Are Your Dancers' Working Their Turn Out Muscles to the Best of Their Abilities?
Updated: Jun 13
by Jana Loney, Physiotherapist at Tuxedo Physiotherapy
There are 6 muscles deep in the hip that are responsible for turn out. The quadratus femoris plays a significant role in maintaining the standing leg's turn out. While the obturators gemelli and piriformis control turn out when the leg is in motion. A number of different factors can affect a dancer's ability to access and maximize their turn out. This includes muscle imbalances between primary moving muscles and stabilizing muscles as well as tissue tension or restriction.
The body is made up of two types of muscles: primary movers and stabilizers. Primary movers are responsible for moving our limbs and trunk. Stabilizing muscles create a strong base of support so that the prime movers can work efficiently. Both groups of muscles need to work together to enable full, pain free movement as well as the ability to turn correctly.
Deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominus, multifidus and the pectineus are tasked with stabilizing the trunk and pelvis. If there is weakness of dysfunction present in the stabilizing muscles, the prime movers assume both the role of stabilization and moving limbs, This can lead to reduced turn out and pain or injury.
A common training error is using the gluteus maximus muscle to turn out the hip. This muscle is a prime mover. It provides the power needed for jumping. If the gluteus maximus is used to turn out, it will not have enough energy left for grand allegro and the dancer's jumps will suffer. It is obvious that this muscle is being over used when a dancer is "gripping" their glutes when turning out.
Another common muscle imbalance dancers deal with is over use of the psoas muscle. It attaches directly to the front of the spine and inserts into the hip. This muscle is responsible for lifting the leg forward during the grand rond de jambe. Due to it's attachment to the spine, the psoas will try to compensate and stabilize the dancer's trunk if the transverse abdominus, multifidus or pectineus are lacking strength. Over time, this will reduce the available height of the leg in développé devant. An overworked psoas can cause hip/pelvic pain, reducing the dancer's ability to maintain turn out when the leg is in the air.
Difficulties with turn out can also arise from muscle tension. For example, the tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle can be found on the outside of the upper thigh. Its job is to internally rotate the hip and with the gluteus medius muscle, lift the leg to second position.
If the gluteus medius is lacking strength, the TFL muscle will become overused and tight, reducing the amount of turn out available for the dancer. Teaching a dancer to isolate their deep hip external rotators will help prevent compensation from muscles like the gluteus maximus, psoas and TFL. The dancer must visualize that their turn out is coming from deep within the hip socket. All of the deep hip rotators attach to the outside of the thigh bone so focusing on rotating from there will help avoid gripping from the glutes or the outside of the thigh.
If you suspect a student is compensating with the incorrect muscles or if they seem to be having trouble accessing their turn out, our physiotherapist Jana Loney would love to help!
. Virginia Wilmerding and Donna Krasnow, "Turnout for Dancers: Hip Anatomy and Factors Affecting Turnout", International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, 2011
. https://iadms.org/media/5789/iadms-resource-paper-turnout-anatomy.pdf, accessed April 23, 2023
. Lisa Howell, Tips for Turn Out (The Ballet Blog 2019)
. Huxel Bliven, K. C., & Anderson, B. E. (2013). "Core Stability Training for Injury Prevention', Sports Health, 5 (6), 514-522. https://doi.org/10.1177/194173811381200