I am teaching at a local ballet school. I work with the children from the ages of 3 1/2 to 10, primarily. I also conduct conditioning/pre-pointe classes for slightly older girls. I am the only teacher for the youngest dancers but do share teaching assignments with other teachers for the girls in both the Ballet 2 and the Ballet 3 classes, and the pre-pointe classes.
Here is my dilemma – I would venture to state that roughly 100% of the students over the age of 8 are forcing their turnout – most with rolling in the ankles, some with exaggerated anterior pelvic tilts, most way over crossing their fifth positions. I don’t allow any of those things in my classes, and am using several of your books to educate these young dancers so they can have a successful and safe dancing experience.
How do I help these students survive in other teachers’ classes?
If you do post this question (and I hope you will as it is vitally important) could you please make me “Anonymous”? I don’t want to cause problems at this school as I think the students need me there.
This is an excellent question and a common problem. It is challenging to fix, though, if the teachers are encouraging the students to stand overly turned out – and it is also challenging because sometimes the students are the ones that are pushing their turnout because they want to ‘look good’. I am going to focus my answer on what you can do with the students rather than trying to change the other teachers. It’s really hard to create change in another teacher’s teaching methods especially if you don’t have the support of the studio owner. You and I know that teaching ballet to young students using anatomical principles while encouraging the joy of dancing is very challenging!
The one exercise to illustrate how much functional turnout a dancer is working with is the clamshell exercise. I’m going to add a variation on here for the younger dancers.
Have them on the floor, lying on their side with their buttocks touching the wall and their spines lengthened along the wall and their knees bent with their feet in line with their hips. Being up against the wall will give them feedback whether they are rolling on their hip. Then have them do the clamshell exercise and keeping the feet together open and turnout the top leg. How far could they go? So many dancers are hardly getting above 45 degrees! It’s strange but true that I will find dancers who have more turnout at their hips than what they are able to functionally use in movement.
So that is the first focus I would offer to your students. Develop the strength at the hip joint to accurately use their turnout. After doing the clamshell exercise, make sure to tell them to stretch the turnout muscles!
Next I would encourage the students to practice barre without the barre. It is much harder to over rotate when you aren’t gripping the barre. Have them do that barre in stocking feet rather than soft slippers. They may be able to feel the weight on their feet more easily and hopefully self-correct to bring the weight evenly on the pads of the big toe, little toe and heel.
Last suggestion I would have is to impress upon them to focus on their movement, rather than their positions. This is a hard concept to get across because so many budding ballerinas are looking at pictures of a gorgeous dancer in a magnificent poses. To help them focus on their movement I would have them begin to play with qualities. Ask them to exaggerate what moving with tension and using all of their muscles feels like. (this is commonly what they are doing☺ ) Then ask them to move gently, slowly, without any sharpness to their movement. Try giving them different imagery to help. A rubber band when stretched slowly won’t snap – but if it is stretched too quickly it may break or snap back. Explore how a feather floating on the wind moves… and bring that into their demi plies or tendues. Experiment with many images, including contrasting ones as well.
The goal is to have them thinking and feeling in new ways about their dancing, which in turn will give them better feedback encouraging them to more easily create changes in their patterns. Perhaps a back door approach – but you never know what is going to create an aha moment.
I’d like to open up this conversation to other teachers…. What do you do to help young dancers use their turnout effectively and efficiently, and most importantly – safely?
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Have a great week!
“Education is the key to injury prevention”