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Ballet Talk for Dancers
Nzoia

Adult Students, Turnout and More

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Nzoia

A difficulty with drop-in classes (which most adult ballet students attend) is a balance between technique and fun/challenging combinations.  I believe that, not only is it essential to teach great technique, -- at least, the best possible -- but that also it is possible to do so without slowing a class down to zero students.  My experience has been, that no matter how good or bad the general level of technique in a drop-in class of adults, if the class is slowed down too much, people will drop out of the class.  So that's the dilemma. 

Almost in every case, when I talk to adult students, they do want to improve.  (Sometimes the argument for not focusing on technique is that adult dancers are just coming to class for exercise and fun and are not concerned about technique or improving.)  Without focus on technique, they will never improve.

No one can convince me that, when adult students are, say, having difficulty with brises (sorry no accent) in a combination, that focusing on brises across the floor would slow a class down.

I also believe that most adult students -- all students, in fact -- can achieve great turnout.  It's a matter of instructive corrections and floor barre -- perhaps extending classes to include floor barres.  I get that some will never achieve the ideal turnout, but much more can be achieved than is currently achieved (in North America, at least).  A prevalent issue in Western recreational and drop-in classes is a lack of turnout, the foundation of ballet and a key to fewer injuries when done correctly.  So often I watch young dancers and teens who, all their lives have wanted nothing more than to be dancers, yet, given potentially great bodies, they will never be dancers, because their teachers never insisted on turnout.

Would love to know what others think about this.

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Grandad dancer

Good questions. As an adult dancer here is my contribution.

If the problem is drop-in classes, perhaps the easiest solution would be to provide sufficient alternative types of class. A bit of a glib answer I know. How many would attend, how would you differentiate ability, would it be economically viable, where would it fit in the timetable?  I rarely attend a drop-in class as locally none are available. We pay termly and are very mixed ability with an average class size about six and duration 4 5 minutes to an hour. When I have attended a drop-in class, I have been concentrating so hard on remembering the sequence of the exercise that I have no quality of movement. It is more about training the brain.which also an important part of ballet. 

From most student's perspective,  corrections are important and I find the most useful ones are given before the exercise so that I can apply them straight away. Our teachers also know who wants corrections and who does not.. I have no idea how that would work in a drop-in class if you don't know the students. 

My turn-out was 90 degrees and is now 135 degrees. I doubt it will improve further. I am all for reaching natural turn-out but I have no interest in an unnatural 180 degrees.  Again I find being reminded before the exercise and asked to look at my feet at the end of the exercise helpful. 

We occasionally stop class to practise a technique. The trick is keeping it short enough not to lose the interest and attention of the once a week exercise people whilst being long enough to be useful. 

 

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gav

Nearly my entire in-class education in ballet has been in open classes. I've seen dancers take the same class for a decade and not improve one bit, and I've seen dancers move gradually from beginner to high levels. The difference, I think, is in what those people want and/or how much agency they take over their own journey. Where an adult dancer wants to improve technically, my experience (personally and observationally) is that it's definitely possible in open classes taught by good teachers that continue moving at a good pace.  

Ideally, after the very beginning stages, these adults will be able to take a combination of classes that are below, at and above their level - in each, respectively, they can focus, with respect to technique, on honing, progression and integration, and being exposed to new skills and steps. Ideally, these adults will be able to take a few classes a week and will listen to instructions and corrections given to everyone in the room. Ideally, they will follow up with their own research and questions to continue learning outside of the studio. They may also explore other complementary activities, like Pilates, or other dance forms that interest them.  

Where good classes are available (at a variety of levels), all of these things can be done by an adult whose own goal is technical improvement, because adults have the ability to take responsibility for their own progress even as true beginners. My view is that open classes don't need to be slowed down particularly for this to happen (again, assuming there are classes available in a variety of levels).  

