A very common way to talk about how to use your turn out muscles is to tell students to “tuck their butts”. In fact I myself was told that throughout my training! Guess what? That’s right! Your wrong. It does not work anatomically. I am going to start by asking everyone to do a quick exercise…yes….seriously! I want everyone to stand up out of their chair, bed, floor, couch and whatever other place you may be sitting or laying (ok, if you are driving…well, if you are driving stop reading this!) and do just that, tuck your butt. Ok, now that you have all your butt muscles tight and your spine curved inward, walk, just a simple walk. Can anyone out there walk at all? No? That’s right, NO! You can’t possibly free your legs to move if you “tuck your butt”, you mean the right thing, but, you are saying the wrong thing! Extremely wrong!
What can you say instead? Well, that is a great question and not that easy to answer because the actual anatomy of turn out is so much more complicated then you might imagine. So, lets start with the anatomy itself, then move on to what to say, what imagery to use. That way you will know why these things are coming out of your mouth.
Anatomy of Turn Out:
Turnout happens BELOW your tuchas (that’s Butt in Yiddish), NOT in your tuchas. Turnout is the lateral or external rotation of the hip joint! You will notice that your hip, while close to your butt is not your butt. Your hip joint can produce, flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, inward rotation and outward rotation or in people terms: folding forward, standing, moving away from the center of the body, moving toward the center of the body, turning in and turning out. Whew, that is a lot!
Now how does it do all of those crazy things you ask? Well, we are only going to tell you how it creates turn out or outward rotation for this article. The muscles you are going to use sit BELOW the line of your leotard. I know crazy right? BELOW, that’s right, that is where they sit! There are six muscles that attach to different parts of the femur, but all of that doesn’t matter right? What you are wondering if how do I initiate them? Well you have to activate those tiny and deep muscles to create turn out, hence the confusing messaging on how this is done, it is not easy to explain
If you think about the fact that you don’t use your butt to get there, and you think about the fact that the muscles are truly deep muscles then the best way to figure this out is to try it. If you lay down on the ground on your back with your legs straight and turn out one leg at a time, well you have no choice but to do it correctly and it is not possible to force turn out in this position. (note that it is possible if you sit up or if you bend your knees, so, laying down is the way to execute this exercise.) Once laying down, with straight legs, turn out one leg at a time from your hip. To do this, you will have to engage your core, you will have to breath and you will have to engage your thigh muscles in a long spiral motion from inside and slightly above your knee all the way to slightly inside of and under your sitz bones. This is how turnout is achieved in a way that allows you to do all the necessary jumping, turning and maneuvering that you have to do in dance. Now stand up and try it, it works right? It also forces you to build turn out instead of forcing it, it allows you to use turn out as a constantly moving spiral, instead of a static motion. It allows your body to properly and safely achieve a greater level of technique. Additionally, you need that spiral in parallel in plie, in jumps and so on. So, overall, achieving properly executed turn out is a win win no matter what style of dance suits your fancy.
Imagery to describe turn out that does not include “tuck your butt or the ever uncomfortable practice of poking your students butt with your very sharp finger nail..right?”
Here are some suggestions:
- Spiral your legs. This allows students to imagine their legs as constantly moving. Tell them the spiral begins above their knees on the inside of their thigh and draws a spiral across the front of their thigh and around to under and inside of their sits bones. Have them palpate this line. Teach them to use this in all movement and to think of their bodies as always moving, even in stillness.
- Another image that works well is “stand down”, this image came to me from Donlin Foreman who sometimes works with the dancers at IBIT. This naturally gives your body the juxtaposition of moving in all directions. This has to be used in conjunction with other imagery.
- Another image used by Donlin Foreman is relaxing your knees outward or imagine someone is gently pulling your knees to plie and then keep them their as you straighten (that last part is from yours truly). This allows you to stop using old images of how to plie and offers your body the freedom to experience the correct alignment.
- In terms of engaging your core, I always say, lift through your lower abdomen and drop through your tail, much like a Magnetic Rail Twirler (you know the children’s toy? Look it up if you are still guessing).
Lastly, come up with your own images for your students, notice things that we use every day that might help them to understand. For each student there is going to be one image that rings true to them and that will be the one that makes it click.
Long story short, remember that just as with all sports, science, art and pretty much everything, we are always learning new things. Do not use the incorrect corrections that you were taught without finding out if we know that does not work. You are then passing on bad knees, bad hips and bad backs and ultimately shorter dance careers. Instead, look this stuff up. Even the most experienced dance teacher can keep learning and the best teachers will never stop learning! Let’s agree to keep our students and company members agile and movable as long as we possibly can!