For all the contemporary dancers out there... a little bit of tongue in cheek for your Friday!
We certainly recognise these moves!! ;)
For all the contemporary dancers out there... a little bit of tongue in cheek for your Friday!
We certainly recognise these moves!! ;)
But now getting back on topic, perhaps one of the most taxing, difficult and (if not performed properly) damaging requirements of ballet (particularly modern ballet; let's face it, current standards continue to exceed even the grandest ambitions of early ballet afficionados) is the expectations of turnout. In today's highly competitive and ever-growing industry 'flat' turnout (the rotation of the hips to a 180 degree alignment) has become not just an advantage, but a requirement.
Whilst many teachers do counsel students not to 'force turnout' beyond their natural capabilities, and to 'work with what you've got' the realities of most real-world ballet companies demanding flat turnout as a prerequisite for consideration leads many young dancers to force turnout, putting excessive strain on hip, knee and ankle joints, and leading to rolling, instability, and often serious, long-term injuries that can plague them long after their dancing years are over. Not only does this kind of practice lead to problems later down the track, it also compromises the quality of the dancer's technique and creates weaker joints (particularly in the ankles, where extra strain leads to continued rolling and stretching of the supporting tendons and ligaments.
To avoid such injuries each dancer must first develop an awareness of their own natural turnout capabilities, as this will allow you to work intelligently to consciously improve your turnout, without forcing anything beyond the natural limits of the body. Firstly, recognising the factor/s that are most limiting your turnout will help you to understand the boundaries of your own body, and focus on improving the areas that will most benefit rotation, these factors are;
Direction of the Acetabulum - just like everything else in the body, the shape, size and direction of the acetabulum (hip socket) is different for each individual, and those born with more forward-facing sockets will have greater difficulty turning out than those born with quite lateral facing ones. Whilst the range of motion allowed in the acetabulum will vary from person to person, and is a fixed amount (unfortunately no amount of stretching will give you a greater rotation in the hip socket than your natural bone structure allows) steps can be taken to loosen and improve the range of flexibility in the muscles, tendons and ligaments that surround the hips and upper femur.
Ligament Elasticity and Laxity - The iliofemoral ligament which resides on the front surface of the joint and connects the ilium to the femur is the ligament responsible for supporting and preventing over-extension in the hip by limiting the range of movement. As you extend or laterally rotate the hip the ligament is elongated and pulled tight, however rigorous stretching can lead to a gradual increase in the ligament's laxity (though this should be done with the upmost caution as a firm iliofemoral ligament is key to ensuring joint stability and preventing injury). Ligaments that are stretched too far and have lost their laxity will never fully regain the same level of elasticity or stability. As dancers, we often experience tight hip flexors, so gentle stretching is usually beneficial, just don't over-do it!
Size and Shape of the Femur - the femoral neck, which is the area of the femur (the bone in your upper leg) that connects the leg to the hip via the acetabulum, may also have a significant impact on the amount of external rotation possible. Someone with a slender, relatively narrow femoral neck will have greater mobility than another with a broader or less concave femoral neck.
Muscle strength and flexibility - Now for the good news! ...Sure, you can't really do anything about your femoral neck, the orientation of your hip sockets, or the natural laxity of your ligaments, but muscle strength and flexibility you can definitely improve! Just like everything else in the body, there's only so much that can be done to alter your physical faculty from the predetermined limits dictated by your genetics, but regardless of whether you are 'naturally' flexible or not, with consistent conditioning you can loosen and lengthen your adductors and internal rotators whilst strengthening your external rotators and improving your overall turnout.
And finally, the last major factor that will determine your turnout abilities is The Brain! - Without the mental focus and desire to improve, altering your turnout is a lost cause. Not only is the brain the control centre for all motor skills and muscle movement required in the process of turning out (so without focus and attention the muscles cannot be expected to turn out correctly without any effort on your part!), but it is also here that the passionate student will find the willpower to persevere when others falter. Turnout, like everything else in ballet requires precision and hard work but as long as you have the knowledge and the passion the 'impossible' can be acheived.
Lay flat on the ground, stomach to the floor and draw the legs up in a turned out position with the soles of the feet touching (Don't sickle!). Keep bending the knees until you're in the 'frog position' (See below). Keep the pelvis firmly connected to the floor, allowing the ankles to rest as close to the ground as possible. The distance of the toes to the floor is not of any significance (as this only represents ankle joint flexibility and we are focusing on the hip rotation), instead note the distance of the legs from just above the ankle to the ground. If your feet are stuck up in the air then you will have quite a limited range of rotation in the hip sockets and need to focus on gently loosening up the ligaments and muscles that might be limiting your hip's range of motion, whereas if your ankles easily reach the ground, or close enough, then your main challenge will be in being able to engage and maintain your natural turnout (ie. making your natural turnout your working turnout).
