Work With What You've Got: Your Turnout

"Turn out! Rotate, rotate, rotate! From the hip!"

Dancers, you've grown up hearing these words. From the day we learn what First Position is in ballet, you've heard these words more than you've probably heard any other collection of words.

We model ourselves off of the ballerinas we see on stage, on TV, in photographs and magazines. While this helps us visualize what the "ultimate goal" is, it isn't necessarily healthy. We have to learn a valuable lesson first:

You've got to work with what you've got!

One of the most important things in ballet {thus dance} is your turnout. It affects everything you do from pirouettes to grand battement à la seconde to jeté, and the list goes on. It's also one of the first things you start working on at age 3; that's just how critical it is. What most enthusiastic young dancers don't understand is that your turnout is largely predetermined. We can continuously work on our rotation, but it must be done in a healthy, productive way. It can but should never be forced.

What dancers should know about their turnout:

1. It's YOURS.

You are not working with the same "tools" that the dancer next to you, or in front of/behind you is working with. So stop comparing. Focus on your body, your rotation, and proceed from there.

2. What "tools" are we talking about?

When it comes to the hips, we're talking about a joint and muscles. Your hip joint is the most important part of our body's joints that maintain our balance. Your pelvic inclination angle (unique to each body) affects our posture and our ability to rotate. This is all strictly bone related. Then, there are ligaments (5 of them) that reinforce the hip and allow us to move freely. The ligaments that help us to externally rotate can be stretched and "worked on." This is where your personal ballet journey begins.

3. A "perfect" turnout is 180 degrees.

Not many people are born with this ability. This results in ballet students turning out from the knee (a lateral rotation of the knee) which causes injury. That is also "faking it."

4. Gravity exercises are the most friendly to your body while working your turnout.

Forcing your turnout will not help, and it could cause injury. Allow gravity to "open your hips." Then work on your hamstring muscles for better front and side extension.

5. It takes time.

And not just one ballet class here and there. It's a lifetime of remembering to "work on your turnout." It's a lifetime of feeling and adjusting. As a dancer, you should always be cognizant of your rotation and it's something you'll constantly be working on.

6. Don't stress.

We once heard that only 2% of the population have "perfect turnouts." And of that 2%, some of them have never had a ballet class in their life! They just happened to be born with a perfect joint and loose ligaments.

But beautiful dancing doesn't require a perfect turnout. It just requires an intelligent dancer who never gives up working on the turnout they have.

So be yourself. Know your body. Promise you'll always work on your turnout, and leave it at that. Don't force your body. While dancing has a lot to do with your anatomical set up, it also has very much to do with your spirit and beauty (which is also unique to you).

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