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What Are the Different Types of Dance Positions?

By Greg Brian
Updated May 23, 2024
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Numerous basic and challenging dance positions are required in formal dance styles. Positions of the body and feet are mandatory in not only ballet, but also in popular dance styles such as ballroom dancing. In ballet, there are five dance positions called first position through fifth position. In ballroom dancing, there are different types of dance positions, such as the basic position, the closed position, the promenade position, the cuddle position and two parallel foot positions. Dance positions are best practiced in front of a mirror, such as at dance studios, where practice mirrors are common.

In ballet, five basic positions must be mastered. First position is simply holding the heels together and pointing the feet out in opposite, turned-out directions. The arms need to be placed in a relaxed manner just below the stomach area. The hands and fingers should be held in a relaxed position and as if holding an invisible object. The dancer’s arms also can be held in front at a 90-degree angle, depending on how the dancer’s body is built.

Second position is a variation on the first. The feet need to be slid apart from one another and at shoulder width. The arms are opened up to the sides, with the hands in position of carrying a large, invisible object. Let dancer's arms should curve slightly and slope slightly downward.

Third through fourth dance positions are slightly more complex. Third position involves the dancer moving the right arm in front of him or her as if holding an invisible object, but leaving the left arm in second position. One foot is placed forward, with the heel placed in front of the arch of the back foot. Fourth position is a variation of the first position by moving one leg forward and placing the forward leg and foot directly in front of the back leg and foot. One arm is raised over the head while keeping the other arm in second position.

Fifth position is very challenging and can cause injury without careful practice. The foot that is out front in fourth position is moved back so that the heel is touching the toes of the foot from behind. Some professional ballet dancers are able to place the toes of the front foot in contact with the heel of the back foot. It takes years of practice, though, for a dancer to do this without causing serious damage to his or her ankles or knees.

In ballroom dancing, other basic and challenging dance positions need to be mastered. The most basic ballroom dancing position before beginning is the placing of the follower’s left hand on the leader’s right arm. The follower then holds the leader’s free hand a little above the level of each dancer’s eye. The held hands should be at an angle of 90 degrees while standing 6 inches (about 15 cm) apart.

Closed position is the most common type of ballroom dance position and is almost identical to the basic position. The only difference is that the leader places his or her hand on the follower’s left shoulder blade, with the follower resting his or her left arm lightly on the leader’s right arm. Each dancer's feet are positioned directly across from the partner’s feet.

Other positions in ballroom dancing include the promenade position, in which dancers are standing sideways in an open position and holding one set of hands. The leader puts his or her right hand on the follower’s left side. Then he or she quickly takes the partner’s right hand and pulls the partner in toward him or her.

Variations of the closed positions include the left and right parallel foot positions. These dance positions have the follower’s feet to the left or right of the leader’s feet, or vice versa. The shoulders of each partner, however, should be parallel, making this slightly tricky.

More romantic ballroom dancers can try the cuddle position. The female partner traditionally stands to the right of her partner, with both facing the same direction. He has his arm around her waist, and the partners join hands, right-to-right and left-to-left. As a variation, the Lindy Cuddle has a male partner facing directly behind the female partner’s back. They also hold hands right-to-right and left-to-left.

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