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How To Improve One’s Turnout Range

Turnout is unique to classical ballet and is one of the requirements amongst other components for any student of this art form. In order to improve one’s turnout range, one needs to first understand the anatomy as well as the other factors that influence and contribute to one’s turnout range. This article will provide a summary of what turnout is and it is not meant to provide any diagnoses or prescribe an exhaustive list of activities for your individual needs. Rather do consult a qualified physiotherapist, dance teacher and healthcare provider who is knowledgeable in this area to objectively assess, identify and measure any true restrictions and areas to be improved on.

It is generally agreed upon by medical and dance science professionals that turnout is a result of the combined total from the hip, knee, lower leg and the foot-ankle complex. Whilst the majority of the range comes from the hips (60-65%) it is a huge misconception when dance teachers only focus on turnout coming only from the hips. However, forcing one’s turnout will lead to injuries and one way to tell is it your foot is rolling in/out (pronation/supination) as well if the hips are tipping forward or backwards.

Factors affecting the range of turnout:

  • Structure of the hip joint

  • Muscles and ligaments surrounding it

  • Ankle and tibial torsion

  • Core and body placement

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3

The hip is a ball and socket joint, the “ball” referring to the head of the femur and the “socket” to the acetabu- lum (Fig1 and Fig2). The six lateral rotator (turn out) muscles are attached from different parts of the pelvis but are all attached behind the greater trochanter of the femur (Fig 3). The function of the six deep rotator muscles is to laterally rotate (turn out) the leg (femur). It is often difficult for dancers to isolate and contract these group of muscles and one does not need to over squeeze, tighten or “clench” the gluteals. The other muscles of adduction including the sartorius may also facilitate and contribute to increase one’s turnout range and that is when teachers do say “use your inner thigh muscles”, provided if the primary external rotators are engaged and when the femur is in extension. Fully straightening the legs from the bottom of plié and grand plié is an example of when the secondary adductor muscles are working to maintain the turnout.

Any restrictions or compensation (muscles, ligaments, hip mobility) have to be addressed first before working on strengthening. Structurally the hip/pelvis cannot be changed with training, but what can change would be the strength surrounding the hip muscles and overall body motor control. This means that the dance student has to consciously coordinate and time the muscle engagement during ballet class exercises. It is important that the student first apply good placement and to work to one’s maximum active turnout through the supporting and working leg in every ballet exercise under the supervision of a qualified teacher.

Simple Stretch and Exercise

(Photography and exercises by Gary Ray Rush, from Conditioning with Imagery for Dancers, by Donna Krasnow and Jordana Deveau)

  1. Both the external rotators and the internal rotators (gluteus medius and minimus) need to be stretched by dancers. The external rotators can get tight from overuse and can be stretched lying on the back, bending one knee and drawing that parallel leg across the body, keeping the pelvis on the floor. For some people, however, this stretch is irritating or ineffective, and so “pretzel” stretch in the Figure 1 can be used instead. Sit with one leg folded on the floor, and cross the opposite leg over, placing that foot on the floor. Turn the body to face the knee that is off the floor, and using the opposite arm, draw the knee toward the shoulder trying to maintain both “sitz” bones on the floor.

Figure 4

  1. Now roll up onto the side of the body.

  2. Fold both knees so that the feet are directly under the pelvis, and the knees are in front of the body, the same position as hook lying used earlier, but now lying on the side of the body.

  3. Check that the alignment of the pelvis and spine are neutral and create a small space under the waist.

  4. Maintaining neutral pelvis, rotate the top leg fully out (by lifting the knee toward the vertical, keeping the feet together, like the action of a clam opening) and back down.

  5. To increase the difficulty and demand, do the same exercise with the bottom leg extended along the floor and turned out. This increases the balance and torso stabilization challenge

Figure 5


Champion, L. M., & Chatfield, S. J. (2008). Measurement of turnout in dance research: a critical review. Journal of dance medicine & science : official publication of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, 12(4), 121–135.

Kaufmann, J. E., Nelissen, R. G. H. H., Exner-Grave, E., & Gademan, M. G. J. (2021). Does forced or compensated turnout lead to musculoskeletal injuries in dancers? A systematic review on the complexity of causes. Journal of biomechanics, 114, 110084.

Wilmerding, V., & Krasnow, D. (2011). Turnout for dancers: hip anatomy and factors affecting turnout. InternationalAssociation for Dance Medicine & Science Resource Paper.


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