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Lady Elle

In the studios I have worked at (and the one I still do) and the classes I've taken, there have always been a few levels of drop in classes for adults.  Currently we have a very basic ballet technique class intended to be comfortable for brand new-to-ballet students.  However, usually this class is attended by the adults who come to every level class. But if a new student drops in, the class is taught to that students level (and all the regulars know this).

I've been out of ballet class for probably a year now and I dropped into the ballet class just for barre last week.  My hips and feet really don't like it anymore 😞.  While I'm a bit embarrassed about my loss of turn out, there is still so much to gain in ballet even when technique (or evidence of technique) has taken a turn for the worse.  Just the mental exercise is really beneficial.  It seems everyone is there for their own  reasons and respects others personal journey through ballet.

Sometimes what looks like bad technique is not really, it's just that the physical ability has deteriorated (gosh that sounds awful).  The student is still turning out at the hips, still keeping a neutral spine, ribs in, back of knees stretched, pulled up etc.  It just doesn't look like it anymore!! 

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Nzoia
7 hours ago, gav said:

My view is that open classes don't need to be slowed down particularly for this to happen (again, assuming there are classes available in a variety of levels).  

Most drop-in classes are attended by students who have done years of ballet, so I agree that with those students, class should not be slowed down.  When they are slowed down, invariably students leave the class for another one.  It's a tricky balancing act.  The definition of "slowed down" needs to be clear as well.  A lower level class doesn't have to go at a snail's space.  It can have great combinations at the right level.  I have been to so many classes where technique is simply not taught, corrected or described properly.  Pull-up is so loosely described, it actually took me ages to get it.  Turnout is usually properly described as from the hips, but with no description about the muscle strength and exercises needed to do that, and turnout from the heels pretty well completely ignored.  As I have described to friends sometimes, if I were teaching, it would be my goal to produce (within the context of a drop-in studio, the best students possible, so that people, including the students, would be blown away and awed by the resulting level.  Sadly, in my view, that is very rarely the approach.  Having said that, I must say that I have had some excellent teachers and others not so good.

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Lady Elle

Most of the adult students here are pretty patient with a slower class (combinations less difficult, ie single frappes) thats when they really focus on their technique.  They can put more thought into where their body is rather than the combination itself.  

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gav

I think it's important to remember that the group of dancers on this board are a self-selecting subset of the people attending drop-in classes. We're online on a Saturday discussing ballet pedagogy for adults... Seriously, few people in class with me on a Wednesday night or a Saturday morning have any interest in that! Everyone wants to dance, but with a wide range of objectives.

Many people, as evidenced by those I've taken class with for a decade but haven't appreciably improved (but must be happy, because they keep coming back!), come to move with a like-minded group of people. Some people are hyper-focused on technique. Some people really come to class for the artistry and musicality. Some people are profesisonal dancers, whether in ballet or another style, and are keeping in shape/getting back into shape and getting some instructor feedback. Some are aspiring professionals looking to get exposure to different teachers, styles and corrections. I dance with a 90-something year old who took up ballet in her 70s! She would love to improve her technique but that's not her focus at this point. At the beginning levels, some people have danced for years and some are brand new or close to brand new. At the higher levels, yes, people will have danced for years, but plenty of people have danced exclusively in drop-in classes all that time.

It appears to me that the reality of running adult drop-in classes means accepting all of those people, just as long as everyone participating is safe. That's why I appreciate dancing in leveled classes that keep to those levels -- and therefore don't grind to a halt -- and that allow each student to pick and choose the classes where they can work towards their own goals. The teachers are pretty great at figuring out who's looking to accomplish what and providing individual feedback accordingly.

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thedancingpenguin

Hi, I' an adult student who takes classes with children, so my experiences may not be exactly the same. 

I struggle with turnout and grasping combinations quickly. The teacher doesn't slow down for me specifically. However, there are a few more advanced students who arguably need intermediate or higher classes. 

