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Turnout - some basic concepts


Anjuli_Bai
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I have been asked to repost this....it has appeared on the old forum:

 

Why Turnout?

 

Turnout is one of the hallmarks of the ballet technique, though it occurs in many other dance forms. It gives the ballet dancer several advantages in executing the vocabulary of the ballet:

It shows the lines of the body to good advantage. The turned out position is much more aesthetically pleasing and is used for other forms of dance such as Balinese. The foot and leg are more presentable - pleasing to the eye, when seen turned out - rather than straight on.

It increases mobility. You are also less likely to trip when turned out, rather than moving straight on. Though I have used the terms turned out feet and legs - all turnout begins and is held in the hip.

It increases the height of extension. If your leg is turned frontwards, its normal position, it cannot elevate to any significant degree either front, back or side.

It gives you the ability to move in different directions more easily. If your feet are pointing frontward - you have no back foot. Moving sideways or backwards is much more difficult. You can also move much more swiftly when you are turned out.

It presents a wider stance for balance. If you are standing on one foot your balance is much more stable if the foot you are standing upon is somewhat turned out.

 

The basic premise of this technique is that the turnout occurs in the hips and is reflected in the legs and ultimately in the feet. The knees must always be aligned with the toes. If the knees are more forward than the toes in any of the ballet positions, then the feet must not be turned out so much. Nothing is gained by forcing turnout, and much can be lost. If the knees cannot accommodate the turnout, then injury will occur; if not immediately then ultimately.

 

Assessing turnout.....If the student stands in her best (unforced) first position, with the knees aligned over the toes, have the student then relevé to half pointe, and see what happens to the heels. Have they lost some turnout? If they have that means that wherever that turnout was in a flat first position is the amount of turnout that is "available" and wherever that turnout is in relevé, is what is "useable." The object of gaining strength is to bring what is available and what is useable more closely in line.

The guiding principles are: turnout must never be forced; turnout must come from the hips; knees must be aligned over the toes; everyone's turnout is different - comparisons with others is self defeating.

Some of the questions that are asked about turnout, in my experience, are:

What determines an individual’s turnout? The answer I believe is the construction of the hip joints, and the tension of the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Of course all of this is connected to other parts of the body such as the spine. But on a very basic level, it is the hip that is involved. The looser the construction, the more turnout is available.

I use the word “available” because that leads to the next question that I am asked the most often and that is –

“How do I improve my turnout?” In my opinion it is possible to improve turnout to some extent with careful, gentle work under the supervision of a good teacher. One cannot alter the construction of the hip joint, but one can improve the stretch to allow more turnout and the strength to maintain it. The student must of course always be well warmed up. Nothing must be pushed or strained. The work must be done on a regular basis. Every exercise in the ballet vocabulary, if worked correctly – from the hips – will work toward that end.

Specifically, I don’t personally recommend extreme exercise or stretch of any kind. Sitting on the floor with the bottoms of the feet touching, and having the student (not anyone else!) GENTLY pushing down on the knees toward the floor, is a help. Again, the student has to be well warmed up, and the key word is GENTLE. You can let gravity and relaxation do a lot of the work. I do not recommend lying face down on the floor with the bottoms of the feet touching. In my opinion that places too much pressure on the knees, and the weight of the body will be forcing open the hips.

Other things one could do: stand in retiré and slowly swing the lifted leg inwardly and then out – feeling the hips opening. The student can lie down on the floor (not a cold floor!) on her side and extend the upward leg to a la seconde, again feeling the turnout in the rotation of the hips. Every tendu is an opportunity to improve turnout, by presenting the heel to the front, hiding the heel under the foot (from the vantage point of the mirror to the side) to second, and hiding the heel again, when extending to the back. This of course extends itself to every other exercise, degagé, rond de jambe, etc.

Is it possible to improve turnout after puberty? In my personal experience, very much so. We all have limitations beyond which the body will not go, but if the student works thoughtfully, a great deal of improvement can be accomplished.

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Perhaps some general information on flexibility, which seems to be popping up a lot in another topic. I am not sure if I am correct in believing that there can be limits on how much flexibility an individual can achieve due to factors such as length of tendons? I am not sure I fully understand the difference between hypermobilty and flexibility. My last question relates to improves flexibility of feet.

