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Turnout query?


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This question is on behalf of a freind of mine. The problem she is having is that when her legs are in flexion she has perfect turnout, however, as soon as her legs straighten, then turn in, considerably. So in demi and grande plies, wonderful turnout.

She was telling me how she was going to have to move into modern as she feels this problem is a permanent one, I was, saying 'surely not". Can it be a physiological problem or can it be remedied. Our teacher said that it will improve with time, but which teacher doesn't say that? So whats wrong? If anyone has any ideas that I can pass on to her, I would be grateful. :)

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  • citibob


  • Victoria Leigh


  • Mel Johnson


  • Xena


Sight unseen, I have to side with the teacher on this one. The lack of rotation is probably caused by a tightness in the hip flexors which is relieved when the legs are bent. Unfortunately, there is no magic pixie rotation dust to sprinkle when more turnout is wanted, so it's just a matter of time. And in adults, improvement in this area can be sloooooow, but reachable.

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Guest beckster

Do you know, I think I've got the exact same problem! My turnout is fine in things like plie's, retire's, and in the frog stretch. But my straight-legged positions are crummy and I have to do battements a la seconde really quite far forward (compared to where my turnout in a plie is) to maintain turnout. I know my hips are tight and always have been. Are there specific stretches which would help?

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Just the same old reliables, the butterfly and the frog, and also the things we do with Lower Grades in RAD, sitting and turning one leg out, then the other, then both.:) There's a reason that these are old reliables - they work!

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I’ve had teachers say that turn out is not what you have but what you do with what you have, which I believe. In my own case, I think my turn out has improved not by doing special exercises, but rather by just thinking about turning out while in class or while doing little combinations on my own.

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Thanks all of you for your replies :) I think she will be happy to hear this is a problem that can improve. I think she was worried that it was her bone structure or something along those lines, and therefore, it could never be improved upon.

Thanks again :D

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You've noticed a difference with bent or straight knees because a different kind of turnout is used in those two positions. This is what we are taught in my company.


With your legs straight, what we call turnout is actually rotation in the hip joint. That is improved by standing high on your legs, controlling your lower back, holding with the rotator muscles, and keeping your pelvis level to the floor. As Mel said, this position stretches the hip flexors. All these things can be improved over time, which is why your teacher says it will improve. Mine has improved greatly.


With your knees bent, you use a different kind of action to achieve turnout. It is the action of the knees moving to the side, apart from each other. The fact that the knees bend when you do that motion is incidental, a result of geometry. We call this action "a la seconde", to distinguish it from the "rotation" above. Different muscles are relaxed and stretched than when your knees are straight.


Rotator muscles are not involved in "a la seconde" the way they are in rotation. Here's a thought experiment that demonstrates that. Get into a perfect first position, then tendue side. Now, keep lifting your leg up, until it's at 90 degrees from the floor. That is "a la seconde" in action for the working leg (and still rotation for the standing leg). Notice that your working knee is pointing towards the ceiling. Now, rotate your working leg, and you will notice your knee pointing towards the back wall (incidentally, we are told to NOT do this, but it is taught differently in many schools).


When you go through a plie --- down and up --- you practice converting from rotation to a la seconde back to rotation. If not done right, you will find yourself "sinking in" as you straighten your legs.


As for why your friend has more "a la seconde" than rotation: that is common. She needs to improve her rotation. Butterfly and frog stretches won't do that, they're for the "a la seconde". Exercises to improve rotation must be done with a geometry similar to that when you're standing up --- a 180 degree angle between torso and legs, rather than the 90 degree angle you get when you sit down. I realize I am partially contradicting Mel on this issue. But what I just said makes a LOT of sense to me, and I'm willing to stand by it further.

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I have a funny feeling we're envisioning different levels of dancer, here, Bob. If you have a dancer who can point her knee at the rear wall in à la seconde, then you have a much more advanced dancer, with an excellent rotation, than I saw in my mind.

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But citibob, why would you want an à la seconde (working leg at 90 degrees) without rotation??? I'm afraid I don't understand that at all. Why would one kill themselves forever to improve their rotation and then put their leg in the air to the side without rotation?

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Mel: it was a thought experiment. Those happen in physics all the time, they usually start out with "suppose you're travelling at 99% the speed of light..." It was meant to illustrate a principle (the difference between rotation and "a la seconde"), even for the rest of us who can't put our knee to the back wall.


Victoria: why would you want a la seconde without rotation?


For one thing, if you are in plie (a la seconde action) and you then rotated your legs, that would move your feet out from under you; you would land on your butt in a butterfly-like position; that could hurt your butt :). Rotation with the legs straight does not have this problem because the angle between the legs and the torso is different (180 degrees with the legs straight, less with the knees bent).


Passe is another position in which the working leg does not rotate (it's all a la seconde action). If you start in passe and you rotate your working leg at the hip joint, you end up in attitude front.


If your leg is extended to the side (also a la seconde action) and you rotate it, you will not be subjected to any sudden falls as your knee turns towards the rear wall; so people actually do it sometimes. But Mateo says that having watched countless dancers (including Gelsey Kirkland) in real performance, they never actually rotate their leg when extended a la seconde.




* If you are going to develope a l seconde and your knee is pointing towards the back wall, your leg will fly behind you (or else you will twist your knee). So no one would ever develope a la seconde with a rotated leg.


* Also consider the grande ronde de jambe. If your knee is pointing towards the back wall a la seconde, you will have to un-rotate it to get your leg behind you.


Given these issues, Mateo just teaches us to point our knee towards the ceiling a la seconde, which is what he has observed in professional dancers executing real choreography anyway.


As to why kill yourself for rotation even if you don't use it when putting you your leg to the side when it's at an angle to your torso: you use it in all the other places. Any time your leg is straight and near the ground. Any time your leg goes to the front or the back, straight or bent. Any time you wish to straighten your legs and maintain your turnout without destroying your knees. I think that's quite enough to kill for... :)

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You might not be able to do it at a perfect 180 degree side position, but if you move it a couple of inches forward I bet you can ;) And, from an audience view, a turned out leg looks good, and a turned in one does not. They can't tell if you are at a perfect side or a tiny bit in front of that. It LOOKS side, and it looks a whole lot better if it is rotated!

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Actually, everything I've said would hold for any body, even those that are amazingly limber and can do anything. I haven't said we don't rotate our legs to the side because we can't (many dancers in my company certainly can).


Rather, we don't rotate our legs to the side for the reasons listed above. And the claim is, neither does anyone else (on stage in performance)!

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Excuse me??? Can you explain to me why in the world we turn out our legs if we are going to put them in the air turned in? I'm sorry, but I just do not understand this at all. And what dancers are you looking at who do not rotate their legs in seconde? I don't think I want to see them. :)

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I've already explained why. Let me repeat just one reason. If your leg is in passe, the hip joint is NOT rotated nearly as much as it can be. Once you rotate that joint, you end up in attitude front. So one very good reason you might not want to rotate is because you wish to hold the passe position.

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I'm talking about the leg extended to the side in an à la seconde position. I'm not talking about a retiré position, although I also think that in that position the leg can and should be rotated as much as it can be. If it's not rotated in that position, then of course it's not going to be rotated when you extend it. I'm afraid we are not on the same page here at all.

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