Dancer Health

How Turn-in Helps Your Turnout

Deborah Vogel is a neuromuscular educator and director of The Body Series. Here, she works with Mariah Aivazis. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Turnout—the outward rotation of the hips that dancers are constantly striving to improve. Yet few actually have the 180-degree outward rotation that is so idealized. In her 40-plus years of working as a movement analyst, Deborah Vogel has only come across a handful of dancers who have it. "That's structural," she says. "They have a shallow hip socket, so the head of the thighbone can move in a greater range. The rotation at the hip for the general population, though, is 90 degrees—about 45 degrees in each direction."

Although a dancer's range of motion depends on her structure, Vogel says she can still improve her turnout. "They're not going to get to 180. But if they have good muscle balance, they can improve their ability to stand in greater than 90-degree turnout."


By muscle balance, she means having turn-in muscles that are just as strong and pliable as the turnout muscles. "If you have better muscle balance between the inward and outward rotators, everything works better," she says. "You can turn out more effectively."

To help dancers loosen up their inward rotators to increase the usage of their individual turnout, Vogel developed a dynamic stretch using a long stretchy band for feedback. By targeting excessive tightness in the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), the primary turn-in muscle located at the front of the hip, the stretch helps to shift the dancer's pelvis to a more neutral and upright position, allowing her to access her turnout muscles more easily.

First things first, find the TFL

Stand on your left leg with your right in a tendu to the side. Be sure that you're working from your natural turnout. For most people, that means your leg will extend on a diagonal rather than directly to the side.

Place your right hand just outside of, or lateral to, your anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), the bony projection at the front of your hipbone.

Lift the tendu leg slightly off the floor and turn it in and out. Feel the bump of muscle moving under your right hand. That's your TFL.

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

Before you stretch, release that muscle

Loosen up the muscle before the stretch. "If you can get a muscle to release its tension, then it will stretch easier," says Vogel.

Roll out your TFL on a foam roller or pinky ball. Roll back and forth and then stop in the most tender area. Wait for approximately 30 seconds or until you feel a release.

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

It's time to stretch, with some extra feedback

Vogel's variation on the traditional runner's lunge stretch targets the TFL. She suggests using a stretchy band to get more feedback. "One thing I like about the band is that it really helps to bring the pelvis upright and into better alignment more easily," says Vogel. "It helps to remind your body where neutral is."

Loop a stretchy band around your left upper thigh just under the glute and securely attach both ends to a chair or barre in front of you.

Go into a lunge with the right leg forward and left knee on the floor. To protect your kneecap, place a folded yoga mat or any soft object underneath your knee. Your legs should make a 90-degree angle. Your pelvis should be slightly in front of the supporting knee, upright and facing forward, not down.

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

Lean slightly forward. To target the TFL, turn out the bottom leg and the front foot and tuck the pelvis slightly.

Tip: Don't go too far forward into a full lunge. This tilts the pelvis forward so it's facing down. Instead, actively engage the gluteal muscles to draw the pelvis down and back. "It's not going to hurt you, but if you go forward too much, you're missing the stretch," says Vogel.

Bring your left arm up over your head. Lean slightly to the right to increase the stretch. "They may feel it right there where the muscle is, a little bit up in their side or abs or even a little bit down the leg," says Vogel. "If they feel a stretch around that area, whether a bit higher or lower, they're on the right track."

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

Tip: Keep your hipbones facing forward. Avoid letting the pelvis rotate toward the back leg, especially as you lift your arm and bend to the side.

Give your turnout a rest!

A common misconception is that to improve your turnout, you need to be turned out constantly, whether you're dancing, walking or even at rest. However, Deborah Vogel points out that, over time, if you are constantly contracting your turnout muscles, you will begin to have less-effective outward rotation. Any muscle that is constantly contracted loses some of its tone, making it more difficult to engage. "Imagine keeping your biceps contracted for hours at a time and how fatigued it would get!" she says.

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Valentina Bagala and Rafael Savino held their studio's very first registration at a Subway. "We didn't even have an office," says Bagala, who heads the artistic side of Ascendance Studio in Doral, Florida. "This lady called us over the phone, and we said, 'OK, we can take your registration. Would you mind meeting us at the Subway that's downstairs from our studio?'"