 

Thanks Anjuli

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Perhaps some general information on flexibility, which seems to be popping up a lot in another topic. I am not sure if I am correct in believing that there can be limits on how much flexibility an individual can achieve due to factors such as length of tendons? I am not sure I fully understand the difference between hypermobilty and flexibility. My last question relates to improves flexibility of feet. Thanks Anjuli

 

There are certainly limits to everything the body does. It depends upon how everything is knit together: ligaments connect bone to bone (and don't stretch), tendons connect muscle to bone (tendons stretch), muscles move the bones at the behest of the tendons (muscles do stretch), the whole thing is tied to the skeleton which of course is made up of bone (cartilege, too), it moves but doesn't stretch. This, of course, is a simplified, generalized, basic explanation.

 

Also - part of the picture is how the bones are shaped; how the ball and socket joints (hips) are placed and shaped and fit together, how the hinge joints (knees) are joined, etc.

 

I have found that whilst children tend to be more flexible than adults - there are many children who are quite inflexible. Some elderly people are more flexiible than youngsters. Most people, if they work on it carefully, can maintain and even improve flexibility. We lose flexibility as we age because we don't move as much and/or other factors such as arthritis, scar tissue, etc.

 

But to your question.....hypermobility is movement beyond the norrmal range of a joint.

 

Flexibility and strength are the opposite poles: one allows us to move and the other gives us stability. People who are very flexibile have difficulty maintaining stability/strength - and people who are tightly knit, while strong and stable, have trouble moving. Most of us are somewhere on that scale - towards the middle.

 

So, a highly flexible foot tends to be less strong while a tightly knit foot is strong but does not have that curve (which we label as "beautiful") The ballet dancer aims for both strength and beauty/flexibility but gives up one for the other.

 

We have to bear in mind that which we label as "beautiful" is subjective - and subject to change with time.

 

I hope this helps.

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Anjuli_Bai ,Your post on turnout was very helpful. My DDs teacher has been talking to her about turnout and to think about the spiral of the legs. Dd is unsure how to identify which muscles she should be using do you have any advice for her?

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If you stand in fifth (or first) position and do a tendu to the front fully turned out and then rotate the extended leg within the hip socket so that the foot/leg is now almost turned in - and then rotate out again - the muscles that accomplish that rotation will be felt. Try that to the front/side/back and pay attention to how it feels.

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I would add to this that very hypermobile children sometimes have difficulty "feeling" what their joints are doing, and feeling which muscles should be engaged. My DD's teacher has recently started - with my permission - to be much more hands on with my hypermobile daughter and saying "this bit!" which has been very helpful. :)

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Good addition - touching even for those who are not hypermobile has always been a part of teaching ballet up until now when everyone is hypersensitive about it.

 

It even works when self administered! It is hard for someone who is loosely constructed to feel where the muscle is that must be engaged and connected to their core strength. Only when this has been accomplished does one gain control.

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Definitely! Even my DD's local teacher was shocked at how hypermobile my DD is and how difficult it is for her to feel. At DD's private ballet lesson this week the teacher was hands on at every exercise and it was as if a lightbulb had gone on in both DD and the teacher's heads - DD because she could finally feel which muscles should engage, and the teacher who had worked out the best way to teach DD! :-)). A very constructive lesson all round!

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So .... is hyper mobility a good thing? My dd is hyper mobile and also has very arched feet (which are also pretty strong). All we have ever been told is that it can be a good thing as long as you have muscle strength and can control it ... i.e. the sway back legs. Would actually love to know more about hyper mobility.

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Would children with hypermobility in knee joints struggle to engage the muscles to pull up? Privates certainly can be of use if a student struggling with something specific to their body type. But it is difficult to tell what will come with time and what needs extra help and attention.

 

 

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Generally speaking, a looser construction - which can be more beautiful such as in highly arched feet - is also a construction which is not as strong. If you think about it - it becomes obvious. Almost everything that moves operates between the two poles of stretch (moveability) and strength (stability). Sometimes it is also a component of wearability. How long a thing works without injury. While a foot which is highly arched can certainly also be strong (with proper training) it may be more vulnerable to wear and tear.

 

Yes, in hypermobile/hyperextended knees it is difficult for the student to learn to pull up through the thighs. When they hear the teacher say "straighten your knees" - they push back rather than pull up through the thighs. It takes time for the message to get through and more time for them to feel what is correct. It's like working with jelly as opposed to working with bricks.

