Is Turnout Testing Accurate?

I’d like to ask you a question about improving turn-out beyond what is evidenced in the “prone, 90 degree knee flexion, rotate the leg in and out test”.  I am sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times, but I am just curious if the results from that test ever change, or is it purely structural?  Will the turnout on a student with “average 45 degree” rotation ever improve in the socket? or do they have to be particularly careful (like all dancers, even with more turnout) not to take it in the knees and ankles beyond 45 degrees?

Thanks, Jennet

Good question!  I’m going to answer via video… I learned how to insert pictures into the video to make it better…. I think I’m really going to like video-blogging!  Just click on the picture below – a new window will open up with the under 5 minute video answer.  Enjoy!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”


15 replies
  1. Esther Juon
    Esther Juon says:

    Hi Deborah,

    thank you for your first blog on mesuring turn out.

    It is good to know that this is still an acceptable way of checking turn out. We do this test when we assess a youg dancer for pointe…

    Many thanks and I look forward to the next episode!


    • deborah
      deborah says:

      Hi Esther, not only is it acceptable, it is the only way that I test turnout. I love it that you do this prior to putting a dancer on pointe!

  2. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    Dear Deborah,

    I LOVE the new format! I am a much more visual type of person and for me this is fantastic! I think it was a brilliant idea for you to video blog.

    I look forward to receiving futher news letters!

    Very best wishes,


    • deborah
      deborah says:

      I do have a FB account (search for Deborah Vogel) Totally forgot to post on their that I had a new entry. Thank you for the reminder, and I’ll do that from now on.

  3. Philkp
    Philkp says:

    A good and accurate measurement – s close as possible- of turnout specifically from the hips.  But, here is the main problem with turnout testing as such: it can only measure turnout from the hip (that is, based strictly upon shape of the femoral head, anteversion, shape of the acetabulum, and other structural factors.)  Why is this a problem?

    1) it primarily measures external/lateral rotation in supine dorsal or ventral positions.  In other words, lying on the back or front.  Or, also in a seated position.  Here, the subject need apply little or no effort to turning out because it is -passive- in nature.  In other words, gravity allows the legs to fall into a natural position as far as it will go.  But, how often does a dancer do this?  RARELY!

    Dance and ballet in particular is performed vertically while dancing.  In these stances, gravity is of little or no use to external rotation of the hips.  The degree of turnout -from the hips- changes radically when the dancer uses e threes main groups to rotate (the core internal muscles of the abdomen and hips, the gluteus group and the abdominal groups).  If these muscles are weak, turnout is actually less from the hips.  But, if strengthened, often elation exceeds prone passive turnout from the hips.  This is because the tissues involved, ligaments, tendons, muscle, and (yes, I’ll say it) the degree of fat in the area, will always obstruct any accurate measurement, regardless of whether measured prone or standing.

    2)  But, the above is actually a minimal problem in the -idea- of measuring turnout.  In the west, for almost a century turnout has been identified as coming exclusively from the hips – an assertion originally  through Cecchetti’s teachings and furthered by the English schools of training.  But, particularly  in Russia (and their Soviet predecessors), turnout is considered to be rotation up from the floor and through the legs -into- the hips and back down.  It, first, is a much more athletic idea of what turnout is.  Second, it is also a -spatial- ( versus somatic ) view of what turnout is.

    For years the west has accused the Vaganova school, among others, as “forcing turnout”, misunderstanding that turnout is viewed as a very different idea, and very different somato-kinetically than the west.  The body is viewed  from the proscenium: as it is from the audiences point of view, not “that which can only be sustained by each particular dancer’s body” (paraphrased from de Blasis, Cecchetti’s main pedagogue).   

    There is a long explanation of how turnout is sustained on the supporting leg or legs using this idea, but it is a mistake to think that it is not anatomically as workable as the more western ideas of turnout as being strictly from the hips.  (specifically, that Eastern European methods of teaching turnout  torque the ankles and knees – an assertion the aforementioned myths level upon the eastern schools).  However, entire PhD dissertations have been written about his in French, Danish and Russian, and I don’t think it appropriate to rehash such an elongated explanation in this response here.

    So, turnout is not quite the beast it may seem to those who are not born with naturally turned out hips.  There are many dancers in companies all over the world applying these more athletic methods to turnout.  Happily I can say, injuries are few among the groups of dancers fully trained to do this.  

