Muscles Used for Turnout in Ballet
Ballet dancers strive for “perfect” turnout, with their feet pointing directly to the side. Using turnout properly allows dancers to move gracefully and efficiently in all directions -- front, side and back. It provides stability for slow, controlled movements and helps establish momentum for impressive turns. Although it appears that the feet are turning out, the rotation begins in the hips so that the entire leg turns out.
The primary muscles involved in turnout are the six deep external rotators: the piriformis, gemellus inferior and superior, obturator internus and externus, and quadratus femoris. These small muscles are located underneath the gluteus maximus. Except for the piriformis, which helps with other movements of the hip, the sole purpose of these muscles is to rotate the thigh bone in the hip socket.
In addition to the six deep rotators, other muscles can help with turnout. When you execute a retiré or an attitude to the front, the sartorius muscle in your inner thigh helps with turnout. Your biceps femoris -- one of the hamstrings -- can also help produce rotation of the lower leg when your knee is bent. This action is particularly strong when you perform an attitude to the back.
The gluteus maximus, the large muscle in your buttocks, can help with turnout. However, the primary function of this muscle to extend the hip, as when you perform a tendu back or an arabesque. If you contract the gluteus maximus to help your turnout, you will not be able to move your leg easily to the front. To make the best use of your gluteus maximus, let it help with external rotation when you move your leg behind you, but in all other instances, resist the temptation to clench this muscle.
Finding Your Rotators
Isolating the external rotators from the gluteus maximus can be difficult. A simple seated exercise can illustrate the difference. Sit on a chair and lengthen your spine so that you are sitting tall. Stretch both legs in front of you and flex your ankles. Turn out your legs. If you rose a bit from your chair, you used your gluteus maximus to rotate. Keep trying to rotate your legs until you can do it without lifting off the chair.
Kat Black is a professional writer currently completing her doctorate in musicology/ She has won several prestigious awards for her research, and has had extensive training in classical music and dance.