Dancers: Achieve Your Best Turnout!October 12, 2017
Training as a dancer is an amazing and rewarding experience. There is nothing quite like it! And whether you primarily dance jazz, tap, ballet, or other modern styles, the all-elusive “turnout” can be our best friend or arch nemesis.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of turnout, it is most commonly known in ballet performances where dancers are seen standing with their heels touching and their feet pointed outward almost in a straight line. It is a staple of proper dance technique and integral to the art of dancing.
Often times, turn out is judged by the angle of one’s feet.
The closer to 180 degrees the better, right? Not usually. The answer to this question lies in where we get our turnout. Ideally it comes from the outward rotation of our hips, the large ball-and-socket joint above our outer thighs. Unfortunately, it is too often borrowed from joints that are ill-equipped to handle this rotation-type of stress: knees, ankles, or lumbar spine (low back). These compensatory measures are taken when the hips either have limited mobility to rotate outward or have limited strength to maintain this position.
If you look closely, you can spot it:
You can see the dancer’s feet in the left picture above are definitely pointed outward. However, she is placing a lot of stress and strain on the ligaments of her knees by forcing outward rotation. She is also stressing the ligaments and passive structures in her ankles by pronating through her feet. The dancer’s foot arch collapsing forward is a tell-tale sign.
Over time, poor turn-out technique can contribute to improper alignment of your joints and muscles. For example, the heel can bow outward causing increased stress on your Achilles tendon, fascia of the feet, and muscles/tendons in the arch of your foot. This can potentially contribute to various aches and pains or lead to more serious conditions which require rehabilitation.
How to improve your turnout and avoid these blunders!
Glutes, Glutes, Glutes! To target our turnout we need to take advantage of all of the range of motion our hips have to offer and strengthen within this capacity. There are many muscles that externally rotate the hip and the most powerful and well known is the gluteus maximus. This muscle is responsible for extending (bringing your leg behind your body) and externally rotating your hips (rotating outward) which are the essential actions required to achieve your best turnout.
You can strengthen and improve your hip external rotators by performing the below exercises:
Crab walks target your gluteus–rear end–and hips.
- Start from a standing position with your toes facing forward.
- Step out to the right with your right foot and then bring your left foot in. Repeat this sequence and then reverse.
- Perform the traditional crab walk with bent knees in a squat position, or make it simpler by straightening your legs. Use a resistance band around your ankles to make the exercise more intense.
Hip-circles are great for glute activation/strengthening as well as a dynamic warm-up.
- Begin standing on one leg, holding to a vertical support.
- Raise the unsupported knee to 90 degrees. This will be your starting position.
- Open the hip as far as possible, attempting to make a big circle with your knee.
- Perform this movement slowly for a number of repetitions, and repeat on the other side.
The side-lying clam exercise is designed to strengthen your hip abductors and gluteus medius.
- Lying on your side, rest your head on your arm and ensure your hips are ‘stacked’, one hip directly over the other.
- Bend your hips to approximately 45 degrees and your knees at a 90-degree angle.
- Squeeze your heels together then slowly lift your top knee. Lower with control to the original position.
Keep in mind that some people will have more natural turnout because of the way their hip bones are shaped. There are ways to improve the actually range of motion of your hips, however they center on muscle flexibility and joint mobility and are not gained through changing your bone structure.