So you now know what limits turnout, and what muscles are used, and also the limitations of your own body, but how do you go about improving your turnout?
Firstly, your goal should not be to stretch your turnout directly, but rather to stretch out the muscles that are most limiting your range of movement, not necessarily stretching them outwards either - sometimes the solution can be counter-intuitive and turned in stretches can be the most beneficial. Many dancers have an imbalance between their quads and hamstrings, their hip-flexors and their glutes, abductors and adductors, and their external and internal hip rotators, with the former being over-worked and the latter often under-worked and/or weakened. To improve your turnout while maintaining good technique you should focus on strengthening the right muscles and releasing the over-active ones in order to give you proper alignment. This in turn opens up and strengthens the external rotators, allowing you to access a whole new range of external rotation.
Exercise 1: Prone Internal Rotation Stretch
Lie on your stomach on the floor. Place your forehead on your stacked palms. Bend both knees so that the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling. Keep your hip bones in contact with the floor throughout this exercise. Lower your right foot outward and toward the floor. You may not be able to go far and still keep the hip bones down; just go as far as you can with good form. Hold your foot out for a slow, 30-second count. Keep your right knee in contact with the floor and do not twist your knee. Bring your right foot back up and repeat with your left foot. Go back and forth slowly eight to 12 times. Take slow, deep breaths and with each repetition try to bring your foot a little closer to the floor.
Exercise 2: Supine Internal Rotation Stretch
Lie flat on your back, arms perpendicular to the body, with the right leg bent up in a tabletop position (the thigh at a 90° angle to the body and the lower legs parallel to the ground) and the left leg bent in towards the body, with the foot resting flat on the ground, in line with the left hip. Take the right leg and cross it over the left, so that the ankle is resting on the outer side of the left knee. Slowly allow the right leg to internally rotate (towards the floor) whilst letting the weight of the right leg gradually pull the left leg down towards the ground, once you have gone as far as you can go relax into the stretch for a count of 20 before swapping and repeating with the other leg.
...On a side note, if you do happen to have a willing partner around who can help you this is a great extension to the stretch that will activate and release the gluteal muscles as well as the ligaments and muscles of the hip.
Exercise 3: Flexed Turnout
Lie on your back, and bring both legs up to a 90-degree angle L-shape. Keep legs turned in, flex your feet and engage your core muscles through your pelvic floor and low back. Using your hip abductor and gluteal muscles, turn your legs out with heels together. Repeat 16 times.
Exercise 4: Clams
Lay on your right side, with your head supported by your right hand and the right elbow on the floor. Place your left hand on the ground in front of you. Bend your knees out in front, so that your feet are in line with your hips. Turn your left leg out from your hip, so that it opens like a clam. Lift your leg and turn it out as far as you can, using your turnout muscles in your hips, and hold this turned out position. Close your leg and repeat the exercise. Repeat this exercise twice on the other side.
Advanced (with a Theraband) - Lay on your side with your knees bent one on top of the other and your elbow resting on the ground to allow you to sit up a little (make sure you are really over your hip and not sinking back). Wrap the theraband around your legs, midthigh. Rotate the top leg out and in, about 10-15 times. Make sure you don't over-work the muscles, a little at a time is much more beneficial than a lot in one go!
BONUS Partner Stretches - If you've got a buddy, sibling, partner or parent ready to help then these stretches are a great addition to your stretching routine!
Maintaining correct postural alignment and not forcing the joints beyond their natural limitations is essential for preventing injuries where turnout is concerned. Often students believe that the harder they push the more results they will see, however, excess pressure on the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons can cause permanent damage and even decrease turnout ability. This is because in order for the body to maintain the rotation in the hips the muscles and ligaments must be flexible but not stretched, as a lack of tension creates weakness and instability. Also, over turning out causes excess pressure on the knee and ankle joints which are not capable of outward rotation like the hips are, and therefore leads to loosened, unstable ligaments and tendons that are no longer able to stabilise the ankle joints.
One such injury young dancers must be careful of is Tibial Torsion, the added pressure that is applied to the knee and ankle joints when turnout is forced beyond natural limits can cause permanent, harmful rotation of the tibial bone. In such cases the Tibia grows so that the bone has rotated out of alignment with the femur causing permanent deformity and inhibiting physical performance (see below). If you're rolling, tensing the arches or gripping the floor with your toes whilst turning out then you are rotating beyond your natural turnout.
It is also of great importance that dancers are aware of maintaining a 'neutral pelvis' (where the bony bumps - the anterior superior iliac spines - on the front sides of your hips are at an equal level to the pubic bone so the hips are not tilting forwards or backwards, as either of these extremes performed whilst dancing places the whole body into unhealthy alignment that can increase rolling and joint injury.
