Perhaps, you recently sat in the theater watching a professional production of the Nutcracker Ballet or enjoy watching your own dancer perform their summer productions every year. Have you ever said to yourself “how do they do that with their legs?!?” Well in addition to flexibility this grace comes from their ability to “turn out”. In traditional ballet, there are 5 ballet positions that dance steps originate from. These positions require dancers to have their legs “turned-out”. This may come natural for some dancers but others spend several hours a week working to achieve this “turn-out”. Whether you are a dancer looking to gain turn-out, a dancer’s parent hoping to gain a better understand or a dance instructor looking to gain new tips this blog will give you a closer look into “turn-out”.
What does the term “turn-out” even mean?
In the dance world, turn-out is described as how much a dancer can rotate their legs out when standing in basic ballet positions (1st – 5th position) and utilizing that rotation when lifting their leg while dancing. Ideal turn out is 90 degrees from both legs. Having “more turn-out” is a common correction dancers often hear in ballet class and they work hard to avoid hearing it. However, not all dancers know how to improve their turn-out on their own and can resort to unsafe ways of achieving it.
Where does “turn-out” actually come from?
The turn-out dancers have in their legs can be broken down into 3 areas of the lower extremity. The majority of turn-out, 60%, comes from the hips. This involves the actual hip joint, ligaments and rot
ator muscles. There are many anatomical factors that can limit or make turn-out easier for dancers. It is important for dancers to understand that everyone’s anatomy is different which means some dancers will naturally have more turn-out then others. The next area of turn out comes from the ankle assisting in 20-30% of their turn-out. Many dancers will “force” their turn-out by gripping the floor with their feet while in full turn-out. The result of this causes increased pressure and stress on the knees and “rolling in” of their arches, often resulting in injury. The remaining turn out comes from the rotation of the lower leg, knee and tibia.
So how does a dancer safely gain turn-out?
I have included 3 excellent exercises to assist dancers in gaining turn-out by strengthening and stretching their hip rotators, aka “turn out” muscles. In addition to these exercises, it is important for dancers to incorporate a stretching and strengthening program into their routine.