Hey Dancers! 🙂 Today I want to talk turnout!
Turnout is one of the very first things you learn as an Irish Dancer, but is often done incorrectly causing a lack of hip flexibility and can even negatively affect the power and control of your dancing. This means struggling to get your kicks high and sharp as well as creating that “crispness” in your dancing.
I remember watching a dancer in my competition who seemed to have absolutely perfect turnout. I wanted to achieve that beautiful 180 degree turnout so for years I walked around with my toes pointing outwards…little did I know that it was terrible advice causing other aspects of my dancing to suffer! This article isn’t a bashing party for teachers who believe in walking with one’s toes turned out because the reasoning behind it seems logical: walk with your toes turned out all the time and they will stay turned out, but I want to you (whether you are a dancer, teacher, or supportive parent) to know how turnout works in the human body, why walking with your toes turned out may not be the best option, and HOW you can improve your turnout without hindering your jumps from gliding high and strong.
Many dance teachers say to turn out “from the hip,” so let’s talk about what that means. Your hip is a ball-and-socket joint. To see what that looks like make a fist with your right hand like the ball. Cup that ball with your other hand which is like the socket. Swivel the fist in your hand and this is similar to how a ball and socket joint looks. The hip joint is called the “acetabulum.” The acetabulum faces out and to the side in everyone but for some people it faces a little more out and to the side than others. If you have a more outward facing acetabulum your range of motion for turnout will most likely be greater than those with a more forward facing acetabulum. The shape and angle of your femur (your thigh bone) can also affect how far you may be able to turnout and that is not something you can control. So yes, some dancers DO have a greater natural turnout than others. Now, if you are sitting at home drowning in self-pity because you are convinced you are doomed to forever getting “turnout” remarks from the judges due to your forward facing hip sockets, FEAR NOT, we are going to move into the muscles you CAN strengthen and control to achieve better turnout…drum roll please…
Introducing your external rotators! These are a group of six muscles that are key to your best turnout. These muscles are small muscles buried under your glutes (butt muscles). The reason they are so special for turnout is because they have very limited motion besides externally rotating the hip so you can jump, skip, and kick across the floor in any direction without worry. We’ll get into how to strengthen and engage these muscles later on in this article! This is where walking with your toes out comes in. When we walk with our toes turned out it causes constant muscles contraction, thus eventually causing muscles to become tight! Muscles work best when they have rest and can move smoothly through a full range of motion. I like to picture a constantly shortened muscle like it has been restricted in a cast for months. When you first get a cast off, you struggle to move through a full range of motion because your muscles are short and weak. When you constantly keep your DOR (Deep Outward Rotators) in a tensed up position they become tight and overused thus cannot perform optimally. It’s best to perform turnout exercises, turnout while you dance, and then give your DORs a BREAK to recover.
Now what happens when we don’t have strong enough deep outward rotators to sustain a beautiful turnout throughout our dances?
Either A. You have turned in toes, obviously. Or B. You use other mechanisms to compensate for your DOR (deep outward rotators).
One popular way of compensating for poor DOR strength is anteriorly tilting the pelvis, turning out from the knees, or turning out from the ankles. A good way to visualize an anterior pelvic tilt is thinking of a pop star popping their booty out…they have a low back sway and often their gut is sticking out too! An anterior pelvic tilt does increase turnout because it provides slack in the ligaments around the hip (that usually resist turnout), thus allowing it to turnout more BUT it puts the glutes and core in an undesirable position to create power, not to mention having your behind stick out while dancing is not a good look…So sure you may have turned out feet, but your jumps will be lower, your posture off, and every movement in your dancing overall less powerful. Turning out from your knees and ankles is not a good option either because it can cause injury and is not very effective. Your knees and ankles have far more important things to be doing…turnout is not their job! When you turnout from your hip using your DORs, the rest of your leg will naturally turn out.
Alright on to a few exercises that you can do to help achieve your best turnout! Here is a turnout exercise and stretch that should be done at least 3 times a week, 3 times through. Holding stretches for 1-3 minutes and doing the exercises for 10-20 repetitions.
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In addition to exercises for your DOR, it is important to strengthen your core, glutes, and stretch your hips. Everything in your body is connected so if your core and glutes aren’t strong enough to hold your pelvis in neutral while you dance, your external rotators won’t be in the a position for optimal turnout. Meanwhile, if your hip flexors and psoas are tight and weak it will be difficult to hold to keep your pelvis in a neutral position, thus almost impossible to properly engage your core…but more on that in my next post!
Voila! Now you have an overview of what turnout is, how to achieve your best turnout, and what not to do, to keep your dancing strong. Check back soon for more articles on how to improve your dancing and make sure to join the Feis Fit Facebook group to stay up to date on all things on becoming the fittest, strongest, dancer you can be!!!
Keep on Feising,