It happens I greatly admire a dancer that some (great experts, I suppose) “accuse” of having poor turn-out. I did not care, because it does not impair the beauty of his dancing at all. But then, I read some western reviewers that saw a causal connection between “faulty” turn-out and height of jumps. When I was a dancer myself, a long time ago, I did not hear a single word about this, and it triggered my curiosity now.
I have not found (yet?) objective information on this connection. Those reviewers used it to explain why Russian dancers jump higher: they would also have “poor” turn-out more often than western dancers, and there would reside their ability to reach greater heights. The connection may be just one of those myths that grow, who knows how, in every community, but… may Russian dancers jump higher or not, may their turn-out be perfect or not… I must say: it makes sense!
But I also found out some disturbing objective, REAL facts about turn-out: it is responsible for shortening the active career of many dancers, because it wears out all articulations, ligaments and tendons from hips down to toes! Of course! It is logical, isn’t it? It’s an unnatural position, constantly exerting strain on them!
My teachers used to say turn-out was needed for balance. I recently asked some gymnastics physical trainers (not ballet teachers this time) how exactly it helped me stay still on point. They laughed… and I felt cheated! It’s just how, or where, you place the weight of your hip bones and head above your feet, one said, and to a lesser degree, on the strength of your calf and back bones to keep them there. You may be in the craziest position, the other one said, just find your center of gravity and place it in a vertical line above your foot and you are in balance. Hm.
Please, don’t think I would wish to wipe turn-out out of ballet! There is no way an arabesque will look beautiful with a heel protruding skyward! And an attitude would cease to be an attitude, to become just… a foot pointing up behind your back. An entrechat would be impossible (just think! what a mess!)… and it certainly helps you place your hips correctly and not look like a duck in pliés (it helps, but is not indispensable).
But on the other hand… running through the stage with your feet turned-out is NOT beautiful, it looks, BE TRUTHFUL NOW!… ridiculous!!! We dancers and ballet lovers, including myself, just became used to this strange aesthetic, and do not question it anymore. When I allowed myself to see its oddness, I remembered that Juliet running down the stairs with turned-out knees and feet always made me cringe, and vaguely wish something was different… BE TRUTHFUL AGAIN: it looks NOT graceful!
If it depended on me. I would ask female dancers to walk and run keeping 12h in their mind, instead of 14:45h, and male dancers to walk/run using their feet in the most comfortable way…
I analyzed a lot of steps and positions, and came to the conclusion that several of them would be more graceful if legs and feet were in a more natural position… and that turn-out is not needed for several others – the taking-off and landing in big jumps being just one of the examples. How things came to be the way they are? How did ballet become so unnatural? Why?
Would it not be wiser to use full turn-out only where it is really needed, and keep dancers dancing for a longer time?
Oh, my goodness, this sounds as anarchism in my own ears, but maybe it IS being questioned nowadays, and I just don’t know – after all, my technical knowledge is not extensive or up to date. I hope so: why not question standards that are unhealthy and/or ungraceful?
I doubt, anyway, Petipa was half as keen on full, perfect turn-out as ballet experts are nowadays…