 

I think achieving great turnout for an adult is more complicated than doing Barre. For me, it has taken a lot of work outside of class to see improvements. I'e always been tight in the hips and conventional stretching never helped. Stretching in ballet class hasn't helped much if any. I had to buy a machine, and that has been the only to help me. After a few months on the machine, I see improvement, but my turnout still needs a lot of work. My first position Is better. I can make myself get into 4th and 5th better but it's uncomfortable for my knees when I plie. I figure it will take at least 6 months to get 180 turnout. 

 

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Redbookish

You don't need (and in my opinion, shouldn't be focused on) 180 degree turnout.

Turnout is an action. You need functional turn out which you can hold, and use. I find that I don't bother too much with the angle of my feet on the ground - where I'm working my turn out is in retire, arabesque, grand battement, and attitude (where restrictions in my turn out to the back really show, it's ugly).

I have good passive turn out - that is, when my leg is not bearing weight, my femur moves easily in my hip socket, particularly on my right leg. I can use this in my extensions devant quite well, but I don't have the same easy functionality derriere - I really have to work at turn out in movements derriere.

So I don't think it's about 180 degrees - just as flexibility has little to do with the splits - it's about what you can use, and maintain, particularly in movement in the centre.

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Miss Persistent
9 hours ago, Redbookish said:

You don't need (and in my opinion, shouldn't be focused on) 180 degree turnout.

Turnout is an action. You need functional turn out which you can hold, and use. I find that I don't bother too much with the angle of my feet on the ground - where I'm working my turn out is in retire, arabesque, grand battement, and attitude (where restrictions in my turn out to the back really show, it's ugly).

Bravo Redbookish - well said.  Yes as adults our bodies are not as pliable as children and teens but as you say - there is no need for 180 degree turnout anyway!! Yes we should always safely strive for more, the same as every part of ballet technique, but there is a big difference between passive turnout (structure of the body) and active turnout (use of the structures).  You can have all the passive turnout in the world and not be able to access it which makes it basically useless.  Similarly, some people will NEVER have 180 degree turnout but will use every inch of what they have - I never had 180 turnout and I danced professionally in a classical company. I learned to work with what I had, and hide what I didn't have.

IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine and Science) just released a bulletin with some research just on this subject (active and passive turnout). You can download it here http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iadms.org/resource/resmgr/public/iadms_bulletin_dt_7-1.pdf

 

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sheahuang

Miss Persistent - thanks for sharing the article. I have a science background and like to analyze these things!

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Redbookish
5 hours ago, Miss Persistent said:

I learned to work with what I had, and hide what I didn't have.

I've also heard this from a lot of teachers who had professional careers in classical companies, and have taught people who have gone onto professional careers.

It's about learning to work with your own skeleton, and as you say knowing when & how to challenge & push yourself. I'd still like a flat retiré position - it's OK with my right leg, not happening with my left! 

Thank you, Miss Persistent - I'm not a teacher,. so it's good to know I'm thinking along the right ines - it's just what I've picked up from many years of adult drop-in classes.

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Nzoia

In my opinion, working on proper turnout is essential to progress in ballet, from a physical and aesthetic perspective.  It also, ironically, creates a safety buffer -- far less injuries with correct turnout.  I also believe it is possible for adult students to achieve far more safe turnout (and properly placed extensions) than they initially think they can (have seen this from experience); however, it does, indeed, take tons of work (initially with floor barre and continuing with daily floor barre).  So much of turnout is in muscle strength versus bone placement.  One reason adults don't achieve it and don't do better is the lack of practice and repetition.  This is not a criticism; it's just a fact.  Adults don't have the time, or in many cases, the facilities in which to practice, not to mention, the lack of focus on turnout and repetition in adult classes.  I believe repetition is entirely possible without slowing a class down or making it boring.

