Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 6/6

Turnout Q&A Image.jpeg

Hello and welcome to the 6th and final post about “Turnout,” our workshop at Dancenter North. Last Saturday we reviewed some of the dancers’ favorite exercises and did some Q&A about turnout. Although I joked with the dancers about my elaborate “non-answers” to their questions (because the real answer to most questions is “It depends...”), we did cover some important ideas about turnout. I hope these Qs and As will be helpful to you, as well! 

Q: How can I improve my turnout without hurting myself?

A: The dancers themselves were able to answer this question beautifully. Their very correct answers highlight the fact that improving turnout is a process. Here are their answers: 

  • Work slowly. 
  • Stay where your body is comfortable. 
  • Try to do a little more each day. 
  • Push it when you can. 

I’d also add: 

  • Work on improving strength and flexibility throughout your entire body, not just your hips. 
  • Focus on good alignment and dance technique within your comfortable turnout range- don’t crank your turnout at the expense of the rest of your technique. 
  • And finally, as we said in week 1: Start with success and your body will give you the rest. 

Q: How can I make sure I am turning out from my hips? 

A: First of all, don’t force your turnout by planting each foot separately feet with hips and knees flexed, then straightening both knees. This technique, called “screwing the knee” can cause excessive compensation through the knees and feet. Instead, gently place your feet where you think they can go without feeling excessive strain in your legs (keep legs fairly straight while you do this). Then, lift up one leg to passé. If you can keep your pelvis square and level, you are likely using the correct amount of turnout for your body, which will likely include a good amount from your hips. 

Also, if you are turning out from your hips, your knees will ideally glide right out over your toes, not toward the insides of your feet during a plié. If you have difficulty aligning your knees over your toes, get assistance from your instructor or physical therapist- some people do have alignment variances that prevent the knee from tracking straight over the toes. 

Finally, check with your dance teachers. An instructor who is knowledgeable about correct technique and alignment throughout a wide range of dance movement will be able to help you be sure that you are turning out from your hips appropriately. 

Q: How come it’s easier for others to achieve their turnout?

A: Everyone is different. Our bodies, our histories, and our training can all influence how well we turn out. Hip socket depth, femur alignment, soft tissue flexibility, and strength are just a few of the reasons two people might dance with different amounts of turnout. Please remember: turnout is a process and a technique, not a static characteristic of a person. Respecting your body and putting the work it to make improvements will help you find your best turnout.  

Q: How long will it take to reach my goals?

A: This is another question that really “depends”. During this workshop, we were able to measure each dancer’s turnout before and after doing even just a few exercises, and they were all able to see a positive difference. So, in that case, we were able to see positive change in just a few minutes. More significant and permanent change will likely take longer. What your goals are, where you are starting, how much time you put in, how much focus you have, whether you stay safe and successful with your movement, what your injury history is, what your training history is, and how quickly your body adapts to change are all factors that contribute to how quickly you might reach your goals. The important part is putting in the work on a regular basis. Keep at it and you will likely see improvement. If you do not see any positive change over a period of weeks or months, your dance teacher or your physical therapist may be able to help you figure out why and help you make it better. 

Q: How can I hold my turnout longer?

A: Warm up before your start. Start by using your successful turnout, not by forcing it (see question 2 above). Practice using it throughout all movements you perform in class. Listen to your teachers and ask for individual help if you are unable to understand or execute the technical instructions they give you. Lather, rinse, repeat. Doing technically sound work, over and over, will help you build the endurance you need to hold your turnout longer. 

Q: What exercises should I do before class so that I am able to hold turnout from the beginning?

A: The simple, but not easy, answer is whatever exercise helps you the most. This requires that you be a scientist with your own body. Try different stretches or exercises that you already know, but test/retest your turnout before and after doing the exercise. Which one helps the most? Do THAT one before class. Not sure if a new exercise you saw will help? Try it, and test/retest your turnout as above. One size does not fit all for exercise.  Don’t worry if your friend, teacher, or even physical therapist, shows you an exercise that doesn’t feel good or doesn’t help you. Do what works for you and don’t think twice about it!

That being said, some of the dancers in this workshop really liked warming up before class with this exercise. Feel free to give it a shot and see if it works for you!

PLEASE READ FULLY: A 3D pivot matrix is a movement sequence that can help your feet, knees, and hips work together in a coordinated fashion. The 3D pivot matrix can be either a warm-up or conditioning exercise. For best results, step only in the directions that are comfortable and/or only step as far out as is comfortable for you.

** 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.**

Thanks so much again for joining us! Please comment below or write me at if you have any questions- I'd be happy to help in any way possible. Happy Dancing!

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!

Letting Up Is Not Giving Up

2011 Marathon

2011 Marathon

My husband is currently in his 3rd week of training for a marathon he is planning to run in early May. This will be his fourth marathon and is already putting up bigger numbers in weekly mileage than he has ever before. He is feeling great, primed and ready for the long arduous journey that is marathon training. 

Flashback to last month, about mid-December. He was struggling with a back tweak he acquired after sleeping on an uncomfortable bed while we were out of town. He was hardly running at all. He was working on gaining some comfort and movement one step at a time, but was still on the losing end of the battle. As we were talking one afternoon, he told me that although he was frustrated about the pain in his back, he was patient and hopeful about the future. He said, 

“I just know that when I get through this problem, I’ll be stronger.” 

And he has a lot of experience to prove it. He has faced many tweaks, injuries, set backs, and detours in his life and running career. But I have witnessed, over the years, that rather than getting more frustrated or anxious about his ability to run, he grows more patient and more peaceful, more invested in process of running than in the outcome. He knows that each injury, pain, or set back is an opportunity to grow, to become more in-tune with what his body needs, and to get better at doing what he loves to do. Each measure of patience he gives his body and his running pays dividends in his performance, comfort, and happiness as he pursues his goals. 

When someone comes to me with an injury, their current outlook is, quite understandably, dismal. They are usually feeling anxious, frustrated, and fearful that they have not been able and may not be able to do what is most precious to them in life. Their inability to move well is an inability to live well and the effects are often devastating. 

But time and time again, when these individuals take the time to regroup, reset, and dedicate themselves to really getting better, the results are astounding. I have seen many people sidelined by injury and fearing falling behind their peers, only to emerge stronger, more comfortable, more confident, and more capable after their recovery. They have taken time to understand their bodies and how to take care of them. They have taken time to rest (which is an often overlooked component of growth). And they have taken time to work on the fundamental movement qualities that are foundational to their success in their sport or activity.

They have embraced, or at least tolerated, the process of recovery and they are stronger for it.  

So, if you are currently working toward a goal or suffering a set back, please take heart. Take a moment to thank your body for this opportunity to rebuild. Invest in yourself and invest in the process of recovery. Know that letting up is not giving up. And know that when you get better, you will be stronger. 

2015 Training

2015 Training