While many other genres of dance start learners on various steps or combinations, ballet always starts at the same place: the five positions. Whether your child is just starting out or you are taking up ballet as a new hobby, you are sure to encounter the ballet positions as one of the very first things to learn. While they may seem easy at first, rest assured that even advanced dancers are still working to perfect their positions, striving for the perfect arm height, the corresponding head angle, and, endlessly, working on increasing turnout from the hip. Mastering the ballet positions takes years, but getting started takes five minutes.
Classical Ballet Positions
Commonly taught at ballet schools all over the world, the five ballet positions are almost universal among dance students of all backgrounds. With corresponding arm and foot movements, the five positions prepare dancers for the more difficult and intricate steps of ballet. If you are able to achieve the basic positioning, executing more advanced steps with ideal technique and form becomes possible. For this reason, the positions are practiced daily by professional dancers, and are a fundamental part of learning classical ballet.
The first image that comes to mind of ballet may be adorable preschoolers struggling to "turn out" their feet, full of wobbles and awe toward the craft. This is often first position, where the heels touch, and the toes are turned out towards a 180 degree angle. While it may take years of practice to achieve a perfect turnout, most first time dancers learn a basic first position stance. A truly refined turnout comes from years of flexibility and rehearsal, and this must be polished for any dancer who is considering becoming a professional ballerina. The goal of first position is to get the body aligned without appearing stiff or awkward.
In first position, the arms are curved in front of the body (either towards the ground or horizontal to the ground) with hands bent slightly toward the pelvis, with your elbows slightly bent.
The second position uses the 180 degree turnout, but with the feet spaced out and flat on the ground. The arms can stay in front of the body, or extend to the left and right sides of the body, respectively. Arms are slightly bent, and knees are straight.
Still focusing on proper turnout, third position calls for the heel of the left foot to be placed in front of the arch of the right foot (or vice versa). The arms in this position are different from one another; the arm that corresponds with the foot in front comes in in front of the body, while the arm that corresponds with the back foot stays at the side, where it was for second position.
When at the barre, with left hand on the bar, the right foot comes in front for third position. With the right hand on the bar, the left foot is in front of the right foot.
For fourth position, the foot that was in front in third position makes a "tondu" and slides forward so that it is turned out at 180 degrees several inches in front of the standing foot. Both feet should be turned out in opposing directions; the arm corresponding with the front foot stays in front (where it was for third position), while the arm corresponding with the standing leg is extended above the head, rounded, with palm facing the ground and thumbs tucked under. Posture remains straight, as do the knees. Shoulders are relaxed and not hunched.
When at the barre with the left side of the body next to the barre, the right foot is in front. With the right side of the body next to the barre, the left foot is to the front.
Fifth position calls for the feet to come together, turned out in opposite directions, but touching against each other (front to back). Both arms are curved upward in the air, known as a "high fifth" position. Again, a perfected turnout in fifth position comes with time and experience in flexibility. A beginner fifth will not fit perfectly; relax into the pose without wrenching on your knees. Improper turnout can cause extensive injuries in ballet dancers.
Getting the five positions right is not a matter of a month or a year. Anyone who continues ballet will continue working on the basic ballet positions. While the positions may seem simple enough, getting the turnout to a good degree, straightening the knees, and getting the perfect angles in the arms and head takes years. In order to learn quickly, be sure to wear appropriate dance attire such as a leotard, tights and ballet slippers so your teacher is able to examine your alignment and properly critique you. If you are taking a class once a week, get in the habit of taking ten minutes a day to practice the positions. Not only will you learn them better and get a more impressive looking result, you will also get physical benefits from these highly-disciplined postures, such as definition in the arm muscles, and an increased sense of balance. Learning the positions well is the foundation of any ballet practice.