hips

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 5/6

Wow. Time really does fly! We've now spent 5 weeks learning and practicing a myriad of different ways to help dancers improve turnout. We've previously worked on building both strength and flexibility throughout the legs and feet, but Week 5 of our turnout workshop at Dancenter North brought us further north in the body- to an area called the thoracic spine

The thoracic spine is the name for the region of the spine comprised of the 12 vertebrae where ribs attach. Although the word “ribcage” kind of brings to mind the static structure of a birdcage (indeed, our lungs and heart are enclosed safely within it), this area of the body has the capability to move quite a bit. The reasons why thoracic spine and ribcage movement are relevant to turnout can get a little complex, but we’ll dive in to a couple of them here. 

1. When we realize that the human body works as a complete system, it is natural to realize that movement of one body part is absorbed and distributed through the entire system. When we move our head, arms, or shoulders in one direction, that movement must continue somewhat through the spine (just try moving your head or arms without moving your spine- you won’t be able to get very far!). If the thoracic spine and ribcage do not move very well, they will not be able to absorb the movement of the upper body, and that movement will likely be translated to the hips, or even to the knees. So, having a flexible thoracic spine and ribcage is important to turnout because stiffness of these areas can make it very difficult to hold hip and pelvis placement while executing porte de bras (movement of the arms). 

In class, we observed this phenomenon by standing on one foot, in passé, with both legs turned out. We then reached our arms out the the sides and rotated our upper bodies to the right and left. Try this at home, (being careful to avoid causing pain or aggravating any existing injuries!) and notice how your pelvis moves in response to your upper body movement. Our goal is to be able to allow your upper body to move as far as possible while maintaining good control of your hips and pelvis so you can still maintain good turnout in the legs. Doing exercise designed to help your thoracic spine and ribcage move better can be a great step toward reaching this goal.

2. Gaining strength and control of thoracic spine movement is also critical to maintaining hip and pelvis alignment and turnout while dancing. Fortunately, we have many muscles (4 layers of abdominal muscles) and quite a bit of connective tissue that connect our spine and ribcage to our pelvis. When we exercise 3 dimensionally and with a focus on building both flexibility and strength throughout our movement range, these muscles become a tremendous asset to our dancing.  I've included a couple of videos below to give you a visual on this concept. 

Video #1: A twist on the porte de bras stretch, promoting thoracic spine and ribcage movement in 3 dimensions. Remember to only work where you are comfortable and successful. Allow your body to give you more stretch when it is ready- don’t force it. Please discontinue this exercise and consult with your doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are unsure as to whether this exercise is right for you. 

Video #2: A plank on hands and feet with 3D pelvis movement will challenge your abdominal and hip muscles to be both flexible and strong throughout your movement range. Remember to only work where you are comfortable and successful. Allow your body to give you more stretch when it is ready- don’t force it. Please discontinue this exercise and consult with your doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are unsure as to whether this exercise is right for you. 

Next week is week 6! For the last week of this blog series, I will post some common questions about turnout, as well as my best attempts to answer these questions. Please feel free to add any of your questions to the comments below and I'll do my best to answer those, too. Thanks for joining us!

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 4/6

Hello and welcome to the week 4 recap of our turnout workshop at Dancenter North. We are having lots of fun working together and every week I am hearing more good things about how these dancers are feeling with their turnout. They are doing some hard work and seeing it pay off. Great job, ladies!! 

During week 3, we focused on the hip joint structure itself and performed exercises designed to stretch and strengthen each hip joint individually. This week we looked at the relationship between the two hips and worked with the idea that the hips are really just 2 joints separated by 1 bone (the pelvis). Any time the pelvis moves, both hips are affected. We can use our understanding of this relationship to help us train our hips to be coordinated together as we gain flexibility and strength for better turnout. 

A screenshot of the bony anatomy of the hips in Skeletal System Pro III- a really cool app for viewing the bones and joints. Check out how the two femurs (thigh bones) connect to the sides of the pelvis. Picture the movement of the hips and pelvis when you perform a battement or an arabesque. Then, try it yourself, placing your hands over your hip joints to feel how the two hips work together when you move. 

A screenshot of the bony anatomy of the hips in Skeletal System Pro III- a really cool app for viewing the bones and joints. Check out how the two femurs (thigh bones) connect to the sides of the pelvis. Picture the movement of the hips and pelvis when you perform a battement or an arabesque. Then, try it yourself, placing your hands over your hip joints to feel how the two hips work together when you move. 

We also worked with the concept that when we dance, flexibility and strength are movement qualities that almost always work together. For example, what good is enough flexibility to turnout to 180 degrees if you don’t have enough strength to hold it while your are dancing? Each exercise that we did this week required us to find successful hip movement that used the components of flexibility, balance, and strength all at the same time. By moving this way, we make our exercise program congruent with the needs of our body when we dance.

How convenient! Instead of doing separate exercises for flexibility, strength, and balance, we can do one exercise that helps improve all three of those movement qualities. 


