Here is a truer test for turnout than the butterfly or frog position, where your hips are flexed and turnout will look like more than it really is.
Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Here your hips are in an extended position. Bend one leg to a 90 degree angle. (If your hip comes of the floor, then you need to stretch out your quadriceps and iliopsoas muscles, as in doing a runner's lunge.) You could have someone gently hold your hip down on the floor if you like. Then allow your bent leg to angle down toward the straight knee. Where the leg stops, this is the correct degree of your turnout.
Doing the frog position on your back or stomach is not good for your knees even if you are flexible that way.
Now more importantly, how to hold the turnout that you do have....if you watch dance movies carefully you will see that the most brilliantly artistic dancers in the world are not necessarily born with a lot of turnout - and it doesn't matter! That is the good news.
Your lateral rotator muscles are your prime turnout muscles, specifically: Piriformis;Obturator Internus;Obturator Externus;Quadratus Femoris; Gemellus Superior; Gemellus Inferior. These muscles lie underneath your gluts. When they contract your thigh rotates. If your leg is behind you, the gluts and hamstring muscles also help to hold the rotation.
The balance and tone of any muscle comes from its ability to work, and its ability to relax when not working. So having lateral rotators that clench to rotate, and don't relax in between exercises, do not have the strength they could have. Turning in during class, in between exercises is a good habit to have.
If you have an illustrated dictionary and can see all these muscles, and feel them working and relaxing, you will become a local turnout expert!
For example, when you tendu devant, if your hips remain in placement and your thigh is moving freely on its own, you should be able to rotate to your full natural turnout, even if you cannot always hold it. You may have to practice this with your gluts released, to isolate the rotator muscles. Gluts don't increase your turnout.
If you sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you, relax your gluts on the floor. Then just engage your rotator muscles and turn your thighs out without your gluts working. This will help you isolate the rotators. If you can raise the legs, one by one, an inch or two off the floor, and hold this turnout, you'll feel the rotators holding against the flexion action. If your hip comes up too, then you are not isolating the leg from the hip completely.
Standing in first position, you want to open the legs by contracting the rotator muscles, but not clenching the gluts at this point. It's good to be able to tighten and hold the gluts when you need to, but not at this moment. Whatever position you end up in, that is your turnout. Same for fifth, with the extra challenge of having one leg slightly behind your pelvis and the other in front. This requires more strength.
While many teachers would not allow this, I would encourage them to have many students working in third position for much longer than they usually feel is "normal". It's not that far to fifth position once the muscles are strengthened. Advanced students and professionals do different things to compensate for not having that perfect fifth position. If they have good teachers, they learn to do this minimally and without injury. But they are doing it very deliberately.
Some people's thighs are in a different position in their hip sockets, that allows more turnout. This is the way they are born. So don't look at anyone else and compare. Also some people have tibial torsion, which means their leg from the knee down is rotated outward. It can lead to other problems, but will give their feet a turned out look, while their knees and thighs may not be able to achieve the same turnout.
Another exercise to strengthen the turnout is as follows: lie down on the floor on your back, feet in first position, flexed as though you were standing. Pressing the back of the legs into the floor can help you feel the rotators. Move the legs, feet still flexed, about half an inch outward toward second position. Keep pressing the back of the legs into the floor, and don't let your back arch. You may only be able to go an inch , - but you'll feel those turnout muscles! Do that ten times every day and you will be much stronger standing up and doing the regular class movements. You won't regret investing time in this exercise. Be sure to relax the rotators afterwards.
Recently I watched a movie of William Forsythe's company. He says in the initial interview "Well, ballet is not anatomically correct".
What an understatement!
Last update : Monday, 03 September 2007