In rehabilitation there are many clinical tests that can help determine the type of injury a person may have. In dance, there are functional tests that help show readiness for some activities. The test that is being discussed today is the topple test.
The topple test sees if a dancer can complete a clean single pirouette. There are a few factors that go into determining if this pirouette is clean. The topple test looks at all three phases of a pirouette: the preparation, the turn, and the finish or landing.
The preparation is typically done from a ballet 4th position (1 leg placed in front of the other with some space in between). The preparation should display squared hips, neutral pelvis, legs turned out, and weight placed slightly more towards the forefoot of the front leg.
In the turning phase of the topple test, we want the turn position to be a basic passé. During the turn, the weight bearing leg/turning leg should have a straight knee, with the ankle in full but laterally neutral plantarflexion (the dancer in a heel raise). The gesture leg is in passé (toes pointed and the 5th toe connected to the front of the knee, with the hip externally rotated/turned out). The arms should be placed properly in a 1st position. Imagine holding a large beach ball in front of the body or making a hula hoop shape with the arms. This is known as the passé relevé position. This all needs to be achieved in 1 count.
During the turn, the torso needs to move in piece. A quick spot also needs to be achieved. “Spotting” is the secret trick that dancers use to not get dizzy when doing a bunch of turns. It actually plays some other functions as well. It can help give just enough momentum to increase the number of revolutions in a turn. It helps dancers direct where they are moving when doing traveling turns or helping them know where to land if choreography requests that they land facing a different direction from where the turn started.
The spot involves finding a focus point (determined by knowing which direction you want to face when you land your turn) and while you are turning maintaining your face in that direction as the rest of your body turns until your neck can no longer stay facing that focus point. At this point your head whips around quickly and just enough to find that focus point again. For the purpose of the topple test (being a single pirouette), this only needs to happen 1 time.
The Finish or Landing
The last part that determines a clean single pirouette is the landing. The landing will be a fourth position similar to the preparatory position. This time, the position may look more like a lunge forward with the front knee bent with the back leg straight. There is currently little documentation on the standard landing position of the topple test, but the key is that control needs to be displayed. It has to be clear that the dancer has chosen to land and was not forced to land because they were falling out of or toppling out of their pirouette.
Because the topple test displays the need of strength, range of motion, proprioception, and body awareness, while also being a “simple” or beginner move in the ballet world, it is often used in determining pointe readiness for young dancers. It is also one of many tests that can be used to determine if a dancer is ready to return to a certain level of training after an injury or post operatively.