See below for an example of one exercise we performed last Saturday. These lunges, performed in a kneeling position, allow us to focus on improving the flexibility and strength of both hips in 3 dimensions. Feel free to try this at home, but please be cautious of the following: If performed as demonstrated, this exercise requires kneeling. Use a good cushion under your kneeling knee- one that allows you to kneel without pain or discomfort. If pain free kneeling to perform this exercise is not possible, you may find that doing this exercise in standing is much more comfortable and still beneficial. 

Also, please move only where you are successful- do not push into any motion that causes pain anywhere in your body. This exercise is not meant to substitute for your own personal wisdom about your body or the opinion of a doctor or physical therapist that is familiar with you and your medical/movement history. If you have questions as to whether this exercise might be right for you, please consult a qualified medical professional. 

If you feel good doing the kneeling lunge matrix, try it a few times this week. Perform 5-10 repetitions of each lunge direction on each leg. Don’t worry if your thigh and hip muscles get sore for a few days after- that’s normal and will likely improve as you get stronger and more flexible. Then, during the week, especially after any soreness has gone away, check on your turnout. If it feels or looks better to you, then this was likely a good exercise for you. If not, don’t worry. There are lots of other things that might help you find more success in your turnout


Thanks for joining us! Next week we move on to the spine. You'll be amazed at how we can use movement in the spine to help improve your turnout. See you then!

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 3/6

Welcome to our week 3 recap of Kinesi’s “Turnout” workshop at Dancenter North. I continue to hear that the dancers attending class are keeping up with the exercises they learned during Week 1 and Week 2 and are feeling that their turnout is becoming easier and more comfortable. Fantastic! That’s exactly what we are aiming for. This week we learned a little bit about the hips- how they are structured and how they work.

The hip is a “ball and socket” joint that functions, like all other joints, in 3 dimensions. The ball is located at the top of the femur and the socket is located on the pelvis. 

Front view of the right hip joint. 

Front view of the right hip joint. 

Back view of the right hip joint.

Back view of the right hip joint.

The hip can move:

  • because the femur moves inside the socket (like the moving leg hip in battement), or 
  • because pelvis moves over/around the femur (like the standing leg hip in cambré), or
  • because both the pelvis and the femur move at the same time (like both hips in grande jeté). 

Regular movements performed in ballet and other forms of dance use all of these types of hip motion. During class last Saturday, we utilized mostly a “top-down” approach with exercises that cause movement of the pelvis over and around the femur. 

As we discussed in Week 1, starting with successful movement is a much safer and more effective strategy than pushing into painful or very tight directions. And here’s the super-secret-magic* key to why: Movement is 3-dimensional. It occurs in 3 planes simultaneously at all joints and in all muscles of the body.

A visual depiction of the planes of motion. Forward and backward movement occur in the sagittal plane, side to side movement in the frontal plane, and rotational movement in the transverse plane. Although these planes are depicted as separate, all human movement has components in all 3 planes of motion. 

A visual depiction of the planes of motion. Forward and backward movement occur in the sagittal plane, side to side movement in the frontal plane, and rotational movement in the transverse plane. Although these planes are depicted as separate, all human movement has components in all 3 planes of motion. 

If we have difficulty moving in one plane of motion, we will have difficulty moving in all three planes. On the other hand, if we can gain mobility in one plane of motion, we can gain mobility in all three planes. 

Our bodies and brains are very smart. They will try their best to protect you from danger and pain is one of the ways they protect you. A stretch should feel good (though it can be a little intense) and should result in an improvement in movement in that direction. A feeling of very intense tightness or pain in the hip when it is fully stretched let’s you know there’s no more room to go. Rather than pushing hard into that direction and risking damage to your joints, ligaments, and tendons, stretch in a different direction that can be improved without pain. 

For example, if pushing your hips to turnout (when standing up or in a frog stretch) is getting nowhere, try doing an exercise or stretch that causes your leg to turn in (see below for one to try). Turning in often feels really good for dancers and can be a great strategy to improve your overall hip mobility. I’ll say it again- when your hip moves better in one direction, it moves better in all directions. Sometimes turning in is actually a better way to work on turning out! 

Stand on your left leg facing the barre and place your right hand on the barre. Then gently circle your left hand and right foot "around the corner" to the left until you feel a little bit of stretch in the outside of the left hip. Gently bend your left knee and keep your left foot planted, toes forward. Repeat 5-10 times as needed, then reverse to the other side.  Please discontinue this exercise and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel pain.

Stand on your left leg facing the barre and place your right hand on the barre. Then gently circle your left hand and right foot "around the corner" to the left until you feel a little bit of stretch in the outside of the left hip. Gently bend your left knee and keep your left foot planted, toes forward. Repeat 5-10 times as needed, then reverse to the other side. Please discontinue this exercise and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel pain.

Note: If you are experiencing intense or unrelenting pain in your hips with movement, please consult your doctor and/or physical therapist for further evaluation. These strategies are appropriate for healthy hips and are not meant to substitute for good professional or medical care. 

Thanks again for joining us! Next week we will learn a little bit more about the hips and learn more strategies to maximize your successful turnout. See you then!

*Just kidding, guys. Although this is an important point, there's nothing really super secret or magic about it. It's just a truth of how your body works!