“I pick one part of my dance, stand in front of my mirror and do it over and over again. I try to turn out more. I don’t get why it’s not getting better. I feel like I’m doing everything I can.”
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been talking with Irish dancers around the world to find learn their biggest challenges when it comes to their dancing. From dancers who are 10 years old and trying to get their first recall, to dancers who are 15 years old working for a medal at All-Irelands, to dancers who are 35 years old coming out of competition retirement, this is one of the most common challenges I hear…
“I know I need to get better turnout, but I don’t know how to improve it.”
I remember feeling that way, sometimes, as a dancer. It can feel frustrating when you know you need to fix something, maybe you even feel like you are doing it correctly, and it’s simply not getting any better. And as a teacher, it can feel quite frustrating when you say “turnout” 27 times every class and a dancer’s turnout isn’t improving…it’s not that dancers isn’t listening, a lot of times they just don’t know the how behind the what.
In this article, I’m going to cover why simply drilling your dancing while trying to “fix your turnout” isn’t the most effective strategy for improving turnout and how I’ve helped hundreds of dancers actually improve their turnout.
If you find this article helpful, please email me back letting me know because your feedback means the world to me…and I’ll know to create more content like this! 🙂 NOTE: Remember, if your deep core muscles aren’t strong, none of this matters because that needs to come first. You can learn more about that here!
Before I give you some exercises for turnout, you need to know where the heck your turnout muscles are in the first place.
Dancers often know that turnout comes from somewhere in their hips, but not exactly where in their hips. The reason it is super important to know where your turnout muscles are, is because using them involves a lot of visualization. You’ll need to imagine them rotating the thigh in a turned out position to…well, turn out.
You have 6 main turnout muscles, called your deep outward rotators. They each have a different role to play when it comes to turnout (some help more with standing turnout, others are more involved in kicking with a turnout, etc), We aren’t going to go into every single one and the individual role they play, otherwise this would turn into a 25 page article and I’m sure you have better things to do than sit and read a novel about turnout anatomy…but just know that that all have a slightly different role but all contribute to externally rotating the leg.
Your deep outward rotators are located under your glute muscles and run from parts of your pelvis to the top of your thigh bone. Find your tailbone and the little knob that is the top of your thigh bone, they run between there.
How much we can turn out is a combination of genetics, mobility, alignment, strength, and execution. Some dancers are born with hips that are more externally facing, which in return gives them a larger range of natural turnout. Other dancers, like myself, were once pigeon toed. Just because you don’t have hips that allow you to fall into frog stretch effortlessly doesn’t mean your turnout can’t improve, it just means it is going to take some work.
Now let’s dive into what that work is going to look like…
Now that you know where your turnout muscles are located, we need to figure out where your turnout is most restricted. If our hips are super tight, turnout will not improve much until we are able to open up the hips. In an ideal world, we’d all be able to get an evaluation from a physical therapist who has experience with dancers, to tell us where our turnout is most restricted, but in reality this can be difficult to do, so I’m going to teach you an easy way to find where your turnout is most restricted. Sit in frog stretch, or a side split and identify what area is stopping you from reaching the full movement. Is it the front of your hips? Groin area? Inner thighs? Outside of your hips?
This is a good starting point for what we need to work on opening, to achieve your max turnout.
One of the most common areas for Irish Dancers to be tight in this stretch is the groin area, as well as the muscles that run up and down the inner thigh. Therefore, I’m going to teach you a few exercises to help open up this area. If you find another area tight, you’ll need stretches to open up those areas. Below are 2 of my favorite hip openers!
Hip flexor stretch (Do 3X each leg, holding for 30s) (note- this first one isn’t necessarily an “inner thigh” stretch, but if tight if can affect our alignment, which in return affects our inner thigh and groin area, so it’s important to start with this one)
After you open up our hips, you’ll want to learn how to rotate the hip without overly tensing up the glutes.
NOTE: As you press down in this exercise, focus on what it feels like as you lower the top leg. Try to keep the glutes as relaxed as possible and aim more for a feeling of “control” here.
Finally you must learn how to actually integrate turnout into movement. After all, the judges don’t care if you can lay on the ground and have incredible hip rotation, they want to see you dance with turned out feet 😉.
With the dancers I coach, I recommend doing this by starting with a super basic movement like walking on the toes, skipping, or even just standing, then progress to more complex movements like dance specific drills such as leaps, birdies, bicycles, etc.
This is how we improve turnout. So if you feel stuck drilling your treble jig wondering why your turnout isn’t improving, it’s not because there is something “wrong” with you, but rather because drilling is only one part of the equation when it comes to improving turnout. If you are drilling your dance, utilizing the incorrect muscle groups for turnout, all you’re doing is reinforcing incorrect movement patterns.
If you want more help with this, sign up for a FREE FEIS FIT VIDEO ANALYSIS HERE and we’ll discus what you need to work on specifically in your dancing!
Talk to you soon my friends! 💛
Dance Kinesiology; Sally Sevey
Movement; Grey Cook
Becoming A Supple Leopard; Dr. Kelly Starrett
Training Turnout; Lisa Howell