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Smart Turnout: Part 2 – Avoiding Compensations

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!

We recently discussed how our bodies achieve turnout, and how to spot compensations when you try to achieve the best turnout possible while Irish dancing. (Read it here: Smart Turnout: Part 1 – Compensations.) Today, we’re going to talk about things that can potentially limit your turnout, and a few simple ways to address it.

Ariel made a good point in her article on turnout: you must be flexible enough to achieve the right amount of movement in the hip. (Read it here: What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #6—Turnout.) However, it is necessary to balance that flexibility with strength. If you do not have the strength to control your mobility, your body will continue to compensate. Two things that can potentially limit your hip mobility are tight hip flexors and tight Iliotibial Bands (IT Bands).

You have multiple muscles that act to move your leg up and forward into hip flexion, including the Psoas, Iliacus, and Rectus Femoris. They are located on the front of your hip, and can become incredibly tight from all of the high kicking Irish Dancers do during their steps.


  • To stretch your hip flexors, kneel with one leg up, and one leg down. Tuck your bum under, so your hip bones move slightly up to the ceiling. Only AFTER you’ve done this, gently push forward until you feel a stretch from the front of your hip, and down the front of your thigh. Make sure you keep your bum tucked under the WHOLE time.


  • Hold this stretch for 30-45 seconds, and repeat 3 times on each side.

Your IT Band starts out as a small muscle up at the side of your hip, called the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL). The IT Band is its tendon, and it is a wide, flat band that runs all the way down the sided of your leg and attaches below your knee.

  • The IT Band is difficult to stretch, so the best way to improve its extensibility is to roll it out. Lay on your side, with your bottom leg straight, and top leg bent over the top so your foot is flat on the floor. Find a foam roller or a tennis ball, and place it under your bottom leg, so it applies pressure to your leg where the seam in your pants would be. Roll up and down between your knee and the bone on the side of your hip.


  • Continue this for 3-5 minutes on each side. This can be very uncomfortable if it is tight, but don’t worry! If you keep up with it consistently, it will feel much better over time (mine gets really tight, but it always feels better when I roll out ☺).

A good way to start learning to turnout properly is to tell yourself to “spin your legs out” when you are doing your steps. This helps keep your hips, knees and ankles aligned, and engages the hip external rotators, which are small muscles that lie deep under your gluteal muscles, and are responsible for actively achieving turnout.


  • Clamshells are a great way to strengthen your hip external rotators. Lay on your side with your knees bent. Keep your feet together, and raise your top leg without letting your body twist forward or backward.


  • Repeat 10-12 times, and do 2-3 sets on each side. You should feel the muscles working deep in your bum where your back pocket would be. You also might be sore the next day!

While some of these exercises may be uncomfortable, they should never cause outright pain, and are not meant to diagnose or treat current injuries. If they do hurt, adjust your form first, and if it does not resolve, please consult a physical therapist/physiotherapist, athletic trainer, or physician. (Read it here: How To Explain Irish Dancing To Your Physical Therapist Or Doctor). Also, keep in mind that all dancers are put together differently! Some people have more or less natural turnout because of their anatomy, and that’s okay! Work with your teachers to dance to your strengths so you can become the best dancer you can be!

Photo credits: Image 1:; Image 2:; Image 3:; Image 4:; Image 5: Wikipedia; Image 6:  – All images retrieved on 7/10/14.

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  1. Thank you for posting this series on turnout. I really like learning how the anatomy and strengthening exercises help the dancer learn technique properly.

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