Basic Ballet Steps

Rachel Hanson
Practicing pliés

In order to learn basic ballet steps, it is advisable to begin with the simplest steps and work on the technique of getting these steps right before moving on to more advanced ballet steps.

Ballet Technique

Learning the art of this classical dance form is not a quick or easy practice; developing one's technique in ballet takes several years of practice and a lot of discipline and repetition of the basic steps. The most important principles of ballet technique to start with are the principles of turnout, alignment, and pointed toes.

Turnout

Virtually all steps and movements in ballet are done in a turned out position, which is to say that the feet are pointing more to the sides of the dancer's body than to the front. Turnout can be achieved either through the ankles, the knees, or the hips; of these three, only turning out from the hip joint is correct. This point is extremely important to remember in order to reduce the risk of dance injuries. The ankle joint and knee joint are not built to rotate, while the hip joint is. Learn to turn out from the hips and you are already on your way to learning basic ballet steps.

Alignment

The entire body should be aligned in ballet. For beginners, the important things to consider are the spine and the legs. Make sure your shoulders are back and relaxed, and that your hips are tucked underneath your torso. As for your legs, it's important to keep your knees straight (but not locked), unless you are executing a step in which the knee is bent.

Pointed Toes

The signature of ballet dancers is pointed feet. Work on this slowly to avoid cramping, and be sure to not rotate your ankles in order to produce a more impressively pointed foot. This is an illusion, and one than can lead to ankle injuries.

With these basics of ballet technique, you are ready to try out the genre's steps for beginners.

Basic Ballet Steps

The first thing to master in terms of ballet steps are the five positions of ballet. From these five positions, you can learn the following movements:

Pliés

'Plier' is the French word for bend, and this dance step refers to the bending of the knees. There are two types of pliés: grand plié and simply plié. Grand plié refers to bringing the body almost all the way to the floor by bringing an extreme bend into the knees; in this movement, the heels of the feet come off the floor, whereas in a regular plié the heels should stay firmly planted on the ground, and the bend in the knees is only half as deep as the grand plié.

Tendus

From the French word for 'stretch', tendu, like plié, comes in a few different varieties. A tendu is simply executed by extending one foot across the floor either to the front of the body, to the side, or to the rear. When sliding the foot, it is important to pay attention to your knees and feet; when your foot reaches the tendu position, the knee should be completely straight, and only the toes of the foot should have contact with the floor. This step is called a tendu, but there are also more advanced types for once you have mastered the basic ballet steps.

Elevés

This ballet step means 'lifted up', which refers to the fact that this movement is either done on pointe shoes, or, for beginning dancers, on half-pointe (on the balls of your feet). Elevés are more difficult in some of the five positions than others, and should be practiced in all positions, as well as both while holding onto the barre, and without holding on (with arms in the position that corresponds to the position the feet are in). In addition to 'elevé' is 'relevé', in which the end position is the same (lifted up), but is executed from plié instead of simply from a straight leg.

Coupés

Before you start learning ballet leaps and difficult balancing steps, coupés are a good step to get one foot off the floor without being exceedingly difficult. From the French word meaning 'to cut', coupés are a quick action in which one foot is lifted off the ground in order to produce a changing of weight from one foot to the other. Learning this quick changing of weight executed in an artistic and graceful way can help you transition into ballet movements and ballet leaps.

Perfecting the Steps

The only way to improve in ballet is to practice frequently and to consider the progress you are making with a critical eye. Ideally, you will have a good ballet teacher to remind you to turn out from the hips and to keep your heels on the floor in plié. If you do not have a ballet teacher, learning even the basics of ballet demands considerable discipline and tenacity. Start your practice sessions with a long warmup in order to reduce injuries and discomfort, and play your favorite ballet music in order to keep yourself motivated for long practice sessions.

Basic Ballet Steps