Hip Anatomy

Today’s topic is anatomy of the hips and pelvis.  The pelvis and hips are connected in the same region, so I thought I’d combine these two posts inot one for your convenience.  Let’s get right into it:

A short preview…

This is a quick informational video to help preview and visually grasp the concepts that will be reviewed and learned in this post.

Let’s get into the blog post…

The pelvis connects your trunk to your legs.  This is what makes it so vital and necessary to stabilize to prevent injuries and hone your technique.

Here is a diagram of the pelvic bones for reference as we dive depper into the reading:


When most people think of the hip, they think of the ball-and-socket joint that allows rotation, flexion, extension, and a lot of other movement of the femur bone (the thigh bone).  The technical name for the “hip joint” is the acetabulum.

The femur bone & the trochanters

The femur bone begins in the acetabulum and runs all the way down to the tibia where it forms the knee joint.  But, before we get there, the femur has multiple muscle attachments.  All of these muscles need a substantial grip as they attach along the femur.  Thus we have the greater and lesser trochanters.

Greater trochanter: Lateral to your femur bone, larger

Lesser trochanter: Medial to your femur bone, smaller

Hip disassociation

In many ballet movements such as extensions, pirouettes, and fouettés, it’s important to keep a stable supporting side and hip so that you can do all of those fancy things with your working leg.  You probably already know this because it’s a common topic to discuss among teachers.

The technical name for this concept is hip disassociation.  Basically, as the dictionary defines it, it is stabilization of the pelvis and hip on the supporting side so that the range of motion in the working side may be increased.

So, basically (in human form), the more stable and supported your standing hip is, the greater height of extension you will be able to achieve.

Pelvic stabilization

Many teachers say things like “lift up,” and “stable center.”  But, what is this correction really calling for?  It’s calling for a stabilization and neutralization of the pelvis and pelvic area.  This allows for increased hip disassocation and honed technique.

A posterior pelvic tilt is also known as “tucking.”  This overworks the gluteus maximus and often forces turnout and creates rolling effects, resulting in knee injuries.

An anterior pelvic tilt is also known as “tipping.”  This often occurs when the iliopsoas is tight or weak.  It creates an inability to turn out and is known for sending the hips backward and thus weight onto the heels, creating an inability to balance and lots of other technical problems.

These tilts can be fixed using proper core strengthening and knowledge, in addition to the muscles of the hips and pelvis.  To learn more about the anatomy of your core, see my All About the Core post.  For strengthening, see my Abdominal Workout.

The hip muscles

The iliopsoas

If you missed Monday’s All About The Iliopsoas post, click anywhere in this blue area.  We’ll talk briefly about this muscle here, but in that post we go into much more detail about its attachments and origination as well as its benefits to your dancing and some injuries related to it.  I even give you a few exercises to do!

The iliopsoas connects the pelvis and lower spine to the femur bone.  It is made up of the iliacus and the psoas.

Iliacus: Inserts at the lesser trochanter, originates at the pelvis

Psoas: Inserts at the lesser trochanter, originates at the lower spine

These two muscles combine to make the iliopsoas.  This muscle is vital to your development as a dancer and an artist (again, see the post linked above for more information).

Gluteus medius and minimus

These muscles connect the pelvis to the greater trochanter of the femur bone.  They help with abduction (moving of the leg away from you) and hip stabilization (a.k.a. hip stabilization).  These muscles are helpful during petite allegros.  I talked about the role of the abductors and how they can help your dancing in my Improving Petite Allegro post.

Tensor fasciae latae

This muscle connects the outer ilium (click here for pelvis diagram) with the iliotibal band.  The iliotibal band runs from the ilium to the knee (also known as the IT band).

This muscle, just like the gluteus maximus/minimus above, helps with abduction, hip stabilization, and hip disassociation.

This muscle along with the iliotibal band is very important to roll out and massage for improved technique.  You can see my All About Massage post for massage techniques and concepts to know for dancers.

The pelvic floor

These muscles are often unheard of and undiscussed by ballet teachers.  They connect the lower pelvis bones across the transverse plane.  Their responsibilities include moving the sit bones away from eachother and towards eachother.

For example, in grand plié, the sit bones slightly move away from eachother.  That movement is controlled by the eecentric engagement of the pelvic floor muscles.

