How to keep young dancers from overturning out?

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.

Thanks!

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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?

Post your comments in the boxes below!

Have a great week!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

5 replies
  1. BethK
    BethK says:

    “What do you do to help young dancers use their turnout effectively and efficiently, and most importantly – safely?”

    I start with the demi-plie in first position, asking that they place their knees exactly over their toes. I ask them to open their knees in that position until both little toes (plus big toes and heels) are on the floor — mostly they can’t do that if their feet are forced too far out. I show them how the tops of the thighs will turn in if they stick out their butts. I show them how to keep their butts in by using their core muscles, rather than only the glutes. Then I ask them to slowly straighten their knees, keeping their feet in position. We repeat the same thing in third position — I ask them to place themselves perfectly in 3rd, and point out that 5th position is much much harder. I ask them to practice everything in 3rd position whenever possible (hard for those who must go to classes that idolize 5th position above all things). My only hope is simply to make them understand how the thing works, so that they may begin thinking for themselves. They must understand that difficulty getting into 5th position does not mean they have no talent!

    The big test is the next demi-plie — most of the children will try to open their feet further in the demi. I remind them not to “scrooch” their feet when they do the plie, but keep the feet in the same position they had when standing straight.

    I give tendu exercises in which they must turn the working leg in & out several times, to show them that the turn-out muscles are not exactly the same as the glutes. They will see that they can turn the working leg in and out with the glutes relaxed, and that their legs will become much freer in the process.

    I remind them, when standing on one leg, to stand in center between their legs, and concentrate on turning out both legs at the same time. (They will forget this when trying to open the passe position, or standing in arabesque or attitude.) Otherwise, they will sit in one hip, which will turn both legs right in.

    A big issue with turn-out is the position of the demi-plie in beginning and landing a jump. I ask them to do 3 jumps in first and hold the next beat in the demi-plie, making sure their knees are over their toes and the little toe (as well as the big one and the heel) are touching the ground. Then I ask them to land all their jumps exactly like that.

    These are just a few of the many possibilities — best wishes and good luck to all you conscientious teachers out there!
    http://www.bethkurtzballet.com

    Reply
  2. Janelle
    Janelle says:

    I so agree with encouraging awareness in younger dancers in relation to their turn out. How dancers stand is truly the foundation of their technique and artistry. No matter the age of the dancer, I always remind them that ” Your feet are always with you, which ever class you attend, and You are the one who needs to take care of your feet.” As for the teacher who posted the question, Plant as many awareness seeds that you can. The echoes of your words will stay with them eventually.

    I also believe in using imagery when teaching young students, and would like to see a “teacher sharing” blog to share their favorite “images”.

    Reply
  3. Rozann Kraus
    Rozann Kraus says:

    To help students work within their anatomical range, I play a short balance game. Starting in a parallel 1st position, with legs directly under the insertion of the femur into the pelvis (not using these terms initially), I have them shift their body weight onto the balls of their feet, back to center, then to their heels, then center. Then they do the same actions with their eyes closed.
    From the weight on their heels, eyes closed, I ask them to keep their heels in place and open their toes/rotate outward from the hip. After they bring their heels together (no weight change), I tell them they’ll have a wonderful surprise when they open their eyes.
    “Here’s Your First Position!!”

    The we use this new Home to discover front, back ,side and how it anchors the ronde de jambes.

    The sense of each individual and unique Home seems to work with kids (and adults)and have prevented many a knee and/or ankle injury.

    Reply

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