Your turnout is unique—no two dancers’ are
exactly alike. That can make it hard to know
whether you’re forcing yours into an unnatural ;fth position, or underusing what you
have. Either problem can cause a cascade of
effects: When you’re not turning out properly, your pelvic alignment is altered, and the
ability of the correct muscles to strengthen
and work together is impaired, giving you less
control over the turnout you do have.
In my practice as a dance physical therapist, it became clear that a scienti;c approach
to measuring turnout would help dancers. So
I put together a research team from Muhlenberg College, St. Luke’s University Hospital,
Lehigh University and Temple University to
investigate a measurement system so dancers
could know de;nitively if they were turning
out too much or not enough. Because once
you know how much rotation you have, not
only will you be able to properly align the hip
in a turned-out position, you can train more
ef;ciently and gain strength faster.
WHAT YOU HAVE VS. WHAT YOU USE
A turned-out leg involves the bones of the
hip, lower leg and foot. The hip can contribute
anywhere from 36 to 58 degrees, the tibia in
the lower leg can contribute 16 to 60 degrees
and the foot about 15 degrees. Amounts vary
between dancers, and can even be different
between two legs of the same dancer. The sum
of these contributions is considered the passive component of turnout—how much you
have naturally. This is your turnout potential.
You cannot change it because it is limited by
the shape of your bones.
But that’s okay because your bones don’t
turn your leg out; muscles do. Using the
muscles to rotate your legs is considered ac-
tive turnout. According to the research, most
dancers are unable to access 15 to 30 degrees
of their turnout per leg simply because their
muscles are too weak. Even if you may never
be able to hit a perfect 180, you likely have
more turnout than you’re using.
You’ll be more able to use muscular
strength to turn out, rather than forcing it
unnaturally. The good news? Once you begin
working correctly, the muscles can begin to
get stronger in as little as two weeks and can
instantly begin to improve their ability to
coordinate the action of turning the leg out.
HOW DO YOU ACCESS MORE?
To start, it’s helpful to know how much
turnout you have passively and actively. A
health-care provider can measure your passive
whole-leg turnout while you’re lying on your
back, and then measure your active turnout by
having you stand in ;rst position on the ;oor
and also on rotational disks, which prevent
To see if you are over- or under-turning
out, compare your passive turnout with how
you stand in ;rst position. When you stand
with more turnout than you have passively,
you’re forcing your bones and joints beyond
their natural capabilities.
To get a sense of your strength, compare
your passive turnout with your turnout on
the disks. If you have less on the disks, you
need more strength. Most dancers fall into this
category! That’s because turnout is a challenging skill, and when you’re not accessing it correctly, the key muscles go unused. Fortunately,
research shows a targeted turnout-strengthening
program can help dancers achieve most if not
all of their turnout potential.
FIND YOUR ALIGNMENT
To begin strength training, your pelvis and hip
form a line that is parallel to the ;oor or the
joint need to be aligned. This helps prevent the
leg and foot from rolling in, the pelvis from
tipping downward and the low back from
hyperextending. You will know if you are cor-
rectly aligned when the points at the top and
front of your pelvis—some people call these
your “headlights”—and the top and back of
your pelvis (where some people have dimples)
dimples are only slightly higher than the head-
lights. The area between your thigh and pelvis
will feel ;at to your hand.
Our research team found approximately 75
percent of the dancers we measured had tight
iliotibial bands, which can pull your pelvis
downward. To temporarily correct this, try
stretching (see picture above) or foam rolling.
For a long-term correction, strengthen your
gluteal muscles, which stabilize the hip joint,
reducing strain on the iliotibial band.
STRENGTHEN THE ROTATORS
Use the clam exercise to ;rst locate and then
strengthen your six deep rotators for turnout.
Begin by lying on your side with your hips
and knees bent. Keep your feet together and
rotate your leg (from the hip) as far as it will
go. Use all of your turnout. Focus on rotation
inside the hip joint rather than separating the
knees. Bend the hip just enough to feel the
muscle activating at the crease between the
buttock and thigh. A Thera-Band tied in a
loop above your knees can provide resistance.
Get More Turnout
Learn your potential, find your alignment,
then strengthen strategically.
BY GAYANNE GROSSMAN
The clam exercise
will strengthen your
six deep rotators.