Now, five years later, Ascendance is thriving, with a growing competitive team, a 5,000-square-foot space and 300 students—one of whom is the same dancer who was registered in that Subway. Today, registration mostly happens online, as do many of Ascendance's processes—attendance, billing, e-mail marketing campaigns—thanks to Savino, who heads the studio's marketing, finances and administration. To what do Bagala and Savino credit their impressive growth? Digital advertising. Despite working in an industry where many still rely on old-school methods of operation—manual registration, tuition paid in person by cash or check, fliers handed out in parking lots—they took the plunge to modernize their advertising strategy and found it a game changer for their studio.

Slow, but consistent

Bagala and Savino admit Ascendance got off to a rocky start. They rented space from a fitness studio for three months. "We didn't get the best schedule," says Bagala, who could only rent the space by the hour when it wasn't being used. Still, she managed to amass 25 students. Eventually, she found a small, 550-square-foot space of her own in a shopping center. "I remember for our first classes, we would have people who were supposed to show up but didn't," says Savino. "If we had one student in class, we had to teach to that student. That happened multiple times."

When two more spaces became available in the same shopping center, the couple grabbed them, despite the inconvenience of the units not being connected. "You had to step outside," says Bagala. "It wasn't very comfortable."

"The fliers weren't working."

With more space came more responsibility—to increase enrollment. They had been passing out fliers at nearby schools, but that approach, Savino says, "became unscalable. That's when I started looking at digital advertising." He didn't have much money to spend on it—his budget was $5/day—but he began looking into advertising on Google. He also enrolled in a local digital marketing course at nearby Miami-Dade College. "That gave me strategy," he says.

His most successful venture has been with Google's AdWords. With this advertising strategy, business owners create a search ad. (Search ads appear above Google search results when people look for local services the business offers.) The Ascendance search ad, for example, includes the studio website and phone number, plus: "Dance classes for kids. All ages and styles. Try a free class today." Then, you choose keywords—the words or phrases potential customers might type into their browser—and set a daily budget for how much you'd like to "bid" on each keyword. You're charged only if users click your link. During his first AdWords campaign, Savino often bid less than $1 on keywords like "ballet classes," "hip-hop classes," "jazz" and "dance studio."

How much you bid affects in what order your search ad appears among other businesses. But a business with more money to spend on keywords won't automatically see their ad pop up first. Multiple factors—keyword bidding price, how long a user stays on your website, your click-through rate—determine what's called your quality score. And it's your quality score, ultimately, that decides in what order your ad appears on Google.

"For example, let's say there's a huge competitor who's bidding $10 a keyword, while I'm only bidding $1," says Savino. "Google is tracking everything. If users stay on my website for a while and don't click the back button to get back to the search page, Google knows my website is relevant and a good experience." That increases his quality score and gives his search ad odds a boost.

Experimenting, wisely

Savino ran his initial AdWords campaign for about a month in 2013, starting in mid-September—prime back-to-school time. Each week, he wound up getting 10-plus interested customers. He offered each a free trial class. Of that weekly number, more than 80 percent enrolled in classes. By the time the campaign was over, Ascendance had 45 new students. And it all cost him less than $150. Though he risked spending more than his daily allotted $5, he knew it would pay off in increased enrollment.

As they became more comfortable with AdWords, the couple experimented. Bagala asked her mom what words she would use to search if, for example, she were looking for ballet classes for a 5-year-old. Her responses became part of their strategy: "ballet classes in Doral," "dance classes in Doral," "dance studio in Doral." They also interviewed parents of new students, asking 'How did you hear about us?' "If they said, 'Google,'" says Savino, "we'd ask if they remembered what they typed."

Now his daily budget is $20, though he's careful to time campaigns with high-enrollment periods. "During back-to-school season, August and September, I know a lot of people are going to be looking for classes," he says. "But I also know that January is another high-enrollment period—that's when we see an uptick in our baby program. Those moms are operating on a calendar year, not a studio year."

When Google came to town

Last spring, Google itself took an interest in Ascendance, and it featured Savino and Bagala in a national video campaign as a small-business case study. Of particular interest was the studio's dual advertising campaigns: one in English and one in Spanish. Savino and Bagala are bilingual, and their community is largely Spanish-speaking—so they capitalized on that. "Since we were advertising in Spanish," says Savino, "those people were sure that they were going to come through our door and someone would be here who would speak their language."

Of course, digital advertising can only take a studio so far. You have to follow through with a great product—and that, Savino says, is Valentina's greatest contribution to the business. "At the end of the day, if the product isn't good, people are simply going to leave," he says. "She's the heartbeat of the studio."

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