Copyright 2008, Linda Mae Dennis

All rights reserved

Turnout: How To Do It, How To Improve It

Turnout is a rather misunderstood concept. Not only that, but it's a difficult thing to master. Mostly, its hard to think about turnout as you crash into another dancer after turning the wrong way while attempting a reel. And that is why you should think about turnout now, and add it to other aspects of your life. It will become so ingrained that you won't have to think about it at all while you're dancing.

First of all, everybody has their own turnout. Some people have legs that can barely stray from parallel while others have no difficulty placing their heels together and standing comfortably between the solid door and the screen door (both doors closed). Most of us have a natural turnout that falls somewhere between these two extremes. The main thing to remember is that turnout doesn't have anything to do with the feet. Turnout is a hip thing.

Please never, ever, ever, bend your knees, place your feet in the desired turnout position, and then straighten your legs. All you accomplish with this maneuver is torquing your knees and I believe you're going to need them later. To turnout properly, straighten the leg, and turn it in the hip socket as far as possible using all those big upper leg and buttocks muscles. Repeat with other leg.

Here are three tests so you can tell whether you're turning out at the hip or messing up your knees.

1. Are your feet are rolling forward?
If so, you're turning out from the knees. Keep the bottoms of your feet on the floor and engage the glutes.

2. If you are standing turned out and you press up to your tiptoes, do your legs turn in slightly?
You are using the friction against the floor to keep your feet turned out. Do it from the hip.

3. When you plie (bend your knees) do your knees go directly over your feet?
They should. If they go to the inside of the feet you're probably in for some knee pain later.

Those big upper leg and buttocks muscles are where turn out comes from. They wrap neatly from the side of the hip bone around the back of the upper thigh to the inner thigh. And even though everyone has their own natural turnout, it can be improved. Using muscles makes them stronger. So, if you do little turnout exercises all the time during your daily life, then by the time you get to dance class and the teacher says, "Turn your leg out and leave it there for the rest of the night," your legs will stay where you put them.

Here are a few exercises you can do to strengthen and improve the flexibility of the turnout muscles.

1. This one is a real exercise. Lay on your side, prop your head up on your hand, put your other hand on the floor in front of you for balance. Your knees should be slightly bent, your feet in line with your spine. Pick up the top leg, pointing the knee at the ceiling, and keep the feet fairly close together. It is not necessary to keep the feet touching. Put the leg back down. Repeat this about 50 times or until you can feel the muscle that wraps around from your hip to your inner thigh. That's the one you're trying to engage for turnout.
Turn over and repeat on the other side. (Otherwise you'll be lopsided.)

2. You're watching TV and you happen to have your feet propped up, or you're sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit with your legs turned out. You can engage the turnout muscles during the boring advertisements, and let gravity do its thing the rest of the time. If you have lots of turnout to start with, you can lay one turned out leg on top of the other (switching occasionally) to apply even more gravitational pressure.

3. When you find yourself standing and waiting for anything, banking, grocery checkout, whatever, stand turned out. Try to feel the turnout muscles working. Try not to embarrass yourself by grunting or making faces.

4. During ordinary walking -- your evening stroll, following the grocery cart, etc., etc., turn the legs out and try to push them forward with the muscles at the top of the back of the thigh. You can even get a little hip swing into it.

I'm sure there are other ordinary activities that, with a little thought, you can turn into an exercise for turnout. It is something you can work on almost anywhere, anytime, in any shoes. Pretty soon it will become one of those lovely habits that you can purposefully engage whenever it's required. Get in the habit of turning out and it will help tone your figure, save your knees, and give you one less thing to think about while you're trying to find your elusive second corner.