    (Caveat: the problems arise when there are either un-pedagogically trained ex-professional dancers trying to teach it, or book learned degrees teachers but who never danced full time for a living … trying to teach … ‘something’ they have no idea about, because they never grew to a technical and/or artistic level where they could ply this trades artists themselves.  This is where we see injuries occur; it is among their students and the few who might become professionals with inadequate training, where the majority of injuries seem to occur.  I -do- believe that there are a few good instructors out there who manage to be so without a professional background or no education in dance. However, they are few and far between.  Suffice it to say, I think there are more people teaching ballet in -all- schools and genre of dance, who should really be doing something else for a living, than there are those who have the appropriate education -with- a professional background to understand and can communicate this art form to mold realized finished dancers.)

    • deborah
      deborah says:

      Thanks, Philip, for your thoughtful remarks. I agree that this way of turning out basically informs the teacher about the joint structure – a good place to start. I have seen way too many teachers forcing students into turnout that actually test with significant anteversion at the joint. Also you make a good point of how there is a synergy between muscle groups when effectively utilizing turnout. A whole-body response so to speak.

  4. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Hi Esther, I too feel this is the best way to test for turn out, and pleaed to see that this is the way you do this before putting dancers on pointe.

  5. George Ou
    George Ou says:

    The test shown in the video is a decent proxy for determining the flexibility in first position, but I think there is often too much emphasis on this ability. The amount of rotation almost always increases significantly in second position and decreases in fifth position. For legs directly in front of the socket tends to have similar rotation to the first position.

    As a side note, fifth position is so difficult that many beginner and intermediate students who attempt a fully closed fifth end up giving up almost all of their rotation, especially the back leg. It’s quite frequent for students to have a rear leg in fifth in near parallel position which makes the exercise almost useless for ballet.

    Legs directly to side tend to have similar or more rotation than second position and the lifted leg in second can often rotate more than 90 degrees with tibia pointing towards ceiling or even a little towards the back wall. Legs to the back can generally easily rotate to 90 especially when the working hips open out (and it always does to a certain extent). If arabesque leg is more than 90 degrees turned out where working heel starts pointing downward, then it’s probably that the hips are too opened out.

    For people who have poor rotation in first position, many american teachers insist that the dancer limits themselves to this worst case rotation. Then students are told to tendu “side” towards wherever the toes are pointed which often means the leg is going diagonally forward, often at a 45 degree angle. I was a 21 year old former football player and body builder who squatted over 400 lbs when I signed up for a community college ballet class. My starting rotation in first position was 30 degrees per leg making a 60 degree V shape. After 3 months of consistent stretching I was up to 70 degrees per leg in first position and I was performing in the college show. At that point the teacher recommended that I go a dance studio and I went to the Marin Ballet. 1 years after starting ballet I was doing a near perfect first position. 3 years later I was getting ballet work and looked like this.

    Now was I “forcing” the turnout? The truth is that everyone forces the turnout to a certain extent and it’s a question of degree rather than a yes/no answer. Are we talking about 1 lb of force or 10 lbs of rotational force? What part of the body is taking that force? Is it the muscles or the ligaments/tendons? If it’s the former taking the load, then there is little to no health risk especially when the force is low. If it’s the ligaments taking the load and the load is high, then the dancer is risking the joints at the knees, ankles, and hip sockets.

    During my first year of training when I visited my community college teacher, I was told not to tendu straight out to the side and increase the rotation progressively as the leg separated from fifth. The college teacher said whatever rotation I started with in first or fifth is the rotation I should end with and legs should shoot out wherever my toes were pointed. I was too stubborn to listen and was determined to look like whatever the top level ballerinas were doing which is legs perfectly out to the side. Within 3 years, all of my side positions were perfectly flat with no joint problems. Here’s what my tendu looks like 11 years after my retirement in 2000, and my rotation increases as the leg comes off the ground.

    Now whenever I bring up this story, people just say “well you were just born with great turnout”. Rather than credit the work ethic, people often like to assume genetic luck. I still do relatively poorly in tests like the one shown in the video and I might get 70 degrees with a little bit of force. Yet my front/back attitude is more square is completely turned out and my second position legs are flat as a pancake. My 10 year old daughter has the same difficulty in first position yet I can get her to hit a perfectly flat second and passe positions without any pain.

