How to turn out correctly and avoid injuries
One of the fundamental basics of Irish dancing is turnout. While keeping your arms down and crossing your feet might come a little easier, many dancers struggle for years to get their toes turned out properly. Many dancers force turnout from the ankle or the knee, which is not only incorrect form, but the quickest way to cause injuries. We look at the anatomy of Irish dancing turnout to make sure you’re turning out correctly.
Turn out comes from the…
HIP. According to Jennifer Denys, Registered Physiotherapist who works with Canada’s National Ballet School, “Despite the observable change of the feet orientation when a dancer is ‘turned out’, turnout is actually a turning movement at the hip joint.” Denys goes on to say, “This is your skeleton’s movement point that forms between your femur (thigh bone) and a socket within your pelvis. The beautiful round ball at the top of your thigh bone is meant to simply spin outwardly within a complimentary bowl-like socket. The whole leg follows suit, displaying feet where the toes are pointing outwards in what we call ‘turnout’.”
So not the ankles?
No. “While turned out dance positions are named for what the feet look like, it should be the hip joint at the very top of the leg that rotates the entire leg to reveal the new positions. When done properly this way, all the bones of the leg and foot remain in alignment. This line up is not only beautiful with the knees lined up over the toes, but is one of the most essential ways to prevent a plethora of lower leg and foot dance injuries.” Essentially, forcing turnout from the ankles or the knees is the quickest way to get on the injured list. “One of the biggest reasons dancers get injured is because, with this fake turnout strategy, the knee does not line up over the center of its foot. Instead, the knee is hovering over the inside of the foot.
“The strain on the body in this poor line-up is intense. It can show up as pain and/or injuries starting at the toes, foot arches, ankles, and moves all the way up to the knees, hips and even the back. This fake turnout strategy also makes your body less stable causing your muscles to ‘grip’ around your hip to keep you standing and prevent you from falling over. Not only should these muscles at the front and side of your hip not be engaged in this way during true turnout, they will get tight from being overused and limit your hips’ true movement. Increased likelihood for injury and decreased turnout…. sounds like a big deal to me!” Indeed.
How do I get proper turnout?
Denys explains, “When you learn to rotate your thigh bone within the hip socket found within your pelvis, the optimal muscle recruitment should be a group of muscles known as the deep rotators. Though each of these muscles has a big name of their own, they have this ‘deep rotators’ family name.
“The deep part of the name is because each of these muscles are deeper inside you than the gluteus muscles you can feel on the outside. In fact, they are underneath the three thick gluteus muscles at the back of your hip.
“The rotator part of the name is because each of these muscles is dedicated to the job of rotating the head of the thigh bone (femur) on the hip socket. How wonderful to have these amazing muscles dedicated to turnout!”
You can read more about turnout on the ellephysio website.
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