Since this subject comes up so often in the comments section of this blog, I’d like offer the following article for review. It actually echos much of what I learned of the facts behind turnout back in my ballet-school days, decades ago:
The truth about turnout
What comes to mind is that Natalia Makarova once said that she’d had to train the entire corps de ballet of ABT to a perfectly-closed fifth position for the Shades scene in La Bayadere. I have no doubt she had to do this, but the fact is, if you look at old films, you’ll find that extreme turnouts were less common in the past (even in Russia!) than they are now, much as extreme extensions and banana feet were not seen back in the day. It was accepted that 99% of the dancers, even among principals and soloists, would not have full turnouts. Peter Martins was, in fact, viewed as an oddity because of his flawless turnout — and it was even claimed by some that males could not achieve perfect turnout, period.
Further, you were actually taught ways to fake it. Trust me (I had perfect turnout in my left hip/leg as a child; now I have perfect turnout in my right but not my left).
So for the future I suggest that this blog will treat natural turnout as a tremendous, but fairly rare asset, much like “perfect” feet. The lack of perfect turnout does not deny a dancer a career in ballet, or even a good career in ballet. It also does not compromise a dancer’s safety any more than a full turnout enhances it. Ballet is rough on the body; most lingering injuries are simply from over-use. Corrections of technique can alleviate some pains in the short run, but in the long run, ballet is painful and unnatural and that’s that.
Another good, if more than slightly esoteric, read: Turnout in the Work of Enrico Cecchetti