    Now as for standing leg, I will usually drop to about 70 degrees rotation when I go up to relevé and roll down to flat, by my working leg is still fully rotated. Is that horrible? No, in fact it’s quite common even among professional ballet dancers.

    So based on my personal experience and observation of many dancers, the test shown in the video has minimal relevance and can be harmful if it is used to filter out prospective students or if students place artificial limitations on their working legs base on worst-case rotation.

    • deborah
      deborah says:

      I love all the comments that are on this post! George… I’m going to jump in and make a few comments on your post:) Excellent point about the fact that working on your turnout can increase results – I so agree! I want to explain to some of the other readers that when you begin to flex the hip joint, whether by lifting a leg into passé or taking a wide second position you can automatically increase the range of your turnout due to the flexion. That being said – please don’t let your dancers stand in 45 degrees of turnout in first position and then stand with 180 degrees in second – for sure there will be major torque happening at the ankle or knee. Gesture legs that are lifted to the front or side should be able to (if the turnout muscles are strong enough turn out more, again, than the first position might reflect.)

      Now 5th and 4th positions?….. that is a whole other blog posting. For now I will say that body shape and physics come very much into play with these positions. Think about it… for 5th position you are crossing the midline of the body when you close into that position. It is anatomically impossible to maintain the turnout at the hip at the point with a normal hip structure. The wider the hips on a dancer the more challenging it becomes – and I do not, and will not stand in a closed 4th position anymore because it is a sure recipe for all sorts of rotation from the hips down. I simply stand in my 4th position with heels in line rather than lining up toe to heel. 4th position is something that I think should be reconsidered for it’s daily use so not to stress young growing bodies.

      Last comment… I totally agree with you George, that if you watch even the most beautiful and well-known dancers on video and analyze their movement slow motion you will see all sorts of compensations. Lesser turned out standing leg for more turned out gesture leg is a common pattern.

      Thanks for your comments and your sharing of your success in dance from football player to ballet dancer!

  6. George Ou
    George Ou says:

    “That being said – please don’t let your dancers stand in 45 degrees of turnout in first position and then stand with 180 degrees in second”

    Oh I would never dare do such a thing to myself or a student. If a student is barely hitting 45 degrees (per leg) rotation in first, they might be able to increase to 60 degrees in a normal width second position while maintaining the same level of torque. I reiterate that torque is never either zero or excessive because it is a continuous scale. Someone holding 45 degrees in first might experience the same level of inward rotation resistance as they would when standing at 60 degrees in second. My point is that dancers should maintain the same level of torque in whatever position they’re in, and that the torque should be at a safe level. Taking the load on the muscle is also crucial.

    As for a pure closed fifth position, I think it’s way overrated and often interferes with dance technique. If we think about it, we really don’t use that level of over crossing in releve fifth or an assemble and if you did, you’d be way too over crossed. There really isn’t a purpose for that level of crossing an any movement other than posing in a closed fifth. For most people with less than perfect heel-to-toe rotation in fifth position, the closed fifth causes way too much of a gap between the shin bones when looking at it from the side and it screws up double tours or tour assemble. What’s really needed is the third position in the air where the toes+ankle point enough that they form a point while the legs+heels are in the third position. This closes the gap and not only forms a beautiful assembled line, but it also allows for a tighter/faster rotation in midair. So what I often prefer to do is work from a much more turned out position that rests somewhere between third and closed-fifth. This allows the shins to be placed much closer together and the legs work can work in a much more turned out position. And as I mentioned before, it drives me nuts looking at beginner and intermediate students working in a closed fifth in an almost parallel position, especially the rear leg.

    As for a completely closed fourth position, it places an even worse torque on the legs than a closed fifth. I prefer to have fourth position as closed as third position. Some people criticize this but I ask them for what purpose do you need your fourth that closed? Will anyone scrutinize your pirouette takeoff if you do it from a slightly opened (like third) fourth? The only thing I don’t care for is the guys taking off from a fourth that is as wide as a second position.

