"We dance around in a ring and suppose
But the secret sits in the middle and knows"
Robert Frost

Ballet technique exercises specific, and different demands on the muscular functioning on the turnout of the standing and the gesture leg. To explore the optimal movement potential and the significant dissimilarities between the increasing or decreasing range of turnout as the gesture leg is raised up, the traditional vision of 180° turnout throughout the movement range needs to be revised, and the importance of the core muscles recognized.

The awareness and understanding of turnout is enlightened by comparing and separately focusing on; the lines of energy produced by the 6 deep rotators of the hip joints, running horizontally from the outside of the thighbones toward the center of the pelvis to turnout the standing leg; the line of energy produced by the psoas major, running vertically from the lesser tronchanter to the spine along the centerline of the body to lift up the gesture leg turnout to the front and to the side.

Using visualisation with simple exercises and a little help of a Theraband™ to help disengage the superficial muscle this movement session explores:

  1. The mechanical functions and structural limits of the hip joints.
  2. The muscular construction and role of the 6 deep rotators of the hip joint in turning out the standing leg, included pushing off from gravity to enhance turnout and to align the pelvis.
  3. The role of the psoas major in lifting up the gesture leg to the front and to the side.
  4. The loss of turnout in arabesque.


The elongated look of ballet dancers and unique quality of effortlessness ballet is famous for is due to the core muscles strength and ability to align the bones along the center line (central axis) of the body and create space in the joints. Close to the bones, often part of bigger muscle bulks, specific actions can hardly ever be attributed to a particular core muscle, or core muscle group. In this context the 6 deep rotators of the hip joint and the psoas group of muscles are exceptional. At the heart of ballet technique and turnout their role is multiple and complex.

Core muscles, their role in alignment and technique
Being on top of the legs is the foundation stone of ballet technique but, although demands like “lengthen…”, “pull–up…” directly address the 6 deep rotators of the hip joint, their role in pushing off  from gravity to lift the upper body off the legs and create space in the hip joints is rarely specifically trained. Is this so because the contradiction between muscles pulling together to push-off from gravity and ballet “terminology”, giving the idea that we can pull-up is an aberration? To strengthen and stretch the 6 deep rotators of the hip joint to their optimal movement potential, the obturators and the gemelli, responsible of “getting us on top of our legs” have to be trained before focusing on turnout. Their united force then aligns the pelvis and part of the spine.

The psoas major provides the greatest possible movement range and turnout for the gesture leg (devant & à la seconde). The quadriceps, which turn the gesture leg slightly in, are likely to participate in the raise until the leg reaches 120° and disengaging them as soon as possible needs particular attention. The double role of the psoas muscles in posture and motion, functioning as core muscles (red muscle fibers) when long lasting contraction periods are required (posture, turnout, adage…), and their capacity to function like superficial muscles (white muscle fibers) to furnish explosive, short contraction periods (grand battement, jumping, running…) when this is necessary, is worth conscious application.

Effortless ballet technique
Capable of muscular strength at the utmost limit of passive motion range the core muscles provide freedom of movement and support for superficial muscles groups. To become aware of their efficacy and also in view of the fact that contracting the superficial muscle groups pulls the bones closer together, relaxing the superficial muscle groups is essential in basic technique training. To fully strengthen and stretch the 6 deep rotators of the hip joint and attain maximal space between the greater tronchanter and the illiac bone (standing leg), and as much turnout as the mechanical functioning of the joints allow, all the superficial muscles around the joint have to be relaxed. Furthermore contracted superficial muscles take up space and are more often in the way of enhancing elevation of the gesture leg than serving it and relaxing the quadriceps and the superficial part of the gluteus maximus (buttocks) is essential to satisfy today’s demands of high extension.

Visualisation as a key to anatomical understanding
The necessity for dancers to understand anatomical, muscular and articular functioning, can be discussed. Ideokinetic techniques and use of imagery have proven their efficiency and, as  Stanley Keleman (Emotional Anatomy, page 35) states: “Since muscle is connected to every layer of the brain and spinal cord, conceptually, the brain and muscle could be viewed as one organ.” but, although postural alignment and dancing greatly benefit from imaginary images creating neuromuscular paths, my experience shows that visualising movement is not sufficient to satisfy the mechanical side of basic ballet technique, it needs the visualisation of bones and certain muscles involved in the movement. This even more so because the core muscles function is very difficult to feel. Trusting movement and strength without effort is a new concept in ballet class, just like the idea of moving the gesture leg along spiralling lines and within each individual dancer’s body logic, making the concept of equal (180°) turnout in both legs impossible.

A closer look at bones & muscles


The purpose of this movement session is to increase dancers and dance educators awareness of turnout by proposing specific exercises to distinguish between the turnout of the standing and the gesture leg, how to strengthen the appropriate core muscles, to disengage the superficial muscles and thereby enjoy effortless technique.
1. Stand with parallel feet, sitting bones wide apart, on ½ pointe. Keep the knees straight and put one heel on the floor without loosing any of the ½ pointe of the other foot (it is like standing hanging on one hip). Compare and notice any differences between the two.

Getting on top of our legs
2. Lie on the back with the Theraband™ under one heel, hold it in the opposite hand. Place the thumb of the other hand on the hip bone to make sure it does not move, and the other fingers on the greater tronchanter to feel how it moves. Pull the leg into the hip socket (at no moment must any part of the pelvis move), the greater tronchanter moves outwards. Push against the Theraband™, when you think you cannot push any more, push once more, this engages additional muscle fibers, i.e. more strength (keep the quadriceps relaxed, the knee can be slightly bend) let the heel slide along the floor. Dealing with the core muscles this position can be held as long as you wish as long as the quadricepses keep relaxing. Relax, pull the leg into the hip socket. Repeat 4 times, every time pushing a little bit further. By strengthening the 6 deep rotators of the hip joint they are also stretched.

3. Lie on the back, legs in the 1st position (keep heels and knees together). Observe how far they turnout without effort, and with effort, are they symmetrical?

Hoping for 180° turnout
4. Repeat 2. After push, push add: turnout, turnout, parallel, turnin, turnin, parallel (relax buttock muscles and adductors and any other muscles you can feel engaging), relax and let the Theraband™ pull the leg into the hip socket, repeat 4 times.

Toes reaching for the stars
5. Lie on the back, twine the Theraband™ around one foot and hold it with the opposite hand. Lift the leg to the front (turnout), knee bend, relax it into your chest. Slowly move the leg 5cm closer to your nose (do not pull with the Theraband™), release, keep moving it to and fro (place the free hand in the hip joint to make sure the quadriceps and the sartorial muscles relax, if necessary visualise the movement until you feel the heat of the psoas and finally the movement, (be patient). Keep doing the to and fro movements and move the leg slowly to the side (imagine visiting all the points between devant and à la seconde). Feel the spiral inside the hip joint as the leg turns out more and more as you move it to the side, keep the pelvis immobile (the Theraband™ helps to diminish the weight of the leg as it moves à la seconde).

Drawings by Jacques Alary