By Charlie Mill
Turn out is very important in the art of Highland Dancing. It’s important because Highland Dancing should be performed with the feet and legs always turned out. It is also important because correct turnout can prevent injuries. So let’s examine turn out, or splay, a little closer.
· The most important thing to remember is that turn out comes from the hip, not the foot. In other words, your whole leg should be turned out and not just the foot.
· Highland Dancing requires a 45-degree turn out of each leg at all times. A simple way to check this is to stand in 1st position and place the corner of a small book into the “V” your feet make. It should be a perfect fit!
· Everyone’s turn out is different. Perfect turn out is very rare. Turn out, however, can be improved if you start at a young age.
· Good posture is important for good turn out. Learn to stand correctly and use the correct muscles in your stomach (abdominal's) and back. Avoid arching the lower back (sway), as this will limit the turn out.
· Alignment is very important in turn out. When you hop or spring aim for the knees to be over the second toe (second metatarsal). Weight should be evenly distributed over all the toes. Two-thirds of your weight should be centred over the ball of your supporting foot.
· Flexibility is important for good turn out but there are two types of flexibility. Static flexibility is when you are turning out but not moving. Sitting in a frog position is an example of static flexibility. Dynamic flexibility is when you are moving and turning out. Pushing your knees back in the Fling is an example of dynamic flexibility. You might find you are better at one of these than the other. Try to work on both by doing plenty of stretches to improve turn out AND barre exercises, which require you to maintain turn out while moving. Thigh control exercises are particularly good.
· Never force turn out as this can lead to many different injuries. If you really are struggling look at how you can present the turn out you have accomplished rather than strain your legs in trying to turn out beyond what is safe for you.
HERE ARE SOME BASIC EXERCISES TO IMPROVE YOUR TURN OUT
The frog or butterfly stretch is excellent for improving turn out. What you have to do is sit down with the soles of your feet together and your knees to the side. Imagine frog’s legs or butterfly wings. This is the type of shape you are aiming for. Once in position, try to get your knees as close to the floor as you can. You can also do this exercise lying on your stomach with your knees out to the sides and trying to keep your feet together and touch the floor. Be careful when stretching. Never stretch when the muscles are cold and always stop if it really hurts!
Stand with your heels together and your feet turned out. Your knees should be going in the same direction as your toes; you can bend them a little to check and then straighten them back out. If your knees are not over your toes, then you are trying to turn out too far and need to bring your feet closer together. Now, place your right foot in front of your left so that your right heel is touching your left toe. Start to walk forward along an imaginary line, lifting each leg all the way up behind and then placing it in front of the other foot with the heel of the front foot against the toe of the back foot, making sure you maintain your turn out. Do this slowly. Once you reach the front of the room, reverse and go backwards, watching again that you maintain your turn out with each step. This strengthens the muscles needed for turn out.
Never underestimate the power of the plié in improving turn out. Always remember, however, that the knee must be going over the second toe (the one beside the big toe). Next time you are in between dances at your dancing lesson try a plié in 2nd Position and hold it while you catch your breath back. Get your teacher to check your alignment or ask one of your dancing colleagues to do it. Also check to see that your tailbone is pointed straight down. This will strengthen those turnout muscles and help improve your posture. Hold on to the barre at first but later try holding the arms in 1st Position (Akimbo).