If you are a dancer, especially a ballet dancer, then you will know the endless fights you have with yourself to improve your ballet turnout. In this article, we will look at the right and wrong ways to turnout your feet, and also try some exercises to improve your ballet turnout.
What Is Ballet Turnout?
Ballet turnout is the rotation of the leg at the hips which causes the feet to turn outward, away from the front of the body.
This rotation allows for greater extension of the leg, especially when raising it to the side and rear. Turnout is an essential part of the classical ballet technique. Without turnout, ballet simply does not look like, well, ballet.
The more turned out the dancer’s legs are, the more pleasing to the eye the dancer is to watch.
When a child first starts ballet he or she will learn about the first position as pictured below. It may be one of the first things you learn in a ballet class but turnout in ballet is one of the most difficult things to master because turning out is a very unnatural thing to do for most people.
Contrary to belief, the dancer is taught not to only turn the feet out, but to turn the entire leg out from the hip joint.
The knees should be facing the middle toe at all times and the dancer will have to elongate the lower spine and rotate the femur in the hip joint in order to get his or her maximum turnout.
The dancer will do most of her ballet class with her feet in a turned out position. This, in turn, trains the muscles to hold the turnout when more intricate steps are performed later.
In the photo below, you will see a classic example of a dancer who is trying to turn out more than they are able. You will notice that the arches are collapsing forward causing a huge strain on the knees.
Very few people have a natural 180-degree turnout, as this dancer is trying to demonstrate.
The turnout happens in the hip area and if the bone structure in your hip limits your turnout in any way, you have to learn to work with what you have got.
Never ever force the turnout, as you will only cause long term and permanent damage to your knees and maybe even your hips, not to mention the alignment in your feet.
A dancer who forces their turnout will have a better chance of injury while also decreasing their own overall ability to do steps.
What If I Don’t Have Perfect Turnout?
Remember that it’s okay not to have perfect turnout. There are many famous ballerina’s that didn’t have perfect turnout, but they still had that star quality. One example of this is the late great Margot Fonteyn.
Many dancers may try to force turnout because they’re trying to be perfect. Well, the sooner a dancer realizes that perfection doesn’t exist in ballet, the sooner they can relax and properly use what they have.
This takes some practice and maybe some internal searching, especially for professionals. The best way to get over it is to make a simple “would I rather” list. For example… Would you rather force your turnout or jump higher? Would you rather force your turnout or dance longer? Force your turnout or be more stable on your legs? Force your turnout or have less risk of injury?
Ballet Turnout Exercises To Try?
First, try this simple exercise for more functional turnout.
Stand at the barre in your usual over turned out fifth position and plie. Feel where your knees are, whether you are square or not and if your back is arching and your butt sticking out.
Try to feel how “strong” you feel in this position. Could someone walk right by and knock you over with a little push?
Now, let your feet turn in one inch on either side. Plie again and now try to feel how it feels in comparison to when you were forcing your feet open. Does it feel like you could spring off the floor easier? Do your back and hips feel less pressure? If you’re most dancers, the answer to these will be “Yes!”
Almost every dancer is guilty of forcing the turnout at some point or another.
Just remember that pushing your turnout isn’t the same as forcing it.
Never turn out to the point that your hips, knees, and ankles aren’t aligned in a plié, your hips are tucked under, your feet are rolled in or your back is swayed.
The trick is to use the maximum turnout that you naturally have and work in that range.
Most good dancers don’t have perfect turnout—they just have the muscle control to make the best of their existing rotation.
The stronger your turnout muscles are, the easier the steps will be to do.
Having turnout and working with the correct amount of turnout and the correct muscles give you a greater range of motion and allow you to move more freely, bigger, and faster.
Checklist For Dancers When Standing In 5th Position
- Is the pelvis in neutral?
- Is the tailbone down but not tucked?
- Are the hips opening like a book from the center of the body?
- Is the upper body lifted?
- Is the weight over the front part of the foot and not on the heels?
Products To Purchase Online To Help With Your Turnout
This excellent tool teaches the foot, ankle, and hip to work together correctly and also shows up the incorrect alignment you may or may not have.
The boards are 8 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. There are two boards in a package.
There is a video below with examples of how these boards can improve your ballet turnout.
Reliable4Life Stretch Bands for Ballet and Dance with Resistance Band Included, Perfect for Kids and Adults, Improves Splits, Flexibility and Strength plus Carry Bag and Illustrated eBook, set of 2
How To Improve Your Turnout
This is a wonderful video done by Kathryn Morgan to show you what sort of exercises you should be doing to improve your ballet turnout. In these exercises, you will be using both the bands and the ballet turnout board featured above.