 

Everyone has issues of one type or another - and every dancer has to learn how to work through and with those issues. While one dancer struggles to get a good extension - another struggles to maintain stability while holding that extension.

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Yes, my daughter has fantastic natural turnout, but has had trouble maintaining it. She's now having to go right back to basics to learn how to engage the muscles in her legs to keep the turnout. Conversely, Grand Battements are ridiculously easy for her. Hypermobility can be a blessing and a curse at the same time! :-)

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  • 1 month later...

Anjuli_Bai,

 

Another question about turnout.my dd has perfect box splits and perfect frog in all ways but while standing in 5th her frount leg is more turned out than the back leg.When plieing her legs open all the way to the sides..She understands how to turnout and what it means.Also only when in 5th her frount leg is a little bent.She has slightly swayed back legs but not to much and i think she has gained this only from ballet as she didnt have it before and its getting bigger.Should she be pushing, not forcing, her turnout a little to help with strength because otherwise she cant feel her muscles working.

She has only just turned 9.

Thank you xxx

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It is important that her front leg (either leg, for that matter) should not be bent in 5th position. If she has a sway back knee - then she has to remember to pull up on that thigh muscle - and not to push back on it. She also has to allow room for that knee to fit - thus she might have to leave an inch or two between the feet in 5th position.

 

Have her stand in first position in her best - but never forced - turnout. Be sure her thighs are pulled up - the knees are not pushed back. If her knees are swaybacked (hyper-extended) then her knees should touch before her heels do. How much distance is there between her heels? That is the distance she will need between her heels throughout her ballet exercises; not only in 5th position but also in movements such rond de jamb a terre. Any time her feet pass through first position - that distance has to be maintained.

 

At her young age, since she apparently has naturally good turnout - there is no reason to push it further. She has to first learn how to use it and how to "feel" it. As she grows older then she can work for further turnout if necessary. Right now learning technique is important - strength will naturally flow from that.

 

I hope this helps.

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very much,thank you xxx

 

I think i understand now what you are saying.If she leaves a inch between her 5th position then she will be able to straighten her legs!We always thought that 5th position must be closed tightly,but doing this leaves the frount leg a little bit bent and the back leg slightly less turned out because she cant straighten the back leg!you can hardly notice this and her teacher hasent,only us!We will give it a try tomorrow and see how it is.Her legs are only very slightly sway back and im sure its getting more,is this possible?

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Anjuli, maybe you can give some advice here too. My 14 year old has been told she has only "adequate" turnout. However when she tendues to the front or back, however rotated she is you can still see her heel and she finds it really hard to hide it as you described on your very helpful post. Is some heel allowed to show, or should she work towards hiding it completely in those positions. Would really appreciate your thoughts. Thank you!

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Ideally, that heel has to be hidden: front, side and back.

 

The important thing is that as she works on this she should not sacrifice stability in other places such as sitting in her standing hip or lifting the hip of the working foot. Or pulling on the barre. Rotation has to occur in the hip - and no where else.

 

The good news is that there is usually some improvement if we work on it - but the reality is that there is a limit beyond which we cannot go. The limitation might be in the shape of the bones, how the joint is structured and fitted together - even where the socket is placed. That can't be changed.

 

If her desire is to dance as an advocation - there is no problem. However, if her goal is for a vocation in dance - this could limit her. Not because she cannot dance - or has no talent - but simply because of the artificial construct of what is considered "acceptable" in today's dance market. A few decades ago - this kind of thing would not have limited a dancer at all.

 

It's sad that a limited or adequate turnout should be an obstacle to an artistic goal - but the world of ballet is becoming increasingly based on an artificial and (in my minority opinion) unnecessarily limiting ideal of what a dancer should look like and be able to accomplish.

 

I don't think that classical ballet was ever envisioned by the people who furthered its artistic values through the centuries - as a place for physical excess. In fact, originally it was conceived as the model for beauty and grace. There is nothing particularly beautiful or graceful about excess in any capacity.

 

I speak as a lonely - and growing lonelier minority.

 

However, if this (adequate turnout) is a problem to a future vocational career in dance, and you need a definitive answer based on her individual construction you can have a physical therapist examine her and even have xrays (or whatever they do these days) to assess her skeletal, tendon and ligament construction. While on the one hand one doesn't want to overdo with xrays - it could satisfy your question - especially the question of if improvement is a possibility.

