Ballet Basics: 5 Positions Children Can Practice at Home

Ballet BasicsThere’s no single “right” way to learn ballet for beginners, but it’s always helpful to approach the barre with a basic understanding of its style and positions. No matter what genre your dance instructor teaches, the following fundamentals will always be on the curriculum. From Italy’s Cecchetti Method to the cross-genre techniques of contemporary American ballet, these basic positions keep dancers of every level in perfect form.

Port de Bras Basics

Long before you learn complicated footwork or graduate to pointe shoes, you need to learn how to coordinate your arms and legs. In ballet (as in French), port de bras refers to the positions and movements of the arms. Ballet techniques focus on engaging the entire body, so for every position of the feet or legs, there’s a complementary port de bras that will allow your upper body to complete the full effect.

Assume one position, then move one or both of your arms into the next. Did your shoulders move too? If you only moved one arm, did the other arm stay in the same place? Next, you’ll learn a transition technique that keeps your movements fluid and body parts in all the right places.

The Gateway

As dancers move from one position to the next, their arms often stop in the gateway position along the way. This is fundamental in ballet for beginners, and it doesn’t hurt to practice at home first, because the goal is to train your arms until it comes naturally to you.

  • Hold your arms in front of your body, rounding them as though you’re hugging a tree
  • Lower your arms (but not your shoulders) very slightly; your elbows should no longer be even with your shoulders, but slightly below them
  • Allow your hands to continue the curve of each arm, cupping them slightly with the palms facing you
  • Line up your fingertips with the bottom of your breastbone (slightly higher than the bottom of your ribs)
  • Keep your hands slightly apart; they must be free to move independently

The gateway position might look basic at first glance, but it’s incredibly important to achieve a slight downward slope with your arms, and to keep your shoulders turned out. At first, you’ll be tempted to move your shoulders closer together or pull them forward. Instead, keep them in the same position, no matter where your arms go.

The Five Positions

Almost all ballet for beginners starts with the five fundamental positions: first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. While children usually learn the foot placement of each position first, sometimes it’s helpful to look at the whole picture from the very beginning. Each position also includes the legs, arms, and hands. To begin, take a look at the image below, a great resource from the Ballet Dance Experts website.

Photo by

Photo by

First position – Form a “V” with your feet, placing the heels together and the toes apart. Turn each foot out as far as you can, then lower your arms until your fingers almost touch your thighs, forming parentheses around your torso.
Second position – Spread your feet slightly to the left and right, adding space between the heels. Hold your arms à la seconde by raising them at your sides until they almost form a “T”.
Third position – Slide your right foot until its heel touches the inside of your left foot. With your left arm in first position, lift your right arm slightly until your fingertips are even with your hips.
Fourth position – Take one step forward with your right foot, then lift your right arm the rest of the way, into second position.
Fifth position – Turn out your right foot and place your left foot completely behind it, turning the opposite way, until your toes and heels touch. Lift your arms en haut, leaving several inches between the hand above your head.

The corresponding arm positions will vary slightly, according to the ballet school you choose. For example, first position in Russian ballet calls for the gateway pose, and so does the Cecchetti version of fifth positionen avant. However, practicing these now will improve your coordination and train you to think of your body as one complete instrument, rather than separate parts. This fluid synchronicity is what makes ballet choreography so graceful and powerful.

If your son or daughter is interested in ballet, encourage them to pursue it the right way: with a professional instructor. Taking classes or private lessons is the best way to master the basics of ballet for beginners. The earlier they get started — and the more solid their foundation — the easier it will be to stick with and perfect their craft as they progress!

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 Photo by vharjadi

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