It's a relevant question. We're constantly being told to turn out more in ballet, always being reminded to fix our feet, make our 'fifths' tighter and keep our heels down in arabesque, but why? Is it purely an aesthetic choice, and what makes turn out 'pretty' anyway?
Well, turnout does in fact go beyond the purely aesthetic. The main practical application of turnout is that it allows us to facilitate sideways movement with more ease, and the external rotation of the hips allows for greater abduction, ie. we can lift the leg higher and much more easily in seconde. When a devéloppé is performed in a turned out position (as opposed to parallel) the leg can lift far higher before the bones of the hip interrupt. That being said, turnout has gone much beyond a practical bearing as far as ballet is concerned. As ballet progressed through the ages and continued to refine and perfect itself with each new generation of teachers and students, turnout became more and more an aesthetic preference and a requirement, with 'ideal' turnout becoming continuingly extreme until today's standards were reached, in which many companies accept nothing less than the 'perfect' flat one hundred and eighty degree turnout. Alas, if only we could all have a seconde like Svetlana Zhakarova (See below!). However, whilst 'perfect' flat turnout isn't achievable for most of us mere mortals, everyone can improve the way they utilise the turn out they do have and become a better dancer for it.
..So know that you know absolutely everything about turnout (seriously!!), all that remains is for you to intelligently apply this information in order to help you improve with your own dancing. And (if you'll excuse me getting a bit corny for a minute here..) remember, whilst turnout is obviously important to the art of ballet, it isn't technique that makes a great dancer, it's passion ...so don't get caught up in the technical 'stuff' and loose your passion, enjoy yourself!
Suggested Reading: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iadms.org/resource/resmgr/imported/info/turnout_for_dancers_exercises.pdf
http://balletuni.com, http://www.theballetblog.com, http://danceproject.ca
Check out this fantastic compilation of some of the most iconic dance scenes in movie history, set to Kenny Logins catchy theme song (for the movie of the same name) Footloose!
Yellow Wheel is holding auditions for its pre-professional dance company's 2014 program, for dancers age 14 years and over:
Sunday 9 February
Tuesday 11 February
Yellow Wheel is a collection of young dancers, all of whom are determined to pursue a career in dance. The dancers come from a vast range of schools, universities and institutions and all have the common goal of being part of a collaborative, creative process with an emphasis on producing high-grade dance works. Dancers who are a part of Yellow Wheel become part of an ensemble for the whole year, rehearsing on Tuesday nights and most Sundays and working on a number of key projects. See website www.yellowwheel.com.au for more details.
The Australian Ballet shares another beautifully made short film on the relationship between Pas de Deux duo Amber Scott and Adam Bull. Partnership at it's best! :)
How did you get into dancing, and how old were you? I was two years old when Mum put me in a dance class. She said it was a way of using up my energy because I always have too much!
What do you like about Energetiks Dancewear? I like that Energetiks Dancewear has affordable dancewear, but also gives very good quality and it lasts a significant amount of time.
Do you have a favourite style of dance (if so what)? My favourite style of dance would have to be contemporary because I feel like I can express the way I feel through movement, in the way words can't.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In five years I will have finished school! I hope to be able to go to a University and complete a Dance Qualification, to then persue my life-long dream of opening a dance school.
What do you like to do when you’re not dancing? You would more than likely find me stretching, but I'd be on Instagram too. I can't live without it!
All-time favourite dance movie: I absolutely adore First Position! The ballerinas are absolutely exquisite with their technique, and I aspire to look like them one day.
Best dance memory/moment: It would have to be being awarded Junior Dancer of the Year or winning Age Champion two years in a row!
Food you can’t live without: Mangoes!
The person you’d most like to meet (living or dead): I'd love to meet Ashleigh Ross or Lady GaGa!
Favourite saying or advice that inspires you: My favourite saying is "Dance isn't just dance, dance is magical." And the best advice ever given to me was from my teacher "You are not a failure, you are a high achiever." She has done so much for me, I could never thank her enough for sticking by me.
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So once again, our hand-decorated Pointe Shoes became restless hanging around waiting for us to find them new homes.... and inspired by the adventures of their bigger friends, they decided to get out and about and soak up the cheerful Christmas atmosphere around Melbourne, they may be tiny but that didn't stop them from exploring the whole city! ...Check it out ;)
We hope you enjoyed this latest instalment in our 'Pointe Shoe Adventures' series...
and if you're a fan of our miniature Pointe Shoes (decorated by artist Elly Ford) then stay tuned on our blog for a very special giveaway! ... Merry Christmas everyone! xx
We hope you're having a fantastic holiday season filled with lots of laughter, fun and family!
