Need extra practice at home after your first beginner ballet class? We’re here to help with a recap of all the basic arm and foot positions you will need to master in order to become a classical dancer.

Whether you wish to pursue this newfound passion at a professional level or just as a weekly hobby, practising ballet fundamentals daily will greatly improve your body image and flexibility. Grace is acquired through hours of mirroring the right movement, down to the tiniest detail. So get up and get your feet moving!

Ballet positions 101: What is a turnout?

We cannot speak of ballet feet without uttering the word “turnout”. In classical dance, this both a naturally acquired predisposition as well as something that can be drilled into your posture over time.

The turnout of the leg enables a dancer to stand upright heels touching and toes pointing outwards. It was adopted in olden times at the French court by women who wished to show more of the intricate craftsmanship of their footwear.

practice makes perfect in ballet feet positions
Ballerinas can practice feet position for years to reach the perfect turnout. (Source: Unsplash)

Technically, this stance has everything to do with your hip opening which you can slowly work on through footwork and leg positions during warmups. A perfect turnout is one that forms a 180 degrees angle across from one big toe to the other. This flexible position offers a greater range of motion but also puts a great amount of stress on knee joints. This causes many ballerinas and dancers to have to go through knee surgery. So remember to always turnout from your hips and not force it if your knee isn’t aligned, especially during plié exercises.

What to wear to practice theses feet positions without hurting yourself? Upon enrolling for a class or meeting your ballet tutor you will probably have been advised to purchase a pair of soft ballet shoes, this fitted slipper made from satin or canvas provides great flexibility and range of motion while protecting your skin and toes. You should be able to move your toes so beware of buying them a size too small.

If you're wondering about the best route to take when learning ballet, why not try private ballet lessons?

Practice Basic Ballet Feet Positions

Regardless of the school of ballet you choose, you will always have to learn the five basic positions and the corresponding terminology. As any figure you execute in ballet will begin and end in one of these, you must master these foundations to advance to the next level.

In First position, you will have to turnout and squeeze your legs together from inner thighs to heels, while toes and balls of your feet are facing outwards. It is important to note that this position solicits the whole body and not just your feet from the ankle down. Your hip opening will play an important role as well as your core which should be engaged.

The Second position is a natural step from the first, while still pointed outwards, glide one of your feet to the side while staying parallel to the front of the room. The width of your stance should be the equivalent of one a half to two-foot lengths.

In Third position, you will bring one of your feet from first to the front of the other, step forwards sort of speak. The back of your front foot stays lighted connected to the inner arch of the back foot.

Keep your turnout and your feet pointed to the sides to move into Fourth position. Slide your front foot from third position to the front about one step apart, this is fourth position opposite third. In Fourth position opposite fifth/fourth crossed, the front foot crosses over more or completely (fifth). Feet do not touch in this position.

Finally Fifth position is the last ibe you will learn and the hardest move for those new to foot turnout. With your toes pointed outwards, the legs are tightly crossed and feet touch and the font foot’s heel is placed besides the back foot’s toes, and vice versa. Zipping your legs together and maintaining a strong core will help you achieve this position.

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ballet feet position can be practiced by children
You try looking effortless while holding a fifth position plié with preparatory arm position! (Source: Pixabay)

Ballet is Not Just About the Feet, Practice Arm Positions too!

After you have practiced footwork extensively and feel more comfortable with the five positions, it is time to add upper body motion and grace to your dancing. Arm movements in ballet, like many terms, are described by the French expression “port de bras”.

This 'carriage of the arms' is designed to work simultaneously with leg movements. Just like the legwork necessary to feet positions, the arms positions extend beyond to the shoulder, chest, upper and lower back. A strong core will help render the appearance of effortless actions. The positions range from low, halfway across the torso and over the head so range in motion is essential. You will also learn to tilt your head, neck and hands to accompany each posture as you progress.

You will have probably seen different versions of ballet arms in movies, on television and at a recital for the lucky ones. In one position the dancer keeps her fingertips touching so to create an oval in front of her with her arms. This oval space moved from lower levels to over the head as the feet begin to move.

