After 30 years of experience, here is my take on how to improve your turnout
I’ll be honest and upfront, it took me a long time to understand the turnout. At first, I thought I’d stretch and stretch and stretch and it did help the turnout, but not much. What I needed to know is how to HOLD my body to maximise the ultimate load on the muscles that are responsible for the turn out. And after this newsletter I hope you will know exactly what to do.
I want to talk about how there are three places of turnout. First it’s the hips (upper turnout), then from the knee and then the lower turnout from the foot.
Let’s start from the hips turn out. In the past, I thought to get a better hip opening I needed to tuck under my tail bone! Yes, your leg will turn out more, but everything else goes wrong! This is because now you are involving your body as well. This makes your thighs and your torso sort of “one piece” and deprives you of involving the sartorius and tensor fascia muscles (see picture below) which are crucial for freedom of movement, speed and pretty much every step in ballet.
Tucking under will haunt you in pirouette, extension, slows down your movements and also hinders pointe work. The other reason why you should never tuck under is because you stop using your back muscles!!! And you need to keep these muscles strong and flexed the entire time. Try this right now: stand up and put your hand on your back muscles. Now tuck your tail bone under and see that your back muscles (lower lats) are relaxed which is not what we want. Instead we need the muscles to be strong and hard. So now instead of tucking under, arch your back! Did you feel it? Did you feel that those back muscles finally became flexed? Great! Now while holding your back like that, do tendu to the front and turn your leg out and in, out and in, and feel that rotation and separateness of your leg from your body. Do the same movement to the side and to the back .
Now you know how to hold your back all the time and how to rotate your thigh. You should do this in class and by turning out your leg more and more, little by little you will build those muscles that rotate your leg and you will accomplish the best turn out your body allows. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, because it will give you such freedom and speed of movement with your turns and jumps and in general with all your dancing.
Some additional exercises for improving your upper turnout:
- “Frog” (lay on your stomach, knees bent, feet together) and
- Middle split
Moving on to the middle turn out from the knee. Some people have a natural curve in their shin, sort of a “bow leg”. You can check this by standing in 6th position looking in the mirror. You might find you have space between your legs, especially in the lower part. You can adjust this curve by forcing your calves together and holding it for as much as you can. When you get used to that feeling, do it in first position too. And from now on always try to remember doing it.
Another thing that will help you is doing the lotus position. When you do it, try putting your right ankle (not just the foot) on your left thigh, so that you can force that turn out from your right knee. Make sure you warm up to it first.
The third is the lower turn out. The sign of a problem is sickled feet. This is a very dangerous thing to have, because it worsens your other two turnouts. But the good thing is that by fixing it you automatically improve all three turn outs at once. Sometimes sickling happens just because you try to point your toes in the wrong place. Rather than bending your actual foot on the bottom – the sole of your foot – a lot of students bend it in the ankle area. This is a crucial to fix this mistake. What you need to do is always push your heel forward and bend the sole of your foot, which may give you cramps in the beginning (there are ways to help this and I will discuss this in upcoming letters). It’s sort of like having your foot in the sur le cou de pied (see picture below) or “wrap”. It’s called wrap because you do need to wrap your ankle with your foot. Your heel should be in the front of the ankle and toes in the back. And by actually doing it a lot you can definitely help improving your lower turnout.
Some students have sickled feet or pigeon toes naturally and this exercise (Youtube Link) with resistance bands will help. I love this exercise !
So let’s briefly summarise:
1. Don’t tuck under to “help” your turnout and hold your back muscles tight through the entire class.
2. Work at fixing your sickling as it will improve all your turnouts at once.
3. And as reminder, rolling over your arches is a CRIME against your turn out. So fix it once and for all!
Speak to you soon and live with passion,