Two great questions from a subscriber to my videos on YouTube (the FitBallet Channel!):
1. Is turn out supposed to be 180*?
And my response to her was: No, it is not supposed to be 180 degrees. Any teacher who forces your legs into that position will ultimately hurt your knees because it torques the muscles and tendons behind the kneecaps.
The way to determine YOUR best turnout is to stand in first position and take a demi-plie. Your knees should go out directly over the arch of your foot and your toes and your heels should not lift off the floor. Now, watching yourself in a mirror in profile, gradually take your grand plie, letting the weight of the legs lift the heels off the floor. Your legs should be turning out at the top of the thighs in the hips, your derriere should neither be tucked nor lifted, and your lower back should be flat.
If you are forcing your turnout in your feet, then you will see that the knees in grand plie are in front of your toes rather than directly over them. Go back to 1st position and take a shallower turnout and try again.
And then a follow-up question.
2. What can I can do to become more flexible and open my turn out more?
And my response to her was: You can work on your splits to increase flexibility in your hips. Or you can let gravity help you! Lay flat on your back with your rear end against a wall and let your legs open into a wide V. Try to relax the muscles inside your thighs so they don't grip and allow the weight of your legs to help open your hips.
Another option: If you have a sturdy chair, place one leg on top of the chair back (or on the seat if it's too high for you) and slowly lean forward over your leg. Make sure your hips are settled evenly before you lean over. Then turn slightly to the side so the leg is in a la second position. Reach your opposing arm over your head and try to lean the side of your head against your knee.
Both of these stretches will increase your flexibility and ultimately loosen your hips so you can achieve a greater turnout.
Got burning ballet questions? Bring 'em on! I've got new videos coming and more ideas brewing. Let me know if there's anything you want to see.