While many other genres of dance start learners on various steps or combinations, ballet always begins at the same place: the five positions. However, there are actually seven positions, the sixth and seventh introduced by Serge Lifar of the Paris Opera Ballet in the twentieth century. Most ballet schools teach only the classic five but if you dance any of Lifar's acclaimed choreography, you will use the sixth and seventh feet positions.
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, professional dancers practice the positions daily, and they are a fundamental part of learning classical ballet.
Early ballet classes are crowded with tiny preschoolers struggling to "turn out" their feet, wide-eyed and full of wobbles. First position, where the heels touch, and the toes are turned out towards a 180 degree angle, opens the hips. It is an acquired skill. While it may take years of practice to achieve a perfect turnout, most first-time dancers learn a basic first position stance with spine erect and tailbone tucked under. The goal of first position is to get the body aligned without appearing stiff or awkward. In first, the arms are curved in front of the body (either towards the ground or horizontal to the ground) with hands rounded toward the pelvis.
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 but not tensed.
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. With the left hand on the barre, the right foot comes in front for third position. With the right hand on the barre, the left foot is in front of the right foot.
In fourth position, the foot that was in front in third position makes a tendu and slides forward so 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 down.
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. 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, forcing the turnout or curving the lower back. Improper turnout increases the risk of injury for ballet dancers.
Sixth position is a reinforcement of alignment. It is first position with the feet parallel, not turned out. The straight spine and squared hips are important in this posture so the lower back doesn't curve, forcing out the butt and destroying the line. Balance is a challenge. Sixth position is also used in modern dance choreography and is sometimes known as "parallel first."
Seventh position is frequently seen in classical ballets; it's just a fourth position en pointe or demi-pointe. So, seventh is fourth en relevé. Correct balance in this position is actually easier en pointe than on half-pointe as the leg strength pressing into the floor is stabilized by the pointe shoe box.
Getting the basic five positions right is an ongoing practice; every ballet class begins with position work at the barre for beginners and professionals. 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 adjust your position. If you are taking a weekly class, get in the habit of devoting ten minutes a day to practice the positions. Speak to your teacher about working on sixth and seventh positions. You'll need solid critical guidance to master the fine points of placement to avoid incorrect posture and poor muscle training.