How To Improve Your Turnout
Ever see a ballerina walk like a duck? That’s “turnout”. Turnout is the outward rotation of the hips. It’s not natural, it’s not easy, and it can cause damage if not done correctly. While professional ballerinas have been practicing turnout since they were children, adult dancers can still learn the basic principles of turnout while protecting their muscles and joints.
1. Turn out from the hips, not the knees
The biggest mistake novices make is turning out from their knees. This is dangerous because it puts undue strain on the ligaments and joints, setting the wrong foundation. Try this: Stand tall with your knees straight, feet parallel. Turn one leg out from the hip, opening up the inner thigh and heel. Practice this with both legs, rotating from the hip joint.
2. Letter V
The most basic position to test your turnout is in first position. Stand tall, knees straight, feet parallel. With your heels still touching, gently open your toes to the side to form the letter V with your feet. Without straining your knees, gently bring the inside of your heels forward more and see if you can point your toes outward even farther. You should be careful not to strain your ankles. The balls of your feet and the bottom of your heels should be pressed firmly into the floor. Check to make sure you’re not “pronating”, or rolling your feet inward. Stand tall in this letter V, or first position. If your knees are at all bent, or you feel like you’re going to buckle forward, you’re not turning out from your hips.
Butterfly is a simple exercise to open your hips. Sit on the floor, press the soles of your feet together, and gently pull your heels in towards you as your knees open to the sides. This will create a diamond shape. The objective of butterfly exercise is to open your inner thighs and encourage the opening of the hips. This is a great warmup to do before class. Lightly flap your knees like butterfly wings to warm up your muscles and prepare your joints for turning out. If you feel any pinching or pain in the hips, simply push your heels away from you to make a larger diamond shape.
Frog exercise is a great way to promote rotation from the hips. Lie face down on your stomach. With your legs directly behind you, put your feet together and gently pull your heels in towards you like butterfly exercise. Your heels should be touching and your toes should be pointing outwards to the sides. Your belly button should be flat on the floor. Be careful not to lift your butt in the air. Frog exercise is just like doing a plié in first position, only instead of standing up, you’re lying flat on your stomach. This exercise forces the hips to be flush with the floor, decreasing the tendency to turn out from the knees. Again, if you experience any strain or pain, push your heels away from you.
If the other exercises are uncomfortable, try doing a large, easy squat in second position. Stand with your legs 1-2 feet apart. Bring the inside of your heels forward as best you can, then do a gentle squat with your hands placed on your hips. Make sure your knees are not falling inward, but pointing out to the sides. Practicing your turnout in second position is a good way to practice hip rotation that’s easier on the body.
Turnout is one of the techniques that makes ballet different from other art forms. When done correctly, it actually creates a stable base that improves your balance and core strength. With steady practice, your body will begin to adapt to the unique anatomy of turnout.
image credit: Ariela Munoz
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