Even when they are not on stage, you can tell trained ballet dancers by their turnout, the lateral rotation of the legs that causes their toes to point outward. While you can emulate turnout by manipulating your knees and ankles, this is not proper or healthy ballet technique. Correct turnout requires a combination of stretching and strengthening the muscles that rotate your hip joint.
The six muscles that rotate your hip joint outward are deep within your hip and pelvic region. These muscles are known collectively as the lateral rotators of the hip. They include the piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator internus, gemellus inferior, obturator externus, and quadrates femoris. The sciatic nerve runs from the lumbar spine and beneath the piriformis, which can cause pressure and back pain if the piriformis is overly tight. Stretching your turnout muscles and strengthening the complementary medial rotators will help maintain your joint stability and balance muscle tension.
To strengthen your hip rotators, stand with your feet parallel, toes and heels together. Tuck your tailbone, draw your navel to your spine and position your rib cage over your hips. Lift your forefoot and contract your gluteals as you rotate the hips and feet outward, keeping your heels together as you assume a natural first position. Return to parallel. Repeat 15 to 25 times, breathing rhythmically.
Rise to Demi-Pointe
Beginning in first position, rise to demi-pointe, with your weight on the balls of your feet. Press your heels forward as you rise so as not to pivot on the balls of your feet, two counts up, two counts down, contracting your gluteal muscles throughout the entire exercise. Keep your navel drawn in, pointing your tailbone to the floor. Perform 35 to 50 repetitions, breathing rhythmically.
Supine Leg Circles
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Begin with your legs together on the floor and your hips, legs and feet turned out. Inhale as you lift your right leg until it is perpendicular to the floor, maintaining turnout. Press your left hip to the floor and exhale as you slowly move your right leg away from your midline, making an outward circle while maintaining your hip and shoulder placement. Repeat eight times on each leg, then reverse, performing inward circles on each leg.
Stand erect with your feet parallel. Balance on your right leg, and draw your left ankle to your right hip, pointing your knee to the side. Grasping your left shin, press your knee open and down while maintaining neutral spinal alignment, with your ribs lifted and shoulders back. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly return to your starting position, and repeat on the other side.