Energetiks: Hi Ashleigh, welcome! First of all, how did you get interested in dancing and what age were you?
Ashi: I was 3 years old when I took my first dance class! I followed my sister who was 5 years old at the time. I loved the first lesson! I remember laughing and being so excited that I could pointe my foot out into second. But apparently when I went in for my second lesson I wouldn’t get out of the car. Mum told me that I was screaming and yelling because I didn’t want to go back to class, because I said I was ready to go on stage and I didn’t need any more lessons. My mum decided to take me out of classes. When I was 4 I started horse riding. My mother used to train and breed horses. Then 1 day when I was 5 years old I found out that I was allergic to horses so I decided to give dancing another shot.
Did you always want a career in the performing arts, or is that something you decided later on?
I wasn’t sure at the beginning. I just did dancing to go and see my friends and have a good day, I never really took dancing very seriously. When I was around 11 years old I started to really stretch and practice all the time. I fell in love with dancing, and from then on I have been practicing really hard, but also seeing all of my amazing friends while having a great time.
A lot of our readers will know you from your appearance on Dance Academy, how did you hear about that and what was the audition process like?
I got contacted by my agent about auditioning for a show called Dance Academy. It sounded like something I really wanted to be a part of. In the description they stated they wanted a dark haired girl who was really into hip hop, but we decided to go just for the experience. In the audition we had to read a script and perform a hip hop dance that you had choreographed yourself. So I made up my own routine and learnt the script. I went in and had the best time ever and to my surprise I got the part. I was so excited and so grateful that they had given me this opportunity.
Obviously acting and singing are other talents of yours! Do you have a favourite of the three, or are you equally passionate about each of them?
I love singing, dancing and acting. These three things make me who I am. I love them all so much and I really don’t know which one is my favourite. I love the different little qualities about them that just makes them so interesting and so much fun to do.
You've already done a wide variety of things, from Musicals to TV, where are you hoping to be (and what do you hope to be doing) in a couple of years time?
I hope when I’m older I will still continue to do what I love, performing and being around my friends and family. Performing just helps with everything in my life. It helps me express myself through movement and through my voice.
What's been the biggest highlight for you as far as performing/dance goes?
I seriously couldn’t name one thing that I have loved while performing more than another. I have been lucky enough to travel over to America this year ( in October ) and meet so many incredible and inspirational people. I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love hanging out with my amazing friends and family. My friends mean so much to me. They are all so supportive with everything I do and I couldn’t thank them enough for always being there for me. My family are my everything. I love them so much and they are always so kind and caring. I couldn’t imagine life without the beautiful people around me today.
This year and last year you starred as Jemima Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the Musical, what was that like?
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was an incredibly insane experience. It is one of the best things that has happened to me. I got to meet all of these incredible and inspiring performers that I love so much.
Your sister Danielle is also very talented, do you guys like to encourage and motivate each other?
Right now my sister has been training to become a makeup artist. You wouldn’t believe how many incredible things she can do. She can do really amazing special effects makeup and make it look so real. Its insane!! Then she can do very beautiful model-type makeup which is just stunning. My sister supports me with everything I do and I couldn’t thank her enough. She always helps me when she can and I always try my hardest to help her out with her makeup!
If you could meet anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and why?
If I could meet anybody in the world it would be Ariana Grande. She is such an incredible singer and her acting is amazing as well. She stands up for herself and is always so sweet and kind to others. She is the perfect role model. For dancing there are so many incredible people I would love to meet. There are so many incredible dancers in the world trying to inspire others. I’m definitely inspired by all the beautiful dancers around the world.
Do you have any pets?
YES!!! I have 2 little maltese x shitzu doggies. One of them is 7 years old and his name is Oscar. I got him for my birthday when I was little and he has been with us ever since. My other little puppy is called Milly. She is a teacup and she is so tiny she is around 7 months old and has the cutest little face.
Are their any habits you wish you could get rid of?
Sleeping…. I sleep in so far into the day if nobody wakes me up. I would sleep forever!! I really just love sleeping, and it’s a pretty bad habit. I wish I could wake up earlier!
What’s your favourite Musical?
I’m not quite sure what my favourite musical is! There are so many amazing musicals I have seen before! But my top 5 are Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, King Kong, Wicked and Phanton Of The Opera.
What's something you're really looking forward to in 2014?
I’m looking forward to the year in general! There are so many exciting things that are happening next year that I can’t wait to do, and I can’t wait to tell people what is coming up!
Lastly, do you have any advice for our readers who are aspiring to be professional dancers or performers?
To all performers; Stay strong and believe in yourself. You are a shining star and you have to believe it. There is someone who is looking up to you so don’t let them down by giving up! You are incredible! SO keep it up and stay inspired!