As you stretch your legs in the descent from a grand plié, your pelvic floor muscles engage cocentrically and activally work to bring your legs together as they stretch.

You can see more of my advice and tips for pliés and grand pliés in my Improving Pliés blog post.

The internal hip rotators

These muscles are your “turn in” muscles, which are important for hip and pelvis balance (and therefore stabilization) and many movements in contemporary and modern dance.

  • Hamstring muscles (Semitendinosus and semimembranosus)
  • Anterior parts of gluteus minimus/medius
  • Tensor fasciae latae

The external hip rotators: TURNOUT

Technically, these belong in the muscles section that I just ended.  But, these are so important that I think they deserve their own section.  There are four external hip rotators (a.k.a. turnout muscles).  Here they are:

  • Quadratus femoris
  • Piriformis
  • Obturator internus/externus
  • Gemellus inferior/superior

Let’s go through each individually:

The quadratus femoris is much discussed in my Improving Turnout blog post, where I talk about exercises, techniques, anatomy, and analagies for improving your turnout.  Also, I have a turnout workout coming up here soon that you can look forward to!  Additionally, my Leg Workout helps strengthen some of the turnout muscles.

Anyways, the quadratus femoris lies in the lower pelvic region, with its fibers running horizontally.  It connects the sit bones with the greater trochanter.  Here’s a photo:


The piriformis connects the sacrum and posterior ilium with the greater trochanter.  See my pelvis bone diagram at the top of this post and my section on the femur and the trochanters for more information.

The obturators internus/externus connect the ischium and pubic bone with the greater trochanter.  Again, see my pelvis bone diagram.

The gemellus inferior/superior connect the lower ischium and pubic bone with the greater trochanter.

The adductors, although technically not a hip or pelvic muscle, help with turnout additionally.  They are discussed in my Improving Turnout blog post, linked above.

In short, the four external rotators collectively rotate the femur bone within the acetabulum via connections between the pelvic bones and the greater/lesser trochanters.

Femoral retroversion and anteversion

We all hear our teachers say, “Use the most turnout you have,” and “use up your potential.”  Is I talked about in my Navigating Training and Improvement blog post and video, turnout becomes an uncontrolled factor once you reach this much-discussed potential.  Everyone wishes to have this “natural” 180 degree turnout.

Some people say that this myth that some people are “naturally” born with greater turnout is a lie and that it’s all about your strength and flexibility.  This is NOT TRUE!  There is something called femoral retroversion and anteversion that is very unknown to aspiring professional dancers attempting to have the best turnout in their class.

Femoral retroversion is the natural posession of less turnout than others.  It basically means that the structure of your hips allows for your femur bone to be turned out less than usual.  (MY PROBLEM!!!)

Femoral anteversion is the natural posession of more turnout than others.  It basically means that the structure of your hips allows for your femur bone to be turned out more than usual.  (NOT MY PROBLEM!!!)

I change only three words in each of those definitions because they both come with their strengths and weaknesses, losses and benefits, injuries and satisfactions.  Once should not be worshiped more than the other.

Thanks so much for reading today’s blog post.  I hope this is very helpful in educating you about the anatomy and muscular structure of your hip joint and pelvic area.  Thanks again!

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5 thoughts on “Hip Anatomy

  1. I have had my daughters coach tell her that she doesn’t have open hips and that she is limited in what she can do in dance. She told her she will hurt herself. She is 8. What is the truth about this.

    1. This is a very difficult subject, but thanks for asking! Many dancers have limited turnout in their hips. This affects their lateral rotation, which is one of the prime bases for classical ballet. It’s absolutely true that your dancer’s technique may be limited due to this setback, but she will not hurt herself unless she is being taught incorrectly. It’s true that limited turnout can be hurt if the turnout is being forced by the instructor, but if she is correctly using all of her maximum rotation without forcing it, she will not injure herself. So, a summary – if the teacher is forcing turnout, it is true that she will be injured. If she is correctly using her maximum without forcing, she will not. Also, at age eight, she should be dancing for fun, not for a professional career. Let her dance!

  2. Good post- I’ll keep your info..I’m a retired ballet dancer – turnedphysical Therapist- any child can get better with good training- it’s her teacher not the child. Good ballet training changes bodies hate bad teachers-why ballet is sooo essential for all dance- they all need to turn out- so train her- right? I’ll getvto your other posts soon. Are you a PT?

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