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Ballet Turnout: Knowledge For The Adult Beginner Dancer

New York City Ballet dancers Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette.

New York City Ballet dancers Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette.

The grace, agility, and flexibility of a ballet dancer is iconic in the dance world. Performances by world renowned companies such as the New York City Ballet or the Royal Opera House Ballet have stunned and inspired audiences across the globe with their beautiful and breath taking performances. If you're one of the many adults out there who have decided to take ballet classes in the hopes of becoming a dancer or seeing what it's like, you're not alone! Many people of all different ages find themselves inspired and excited to learn ballet, as well.

One of the many parts of Ballet that help it stand out amongst all other dances is that they work consistently with something called "turnout." Walking into your first Ballet class you're going to notice how many other people already have the idea of it down pat and make it look as mindless and easy as walking, but the truth is that turnout can be quite a confusing subject if you're not well informed. Many teachers don't go over turnout as deeply as they should because it would dig too deeply into class time, but that is totally to your detriment as a dancer, especially since turnout can cause painful injuries if done wrong alongside making you look and feel awkward while dancing.

So if you find yourself confused with turnout and how to do it properly, look no further than this article as your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know as a beginner adult ballet dancer.

An example developpe in a la seconde, height achievable thanks to great turnout!

An example developpe in a la seconde, height achievable thanks to great turnout!

Fun Fact! Why Turnout?

Want to know why dancers dance in turnout to begin with? It actually has to do with two main reasons. The first is that it helps to move across the stage. Since dancers move generally to the side since they have to face the audience in front of them, having your feet turned out to the side and ready makes this movement easier.

The second reason is that it aids in lifting your legs higher than you could if they weren't turned out. The general rule in Ballet is that the higher the leg (without compromising your stance and posture) the better, so just keep in mind that turnout is actually a good thing.

Feet in parallel (left) and feet turned out (right.)

Feet in parallel (left) and feet turned out (right.)

What Is It and How Do I Do It Properly?

Although described as just spreading out your feet into the widest "V" shape you can manage, turnout is a little more complicated than that. Turnout is the outward rotation of your legs, not just your feet. This means that when a teacher asks you to turnout, it should be done by rotating your entire leg outwards. Actual turn out comes from your hip socket and how far they allow you to rotate meaning that it is wholly dependent on your hip flexibility.

Many new people who begin ballet classes turnout their feet by just spreading them apart. This is not true turnout since it comes from their knees. Turning out your feet from the knees is the fast track to injury and it's not even your real turnout to begin with so it should just never be done, not even outside of dance.

A proper turnout should normally feel like a stretch at your hips. You should not feel any cramping or incredible tightness, that is a sign that you are forcing your turnout farther than you can maintain which is not healthy. This brings up another good point.

Turnout doesn't stop at flexibility. The strength and stamina of your leg muscles also comes into play because you have to be able to maintain that turnout throughout your entire time dancing. When doing warm up exercises at the barre it is very easy to turnout your legs further than you would normally be able to maintain without support, therefore it is important to test what your turnout is actually like before starting at the barre. When testing your manageable turnout always check without the support of something else. See how easily you're able to stay standing while turned out, and if it feels comfortable follow that up with a few steps. Once you have a grasp for your natural turnout be mindful of the fact that your legs may turn back in while you dance and always adjust them back to how they should be. The goal is to always have them turned out unless otherwise specified by the choreography/instructor.

Side Note: When turning out your legs for the first time you may find that one side can comfortably turn out further than the other. If this is the case, always work with the outward rotation of the lesser leg, not the greater. Forcing your less flexible hip to turnout further than the other can lead to an awkwardness when moving as well as injury.

Can I Do Anything About My Turnout?

A large majority of the people who get into dance don't actually possess the ideal type of turnout that Ballet wants, that being a 180 degree turnout where your feet actually form a line instead of a "V". This wasn't always the ideal, but as time has gone on and more flexibly gifted dancers have graced the stage it has become incredibly desired.

But can you truly improve your turnout? The answer is YES! It is completely within your ability to drastically improve your turnout. There are just two important things to keep in mind:

  1. Although achieving greater turnout is possible, achieving a perfectly maintainable 180 degree one may not be. The fact is that not many people actually possess the innate hip flexibility to totally turnout the legs to a 180 degree angle. Many people can get very close, however, and a 180 degree turnout isn't even necessary to being an incredibly skilled and beautiful dancer. So don't worry too much about it.
  2. As an adult, improving your turnout is going to be a lot harder. If you're a parent whose kids are currently in Ballet and you're working to improve your turnout with them, don't be discouraged if you don't get results as fast or as good as your children. As a child's body is growing it is very malleable and can easily be changed to fit what Ballet wants. This is why many dancers don't become professionals past the age of 18 since their body is just reaching its growth potential and not much can be done to change it past what it's comfortable with.

Even if you don't find much point in trying to make your feet look better, having a wider turnout makes dancing Ballet easier therefore it is definitely worth your time.

The internet (and YouTube especially) is rife with people giving their own advice and exercises on how to improve turnout so finding a routine that's right for you is just a matter of exploring your options. I've linked a video below made by a woman named Kathryn Morgan who was once a soloist with the New York City Ballet. She offers tutorials and ballet videos now on YouTube along with, you guessed it, a series of exercises made to improve your turnout.

For the more analytical minded I'll provide a link to two articles on hip anatomy and exercises written in-depth so you can dive right into the nitty-gritty science explaining turnout itself, in case you find yourself hungry for more. Here's the hip one and here's the exercise one.

Kathryn Morgan, Past NYCB Soloist: Exercises For Improving Turnout

Thank You!

I really hope you enjoyed this article.

Please feel free to leave comments below if you have anymore questions or would like to suggest a topic for me to cover in the future!

Keep dancing, folks!

© 2015 Roderick Sang