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5th position knee issues

Mel Johnson

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Debby, we need a little more information than just a topic title. Can you fill us in a little more on what you feel and when it occurs rather than just "fifth position"? That's kind of global. Do you have pain when you take third position, for example?

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Well, it is hard to describe. It is not painful or uncomfortable in 3rd. But I don't even have a 45 degree turnout. I can maintain hip turn out and square my hips to the front in 3rd. But in 5th, my hips want to turn to the side and I feel the tension in my hip joints. It is not a generalized discomfort, but a specific to the exact area of the hip joint. I don't have and never have had hip issues. I am flexible in other ways, but apparently not in the hip joints. In 5th, when I start dancing I can't maintain the turn out from the hips and it starts to come from the knees and it doesn't hurt right away, but later oh boy, does it!! It is a stiffness in the hips that comes, I guess from never having moved them in this manner. It is not a generalized discomfort, but a specific discomfort to the exact area of the hip joint. Like it is unnatural to turnout, which I guess it is! Do some people never get turnout. I would be happy with 45 degrees of turnout in 5th one day. :green:


Administratively, I posted a question along with the topic sentence and accidently posted twice, because I previewed and pressed post and then posted again. Well, now there is no post at all and only the topic sentence. What happened?



Edited by debby
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Debby, it is definitely unnatural to turn out! And, starting ballet as an adult it is even more unnatural. If you cannot do 5th position without pain in the hip, then don't do it! Stay with what you can do, and work very gradually to try and improve it. It is possible, not easy and not quick! Patience is key. Try to use what rotation you have to the best of your ability all the time, but don't force it to where the hips hurt.


As to what happened to your original post, who knows! :green: One of those unexplained computer glitches, I guess.

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The typical reason for experiencing knee pain while doing the fifth position is forcing turnout. Do you place you feet first in the "perfect" fifth position and then straighten the knees and thighs? If so, the turnout is forced at the knee and feet and does not come from the hips. The knees would experience stress under this circumstance and if done repeatedly over a long time, the knees would be injured.


It seems to me, though, that you understand that turnout comes from the hips. So the best thing to do is to train the turnout muscles by doing some helpful exercises such as the "clam", etc.

Edited by airchild
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  • 2 weeks later...

I am trying to figure out the clam exercise you mentioned. I did a search for +clam +exercise. No luck. I did +exercise +turnout. No luck. Could someone describe the clam exercise, please?



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I never heard of the "clam" either, but did a quick web search and came up with this page. Scroll down to see the "clam"


It looks like a safe exercise, but I'm not convinced it'd be the best thing for opening the hips and understanding turnout.





One thing that occured to me is that you describe "twisting" in fifth is that maybe you are turning out the legs unevenly in fifth. A lot of people plant their back leg more turned out than their front (or vice versa), without realizing it. Your fifth should have both legs turned out the same, the same way you'd do it in first position, except in fifth the legs are crossed.


My hips still twist in 4th and 5th with the left leg front unless I'm careful about it, because my right leg rotates a lot more than my left :P

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Because I have limited turnout as far as I can tell, and because I refuse to turn out from the knees and/or feet to overcompensate, my fifth is not very flat. I have a teacher who doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that the best I can do is just that. I hear about it being sloppy, that it isn't a position, etc. It's becoming demoralizing. My toes and heels align, so it's not that I'm doing third as opposed to fifth. It's just that there's quite frankly some space as opposed to my feet being nice and parallel to on another.


I can fake a little more turnout by turning out my feet more, but it doesn't feel like the right thing to do, given that it means my knees are no longer going out over my toes when I do that. How much turnout really does happen from the feet and knees vs. the hips?




Any advice for my relationship with said teacher would be helpful too. I really wish there were more beginner ballet options out there for me. :P

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The lower leg generally is a bit more rotated than the upper.


But understanding how to safely use your maximum capacity for turnout takes a lot of trust between you and your teacher. If you don't trust your teacher, then it's best to err on the side of caution to protect your knees.

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dancing jet, it sounds to me like you are using the best 5th that you can, and forcing it beyond that would be unsafe. Working towards improving it is fine, but that is a slow process, and you cannot force it. The joints will not like that at all, especially in an adult beginning student!

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Thank you both for such quick replies. Trust...that is a tricky one. I can't figure out if my teacher is disappointed in me because she sees something in me that I don't and feels I need to work harder, or if she's frustrated at my lack of facility and doesn't want to work with someone "like me". It's a tough one, and on days that are already difficult because of the rest of my life, I take comments to heart.

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Thanks lampwick! I also Googled it and and found the same illustration. I did the exercise a couple of times and it does isolate the muscles, but I don't think it will increase my turnout. However, knowing how to engage the muscles for turnout is a big part of achieving it. I will try for a while.

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Here is a terrific video on the "clam exercise".



While it may not give you immediate results, it does help you identify one of the turnout muscles - Piriformis. It shows how you can isolate and train it while not focusing on using the quads - and transfer that feeling to your ballet class. However, if you do it regularly over time, this exercise is known to be effective for strengthening turnout, as turnout is not just a "position" that you "open" to, but a movement that you have to keep working to maintain, whether you are just standing at the barre or working in the center.


In Deborah Vogel's book and video "Amazing Turnout", she also recommends this exercise, along with others.


Dancing Jet,


Regarding your frustration, I had exactly the same as yours! When my teacher tried to "ply open" my turnout from the feet (!!!) at fifth position, I said to her: "I can't turn out any further. But I know how far I can go." She looked quite surprised and said, "OK, I just wanted to make sure you were not being lazy about turnout." Ever since then, she left my turnout alone :P and I felt much better being in control of my own knee safety at class.



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