Are your knees sore after dancing? If you want to dance for a long time—whether all night long or for the rest of your life—you need to take care of your body. Unfortunately, it’s easy to stress your knees while doing WCS. If you are working on your turnout, and you aren’t using the right technique, you may be setting yourself up for an injury down the line.
There are two ways you can turn out your feet. When most teachers tell their students to have turnout, they just visually show what turnout looks like. Unfortunately, the visual cue is misleading. When you see someone turn out their foot, it looks like the foot is what’s rotating. But if you rotate the foot, you are actually torquing the knee in a direction it’s not meant to go.
Try an experiment: put your feet together, pointing forward. While keeping the heel down, slowly turn out from the foot as far as you can before you feel a strain on the inside of your knee. What you just felt is the bad version of turnout. The knee is a hinge joint, which means that it is designed to bend forwards and backwards. It is not designed to handle rotational movement (as anyone who has torn an ACL can confirm). But when you turn out from the foot, the rotation has to go somewhere, and the knee is the next joint in the line.
Now let’s try that experiment again. Put your feet together, and this time lift one foot off the ground. Rotate the entire leg, from the hip down, as a unit. The shin, knee, and toes should all remain in alignment. Do you feel how much further you can turnout? The hip joint that connects the pelvis to the leg is a ball-and-socket joint, which is designed for rotation. Put simply, your body is built to turn out from the hip. (Note that you don’t have to lift the foot off the ground in order to turn out from the hip; it’s just easier to feel that way.)
The Drill: Practice any of your footwork exercises while keeping your feet turned out. Every time your foot moves, think about turning out from the hip. It’s that simple!
Bonus Variations: Turning out from the hip is a great skill to practice during your normal day. As you stand up from a chair, take 10 seconds to rotate your leg open from the hip joint. Not only will you improve your dancing and reduce your risk of knee injuries, but you will also get a nice stretch!