practice. Love it! I can develop new ideas, do some new exciting stuff, just be always in form. In addition, I go to other dance classes: afro, tap, house. It is a practice as well. That gives me a gigantic source of inspiration and a different point of view! In this blog, I share some general practice tips with you.

practice!

Before I thought that practice can happen only when you are in the studio, physically dancing. Though mental practice is a way as well. Watching videos, listening to music and rhythms, imagining yourself dancing this or that way is a great way to improve. They say that mental practice is almost as effective as physical.

Let’s talk about some general practice tips for physical practice for I am sure we all can do the mental part very well :

Book a space, schedule your solo jazz dance practice! 

When you are self-employed it’s so easy to change your mind. One second ago you want to practice, another second you see it’s sunny and decide to go out for a swim (well. if you are in Barcelona like me :). When you book a studio, schedule it, will be harder to change. Usually, I book or find a studio. Sometimes I do it at home. But the act of dedicating time and going somewhere for a specific amount of time where you can do nothing but dance is motivating and organising to me. Number one of the general practice tips.

My solo jazz dance practice plan looks like this:

I come to the studio and start by warming up. Maybe 10 -15 min will go just for stretching and feeling my body. Where am I today? What body am I working with for the next hours? Some days you are more stiff or tired than other days. It’s good to take this in consideration and to respect that. I have my own little selection of exercises for warming up, I am sure like every dancer. I make sure to breathe deeply while stretching to warm up from the inside. Put on my favorite tunes to get in the mood always helps.

Set a task!

Once I am warm I go straight away to practice tasks. Some important things while practicing, that I learn from other great people: musicians, dancers, artists. Kenny Werner made a big change in my life with his lecture on practicing in jazz. It's more 1h+ but it's one of my top lectures on jazz. Here is the link: A Master Class in Jazz Performance and Creativity with Pianist Kenny Werner

Here are some of them I always use or try to remember as a guide:

1. Have a focus in your solo jazz dance practice

I find it quite important to set the goals of my solo jazz dance training in advance. I book my studio for ca. 2h usually. It’s not much time to allow to bounce off the walls and do nothing. When you practice alone, clearly you are the only one who is in charge. If you don’t set up a task/ schedule/ timing, no one will. Be your own boss! The best way to practice is to limit yourself and not to practice everything. Practicing everything, in the end, is not practicing. You work on something small and that significantly improves the overall dance.

Here are some of the common reasons/ tasks for personal training that I use:

Define what you want or need to do, set the goal/ task and time! For example, Practicing/ remembering choreo or a few of them, reviving overall choreos, 1h. Or working on time signatures, get sketches for new choreo in 3/4, 1.5h.

2. Don’t judge/ punish yourself for not standing up to your expectation immediately

This one I need to remind to myself quite often to be honest. One day the things flow and everything works. The other day, you can’t invent anything, all you do seems to be boring, you can’t even make a proper turn and not stumble. It’s ok. Accept and move on. Maybe make the practice that day short and go have a tasty coffee with a friend. The word immediately is important here. If you have a solo jazz dance practice date with yourself regularly, say 2-3 days a week for 1 - 2 hours, you’ll see the improvement! It’s just not possible not to improve! Regularity is the key.

3. Play! Make solo jazz dance practice a game

That is super important! If the practice is something boring and hard you will simply never practice. Make it your personal playground. For me, I don’t have to put much effort into making it a game. I love to dance so much that simple action of moving my leg to music makes me happy.

Here is a video of my practice.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CAK_X4ZgKG7/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Hope these were useful general practice tips on how to practice solo jazz dance! And what's your experience with practicing? Would be happy to read your comments.

I will continue with Part 2: How to practice improvisation in the next blog post.

Written by Ksenia Parkhatskaya

World renowned 20s Charleston and solo jazz dancer Ksenia Parkhatskaya presents her special online dance course "Secrets of Charleston 20s". With over 40 lessons and 2 hours of content you will discover how to do the 20s Charleston in the convenience of your home.

What is 20's Charleston?

Read the full article on History of the Charleston dance. 

The Charleston dance had possibly the greatest influence on the American culture. Enslaved Africans brought it from Kongo to Charleston, South Carolina, as the Juba dance, which then slowly evolved into what is now known as Charleston. / ../ In African, however, the dance is called Juba or the Djouba. The name Charleston was given to the Juba dance by European Americans

- (Africanisms in American Culture, p.52)

Many scholars attribute the creation and the spread of the Charleston dance to Gullah / Geechee culture and the boys from the Jenkins Orphanage Band.

It is considered that The Charleston dance was "officially" shown in public in the all Black Africa - American Broadway musical "Runnin' Wild". Elida Webb Dawson, African- American dancer, was the choreographer for the show. Her set of movements was accompanied by “The Charleston” tune by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The tune had a very characteristic Charleston beat, which James P. Johnson said he first caught from southern musicians and dancers from Charleston city.

