Did You Know...
Factors that affect turnout.
One of the things that makes dance, specifically ballet, so beautiful is the lines that are created by the dancer's body. One of the most common positions that dancers are asked to perform is turnout. Turnout is traditionally described as 180° of outward rotation or external rotation, which is seen when the dancers toes are pointing outward in a straight line away from the midline of the body. This position, when performed correctly creates a beautiful line. Turnout, however, is quite difficult to perform correctly and safely. It takes a lot of practice, guidance, and effort to master. Unfortunately, turnout won't be achieved by every dancer who attempts it. There are many factors that affect a dancer's turnout. Having an understanding of these factors will help you understand the limitations your body may have in producing a traditional turnout.
The first and most important factor that affects turnout is the alignment of the neck of the femur (leg bone), to the shaft of the femur. The neck-shaft angle in the normal hip is 15°. Anteversion is seen when the angle is smaller, causing the dancer to walk "pigeon toed". Dancers with anteversion may never achieve a classic turnout because the bones that make up the hip socket won't allow it. These dancers are at great risk for injury if they attempt to force turnout by using extreme stretching. Retroversion is seen when the shaft-neck relationship is greater than 15° causing the dancer to walk "duck footed". These dancers have a much easier time achieving turnout as their feet naturally point out, resulting in less work for the dancer to reach full turnout.
Variations in the shape of the hip socket also affect how much turnout is possible for each dancer. If the dancer has a socket that is angled to the side and not slightly forward, that dancer will have a much greater perceived turnout. Likewise, the diameter of the neck of the femur impacts a dancers ability to achieve full turnout. If the neck has a large diameter then the bone is more likely to hit the socket, limiting motion.
Greater elasticity of ligaments that hold the hip joint in place will allow for more turnout at the hip. Dancers with tight ligaments will sometimes compensate by tilting the pelvis anteriorly, which creates some laxity in the ligaments and thus greater external rotation. The downfall is that an anterior rotation of the pelvis leads to hyper lordosis of the spine and a greater chance of spinal injury.
Musculature around the hip also may help or impede turnout. If muscles in the hip are tight they may limit the ability for the dancer to perform turnout effectively. Dancers can affect this area the most by carefully stretching internal rotators and strengthening external rotators of the hip.
Turnout is also achieved by motions created in the rest of the leg. Motions in the dancers knee and foot, as well as alignment of the tibia (lower leg bone), affect how much turnout a dancer may achieve. Too much motion in any of these areas may lead to injuries if the dancer does not maintain control of them.
The take home message here is that some factors of a dancer's body may not be altered and thus forcing turnout may lead to an injury in the hip, back or lower leg. Stretch slowly, strengthen carefully, use proper form and posture, be aware of compensating, and do not use extreme methods to achieve turnout. Follow these guidelines and you will achieve YOUR maximum turnout and continue to dance safely.
Good Luck and Safe Dancing
Wilmerding, V., Krasnow, D., Turnout for Dancers: Hip Anatomy and Factors Affecting Turnout www.iadms.org 2011.