External hip rotation is really the pillar of good ballet technique. You can spot poor technique from a mile away, and turned-in legs and feet are a dead giveaway. Turnout and rotation are imperative for stunning technique, but not all of us are blessed with a 180 degree turnout. There are, however, a few ways around to achieve the perfect turnout, even if you aren’t genetically inclined to have it naturally!
There are three aspects of turnout: hip rotation, knee rotation, and ankle rotation. The most important one to focus on is hip rotation at the very tops of your legs. If you don’t turnout your hips, it puts a lot of pressure on your knee joint. If you don’t turn out your knee, it puts a lot of pressure on your ankle joint. All aspects are important, but the hip rotation is definitely the one you need to focus on first. Rotation at the hips is achieved by proper hip alignment. It is important not to tuck your pelvis to achieve more rotation as this will put unnecessary stress on your hip flexors and will make them extremely tight. At the same time though, you don’t want a sway back. Instead, make sure your spine is completely neutral in its alignment. Think of wrapping the insides and backs of your legs all the way around to the front of the room- visualization really helps fire up the right muscles! Even if it doesn’t look any different, you are using the right muscles. Give yourself cues that work for you. I like to imagine a zipper going up the inside my legs and a spiraling sensation going from my feet to my hips.
Practicing on rotator disks really helps get the correct sensation in your muscles. Once you’ve practiced simply rotating in and out, try some with a gentle plié. Make sure your kneecap is directly over your second toe. This ensures proper alignment and is good muscle memory so your body knows how to land properly turned out from a jump. Ankle rotation really only needs to be utilized in arabesque to wing your foot for an elongated line, so on all other occasions, your foot should be in a neutral alignment: neither pronated in nor out.
Turnout is something that most people need to constantly think about, and in order to make your dancing look clean, turnout is essential. Other cues that help me are thinking about “presenting my heel” in any extension to the front. Telling yourself these simple instructions while you’re dancing can really make the difference between sloppy and professional, and take your technique to the next level!