Assessing Dancers – The Knee

Normally at the beginning of the dance season the teacher makes a mental assessment of each the dancers in her class. This assessment helps the teacher to see what areas the dancers will need the most help in future classes. This pre assessment becomes the basis for the teacher’s mental image of the each dancer in the class. A profile that will identify the dancer’s body type and any physical problems, skill level and later will include a performance profile as to where the dancer needs to be in a piece of choreography or full scale ballet.

To teach dance effectively, the teacher must keep a clear picture in mind of each dancer’s body type and work as they progress though the class and achieve good technique. This information is important since it predicts how dancers with various body and knee types will move in relation to the content of the class and the work that is put before them,

Today we will discuss knee variances……

Several differences in the structure of the knee affect the performance of the dancer and the artistic line that the dancer’s body tries to create. The shape of the pelvis and position of the thigh determined the straightness of the leg.

There are several variances in the shape of the knees. These variances are commonly known as knock knees, bowlegs, tibial torsion and hyperextension. Dancers with these knee variances need to adjust their body alignment so they may move quickly and with control. These minor adjustments focus on straightening and aligning the body and legs to create a line upright from the hip though the leg and the foot. The entire body alignment needs to work together to become balanced to create that classic ballet line that gives the dancer that professional quality in movement.

Knock-Knees (Jarrette)

Jean Georges Noverre, an 18th century theoretician of ballet technique, translated Jarrette as “closed knees” or “ knocked-kneed“. When the dancer stands in 1st position, with the calves touching or nearly touching, the heels separate. The knock kneed dancer is typically loose limbed and supple. To determine if a dancer is knocked-kneed, view the dancer from the back in 1st position. There should be no more than one to two inches between the heels. If more than two inches between the heels the dancer is considered knock-kneed.

Bowlegs (Arque)

The term Arque, was also identified by Noverre, and it translates “arched” or bowlegged”. This knee condition is usually occurring in men. When a dancer is bowlegged, the tendency is to roll forward on the feet. With this misalignment, the dancer is more prone to injury on the inside of the knee. When a dancer with bowlegs stands in 1st position, the knees have a space between them. To determine if a dancer has bow legs, view the dancer from the back in parallel 1st position and then turned out 1st position. If a dancer is bowlegged, the knees have a space between them and is hyperextended. Usually the hip joint turns inward as a result of the bowlegged condition. This type of knee variance sometimes interferes with the technical ability of the dancer. This type dancer is usually strong and swift but extensions are never high.

Tibial Torsion (Cross Eyed)

Tibial Torsion is when the patella (knee cap) is shifted toward the inside of the knee. This condition causes incorrect alignment of the foot and changes the angle at which the legs push from the foot. This type of knee gives the dancer problems with balance and elevation in their jumps. To determine if a dancer has Tibial Torsion, ask the dancer to stand in parallel 1st position and look at the dancer’s knees from the front. Notice if the knee caps are off center, this would indicate Tibial Torsion.


Hyperextension occurs when the knees press too far back and the ligaments behind the knee permanently stretch, making the front of the knee appear flat. This results in a hollow in the back of the knee, with a bulge above the knee. A dancer with this type of knee will carry her weight on her heels. This type of knee can affect speed and elevation in jumps. Some teachers find this type of knee aesthetically pleasing. However, the dancer must be aware of possible injury. Hyperextension often causes a chain reaction of the way the dancer holds her body. Most often there is misalignment that can be dangerous when landing from jumps or leaps. There is a spinal misalignment caused by hyperextension.

-the head is forward

-the shoulders are back due to misalignment arising out of the hips

-the hips are back and the lower back sways forward

-the upper shoulders are rounded

-the scapula (shoulder blade) bows outward

To test if a dancer has hyperextension, view the dancer in parallel 1st position from both the side and the back . Notice if the knees touch and if the legs are swayed back.

Assessing your dancer will help you, the teacher mold the dancer properly and the dancer to improve even with slight handicaps. For the dancer to be assessed, will inform her of what her handicaps are and how to work with them.

We will discuss dancing with knee variances next post……..

2 thoughts on “Assessing Dancers – The Knee

  1. Hi Theresa, I was thinking of taking up adult ballet classes (I’m turning 26 this year) and I have knock knees so I’m not sure if they’ll be a problem. I feel like they might be a problem especially in 5th position as the knee of the back leg prevents me from straightening my front leg fully. Do you have any advice?

    • I would enroll and take the class anyway. I do have students with knocked knees. The are not professional level but do enjoy taking class. Do not force your turn out. Keep a comfortable turn out one that is anatomically natural for you. You will love it just for the concentration and peace it will bring to your day.

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