This is an excerpt from Dance Anatomy 2nd Edition by Jacqui Greene Haas.
Turnout of the legs is used in movements performed by ballet dancers. There are a few anatomical factors that determine your turnout: strength of the external rotators, flexibility of the internal rotators, and the bony alignment of the femoral head and neck. The majority of the turnout must come from movement in the hip socket. The International Association of Dance Medicine and Science states that on average 60 percent of turnout comes from the hip, 20-30 percent from the ankle and the remaining 10-20 percent comes from the knee and tibia.The strength in your deep hip external rotators can help you achieve quality turnout. Whenever you are required to lift your leg while it's turned out, initiate the movement by contracting the deep external hip rotators to fully turn out within the hip socket. Maintain the muscle contraction through the entire movement of the leg while other muscles assist.
For example, in arabesque, the deep rotators contract and the gluteus maximus assists as a turnout muscle to help bring the hip into extension. Without the contraction of the deep six rotators, your leg would swing back in parallel! When executing plié, allow the rotators to contract to keep the femurs open along the frontal plane and aligned over the toes. On the downward phase, the inner-thigh muscles assist by working eccentrically; on the upward phase, they work concentrically.
Visualize the location of the small external rotators as they connect the femur with the sacrum and lower pelvis. As the muscle fibers contract and shorten, the femur rotates laterally in the socket. The femur can turn out in the hip socket without unwanted movement in the lower back or pelvis, which supports the hip disassociation theory. Practice moving your femur inward and outward while sitting, lying down, and standing. Focus on movement only deep within the socket; notice that you don't need to twist your pelvis or tuck under to actively rotate your femur in the joint. Just move your thigh, not your pelvis or spine.
Understanding the passive range of motion in your hip can help you understand your natural hip rotation, but your functional turnout - what you can actually hold and work with - is more useful. As discussed previously, 60 percent of your turnout comes from your hip and the rest through your knees, tibia, foot and ankle. To attain ideal functional turnout, you must work within your means and with proper skeletal alignment. Ideal turnout of 180 degrees is physically challenging and can create compensation and potential injuries for some dancers. Focusing on turning your legs out from your hips can minimize the stresses on the knee and ankle. Consider these keys for better functional turnout:
- Always align your patella (kneecap) over your second toe, to avoid screwing or twisting through the knee joint
- Keep your weight placed equally over your heel and first and fifth metatarsals to avoid the overpronating of the feet
- Maintain your pelvis in a firm, neutral position, utilizing your abdominals and deep hip external rotators avoiding the anterior pelvic tilt
Learn more about Dance Anatomy, Second Edition.