A reader asks:
“…the thing I’ve always really struggled with was alignment of my hips, knees ankles, especially in second position.
Recently I was told that I was bow legged and now I’m wondering if this is causing the problems. For years when I was told to turn out from the hips, I really thought I was… but actually my feet are turned out when my knees are parallel. My second position has always been ridiculously tight, I do find it hard to plie and stay balanced. I would love to be able to do side splits but I read somewhere on the internet that bow legs can mean the hips are narrower making it harder to turn out?
I’d really appreciate your thoughts on how I can adapt my technique to deal with my wonky legs, and how this might affect a side split.
Please remember that without seeing you, it’s impossible to offer fully accurate advice. It’s always best to talk to your teachers and, in this case, see a physical therapist, physician, or physiologist for precise assessment of your hips and knees. Given these issues, if you plan to continue in dance or are experiencing any pain, working with a PT or other professional is essential.
‘Feet turned out, knees parallel’ sounds like you aredescribing a condition called external tibial torsion. It’s not uncommon for those with bowed legs to also have tibial torsion because of the over-correction you may be trying to make to put your feet flat on the ground.
Not all teachers will recognize tibial torsion when they see it, let alone know how to work with you in class. The dilemma for someone with tibial torsion lies in the “knees over toes” instruction. With tibial torsion the knees are structurally not aligned over the toes so if you try to follow this frequent teacher advice, you’ll be straining and setting yourself up for injury.
If tibial torsion is indeed your diagnosis (please see a professional to have this assessed), it’s important to take special care in plie, landings from jumps, etc. to avoid over-supination or pronation of the tarsus/ankle (it is crucial that you distribute your weight evenly over the 3 points of the foot); AND work to understand, use, and maintain turnout from the hips (not the knees); AND maintain good alignment (posture) at all times.
More Information on Tibial Torsion and Bowed Legs:
At Art Intercepts:
At The Body Series:
Video – Analyze This! Training Your Eye:
Turning to the question about side splits, I’m assuming you are talking about sitting with legs open like a book in a straddle.
Actually this position does not require a lot of turnout.
I know that may seem odd. But, even gymnasts who can sit with their legs in a straight line are not necessarily demonstrating their ability to outwardly rotate (turn-out) the legs. They are demonstrating extreme flexibility of the groin and inner thigh muscles but their knees are generally facing upward to the ceiling. If the legs were fully turned out, the knees would tilt toward the back wall in the straddle.
In consulting with columnist Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts regarding your question, she oh, so rightly, points out that you should get a fair assessment of your knees, hips, and other structural issues by a PT before working on or training for splits.
Given the go-ahead, you can increase the flexibility of the groin & inner thigh muscles with daily, gentle stretching. You might do this on your back with legs open. I wouldn’t recommend the ‘frog’ position (on your stomach) for you given your problems with torsion.
Every body is different, but with patience and attention you’ll be able to improve flexibility in this area.