Dancing is a well-loved pastime among people of many cultures and different age groups, but it can be difficult to figure out where to start among the various dance types. For many, a knowledge of the basics is key, which is why ballet is one of the most popular forms of dance for beginners to learn.
If you’ve never heard of ballet but are interested in developing your dancing skills, there are a few things you should know.
Ballet and the ballet positions were originally developed in the courts of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century among noblemen and women. As its popularity grew, ballet was brought to France by Italian noblewoman Catherine de Medici, who was married to France’s King Henry II.
The art form became extremely popular in the country and was central to its growing culture during the 16th century, which is why many of the terms and phrases used in traditional ballet are in the French language.
During the Romantic Movement of the early 19th century, ballet was performed alongside music and even visual art throughout Europe. This time was also the period when ballet positions involving dancing on your toes, or en pointe, became the norm in many ballets being performed.
This type of dance spread to Russia and became extremely popular, and many of the most well-known ballets throughout the world, including The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, were originally written by Russian composers and choreographers.
When most people think of a ballet dancer or ballerina, they picture a woman wearing a small tutu skirt with her hair in a bun doing ballet positions. This traditional appearance is specifically designed so that those watching the ballet can see and appreciate the difficult leg movements, leaps, and turns performed by the dancer and study her long, feminine neck.
Though traditional ballets often used ballet positions to tell stories that described women in a meeker and more fragile role, ballets through the generations since then have taken on a wide range of subject matter that expand the narrative function of both female and male ballet dancers.
Additionally, while ballet was considered to be the primary form of dance for professionals to partake in, the industry of professional dance has expanded significantly.
Today, most professional dancers still receive some level training with ballet positions early on in their development. Some continue with ballet into their professional lives, while many others branch out into other styles such as modern dance, hip hop, jazz, or tap.
Even if you aren’t planning on pursuing dance professionally, learning the primary ballet positions for beginners can still have many benefits for your life. Ballet is a great way to express emotion and artistry, stay fit and healthy, and connect with an ancient art form.
Let’s explore some of the basic ballet dance positions and how beginners can master them with ease.
How Many Ballet Foot Positions are There?
Though traditional ballet dancing is made up of many different types of movements, there are five basic foot positions that every beginner should know before branching out into more advanced steps.
Many of the most common ballet dance moves, such as leaps and turns, require dancers to either start or finish in one of these positions to correctly carry out the movement.
All of these positions will be performed with straight legs that are turned out, which means a slightly open hip position. Think of it as your toes pointing out at a diagonal instead of facing forward, as they normally would while standing or walking. Additionally, all of the basic ballet positions for beginners are performed with both feet on the floor.
First Position Ballet
The first position ballet dancers use is typically considered to be the easiest of the five basic positions.
The dancer will stand with their heels together and the toes pointing outward in turnout. Advanced ballet dancers will be able to turn their toes out far enough that their feet will almost form a straight line, but beginners shouldn’t force their turnout too much and should just focus on keeping the heels together and the toes facing diagonally.
Second Position Ballet
The second position ballet dancers use is nearly identical to the first position in the way the feet are situated. However, the main difference is that the feet are spaced a hip distance apart from one another. Make sure that your feet are as close to hip-distance apart as you can make them and not too close together or too far apart.
Third Position Ballet
In order to achieve the third position ballet dancers use simply begin in the first position and move the heel of one foot over to the middle of the other. Despite being included among the five basic ballet foot positions, the third position is rarely used in ballet technique exercises during lessons or in fully choreographed ballet shows.
It can often be mistaken for an improper placement of other ballet positions. However, it’s still a useful piece of information to have when developing your ballet dancing skills.
Fourth Position Ballet
The fourth position ballet dancers use is slightly more advanced than the previous positions and may take some hip stretching to achieve properly. To complete the fourth position, you can start in the first position, extend one foot forward and lay it flat, and then move that foot in so that it’s placed directly in front of your other foot.
Much like the second position, it’s important to make sure that your front foot is only about a hip’s width distance in front of your back foot and isn’t too close in or too far away. A tip for perfecting your fourth position is to line up the heel of your front foot with the toes of your back foot.
Fifth Position Ballet
The fifth position ballet dancers use is generally considered to be the most advanced and difficult to achieve, but even beginners can master it relatively quickly with some practice.
In order to achieve the fifth position, simply start in the fourth position and slide your front foot back so that the heel of your front foot is now touching the toes of your back foot. It may take some time to be able to maintain straight legs and proper turnout while standing in this position.
Why are Ballet Foot Positions Important?
As you’re learning more about ballet and building your skills in the art form, you may wonder why it’s so important to know the basic ballet positions.
As we mentioned above, many of the more advanced movements used in ballet performance require dancers to either start or end in one of these positions to properly execute the movement in a way that’s both safe and pleasing to the eye.
Additionally, the five basic ballet positions are an important building block for the specific body positions that advanced ballet dancers need to master to perform more difficult choreography.
For example, each position is used regularly in many common ballet warmups and private lessons to get ballet dancers used to the feeling of turnout and develop the inner and outer thigh muscles, even when the feet are placed in different positions.
Tips for Learning to Do Ballet
Interested in improving your ballet positions at home but not sure how to get started? There’s much more to ballet dancing than simply placing your feet in the right spots. Here are some of our best tips to make your ballet learning experience as productive and successful as it can be:
Work on Your Posture
If you’ve ever seen a picture or watched a video of a ballet dancer doing choreography or simply performing a warm-up exercise, you’ll notice that a well-trained ballerina will never be caught slouching.
That’s because proper posture is an important part of the aesthetics of ballet, as well as the ability of ballet dancers to safely move from position to position.
Between your ballet practice sessions, make sure to be aware of your posture as you’re sitting and standing throughout the day. The more you think about keeping a straight back and elongated neck in your everyday life, the more natural it’ll feel during your ballet practice and vice versa.
There’s a reason why professional dancers tend to be extremely flexible: a high level of flexibility is needed to properly and safely perform many common dance movements, especially within the scope of ballet lessons.
Even if you’re just practicing ballet for fun, it’s important to take time to stretch your muscles before and after dancing to prevent injury and perform the basic ballet positions for beginners with proper leg and foot placement.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Attempting to learn a new skill can feel intimidating, especially if you have no prior experience in the area. For many beginners learning the basic ballet positions, it’s easy to go through the motions with incomplete movements because you’re afraid of looking silly or doing it incorrectly.
In reality, not performing the movements to their full extent will just make it harder to build your skill. Plus, it’s okay to make a mistake because then you’ll know exactly what to work on next time. Working with a ballet teacher with whom you feel comfortable is a great way to improve your confidence around the art form in a safe environment.
Practice Your Dance Positions Each Day Including Arm Positions
Learning the ballet positions of the feet is only scratching the surface when it comes to ballet basics. There are also basic arm ballet positions that are designed to accompany the ballet foot positions, as well as many other types of movement commonly used in ballet choreography.
In order to master one basic movement and move on to the next, it’s important to carve out some time each day to practice, no matter if it’s 5 minutes or a whole hour.
Even if you’re extremely interested in learning to perform a new skill, it can be difficult to do it on your own. Life can get busy, and if you don’t have anyone holding you accountable for your practice time, it’s easy to let other things get in the way and end up dropping your hobby altogether.
With a high-quality ballet teacher, you can trust that you’ll have a well-trained professional holding you accountable for your practice, in addition to providing you with a level of instruction that you’d be missing out on by learning on your own. The perfect ballet teacher is out there for every dancer, no matter their age or experience level.