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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #6—Turnout

Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

Cross and turnout are two of the most important elements that judges look for in your dancing. They are also two of the hardest skills to master.

When you work on cross and turnout, you usually work on them together, but we are going to discuss them in separate posts so you can focus on each element.

There are three main steps to improving your turnout:

1 – Realize that turnout comes from your hips.

When you watch a dancer with good turnout, it’s the feet that you notice. However, if you try to turn your feet out by themselves, you won’t get very far, and you’ll put a lot of strain on your ankles and knees. To get good turnout, you have to turn out your entire leg from the hip.

Try this exercise: stand in front of a mirror with your feet straight and side-by-side. Bend your knees a little and notice how your knees are bending over your toes and pointing towards the mirror. Now try to turn your feet out while still pointing your knees at the mirror. You will find that it’s uncomfortable, and your feet won’t go out very far.

Now turn your legs out from the hip, so that both your feet AND your knees point out to the sides. You will find that your feet will go much further out. Bend your knees a little and check that your knees are bending right over your toes, to make sure that you are not trying to force your turnout farther than your hips can go right now. If your feet are pointing farther out to the sides than your knees, relax your turnout until your knees and feet are lined up again. Otherwise, you will put too much strain on your joints.

2 – Work on your hip flexibility.

Since turnout comes from the hips, you have to have good hip flexibility in order to have good turnout. You should do hip stretches every day to improve this flexibility. A good resource is Paula Goulding’s flexibility video here on Diddlyi, which includes a number of excellent hip stretches.

3 – Drill your moves and steps, concentrating on your turnout.

Your body is designed for your feet to stay straight while you walk and run, so you need to train your body to keep your legs turned out while you dance.

Start by doing some easy moves across the floor, concentrating on keeping your hips turned out while you do them. Ciara Sexton has a good video for getting started here on Diddlyi.

Slowly try more difficult moves, like 1-2-3’s, point hop backs, and leaps, thinking about squeezing your core, quad, and glut muscles to keep the hips turned out. It helps to watch yourself in a mirror so you can make sure that you are staying turned out every time you hop or put your foot down.

Finally, try doing your steps, one move at a time and slowly at first, concentrating on squeezing your muscles and keeping your hips turned out all the time.

For most dancers, turnout takes years to master, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see huge improvement right away. Make it your goal to do your stretches and some turnout drills every day, and every week you will get a little bit better.

Photo credit: Flickr user Rona Proudfoot

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