Written by Rachael Corbett BScPT, RCAMT
A ballet dancer who has near perfect turn-out is the envy of the class. Who hasn’t at some point stood (or tried to stand) in 5th with the sides of their feet touching? And if you’ve done pointe work, turn-out is harder to cheat and you may find you’re squeezing your legs and bum even harder to look good and get up over your box!
Yes, turn-out is important not only for the esthetics of ballet but also safety. Turn-out (or external rotation of the leg) should come solely from the hips. There is a little fudge room in the ankle but this is minimal. The trouble is many girls wiggle their feet out further squeeze their thighs, or drop their arches to make it look like they have more turn-out than they do Unfortunately this creates alignment problems and muscle tightness which puts them at risk for injury, especially if they are working on jumps or pointe work! Forcing movement is problematic and turn-out is no exception.
So where does turn-out come from?
The hip is a ball and socket joint with the long shaft of the leg at an angle to the joint. Lie down with your legs straight and relaxed. Slide your hands down the sides of your waist until they rest on the crest of what most people consider their hips…this is actually your pelvis! Leave the palm of your hand there and fan your fingers down and in towards your pubic bone. The ball of your hip rests about 2/3of the way down, under your finger tips if you can reach.
Rock your leg in and out, perhaps you can feel the ball rotating under your fingers?
What if I have a problem with my feet, can that effect my turn-out?
Absolutely!! Turn out comes from the hips but there are many body parts including your back, feet, and even ribs that can limit how well your hips work. This is why it is so important for a physiotherapist to do a full body assessment when working with you.
So what does good alignment look like?
Good alignment of the lower leg (when standing flat) is when the knee cap is in line with the second toe. This alignment should be present when your knee is bent or straight, when you are turned-out or turned-in, or when you are balancing on one leg in an arabesque.
Test #1 …First position parallel
So hop up and let’s take a look. Stand facing the mirror in first position parallel. Take a good look at your knee caps. Do they face forward? They should be directly over your second toe. Bend your knees without them touching. Do your knee caps stay lined up with your toes? If they aren’t aligned here, it’s likely that they aren’t aligned in your turn-out.
Test #2…Turn out
Now for turnout…keep one foot pointing directly at the mirror and turn the other leg out. You should be standing in first position. Look at your knee cap in the mirror. Which direction is it facing? Take a look at this dancer. Can you see how her knee cap is pointing one direction and her toes another? This creates a pull through the foot, knee and hip and places stress on the joints in between! If you want to try something more difficult, try standing on one leg. Does your knee cap still line up with your toes?
Test 3…Perfect plie?
If you’ve passed the tests so far, you’re ready for a plie. Your knee cap should line up directly over your second toe as you bend. Try and keep both knees doing this at the same time. Here are pictures of what it should look like:
<– can you see how her knees don’t line up with her toes?
When she brings her feet in she looses “turn-out” of her feet but improves alignment of her whole leg.
Another way to check is to look straight down. You should not be able to see your toes if they are right under your knees!
Here’s another picture of how a dancer is turning her feet out too far and is putting stress on her lower leg.
Wait, you want me to loose turn out?
Now before you panic, I just want to reinforce that my goal is to improve your turn-out. The only way you are going to get better turn-out is by not cheating with your feet and focusing on where turn-out should really come from…your hips! Time for the next test…
Test #4…How much turn-out do my hips really have?
It’s time to get you to lie down on your back. Bend your knees with your ankles touching and let them gently fall out to the sides. You should be able to tuck a small hand behind your back in this position. Take a look at your legs…this is the turn out range available in your hips at this moment! Is it more or less than you thought? Is it more than you had when you were standing? Is anything uncomfortable? Does one side have less turnout than the other?
Putting it all together…how am I doing?
- I’m happy with my turnout and am able to keep my knees over my 2nd toe in a plie with ease.
- I’m happy with my turnout when I lie down but can’t seem to get it in standing.
- I’m not happy with my turnout and/or I can’t seem to get aligned.
- I’m having pain or clicking in my hips.
If you answered 2, 3 or 4, there’s work to do, but don’t lose hope! Overturning your feet to get more range can place your feet and knees at risk for future problems. If you want to improve your turn-out you may need a whole body assessment to find out what the limiting problem is. You may need release done to help improve your overall hip range, or specific muscle retraining. In the meantime, turn your feet in slightly to improve your alignment, and book an appointment with Rachael Corbett to get more information. Happy dancing!