The Charleston became the international craze, when African American performer Josephine Baker introduced the Charleston dance in Europe during her Parisian tour “Le revue negre”.

Where to learn how to dance 20's Charleston?

You can find a local swing dance or solo jazz dance school where you can ask for 20s Charleston solo classes. Another way, which can be more convenient in some ways is to learn how to dance with online classes. Ksenia's Secrets of the Charleston 20’s is an online course on how to learn the famous 20s Charleston in 8 chapters, 40 videos and almost 2 hours of high quality online content.

The course is taught by a sensational dancer, who made her name in dance though her Charleston performances, Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Dancing since 6 years of age, Ksenia came to fame through her signature Charleston choreography on “So You Think You Can Dance” in Ukraine (invited to the show as a participant from Russia). She  soon rose to be one of the most viewed dancers on the internet with over 200 million views.

A dance artist, choreographer and performer Ksenia has created many short dance films and clips inspired by flapper character and 20s Charleston dance style.

Trained in competitive ballroom dance in Russia and competing on a regular basis for 9 years, Ksenia is more interested in performance and creation. Though in a spirit of solo jazz and Charleston battles and races, she occasionaly participated in swing dance international competitions, placing first.

Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance classes are a chocolate box of dance steps, movement tricks and technique tips. You will for sure enrich your pockets with good basic vocabulary as well as dizzy flash steps that will insure your greatness on the dance floor. You will discover some of my step variations and get inspired by the immense world of creativity that jazz in general  brings. And all of it will settle the best way in your body with a seasoning of some useful technique secrets.
- Ksenia

The Secrets of 20s Charleston series cover a wide range of levels: from beginners to advanced dancers. Beginners can learn basic steps and techniques, improvers can enrich their vocabulary and learn some flash steps and advanced dancers can get new ideas, steps variations and refine their style.

I picked the best of what I know and love about 20's Charleston and combined it with my dance experience and general dance approach. Above all I value the individual voice in any art form. That is why I am sharing my way: my personal twist on original steps plus steps I created myself as well as ideas I have developed over the years
- Ksenia

What is inside Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?

Secrets of Charleston 20’s online dance course is build around moves and famous footwork. There are 7 chapters, inside which you will have several dance classes with progressive variations of this specific step.

For example let’s take a look at Chapter V: Basic Step Variations. In the first video I will break down the absolute basics of the charleston step and start with the variation #1. Then you will have 3 more videos with 3 different variations. And then the last video of the chapter will be a demo - me demonstrating how to dance those steps to the music and mixing them.

How to use Secrets of Charleston 20s?

Once you have picked the chapter, please go chronologically - the way I placed the videos for you. I thought it through. I have built my explanations and the material within a chapter in a progressive way. "Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is an exception. There you get a collection of independent videos, where I teach you flash moves, flaps, slaps and so on.

Where to start in Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?

I recommend to start with Chapter I: Twist Recipe for everyone to get your 20's Charleston technique in place, understand how the body works. 20's Charleston is all about twists. Once you get it in your body, success will be guaranteed.
After you practiced Twist Recipe you can go ahead and jump to any of the chapters between Chapter II & V or just follow the order I prepared for you. This will enrich your vocabulary of 20s Charleston moves. Always go back to review Twist Recipe chapter because it is the fundamental building block of the dance and style. Remember, once in the chapter, follow chronology of the videos.

The last 3 chapters are about so called flash steps. For instance, the "Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail & Chapter VII: Slides Filling" are technically quite challenging. Make sure to first establish your basics before going into technically challenging movements.

"Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is a candy box of spicy, eccentric dance moves. You can randomly pick a move from the collection for your practice and include in your dance as a flash step. The dance cannot consist of just flash moves glued together, so make sure to have your ways around first (check Chapters I to V).

Secrets of Charleston 20's Table of Content

 

20s charleston secrets of solo online dance classes
Inside Secrets of Solo online dance school members area. Learning 20s Charleston.

Chapter I: Twist Recipe

In this chapter you'll get to know and experience the fundamental building block of 20s Charleston  - twists and the Charleston body. You will discover what is a body state, feel, style and posture in when dancing the 20s specifically. And discover the technique and different patterns of the main component of the style, which is twist. Forget that you were ever walking parallel, every step is a twist in 20s Charleston. In a step-by-step manner we will ensure that your twists are fluid and fast.

For me, 20’s Charleston is about sparkling sharpness in the middle of mindless chaos of dance madness. Twist is the way to walk, live and think in 20s Charleston

Ksenia

  1. Twists & Charleston Body + demo
  2. Moving around with Twist + demo
  3. Butterfly Twist + demo
  4. Side Skippin’ + demo
  5. Twists & tips
  6. Twists on Fire

Chapter II: Fall off the log Tricks

In this chapter you will uncover on one of the great 20s Charleston and solo jazz steps – Fall(ing) off The Log. Falling-off-a-log is as well described as a step similar to Buffalo tap dance step but with a leaning pause added). It is a so- called travel step. The main rhythmic idea of the step is accentuating the backbeat on the kick. In that moment the whole body gravitates to the ground. The art of mimicry and imitation is strongly developed in black dances.
What is it and how to bring it to life? Add simple changes like: twisting the step and playing with the type of kick so that the step can travel through era’s – from ragtime to swing.