The second version of ballet arms has them open and extending sideways. Here elbows are slightly bent and the hand lightly prolongs the line defined by the arms’ position.

The basic position of any exercise is logically called preparatory position or premiere en bas. You will repeat this position often as you begin exercises across the floor. Both arms are extended away from the body and rounded like you are carrying a large basket with fingers barely touching.

Arms and feet positions are combined according to the routine to be performed. Think of it like a recipe mixing upper body and lower body to create a shape.

First position has both arms extending low with bent elbows. Your arms should be slightly raised to navel level. From first position simply open your arms to reach second position. Keep in mind the slight arch of your arms with lowered elbows and wrists. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your neck long.

The third position has arms in contrary position to the legs. Do not worry it is not as complicated as it sounds! Just think about opposites, left foot in front? Then right arm should be raised. One arm is raised above your head with a slight inclination forward while the other arm opens to the side at navel level.

Just like third position, fourth position for the arms works in reverse with the legs. Bring one arm forward at chest level always maintaining a slight curve. The other arm is high above your head also gently rounded.

Fifth position has both arms raised over the head, starting from first position, palms facing in. Your hands should have space in between them, about six inches. A good tip for raised arm placement is that you should be able to see your hands if you were to quickly glance up in this position with your head still.

Things to keep in mind while practising arm movements :

  • Slightly raised head, gaze ahead and slightly upwards
  • Engage upper back and core abdominal muscles
  • Open chest and lowered shoulders
  • Natural hands lightly moving without breaking the line at the wrists
  • Learn the difference between engaged and tense

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pointe shoes are for advanced level ballet practice
Pointe shoes are lovely from the outside, just don't look at the feet inside! (Source: Unsplash)

What about getting in Pointe Ballet Feet Position?

When we think of ballet we often have an image of a prima ballerina on pointe shoes gliding lightly across the floor. This illusion of dancing on the very tip of your toes comes with a great training and a fair amount of pain no matter how great your technique.

Aspiring dancers, have a long think before you undertake this aspect of ballet like in Swan Lake, reputedly the most painful ballet to perform on pointe. Take into account the following factors before moving onto this level of classical dance.

  • You must be older than eleven years of age
  • You have a good number of years training ballet
  • You can ensure you take at least 3 hours of dance classes a week
  • You are prepared to suffer mentally and physically (think bruised toes, corns, blisters, microfractures, sprains and deformed feet)

Do the Legwork with the Five Feet Positions

Once you have mastered all five positions you will move onto basic warm-up exercises to develop muscle awareness and control. Bear in mind any ballet warm-up often begins at the barre in one of the five feet positions.

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ballet leg work is based on feet position
Little girls diligently practice their battements dreaming of the prima ballerina sparkle. (Source: Pixabay)

Pliés, derived from to bend in French, are all about balance, keeping a clean line and developing flexibility. This move is carried out in all positions aside from third. You will descend in demi-pliés which is halfway down and finally into grand-plié with tights parallel to the ground, bent knees and heels lifted and barely touching.

Tendu, French for stretched means push one turned-out leg forward with pointed toes grazing the floor. This works on extending your tight muscles and is a great preparation for other exercises.

Battement, means beating in French, it’s a graceful and controlled kick of the leg at the desired heights. This movement loosens up the hip joint and works on turn-out and alignment. Extension here on straight legs is attained by engaging core muscles and keeping a straight back.

The apparent effortlessness of this graceful dance style requires daily discipline. Carrying out the five arm and feet positions your eyes closed means you are ready to step up to the next level. Start today where you are and you will be moving with a swan’s grace in no time!

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our blog on the history of ballet?

Of course, it's hard to learn ballet moves without seeing them and practicing them yourself. As such, don't just think to yourself "I wish I could take part in dance classes near me", go ahead and find them by googling 'dance classes near me'. Or, if you live in Glasgow, look out for 'dance classes glasgow'. It doesn't matter what style of dancing you settle on, even pole dancing classes will teach you certain moves that can be linked to classical ballet!

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.