This is a continuation of a discussion with a reader named Natalie. The discussion began with a comment on my post, Is It Ok To Soften The Knee To Get Greater Turn-Out?, which lead to another comment, which lead to another comment, which lead to ANOTHER comment……. You get the picture. (Click the link above and scroll down to comments to read the first part of our discussion.)
“The more you do bigger gestures the more you need to incorporate the big muscles [e.g. glutes]. However if you are not lifting the legs and simply doing plies or port de bras … just standing still moving the arms around … you do not need to have your glutes engaged to maximum.” It is more efficient, she says, to use the deep rotator muscles while standing because they are closer to the bones.
Natalie is not the only one who has received this information from teachers and ballet physiologists. Gretchen Ward Warren says something similar in her book, Classical Ballet Technique: “It is often incorrectly assumed that turn-out is maintained by contracting the buttocks muscles. The hip rotator muscles–not the gluteus muscles–rotate the legs outward. However, the buttocks muscles are often used to stabilize the body in the turned-out position and can help the dancer to feel and control turn-out. These muscles should not be overused. The sensation of tightening should be felt at the top of the back of the legs–more underneath the buttocks than on top of them. Never pinch the buttocks together so that the pelvis is thrust forward (i.e. tucked under).” (Emphasis is her own.)
“The glutes are bigger muscles than the tiny deep muscles and therefore they are more suitable for taking on the ‘heavy lifting’ … If you are not allowed to make the glutes work (hard!) in a standing position, then how are they going to be strong enough to hold the leg in developpe?”
I was taught to squeeze the glutes tightly by my ballet teachers, and I am also getting this information from pedagogical degree holder from the Vaganova Academy, Eric Conrad (see his two-part video blog below).
In response to what Warren wrote in her book, I would say that from a purely physiological standpoint, it is BOTH the hip rotator muscles AND the gluteus muscles which hold turn-out (a.k.a. external, or lateral, rotation), not simply one or the other. (For a list of which muscles are used to turn-out, go to this website and scroll down to the bottom where it says, “Lateral Rotation (External Rotation)”.) She also doesn’t explain why you need to be careful not to “overuse” the glutes, so I feel a bit lacking for explanation.
Eric Conrad joins in the discussion by talking about conservation of energy…
Conrad Says You Can’t Trust Everything You Read
Eric Conrad also touches on this topic in his two-part blog entitled, “Shocking Misinformation.” In fact, a lot of what I am saying is just paraphrasing what he says below…
…and Part 2…
What do YOU think? Comment below!