  1. Black Bottom Twist
  2. Double Kick
  3. Kick Ball Change
  4. Buffalo
  5. Shuffle’n’Swing
  6. Tips
  7. Demo

Chapter III: Suzy Q

In this chapter you will be introduced to Susie Q, Suzie Q or Suzy-Q and it's variations. It is a vernacular dance step, with a shuffling and sliding step (as well performed in tap) that was introduced at the Cotton Club in 1936. The origin of the name “Suzie Q” is uncertain. There is a the reference to the name in the 1936 song Doin’ the Suzie-Q by Lil Hardin Armstrong.

  1. How to?
  2. Swing the 8th
  3. Break with Shuffle
  4. Demo
  5. Chapter IV: Cross Behind & Triple
  6. Crabbin’ & Triple Step
  7. Swing the Triple
  8. Demo

Chapter V: Basic Charleston Step Variations

In this chapter you will learn the fabulous 20s Charleston basic step and eccentric variations created by Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Charleston name refers to a few elements: a song, a city, a style of the dance, a dance itself and a step. Nowadays, when we say Charleston basic or basic step when dancing solo in swing dance community, we refer to Charleston step. Charleston step has it’s eras and it changed with time and place. It started as a step with twists in jazz age, then transformed into a crazy wild kicking move in swing era.

Take the Charleston step, for example. We think it came up from South Carolina with its name intact and was introduced in a Broadway show, Running’ Wild.
Cholly Atkins from “Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins”

  1. Brushes
  2. Zig Zag Kick
  3. Shuffle
  4. Rond
  5. Demo

Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail

The black bottom was a dance that hit America after The Charleston became famous in 1920's. It's a very feminine style with loads of animalistic movements. Cow tail is an animal inspired move, when the cows were stuck in the mud and had to wave their tail to get rid of flies around.

  1. Cow Tail
  2. Walking with Cow Tail
  3. Demo

You probably have seen one of crazy Charleston video of Ksenia Parkhatskaya where she twirls her leg as a fan in her famous smoking flapper character. That move is a charmer! You can learn it now here with a step by step instructions from Ksenia herself.

Chapter VII: Slides Filling

Arguably, the most technically challenging chapter of the course, where you will unlock the beauty and potential of slides and 20s Charleston moves. Make sure to always warm up before and do the slide movement step by step, not rushing into it in order to be safe.  Wear shoes that are not too sticky in order not to damage your knees by having too much friction with the floor. Equally, shoes that are too slippery might make it hard to coordinate. Remember, keep you knee in your vision space and you will be fine!

  1. Twist’n’ Slide
  2. High Kick Slide
  3. Back Slide
  4. Demo

Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves

This chapter is a collection of individual flapper inspired, fluid and fast flash step as well as concepts of 20s Charleston style such a Silent Movie and exaggerated movement.

  1. Raindrops + demo
  2. Black Bottom slap + demo
  3. Happy Feet + demo
  4. J.Baker flavour + demo
  5. Silent Movie concept + demo
  6. Tips

Are you ready to push your 20s Charleston dance to the next level?

In this extensive videos series I will be breaking down techniques and steps from the legendary 20s Charleston dance. Each chapter tackles one 20s Charleston topic, and will be showing different patterns, variations and styling within that topic.
Here's an example from one of the Secrets of Charleston 20s chapter "Cow Tail"

Are you interested? Become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes!

You can check out all our account pricing options on this page. You can choose one of the three membership options. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us here.

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Become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo

Due to an overwhelming amount of positive feedback to my performances and classes, I have decided to launch a website with online dance courses. Dancers can access these online dance classes by becoming a member. If you become a member, you will get full access to all courses of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes. But that's not all!

Why should I become a member?

If you become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes, you will get full access to all four online solo dance courses. Solo Jazz 101, World of Kicks, Secrets of Improvisation and Secrets of the Charleston 20s. There is more to come though, and members will get access to any new course as well!

However, there is more. Members get access to Jam Circle, the online community platform of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo. Here you can connect with other dancers, join Q&A sessions and receive personal video feedback from Ksenia herself!

Also, you will have access to private music playlists for all courses. That makes it a lot more easy to practice at home or at a studio.

What if I don't like it?

All membership options have a 30-day-money-back-guarantee. Also, you can cancel your membership at all times. I cannot imagine you won't like it, but if you do, there are ways to cancel your membership of course!

How do I become a member?

Check out the subscription plans here to find the right fit for you. We have multiple options for you to choose from, so there is always one plan that best fit your needs.

 

“Thanks for visiting! I hope to see you at the next dance event, jazz concert or body painting festival. If you have any questions, please contact me right away.”   ❤ —Ksenia

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