Sunday, October 28, 2012

Understanding Turnout: Anatomical Tips to Success


     I have created a couple of posts about turnout, but today, we are going to take a trip deeeep into anatomy class, Magic School Bus Style. So get your Ms. Frizzle wig on and put on your x-ray earrings. 

     Has your instructor ever told you: "Turnout from the HIPS!" or used the terms "turnout" and "hips" in the same sentence? I never quite understood what was meant by this until one of my teachers gave us a lesson on turnout from an anatomical perspective. She used the book Inside Ballet Technique, which used diagrams of the hips to demonstrate proper turnout. 

A Mental Battle

Perfect turnout is one of those seemingly impossible mountains that every dancer strives to climb. Among it is 32 fouettés en tournant, 180 extensions, and a perfect arch. And here is where I am going to get painfully honest: if you do not want to push yourself to the limits of sanity, you are not cut out for ballet. Ballet requires constant diligence and attention. This is perhaps what makes it both appealing and appalling. I can't count on my fingers the number of times I have cried over something relating to ballet. It is an emotional sport as well as the physical.

Now, let's just stop for a moment and think about why we dance. It's not easy. It doesn't feel "comfortable". Sometimes I would rather be sitting on the couch watching The Hunger Games and stuffing my face with Oreos than doing petit allégro. So why do we do it? The answer isn't as simple as you think. For anyone who TRULY loves dance, they know the answer. For those who are just doing it, well, just because... *channel inner Yoda*... search for it, you must. Every dancer may have a different answer, and mine is because I strive to challenge myself in every way possible and master what I begin.
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Now that the guilt trip/crying bout/contemplation of life is over, let us begin today's lesson in anatomy.


     The first thing to understand is that some people are born with hips easier to turn out. See Figure 1. In Picture 1A, a normal hip is shown. 1B displays femoral anteversion. This means that the toes point inward, or the feet are pigeon-toed. This makes turnout difficult for the dancer, and the knees naturally point forward when turning out from the hips. 1C shows femoral retroversion, which is the exact opposite of anteversion. The dancer may have a natural turnout of up to 180 degrees. (From In fact, Gayanne Grossman, associate professor of anatomy and kinesiology at Temple University suggests that “most dancers have a maximum rotation of 55 degrees in their hips.” [see this 2008 article from Dance Magazine]. This definitely plays into the individual turnout of dancers.

Figure 1


     Do not, however, mistake this as an excuse for not having good turnout. This simply explains why turnout is difficult for some dancers. Turnout is increased by the flexibility and strength of the three ligaments surrounding the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. These three ligaments are called the iliofemoral ligament (which connects the illium, the upper part of the pelvis, to the femur), the ischiofemoral ligament (which connects the ischium, the lower part of the pelvis, to the femur), and the pubofemoral ligament (which connects the pubic bone to the femur). All three of these become stretched in exercises like grande battement derriére, and become relaxed in exercises like grande battement devant. 

     The iliofemoral ligament stretches across the front of the joint, and is also the strongest ligament in the body. This ligament helps restrict full arabesque. The ischiofemoral ligament restricts movements of the leg crossing the midline. The pubofemoral ligament restricts à la seconde.


Far too often, the gluteus maximus is used as the primary muscle of turnout. While it is the biggest muscle involved in proper turnout, the true ballerina muscles lie deep within. These six muscles are built exclusively through ballet and become a key part of a ballerina's technique. The sartorius muscle also aids in proper turnout.

Figure 2

I know that this quick study of the hip joint has helped me feel my turnout. Follow me for more anatomical summaries! I am more than happy to do the research!


  1. Hi, i just read your article and i was wondering, what if you have two ''types'' of hips. because my teacher who physiotherapist was making me do all these things and she found out that my left hip is like Picture 1A and the right one like Picture 1B, femoral anteversion
    And i was just thinking, what kind of an impact that could have on me as a dancer? Because my turnout is pretty uneven which makes me always have to have my positions in the turnout from the worse one because if i do the opposite i could damage my knees. (I hope that makes sense)
    But this summer when i was at a summer program the teacher told me to just go to the best first that i could do (having one foot more far back than the other) and she said that was alright?
    not really sure what im asking here i'm just really curious about my bone-structure.

    1. Yes... many dancers have had this problem.. although not all of them have a case as extreme as yours. A strong or more flexible side of the body is quite common.
      While this affects your dancing now, it may not forever if you stretch the right hip a little more and work it a little more than the left. BUT, do not stop stretching/working your left hip! Just stretch a little longer and a few more repetitions of exercises like petit battement on your right side.
      You are doing the right thing when you turnout from your bad hip. Poor turnout is fixable, while damaged knees are not. Keep it up; the summer teacher may not have realized that it was a hip problem :)

  2. Wow, that's interesting. Do you reckon someone with naturally turned out feet would have femoral retroversion, or would it be something from knee down instead?

    I'd be interested to see if you could write about the inner thigh muscles. I'm bow-legged, so I find it difficult to know whether I'm using the quads or the inner thighs.

    1. Remember that the feet do not turn out. It is the hips that do all of the work. And yes, the natural turnout would come straight from the hips, and not from the knee down. But just because you do not have a natural 180 turnout doesn't mean that you can't get there!

      I have come across many dancers with this problem - I will look into it! Thanks for the suggestion :)