Skip to main content

The physics of the "hardest move" in ballet - Arleen Sugano


12,535 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

In the third act of "Swan Lake", the Black Swan pulls off a seemingly endless series of turns, bobbing up and down on one pointed foot and spinning around and around and around ... thirty-two times. How is this move — which is called a fouetté — even possible? Arleen Sugano unravels the physics of this famous ballet move.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

As in sports, science plays an important part in dance execution and consequently in the longevity of the dancer and the forwarding of the art form. With the increased research in dance science the mysteries of turns, jumps and balances are being uncovered; dancers are learning how to control the number of rotations, as well as the height and hang time (suspension) in jumps and the breathtaking duration of balances. This understanding is also leading to the creation of safer and sounder dance practices.
The investigation of how physics impacts ballet has been the primary focus for Dr. Kenneth Laws, Professor Emeritus, Dickinson College for decades. He is the most prolific physicist in this area of study. In 1984, he published his first book on the subject and since has published numerous books and articles in dance as well as physics publications. The most current book was published in 2008 that he co-wrote with dance scientist and ballet educator/coach, Arleen Sugano or "Miss A," as she is commonly known.
Together, Dr. Laws and Miss A designed an electronic barre, built to specifications that measured forces: horizontal, vertical and lateral. A typical ballet class starts with the use of a horizontal pole called a barre; ballet dancers spend a good percentage of their dancing life using this pole to assist in learning positions, steps and lines of ballet as well as principles of physics such as balance, center of gravity, and angular momentum. The two presented the use of this barre with data that supported new insight into ballet technique at both the Performing Arts Medicine Arts conference in Aspen, Colorado in 2002 and for the National Dance Association in 2004.
There is a growing interest in how the principles of physics and biomechanics affect the art of dance. In 2010, International Alliance of Dance Medicine and Science invited Miss A to Birmingham, England to speak about the physics of pirouettes (turns). Professor Melanie Lott has been doing experimental research on the physics of dance as part of a course of study in her Physics and Astronomy Department at Denison University in Ohio. In one of the experiments, her research team collected motion capture data to track positions of the body and center of mass throughout a certain turn.

Next Section »

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Arleen "Miss A" Sugano
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Anik Rosenblum
  • Producer Anik Rosenblum
  • Animator Anik Rosenblum
  • Artist Anik Rosenblum
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

More from Before and After Einstein