Through the ballet class the teacher is calling out to the dancers, “Turn those feet out!” Not a ballet class is missed with out those expected words! But, what is turn-out and why do ballet dancers stand this strange way?
Turn-out is the outward rotation of the legs and feet in your hip socket and is the most distinctive characteristic of classical ballet. Proper turn-out begins from your hip joint. The femur (thigh bone) rotates in the hip joint from the six deep rotator muscles of the hip. The muscles are called piriformis, abductor internus, quadraters femoris, gemelli interior, gemelli superior and obdurator externus, (The obturator internus and gemelli muscles rotate the extended thigh). Muscular control of your pelvis, legs and abdominal muscles are essential to maintain correct alignment of the body and to facilitate your turn-out.
Turn-out extends from the hip joints through your upper and lower legs and down to your feet, and aligns your knees with your pelvis and your foot. Your kneecap should fall directly between the second and third toes. Your ankle should be perpendicular to your foot so that your foot does not roll either inward or outward. Your vertical alignment of your hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet is maintained regardless of whether the joints are straight or flexed.
Ideal turn-out is 180 degrees. However, this degree is not always possible, Turn-out should be the your natural rotation from the hip joints, approximately 90 to 100 degrees. To maintain equal turnout on both legs requires proper alignment, squareness of the torso and centering of weight. Natural turnout will increases as you gain muscular control.
Turn-out is a primary principle that applies to all of ballet technique. During the Renaissance period ballet was performed first in the ballroom and then moved to the stage. The clothing that the dancers wore made turn-out the most efficient way of moving in all directions and assuming any of the classical positions while facing the audience, Turning-out is the trademark of classical ballet
An image that may help you to visualize and understand the principle of turning out is the Magic Spiral:
Imagine a spiral the begins from the hip bone and goes in back of the buttocks and passes over the inner thigh rotating it outward. The spiral passes behind the knee and wraps around the middle of the calf turning the calf forward. The spiral then wraps around the shin and pushes the heel forward. The spiral continues wrapping around the top part of the foot and around the toes pushing the toes to outward and back.
Development of proper turn-out takes a long time. Here are a few exercises that you can do to achieve a good turnout:
1.Sit on the floor. Bring your feet together so the bottoms of you feet touch. Sit up straight, spine tall, neck stretched, chin lifted. Place one hand on the side of your legs and press down the opposite leg at your knee. Try to get it as close to the floor as possible. Switch sides. Then place your elbows on your legs and press down both legs at the same time. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three times.
2. Lay on the floor on your back. Bring your legs straight up. Open your legs as wide as you can so they get as low to the floor as possible. Keep your legs straight at all times and keep your legs positioned over your hips. Have someone gently push on your inner thighs. Hold for 30 seconds. Release but keep your legs out. Have the person push again for another 30 seconds. Repeat three times. This can also be done alone with your “bottom” seated against a wall and let the force of gravity pull you legs down.
3. Stand in front of a mirror. Turn sideways so you are in profile. Stand in first position. Suck in your stomach and tuck your butt under so your hips naturally turn out. Hold for one minute. Release and take in a deep breath. Suck in your stomach and tuck your butt under again. Try to push your turnout a little bit further. Hold for one minute. Repeat five times, trying to push your turnout more each time.
4. Lay on your back with the soles for you feet together and toes pointed, allowing gravity to pull the knees toward the floor and opening up the hips.
5. Lay on your stomach with the knees bent and the soles of your feet together. Begin with on your elbows, constantly pressing your hip bones towards the floor. As you progress lay flat on your stomach and chest.
Proper turn-out is essential for good ballet technique…..dancers should work at this daily.