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What Are the Ballet Positions?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ballet positions are the beginning of instruction in ballet. However, early ballet positions by beginning dancers rarely represent mastery. The positions are corresponding feet and arm movements, and form the basis for more difficult moves. It would seem that the first of the ballet positions would be easiest to master, but it is in fact the hardest. Achieving perfect form in first position of feet and arms, allows for better technical skills in all the other positions.

The first of the ballet positions for feet places the heels together. The toes are turned out with the goal being the ballet dancer achieving a 180° angle. Achieving this turnout takes work, and requires the ballet dancer to utilize the hips. It is not a natural standing position, but all good ballet dancers must master turnout to be considered for positions in ballet companies. When turnout is perfect, the knees are literally back-to-back.

For arms, the first of the ballet positions is curved arms with hands close together in right in front of the lower pelvis. The palms point upward and the fingers provide a gentle curve. The elbows are also slightly bent.

Second position for feet maintains the 180° turnout, but the feet are spaced approximately 1 foot (0.30 m) apart. The arms maintain their curved position, but the hands are now slightly further apart. Each hand is in front of the top of each thigh.

In the third position for feet, the feet maintain the 180° turnout. One foot is placed in front of the other, with the heel of each foot meeting the middle of the other. The left arm points straight out from the shoulder with the hand flat and palm down. The right arm is raised and curved above the head, with palm facing the top of the head.

Fourth position represents only a slight change from the third position. Instead of the heel touching the middle of the other foot, there is a distance of about 1 foot (0.30 m) between them. The right arm remains the same as in third position, but the left arm curls toward the body, forming a half circle right in front of the chest.

Fifth position moves both feet. The goal is to maintain the 180° angle, with the feet together. The heel of one foot lines up with the toe of the other. Both arms are now above the head in a curved position. The left arm is positioned exactly as the right arm is positioned in ballet positions three and four.

From each of the positions, a student learns to take balances on toe shoes, do knee-bends, and bends forward and back of the upper body. Such work usually takes place at the barre during ballet class. The positions are then repeatedly applied in choreography.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Musical Expert contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon173815 — On May 08, 2011

Number three comment: I was also taught by these beautiful people. Did you go to the reunion?

I never understood the RAD hand positions. Looked very "wooden" to me.

By anon27455 — On Feb 28, 2009

anon20035 - Your comment is only correct if the type of dance you are learning involves these examinations.

I was taught by principal dancers of Sadlers Wells - Janet Karin; Bryan Lawrence and we did not learn RAD standards, but a Russian style taught at the Bolshoi because it was considered the best.

It's often better to not speak with "authority" if you only have the experience of one discipline.

By anon20035 — On Oct 24, 2008

the five ballet positions of the feet are not the beginnings of ballet instruction. one does not learn past third until after the preliminary three exam.

By teddyknitter — On Mar 15, 2007

Aren't the ballet positions used in other forms of dance--tap, jazz, modern?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Musical Expert contributor, Tricia...
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