 

I hope something I've said here helps.

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Thanks for your honest and constructive reply, Anjuli. Your post echoes what I also feel about today's dance market but I could never have expressed it as beautifully as you do.

 

My DD is a vocational student with a passionate desire to become a classical dancer so her lack of turnout is very important. She works on it every day - not only at school but at home on her own doing exercises given to her by a physiotherapist who has closely monitored her over the last year. She does Pilates once a week also. No, we haven't yet gone down the route of X-rays as yet. She becomes very frustrated and upset with her turnout limitations even though she is a lovely dancer and has just been accepted as a Senior Associiate at RBS. She has so much going for her - her proportions, her artistry, her passion and most importantly her incredible work ethic and it breaks my heart that something as seemingly mundane as the construction of her hips may stop her achieving her dream. Her teacher tells her the rotation is there but she still hasn't mastered using it yet.

 

Sorry to ramble on in this self indulgent way, but I feel for her so much. Thanks so much, your answer really helped.

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"It's sad that a limited or adequate turnout should be an obstacle to an artistic goal - but the world of ballet is becoming increasingly based on an artificial and (in my minority opinion) unnecessarily limiting ideal of what a dancer should look like and be able to accomplish.

 

I don't think that classical ballet was ever envisioned by the people who furthered its artistic values through the centuries - as a place for physical excess. In fact, originally it was conceived as the model for beauty and grace. There is nothing particularly beautiful or graceful about excess in any capacity."

 

I really agree with this Anjuli and you have worded it as beautifully as always. Sorry, but I am not sure how to show in my post that I have copied this paragraph from yours, unless it does so automatically.

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  • 1 month later...

 

If her desire is to dance as an advocation - there is no problem. However, if her goal is for a vocation in dance - this could limit her. Not because she cannot dance - or has no talent - but simply because of the artificial construct of what is considered "acceptable" in today's dance market. A few decades ago - this kind of thing would not have limited a dancer at all.

 

It's sad that a limited or adequate turnout should be an obstacle to an artistic goal - but the world of ballet is becoming increasingly based on an artificial and (in my minority opinion) unnecessarily limiting ideal of what a dancer should look like and be able to accomplish.

 

Anjuli - are you saying that all dancers entering into the top companies nowadays have 180 degrees available and useable turnout? Are there any notable exceptions?

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How would a child go about achieving better flexibility, apart from just practising straddle/pike etc - is there any frequency advice or 'training schedule' you could suggest, Anjuli_Bai?

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"Anjuli - are you saying that all dancers entering into the top companies nowadays have 180 degrees available and useable turnout?"

 

Dancers of today aim to get as close as possible. Personally, I don't think most people get the "useable" to ever equal the available - because they are polar opposites. That's because "available" is attained by relaxing the muscle whilst "useable" by definition means the muscle/tendon combination can't be fully relaxed - it's in use.

 

 

" Are there any notable exceptions? "

 

I'm not sure I should name names but I recall a major MAJOR world renowned prima ballerina in the 1970/80's (you would instantly know her name) - I have a picture of her (I'm looking at it now on page 115 of her large "A Dance Biography" in a broad fourth position (back leg straight- front leg bent ) in leotard and tights (so everything is visible). Both her feet are completely turned out. However, the knee of the front leg is not directly over the completely turned out foot - in fact, not even even close.

 

When I saw this picture (I bought the book in 1979) I thought to myself there are knee problems in her future and indeed that is what hastened her retirement from performing. So - the completely turned out foot is what is available - but it is not useable since the knee cannot match the foot. This shows up in every picture of her as she goes past what is useable - the compensation is taken up by torquing that knee. Knees don't like to be torqued.

 

"How would a child go about achieving better flexibility, apart from just practising straddle/pike etc - is there any frequency advice or 'training schedule' you could suggest, Anjuli_Bai?"

 

 

In my first post which opens this thread some ideas to work on turnout are given - including seeing it as a basic concept which permeates every exercise at the barre and center. It is not a separate entity. It begins in tendu and goes on from there. Thus, the answer to frequency - is - in every moment of ballet class. In other words - useable.

 

I hope something I've said here helps. :)

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