Developing Stronger Turnout Muscles in Ballet with Exercise and Stretching

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Achieve Proper Turnout

A ballerina dancer’s turnout is the key to all parts of movement in dancing. Turnout is the active position of the outward rotation in the lower body, by turning the hips towards a 90 degree angle, so that the knees point outward to the sides of the body. Every person has their own natural range of turnout. It is important to note however, that a proper turnout is done from the hips and not at the knees or ankles. Improper technique could cause damage to ligaments and tendons. Every ballerina can improve their turnout by strengthening those muscles used in rotation and increase their flexibility through many specific exercises.

Practice Ballet Basics

Many of the warm up and basic moves in ballet can be used to gain better turnout. Some of these are: demi-plies in first and second position, tendus done to front, side, and back of body, and other barre exercises such as eleve, rond de jambe, and battement tendus done in fifth position. It is also essential that a ballerina practice her splits daily to keep the hip flexors, hamstrings, and adductors (inner thigh muscles) flexible. One important variation for stronger turnout is the jackknife split. To do this, sit upright with legs in an open straddle position. Bring torso down to floor in front of you, keeping the legs open as far as possible out to sides.

Strengthen Turnout With Pilates

Pilates exercise is also a valuable tool used by most serious studying ballerinas, and helps to strengthen, lengthen, and increase flexibility throughout the entire body. Below are a few recommended pilates mat exercises to strengthen turnout muscles for ballet dancers.

Rotation of the hips can be achieved more easily with “bent-knee fall outs”. To execute this move, begin by lying on your back with one leg bent, while the other remains straight. Let the bent knee fall to the side, keeping other hip in a neutral position. This can also be done as a “butterfly” with both knees bent in an open to the side position to stretch the inner thigh muscles.

Another simple exercise for external hip rotation is leg circles. These are also done in a face up lying position, with one leg straight, while the other is straight in a vertical position. Slowly move the leg in small circles in a clockwise motion, while keeping both hips even with the floor. Be careful not to let the lower back come up off the floor. Switch legs and repeat.

Targeted Moves

Another dance instructor at RBA, Alexandra Espana, teaches a wide age group of students. Many of whom, are children needing to learn how to develop their turnout, as well as proper posture. Alexandra teaches many younger students simple movement patterns to strengthen the hips and rotation muscles. One of these are to lie on your side, with your back against a wall (this helps them keep proper hip alignment). Slowly raise one leg up, keeping the toe pointed towards the ceiling, with the heel down. Bring to a vertical position, keeping the leg completely straight. Lower slowly. Switch sides, and repeat for other leg. The key is to practice stretching and working these muscles daily, and watch your dancing improve tremendously.

Resources training Turnout & Dance Terminology

Riverside Ballet Arts School of Ballet, Riverside,