Dancer Health

Ask Deb: "Can the Hips Truly Be Square in Fourth and Fifth Positions?"

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Like many dancers, I was taught to hold my hips square when standing in fourth and fifth positions. However, in a recent professional development course, I was told the following:

"The hips cannot anatomically be square in fourth or fifth. The dancer must not try to hold them square—it is neither possible nor desirable. For pliés and all other movements in fourth, the pelvis will rotate toward the back leg. Rather than squaring off the hips, allow the hips to swing toward the back leg and square off the shoulders from the upper spine."

I would appreciate your input on this. —Katie


Dear Katie,

Try this: Stand in first position (hips squared) and tendu your right foot to the side. Slowly draw it into third position, maintaining your turnout. Notice how your pelvis begins to rotate to the left as you continue to cross your foot into a closed fifth position. The same thing happens when you move into a crossed fourth position.

Anatomically, the less range of motion in the hips, the greater the tendency to rotate the pelvis. And yet, I teach my students to think of their pelvis squaring off because I believe it sets up better muscle patterning.

In order to keep dancers working safely, I don't teach a closed fourth position, and I ask dancers to find their fifth position by paying close attention to their weight on both feet. They should keep their weight balanced between the three points of the foot (inner and outer ball of the foot and the heel) and equally distributed between both feet. This way, they learn where their turnout is and avoid turning out from the knee down.

For younger children, I like to teach barre without the barre. They learn very quickly how to stand on their legs without using the barre to hold positions that are anatomically impossible. They learn to distribute their weight throughout the whole foot and not pronate (roll in).

This isn't a black-and-white situation. My short answer would be to maintain squareness as much as your individual turnout allows. The key is learning to use the turnout you have.

I'm reminded of a very influential experience in my own dance history. I was taking ballet from Maggie Black in New York City some years ago. There was a male soloist in class. I would stand near him at the barre and observe that he stood in approximately 45 degrees of turnout in each leg in first position. But when he went out into center, he moved so beautifully that I didn't notice that his turnout was average. His carriage and performance were so engaging.

I will be forever grateful to that dancer and Maggie Black who gave me permission to have less-than-perfect turnout, train to my body's structure and improve slowly, safely and surely.

To your success,

Deborah Vogel

Director, The Body Series

Got a question for Deb? E-mail askdeb@dancemedia.com, and she may answer it in an upcoming web exclusive.

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