Factors Affecting Turnout for Dancers

All dancers have different degrees of turnout.

Turnout describes the position of the legs, used in many forms of dancing, in which each leg is rotated in the opposite direction from the other and facing away from the midline of the body as observed from the front.

The website for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science contains several relevant resource papers (summarised below)

The document explains that in regards to dancing, turnout is considered to be “perfect” when each leg is rotated 90 degrees laterally.  However, researchers agree that this is effected by limitation in the degree of external hip rotation achievable, coupled with the contributions of the tibia and foot.

The authors state that an awareness of basic anatomy and biomechanics will help dancers in understanding the limitations of safe turnout, and to apply sound methods for improvement.

Bones of the Hip Joint

The pelvis contains innominate bones that are formed from the fusion of three bones (ilium, pubis and ischium) into one solid bone at about age 16.

Between the two innominate bones is the sacrum – a triangular bone at the lower end of the spinal column. Dense ligaments hold the pelvis to the sacrum at a deep forward angulation of about 30 degrees.

Structure of the Hip Joint: The Ball and Socket

The hip joint itself includes two main parts:

  • ball – the round head of the femur
  • socket – half of a sphere

Capsule and Ligaments of the Hip Joint

The hip joint capsule – a sleeve of fibrous connective tissue enclosing the bones. The capsule is reinforced by three major ligaments that are each attached to one of the three bones of the hip socket.

These ligaments become taut in hip extension (behind) and lax as the hip moves into flexion (forward).

The iliofemoral ligament extends diagonally across the front of the hip joint and it is the strongest ligament in the body. It resists hip extension and inhibits external rotation.

Muscles of the Hip that Create Turnout

The large gluteal muscles act as hip extensors and external rotators.

The muscles that are more important for turnout are the deep lateral rotators. They are small and are buried under the gluteus maximus.  The function of all six deep rotator muscles is to laterally rotate or turn out the leg, relative to the pelvis. It is often difficult for dancers to isolate the contraction of this muscle group.


Factors Affecting Turnout

Dancers are encouraged to turnout from the hips. Anatomically, the knee and lower limb joints also contribute, including the ankle, tibia and knee joint.

There are five main factors that affect turnout.

 1. Angle of femoral anteversion

Some people have anteversion which makes the knees face towards each other when standing or walking. When trying to turn out, the knees will face the front.

Those with retroversion will have knees and feet tending to face outward even when standing parallel. External rotation at the hip will achieve a larger angle of outward rotation visible at the feet than the average person.

2. Orientation of the Acetabulum

The socket of the hip faces out to the side and a little forward. Those with sockets that face more directly to the side will experience a greater amount of turnout to come from the hip.

3. Shape of the Femoral Neck

A longer and more concave neck on the femur allows a greater range of motion at the hip as it is less likely to contact the outer edge of the acetabulum in turnout.

4. Elasticity of Iliofemoral Ligament

The iliofemoral ligament is strong and has minimal elastic properties. It opposes extension of the hip and resists turnout of the hip.

5. Flexibility and Strength of the Muscle-tendon Unit

If the muscles surrounding the hip are tight, the dancer’s ability to turn out will be restricted.


The authors point out:

  • Alignment and muscle balance in the lower leg contributes to stability and control for turnout. If the dancer has feet that are either rolling in or out, there will not be a solid foundation to support weight, and balance will be compromised.
  • The action of straightening the knee from a flexed, rotated position puts undue pressure on these protective ligaments.
  • it is common for dancers to force their feet beyond the normal limits of the hip’s range of motion (the feet to “roll in”).  This causes abnormal alignment and medial stress along the leg and knee.

Training for Turnout

A second resource paper provides specific exercises for conditioning the supporting muscles involved in turnout – Turnout for Dancers: Supplemental Training

This article discusses the main factors affecting turnout.

It is important for dancers to develop sufficient core support and good pelvic alignment in dynamic movement in order to have functional use of the muscles that externally rotate the hip.

The exercises in the document focus on three areas:

Core Support and Pelvic Alignment

Core support and pelvic alignment incorporate different muscle groups. In the neutral pelvic position:

  • the deep rotator muscles of the hip joint work to externally rotate the femur
  • the abdominals work to control the pelvic motion

Addressing Muscular and Neuromotor Components of the Hip Joint

The large gluteal muscles in the buttock act as hip extensors (taking the leg to the back) and external rotators.  The six small, deep lateral rotator muscles that help with turnout are attached to different parts of the pelvis.

Aligning the Lower Limbs and Standing Work

The lower limbs need to be aligned so that the weight of the body is supported evenly throughout the foot (not rolled in or out).

The relevant exercises for each element are displayed visually in the document Turnout for Dancers: Supplemental Training


Full article – Turnout for Dancers: Hip Anatomy and Factors Affecting Turnout  by IADMS
Full article – Turnout for Dancers: Supplemental Training by IADMS

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