Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes - Increase Ballet Turnout

To increase your ballet turnout, first try 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. Demonstrated in this post.

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. This image show the dancer pressing down on a ball, to strengthen the rotator muscles.

Doing the frog position on your back or stomach is not good for your knees even if you are flexible.

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! They are still brilliant.

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. It relaxed and stretches the turnout muscles.

Don't Clench Your Gluts

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.

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.

Third Position Is Good Sometimes

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 deliberately.

Hip Socket Shape And Tibial Torsion

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.

  • press the back of the legs into the floor and feel the rotators
  • move the legs, feet still flexed, about half an inch 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 turn in and relax the rotators afterwards.

Recently I enjoyed a movie of William Forsythe's company. He says in the initial interview "Well, ballet is not anatomically correct". No kidding!

If your focus is to get into pointe shoes faster, I recommend The Perfect Pointe Book.

William Forsythe choreography - enjoy!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Ballet Shoes, Dancing In Pointe Shoes and Summer Intensives

Every ballet student should have a copy of The Perfect Pointe Book for dancing in pointe shoes, to learn special foot muscle strengthening exercises, and more.

Summer Intensives offer a chance for increased flexibility. After your first morning class, you are partially warmed up for the rest of the day. That is, unless you are resting in between classes in highly air conditioned environments. I recommend not to do that. A cool but not cold place, perhaps shady outdoors somewhere, is better.

Also, allow your ballet shoes and pointe shoes to dry as much as possible in between classes, they will last longer, and will not lose that 'exactly right fit' so soon. Having two pairs of each helps, if you can do that.

Intensive training in ballet means intensive use of the flexor muscles. Battment tendu, grande battment and developpe en avant mean heavy use of the iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscles. Without constant stretching, this tension will compromise your turnout, as the tension at the side of the hips will counter the thigh's ability to rotate outwards. It will also lessen the flexibility of the low back and front of the hip, in doing an arabesque.

A standing lunge done in between exercises will relieve the tension building up in the hip flexors and postural muscles. Finding exactly the right balance between strength and stretch is what creates power in your work.

One of the best ways to stretch for a good arabesque is at the corner of the studio where you can hold on to one barre, while placing yourself in your ideal arabesque position with your working leg on the barre of the other wall behind you. If there is a lower barre, use it so as to get a more upright (but still adjusted forward)
back position. Do a demi plie repeatedly, holding the position well-placed.

If there is no corner with barres, get a fellow student to hold your hands to keep you upright, and place your leg on the barre behind you to do your demi plies.

A wonderful stretch regimen for dancers is yoga. My favorite is "Ali McGraw - Yoga Mind & Body". It is a few years old but still available. It is not for beginners, but dancers will love it. The positions are easy for most dancers, and give fantastic relief to muscle tension. Done in the evening it will leave you stretched and ready to sleep.

If you are recovering from injury, but please consult with your doctor, teacher or trainer as to whether you are ready to do these routines.

Losing electrolytes and dehydration can cause muscle tension and cramps. Real sea salt on your foods, calcium/magnesium supplements and "All 12" cell salts are a great help. Celery is one of the saltiest foods you can eat, get organic. It contains multiple mineral salts, and is a hydrating food too - a perfect snack in between classes.

The apparency of weight loss through dehydration is a seductive trap. Recognize it and don't worry about weight. If you feel puffy from drinking water, then your mineral balance is off and your cells are floating in water but are not able to use it. So you're still dehydrated. Forget the junk food sports waters. Better to mix a pinch of sea salt into your water and drink it. Neon colors and a couple of minerals won't help.

So please take care of yourselves in the heat, treat spare time as recovery time, and you will reap the most benefits from your summer intensive!