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If they’ve said it once they’ll say it again: more turnout! In ballet we’re expected to hold a 180-degree turnout of our legs at all times while executing ballet movement.
This turnout comes natural for some, but for others it takes hard work to attain. We learn early on that this is the golden rule of ballet, so we do whatever we need to achieve this look. Drastic measures should not be taken to attain turnout; forcing the turnout can lead to a multitude of problems including knee and hip injury as well as tendon damage. Such an unnatural position needs to be achieved with the greatest of care. Starting young, before the bones are ossified, is usually the best way, but there are other healthy ways to achieve your best turnout. There’s no doubt that the best place to learn this is in the classroom, but a couple of tips can always help maximize your time in training:
1) Stretching the turnout
The turnout requires a flexible hip joint and it also requires the muscles around the hip area to be limber as well. Stretching this area as much as possible will certainly help your turnout. A center split with the stomach to the ground, is one at their maximum turn out stretching potential. In order to get to this point, holding a stretch in this manner (but only as far as is comfortable for your body) will help. After achieving this stretch position; roll all the way through and bring your legs back to a turned out position with the feet together in a flexed position. If you put in your time, and do these stretches daily, for at least a half-hour to an hour, then your turn out will inevitably improve.
Never stretch a cold muscle; make sure you are properly warmed up before trying to stretch.
Do not put weight on the leg you are stretching.
Remember that form is crucial when stretching. You can go from flexibility to injury simply by arching your back. Stay focused while stretching.
Do not over stretch tendons, make sure your focus is on a particular muscle and listen to pain.
Do not force a stretch, Slow and steady is the idea.
2) Mind over matter
Turnout is a very physical thing, but your mindset is a very important tool. The correct form can only be achieved with the right mindset. While in any ballet position, the body needs to be turned out not only from the hips but also from the inner core. This turnout should be reaching from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Think of the center line of your body; imagine every muscle pulling outward, and being turned out. This energy and mindset can guide your body to stay in the form that will maximize your turnout and ultimately, your techniqué.
Your bone will actually be rotated in the hip-socket. Imagine your rotated bone, your socket and the tendons attached; imagine the rotation constantly.
Imagine your body energy as two fields, with each energy field on either side of your center. Picture both stretching outward into a line of eternity. Imagine this pull and exude it.
Think of your energy shooting down through the floor while you pull up. This gives the mind a feeling of defying gravity. This energy shooting downward will improve your balance in turnout.
The energy you should posses while dancing should be spiritual and deep. A strong energy equals a dancer people want to watch. Some of the greatest known dancers suceeded because of this. Think Margot Fonteyn, her techniquée wasn't perfect, but she is still considered one of the greatest ballerinas of our time…it was her spiritual energy that drew people to her.
Turnout not only needs a flexible joint and muscle, it needs strength to hold it. Strength is only developed through persistence. All ballet exercises contribute to turnout but they are useless without form. Body placement is essential to correct muscle development. Without it, the muscles that are supposed to further pull the turnout into position, will not strengthen in the right areas. If this happens, your turnout and overall dancing will be effected. Form is the single most important rule of dancing as we all know, so don’t take it lightly.
Think hips; do not try to turn out from your knees, even in the least. This is the number one way ballet dancers injure their knees. Be mindful!
When stretching with your foot at the barré, or doing an extension, make sure your hip is rolled down and isn’t lifted whatsoever. A lifted hip can ruin a good pirouette and any other basic ballet move. This must be constantly attended to during all barré exercises, especially rond de jamb, grande battement and fondu.
A turn out at the ankle can maximize the look of a better turnout than you actually have. This must only be used on the lifted leg in adagio. Do not use it on the leg that you put weight on.
All in all turnout is one of the most important attributes of techniqué. If you don’t work on your turnout then you aren’t working on your dancing. Do give this the highest priority as an early student, because it will be the key to your success in your future dancing.