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:
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!
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