June 2020 Issue
180 degree turnout, one of the many aspirations of any dancer. From ballet to contemporary, this skill is required to ensure correct technique and make our movements as appealing as possible. But how can we improve this safely without causing injuries and strain on our bodies? Here are some tips and myths to help you with your turnout goals. Everyone’s body is different and we are all born with different levels of flexibility, range and facility, so finding what works best for you is important.
Everyone’s body is different, we are all born with contrasting levels of flexibility, range and facility. However, with the correct methods and coaching, this can be improved. As a young dancer myself, I have always struggled with turnout and have often came home from ballet classes with sore and painful knees. This is because I have compared myself to my peers in my classes who have better turnout than myself and therefore, I forced it using the wrong muscles and body parts. This is something I learnt to stop doing and now following the help and advise of my college teachers, I am safely and correctly developing my turnout. Your turnout does not come from your knees, the rotation of your leg comes from inside the hip. Hip flexibility and facility can be improved through stretches targeting that area with safe and consistent training. An analogy I have been told when thinking about turning out during exercises, both at the barre and during centre work, is to imagine a coil or spring going from your hip right down to your toes, constantly rotating outwards from inside the hip so the whole leg is rotated and not just below the knee. This can help to prevent knee injuries, and has been proven in my case.
Many people may believe that if their feet are turned out completely to 180 degrees that they are using their turnout and are using it correctly however, this may not be the case. Lots of professionals do not have ‘perfect’ turnout however, they know how to use their facility effectively and safely to get the best out of their body. As I mentioned previously, turnout comes from inside the hip, not from the knees or the feet. It is important that we not only strengthen the turnout muscles but also stretch and roll them out. Tight muscles can affect your turnout and rolling out the gluteus muscles regularly can help to improve your rotation and ability. Performing stretches, such as a butterfly stretch seated on the floor with the feet close to the thigh, before and after rolling out the muscles can show the extent of the improvements. But which muscles are these? To keep it simple, the lateral rotator muscle group and the hip external rotation muscle group are the groups that help us to rotate and move the lower half of our body.
In my training, I have been taught helpful tips to help to improve and maintain my turnout, as well as exercises that help to engage the correct muscles. These exercises can be as simple as learning how to activate your muscles before barre or centre work by simply standing in parallel position and slowly turning out, wrapping and rotating the muscles outwards until your natural first position has been found. Activating your muscles not only prevents injury and ensures you are using the correct muscles, but also allows you to learn what turning out correctly feels like, establishing a ‘mind muscle connection’. It is also important that you understand your own range and turnout so that it can be used to your advantage, this can be more helpful than strengthening exercises in some cases. As everyone’s anatomy is different, it is important that you know what works best for you in terms of, for example performing developpes in second position, the angle that you can achieve the best rotation and height. Using a partner, to prevent over stretching, to experiment with this by lifting, releasing and relaxing the leg can help you find this. Even when taking part in your usual ballet or contemporary classes, just by paying more attention to your rotation and turnout can help you develop and improve by having a ‘mind muscle connection’.
Like most aspects of dance, developing turnout is not a quick process and desired results will not appear overnight. It is important to stick to the regime you have set yourself and keep pushing until you reach the end goal. Keep training frequently and safely and you will see the improvements you have worked hard for. Everything I know about technique and turnout I owe to my teachers at college that have provided me with valuable knowledge that I use myself to help improve my ability as a dancer and that I am now sharing to help you achieve your goals too.
Stay safe dancers, work hard, train hard and spread the love.