In order to avoid injury and to get better and stronger over time, it is very important to achieve good lower body alignment in your ballet or any of your dancing for that matter.
Lower Body Alignment
The feet need to be in alignment with the knees at all times. This fact is non-negotiable.
The feet, lower leg, and upper leg should all line up in the same plane. This relationship should not be lost, whether it be in dancing or in any other activities you may do.
Remember to make sure your knees are over your toes every time you plie, and never let them roll inwards. Feet must never ever be more turned out than your knees are.
Unfortunately, weaknesses in your hips will always show up in the lower legs. This weakness is found in dancers who force their turnout from their ankles instead of initiating turnout from the rotator muscles (Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus) in the hip.
‘The hip controls the foot and the foot informs the hip what is happening.’
So how do we even start to achieve this lower body alignment?
First of all, as a dancer, you need to focus on the correct alignment of each foot at the ankle and to hold this alignment correctly at all times, until it becomes second nature.
The feet also need to learn to relax so that you will be able to hold the correct alignment.
Believe it or not, the most common cause of dance injuries to the lower legs, feet, and ankles was the fact that dancers fail to keep their feet and legs aligned as nature intended.
Even slight misalignment will cause a weakening of the joints involved and in the end an imbalance in the muscle groups of the lower leg.
So achieving good lower body alignment in your dance class is one one of, if not the most important concept to teach your students.
Turnout In Ballet
Turnout in ballet is one of the qualities of style that distinguishes ballet from all other dance forms. It needs to be developed slowly by gradually strengthening the muscles that produce it.
When the legs are turned out for ballet, it is important to keep the arches in the feet lifted and to not turn the feet further than the thighs can turn. Correct use of the muscles that control the foot, ankle, and knee joints helps to prevent problems later.
Turnout is accomplished mostly by the use of these muscle groups:
- The outward rotator muscle group, which is located at the rear of the hip joint.
- The sartorius muscle, which is the longest muscle in the body and enables dancers to turn out their inner thighs.
So how do we get our students to use these turnout muscles?
As teachers, you have the job of helping your students to feel where these muscles are and how to activate them so that they can use them correctly to achieve good lower body alignment. Here are some exercises to try with your students.
One good exercise is to plie in parallel, then staying in a plie, turn the legs out from the hip, then parallel again before stretching the legs. Once strong enough, you can repeat this exercise on one leg at a time.
The clamshell is also great to strengthen those turnout muscles.
Let them lie on their sides with their knees bent in front of them and legs together one on top of the other. Now lift the top leg up without letting the hips rock backward and keep the feet together. Do as many repetitions as needed to feel the muscle start to burn, and then roll over and do on the other side.
Try letting them sit on the floor with their legs extended and feet pointed in front of them with their legs squeezing together. Hands can be placed next to and in the back of their hips to help them to keep their backs straight.
Rotate the legs from parallel to turned out and back again and let them feel which muscles that they are using in order to achieve this.
Next with their legs turned out, lift one leg up just off the floor and lower it. Do this a couple of times with each leg keeping the back straight and let them think about which muscles they are using to lift their legs.
Tell them to focus on the muscle just above the inside of the knee as they lift. This is the sartorius.
These muscles that rotate the legs outwards are the same ones that lift the leg correctly to the back when doing attitudes and arabesques.
If the dancer can learn to use these muscles correctly, it could mean higher legs.
Here is something your students can try to learn which muscles to use when doing an arabesque or attitude behind them.
Lay your students face down on the floor with their chins resting on their hands.
Extend legs together and rotate them from parallel to turned out a few times.
Tell them to visualize the outward rotators next to their hip joints at the back and slightly to the side of their hip. If they tighten the correct muscles, their leg will turn out.
No holding the turnout, lift one leg at a time and lower it keeping it straight at first then try an attitude. When attempting the attitude, the knee should be higher than the foot. make sure to keep the front of the hip or pelvic bones in contact with the floor.
The thigh must lift directly behind its own hip joint, not behind the center of the body.
Remind the students that height isn’t important when doing these exercises, as the purpose is to isolate the muscles and teach them how to move, rotating the leg outwards, as well as strengthen them.
Try making these exercises part of your class, as this can greatly improve the student’s muscle memory for correct alignment. It takes time to form habits, so repeat as often as you remember.