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Smart Turnout: Part 1 – Compensations

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Claire Plummer is a Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, and T.C.R.G. through An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha. She is dedicated to optimal health, wellness, and injury prevention in Irish Dancers of all levels and ages. Claire can be contacted here, and she loves to hear your questions and comments!

It is widely known in the dance world that turnout comes from your hips, and turnout is one of the first things that every Irish Dancer learns. We strive to refine it throughout our dancing careers, and it’s essential to success in all levels of competition. But what do our bodies actually do when we turnout?

Let’s talk about the hips. Your hips move in three directions, or “planes of movement”: flexion/extension (forward/backward), abduction/adduction (away from midline/toward midline), and internal/external rotation (turning in towards midline, turning away from midline – your turnout!). This is the only joint in your leg that is built to move in all of these planes!


Depending on your anatomy and flexibility, typical motion in the hip includes 45-60° of external rotation (turnout). We are told “perfect” turnout is 180° (90° coming from each leg), which means that 1/2 to 2/3 of your turnout should come from your hips when you’re dancing. This should be maximized to decrease the stress on the joints of your knee, ankle, and foot.

As Ariel points out in her article, What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #6—Turnout, you can tell if you are not achieving turnout from your hips by looking at where your knees and feet are facing. When your leg is in efficient alignment, whether feet are parallel or turned out, you should be able to draw a straight line through your hip, kneecap, and the front of your ankle. If the line looks crooked, it means that you are twisting at the knee and/or ankle, and creating what sports medicine calls “valgus positioning”. Valgus positioning or movement can be incredibly damaging to the joints of the leg, as it places undue stresses on the knee and ankle that they aren’t built to handle. This unnecessary wear and tear can cause many injuries over time.



To avoid forcing your turnout and using damaging movement patterns, watch out for these compensations:

1. Your bum sticks out, and there is a huge curve in your low back.
  • You aren’t getting the external rotation/turnout from your hips, and your body is trying to force you into a position that slackens the hip joint and ligaments to get the turnout.
2. Your shins and toes face the side, but your kneecaps face forward.
  •  Again, your hips aren’t externally rotating, so your knees and lower leg pitch in. Your knee is a “modified hinge joint”, meaning it is really only built to bend/straighten (flex/extend). Turnout from the knee causes extra stress and strain on the ligaments and cartilage that stabilize and absorb shock.

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3. Your arches roll in and collapse.
  • The consequence of forcing turnout from our feet is that we lose the arch in our foot. Like the knee, this damages the ligaments and cartilage over time, and can put you at risk for foot and ankle injuries. It also puts your ankle in a dorsiflexed position, which is the opposite of having pointed toes (ankle/foot plantarflexion).


Check out your form in class and at home when you practice! Can you see any of these compensations? Next time, we will focus on corrections for these compensations, so you can preserve your joints while you dance your way through summer feisanna and upcoming majors!

Photo credits: Image 1: Wikipedia; Image 2: Bryan Francis Fitness; Image 3: Wikipedia; Image 4: Dancescape
All images retrieved on 6/7/14.

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  1. When I put my legs together and point both feet forward my knees naturally turn in slightly. When I turn out my hips my knees only turn out slightly. Is this a problem or just my body?

  2. Hi Victoria! Without actually examining you, and finding out a little bit of your dance and medical history, I really can’t say whether this is a problem or not. If you have any further questions, I would love to talk with you more. You can shoot me an email at Thanks!

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