The look of a dancer is unmistakable to see and for the dancer to feel. It is an appearance of elegance and a suggestion of pride. Standing correctly is one of the very first things taught at ballet class and is used throughout the dancer’s career and on into their every day lives.
The turning out of the legs form the hip socket is one of the first and most important things a dancer needs to learn. It enables the dancer to move using the steps of ballet as smoothly and quickly in any direction, as possible. Proper turn-out is achieved by using the muscles to rotate the legs from inside the hip sockets. To turn-out only from the knees or ankles could result in injury .
Forcing turn-out in the feet will distort the position of the entire body and often results in injury, especially to the knee. As a beginner an angle of 100 degrees will work the muscles in the hip and thigh without causing the knees to rotate inwards and the ankles to roll forward. The dancer needs to remember that all five toes need to remain on the floor.
Development of proper turn-out takes a bit time and effort, constant effort from the dancer. Definitely stay away from a ballet teacher who is demanding a 180 degree perfect turnout. A good ballet teacher should have you work within your natural range to turn your legs and feet outward. Over time and with proper training, your strength and flexibility will maximize your own degree of rotation in the hip.
As I said above, proper turn-out always begins at the hip. Stand with your feet together and parallel, pulling your muscles up out of the knees, and then slowly open the toes outward as far as you can comfortably, without making any adjustments in the knees. This would be your natural turn-out, and this degree of turn-out is where you should work from without forcing more. Gradually with more ballet training, your turn-out will improve over time.
It’s important to learn how to work within your natural turn-out. This holds true when the leg is lifted en l’air as well. We should try not to sacrifice the squaring off of your hips and shoulders in order to get the leg more to the side. Keep that hip pressed down. It takes some time for dancers to learn exactly where their own turn-out should be and where they need to aim in order to keep the body properly aligned.
Keeping proper body alignment is difficult when working to the back. When working on your steps requiring to turn-out derriere, be sure not to lift the hip. Keep aware of proper placement in the hips and shoulders. The hip needs to remain pressed down and the opposite shoulder, to the extended leg derriere, should feel like a huge elastic band is tugging, to the extended foot to keep the shoulders squared off.
Stretching exercises that utilize the power of gravity are most beneficial and least harmful. If you feel pain, you should lessen your turn-out or stop. Sitting with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent, press down on the knees to the floor. This exercise is often used in pre-dance classes and are called Butterflies. Also lie on your stomach, bend your knees and again place the soles of your feet together. Keep your hips on the floor, do not lift them, and press down so that you can eventually get your inner thighs on the floor still keeping the knees bent and the soles of your feet together.
When ballet teachers are looking for an incorrect turn-out they will be looking for a rolling in of the feet and the pelvis to tilt forward and the knees and toes will be pointing in a different direction than the center of the hip joint indicates. When a dancer is forcing turn-out beyond their physical capabilities, tension will appear in the buttocks and probably other areas of the body such as the shoulders or neck.
When you hear a ballet teacher say “knees over toes,” they are asking you to properly align the turnout of your legs and avoid rolling in of the foot in a standing position or in plié. Try this simple test:
Bend your knees slightly, turn out as much as you can, and then gently lengthen the legs. You are forcing your turnout. What does it feel like? Do you feel a tension or twisting in the knees? Are your feet rolling in to maintain this position? Do you feel balanced or insecure in this position?
When the legs are opened without force and turnout is properly supported, the dancer should be able to trace a line directly from the hip, through the center of the knee, and to a point between the second and third toe of the foot. A properly aligned pelvis, is a good indicator as well because when the turnout is forced, generally the pelvis will tilt, creating a swayed back.
Most everyone has their own degree of turn-out and will find their degree. For some, the degree of turn-out is limited by the unchangeable structure of the body and not for lack of trying. Finding your personal proper degree of turn-out is essential for excellence in your ballet training.