Of course, achieving turnout is not as huge a deal for adults as it is for children.  Seeing teens and young adults in class with so little turnout -- even incorrect tendus is sad.  Some of those dancers, given the right body types, could probably have been professional dancers, had they been given better training.  All they wanted to do was dance for a living; sadly they never will, because their technique is not there.

One of the foundational reasons dancers in Russia tend to be so much better than many in the West is turnout -- that applies to adult dancers as well.

 

 

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thedancingpenguin

I admit I find proper turnout much more aesthetically pleasing. 

I guess I'm a bit confused about the hip flexibility and turnout. Everyone I've seen who had great turnout could also do straddle splits. The people I've seen with poor turnout also had poor middle splits.

I admit I had very difficult time with my hips in general with pain and popping in addition to tightness. Perhaps my groin is particularly tight. 

My teacher makes us do exercises to strengthen our turnout. 

 

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Miss Persistent
12 hours ago, thedancingpenguin said:

I guess I'm a bit confused about the hip flexibility and turnout. Everyone I've seen who had great turnout could also do straddle splits. The people I've seen with poor turnout also had poor middle splits.

Hip flexibility and turnout are two related, but independent things.  For the sake of this conversation, let's define "turnout" as what we are able to use and access while we are dancing (active turnout).

Without getting too overwhelmingly into details... turnout is determined by a few things.

  • Structure of the hip socket. How the bones are shaped and how they fit together
  • Pliability of the soft tissues around the hip socket and upper leg.
  • Strength and control of the many muscles around the hip joint and upper leg, as well as the deep core muscles.

What you're observing with the straddle splits is the relationship between the soft tissues around the hip and upper leg. If they are tight, the legs will not be able to open far. If they are loose the legs will open more easily.  If you think of it like a creaky old door hinge.  If it is stiff and tight and all jammed up you may not be able to open the door very far because there is a lot of resistance.  But if the hinges are well oiled and moving freely the door will swing open no problems.  However - loose inner thigh muscles do not turnout make!  You are only looking at a single element of turnout.

As Redbookish said above, turnout is a verb. It's an action - something any Joe Bloggs on the street can do regardless of how far he might be able to rotate his leg - everyone can turn their leg 'out' because it's an action of the body independent of flexibility of the hip.  Where is gets complicated for us dancers is that we want a large range of turnout.  We want that knee all the way to the side and the perfect 5th! That froggy flat and straddle open!  But this is more to do with flexibility, and nothing to do with the verb of rotating the legs.  That said though, they are related.  Lack of flexibility will result in lack of range, even though there may be lots of strength. But even with flexibility (range), lack of strength will result in lack of control of turnout. 

Someone with "loose hips" probably has good bone structure for turnout, and naturally pliable soft tissues around the hip joint.  But they may need to build strength to be able to hold and use all that range while they dance, so they may not appear to have good turnout while dancing even if they have knees flat on the floor in froggy.  Tight soft tissue or undesirable bone structure will physically limit the range the leg can rotate in the socket meaning the knees may be sky high in your froggy - but if the strength and control is there in the muscles around the hip to use and hold what leg rotation IS available, that dancer may end up looking better.  The Holy Grail is when we have flexibility AND control/strength.

Now - not to mention, turnout varies depending on the position we are working in (devant, derriere, retire, 5th position etc). This is because different structures and muscles are in play in different positions.  You might have a great range devant, but struggle to rotate the leg in the hip derriere.  This could be caused by any of the factors above! It's about working out what is going on, and working out how to fix it.  I don't think it's possible to say any particular country, company, or methodology of ballet has "better" turnout.  You will find good, bad, and average turnout all over the world.

Turnout is a seriously complicated topic.  It involves A LOT of different moving parts and is different for every individual.  Diving in to it more requires a good knowledge of anatomy and ballet technique.  Lisa Howell is a physiotherapist who has done lots of work on turnout - she has a video here which explains some of the elements and how they relate https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=185&v=3ScvMI3UEKs

 

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