    I don’t care for over-crossing in general either for the arms or for legs. I know some schools like to teach having the hands and foot in front of the spine so that people aren’t opening out. The reality is that people have far worse cheating problems e.g., a la sebesque fake arabesques than worrying about whether the leg is directly in front or behind the spine. Even if you could do it perfectly, it’s much too closed and short to make a good line IMO. It’s hard enough to be completely square in the lower back and hips (especially arabesque) that if you can get the arm and leg directly in front of the socket, that’s really a wonderfully squared off line. The much bigger problem facing dancers is the tendency to do those funky a la sabesque lines like this:

    • deborah
      deborah says:

      George… I am definitely a fan of third position over 5th… much more real!! Thanks for all of your very thoughtful responses!

  7. George Ou
    George Ou says:

    I used closed 5th in my first few years because some teachers said this was superior. Lynn Cox (currently school director of Marin Dance Theatre) in my 4th year of study told me during barre that this was not a good method for me because I was over crossed and it was too compromising. I couldn’t get the shin bones tight from a side view. She told me to use something slightly more crossed than 3rd position, and this allowed me to turn out much more and have tighter shins. My Russian teacher who was a former ballet mistress at the Kirov (the late Svetlana Afanasieva) saw me working in this opened but tighter and more turned out position in her class and she complemented me. You would think that someone from Vaganova would look down on this but she was being pragmatic.

    The opened 5th or 3rd was a far more effective position for me to be working in and 3rd position actually replicates a true aerial 5th position. That made double tours much easier and I’ve been able to help guys with their tours by having them think of 3rd position. Now if I were on stage and had to pose in 5th facing the audience, then I would just crank an artificially closed 5th position. It’s a temporary pose and I don’t really need to be functional. The closed 5th in flat is just one particular pose I use. I do admit that 5th is useful for taking off for 5th to 5th turns or tours.

    Note that both teachers I mentioned are/were wonderful instructors.

  8. Philip
    Philip says:

    Here is the main problem with “Turnout Testing.” Many people restrict the idea of turnout as from the “hip only.” I have written in detail about why this is a misnomer for the actual practice of classical ballet in the 21st century.

    Without going into such detail, I must say that since perestroika, Vaganova method and it’s progenitor diaspora, have spread to the west. Since this has occurred, it is obvious that the old staid, Western Cecchetti, English,American Mish-mash of methods and other early twentieth century methods that have hung on for dear life in the US, are being eroded by the fact that mostly Vaganova and Vaganova foundational methods that have virtually saturated Asia and Latin America, are making quick work of Europe, and are also gradually taking over as dominant in the US. That is, at least in the area of professional training. Very few dancers, outside of Balanchine method and SAB, who have not trained, at least in partin this Russian method, are being hired.

    The professional competitions like Jackson, Moscow, the variety of European competitions are swept by dancers who have been trained in this method, regardless if they are from Asia, Latin America or elsewhere. Now, competitions have little to do with the actual profession of ballet, but they are a legitimate barometer of what is going on in both the training and the hiring of dancers worldwide.

    This said, I think it important to note that turnout from the Vaganova perspective is not -only- from the hip. Turnout begins in the abdomen and core, through the pelvis, spirals through the legs and into the floor….and back up: depending upon what the dancer is doing. The angle and acetabular rotation of the femoral head, the angle of femoral anteversion, shape of femoral neck, Y ligament and muscle tendon elasticity, are only the guide to how the dancer works to present external rotation of the lower extremity to the audience.

    And, that last phrase is key: the Vaganova method emphasizes somatic position to proscenium, over placement of relative somatic segmentation, as the west has promoted for years as of primary import. Therefore, in the dominant Vagnova method, turnout is considered “through the legs” _not_ solely from the hips.

    Ergo, in the Soviet Vaganova method, turnout -was- important only to conservative selection of students, when it was controlled nder the Soviet system. Now that this system has been moslty dissolved in Russia, and does not exist in the US and other western democracies, the Vaganvoa system of turnout is more specifically taught as applicable to -many- different body types and capabilities of motion. Therefore, turnout testing is for those who define turnout as only from the hips. But, the Vaganova system is resolute in its refutation of such an idea: turnout is a somatically holistic system, and thus cannot be so vetted by caliper and ROM testing either manually or by automation.

    Because Vaganova is becoming one of the main and primary systems in which dancers globally are being trained in the 21st century, if the teacher cannot teach turnout as a torso-through-the-floor process, they shouldn’t be teaching it! Ergo: there is no need to “test turnout,” because there is no one corporal area in which it is singularly derived. To do so would simply be an exercise in data collection by physical medicine practitioners at best, or mediocrity by dance educators at worst.


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