Exercises for Pointe – Turnout
Students have said to me - why do I need turnout exercises to get ready for pointe?
Exercises for turnout are vitally important for pointe work. When you're standing with your foot on the floor, even in releve, you can use the pressure of the floor to help you hold the turnout. When you're standing on your toes in pointe shoes, you have to rely 100% on your own muscles to hold your feet in place!
If your legs are turning in while you're dancing en pointe, you'll start twisting your body out of alignment. That leads to a whole series of consequences - you may find you can't lift your leg high without twisting even more, for instance, and before you know it, you've wrecked your back or knees or hips!
Being a professional dancer is tough - you need your body to be in tip-top shape before you start. If you damage your knees and back in training, you may not notice it while you're a student - but as you get more advanced, it will make you more vulnerable to injury, and you'll find there are some steps you can't do properly because your foundation is wrong. That will put you at a disadvantage at auditions - and in extreme cases, it may mean you have to retire from dancing before you even start.
So it's very, very important not to force your turnout, but to learn to approach it properly, and be patient with the results. For that reason, a good teacher won't let you start pointe until you have a strong, reliable turnout.
The first, and vitally important, thing to do is to stop thinking about "turning out your FEET". Actually, it is the WHOLE LEG that turns out, right from the hip joint. If you try to turn out your feet alone, it places enormous stresses on your ankles and knees, ruins your posture, and can cause permanent injury.
If you are forcing your feet into an extreme turnout from the knees, you can probably feel that something is not right. However you may still have a slight twist in the lower leg, even if you can't feel it. To check,do several plies in first position, adjusting the position of your feet until your knees bend directly out over your toes. That is the right turnout for you currently, and you can work on improving it with the right exercises.
Stretching is Not the Answer!
For years, the conventional way to improve turnout has been to do "frogs" - sit or lie with your knees bent and the soles of your feet together and stretch. Another popular stretch is to lie on the floor with your bottom up against a wall and your legs extended up the wall, then let your feet fall outwards until you're in a wide split - and lie there as long as you can.
Today we know that stretching is not the whole story, because there's no point being flexible if you're not also strong enough to hold the position against gravity or opposing forces. The video below illustrates some of the most effective exercises to do instead. The very first exercise isn't explained carefully enough, so you'll find a detailed explanation of it in the second video with a slower, more precise demonstration.
The clip below is another good illustration of why you must take care to do all prepointe exercises very precisely. Clams are a common ballet exercise, and most students - and even some teachers - assume the wider you open your knees, the better. Not true! If you lift your leg too much, you stop using your turnout muscles and start using the muscles on the front of your leg. Using those muscles won't help you prepare for pointe, plus it will over-develop your thigh and create bulk which you don't want.
I have to admit, I only discovered this clip myself last year, and realized I've been doing clams wrong for years. No wonder the front of my thighs bulge so much!
Photo courtesy of Treivilo (Olivier T).