Ballet 101

1st position of the arms

This is the gateway to all the other positions. You almost always go through 1st position to get to any other positions of the arms. This is a position in which both arms curve to form an oval in front of the body so that the little fingers are slightly above waist level or opposite the belly button. The fingers do not touch and the palms of the hands face into you, “Imagine you have a special message in the palm of your hand. Don’t let anyone see it!”

1st position of the feet

This basic position of the feet is formed with the legs turned equally outward from the hip joints and the body-weight equally distributed over the two feet. 1st position is a closed position so that the heels are touching and the toes are turned outwards and away from each other.

2nd position of the arms

This is a position in which the arms are held out to the side and are just in front of the body. They slightly slope curved and slope gently downwards from your shoulders to the tips of the fingers – Just enough to allow a small drop of water to trickle slowly down from the shoulder, down the arm and off the index finger. Keep the shoulders relaxed and support the elbows. The gentle curve of the arms make a C-shape with the centre of your palms facing each other.

2nd position of the feet

This is an open position where the dancer stands with the feet approximately shoulder width apart: i.e., about 1 ½ times the length of the feet.

3rd position of the arms

This is a position in which one arm is in 1st, opposite the belly button and the other arm is out to the side in 2nd position, 1 + 2 = 3!

3rd position of the feet

This is a closed position where the dancer stands with the feet together with one foot in front of the other, so that the heel of the font foot is placed at the middle of the back foot. Both legs are turned out equally from the tops of the hips with the body weight placed even over the two feet.

4th position of the arms

This is a position in which one arm is in 5th position above the head, and the other arm is out to the side in 2nd position. There is also a crossed 4th position, where one arm is in 5th position above the head, and the other arm is curved in front of the body in 1st position.

4th position of the feet

This is an open position where the dancer stands with one foot placed in front of 1st position and the other foot behind. From the degage (point to the front) you draw the toes back towards the heel to lower the foot flat to the ground.

5th position of the arms

A position in which both arms curve overhead to form an oval shape that frames the face. They are held slightly in front of the body with the hands just within your peripheral vision.

Shoulders relax down and away from the ears with use of the latissimus dorsi muscles to hold the shoulder blades flat on the back.

The neck is long with a lift and elongation through the spine.

The palms of the hands should be rotated towards you and not your audience.

5th position of the feet

We do not use this position in class as it takes a little more technique, strength and an experienced use of turnout to perfect. For your reference, this is a closed position where the dancer stands with the feet together, with one foot in front of the other, so the heel of the front foot is placed in line with the big toe-joint of the back foot.

Arabesque –  An arabesque ("ærəˈbesk") is a balanced pose on one leg with the other leg extended en l'air derrière (in the air, behind the body). It is a curved position of the body from the head, through the spine to the tip of the toes of the raised leg. ⠀ There are several different versions, all defined by the positions of the arms which are usually placed in an extended position with the palms facing down, creating an elongated line.
Attitude – This is an attitude leg line. An attitude is a bent leg; a contained position based on curves. It is a balanced pose on one leg with the other held in a curved position at the back (derrière). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The leg lifts at the back with the thigh at 90° (if you can!...I always get cramp in my old hips in this position so mine is at 45°!) The lower part of the leg is centered behind the body, eligned with the spine. The knee (ideally) should be in line with the hip. With the use of turnout the knee should always be higher than the foot, to avoid the 'dog at a lamppost' look!
The upper back is so important in ballet. Every port de bras (carriage of the arms) should come from the centre of the upper back rather than lifting from the shoulders, which can cause tension in the upper back.  Think about the wings of a bird and use your arms from the middle of your back. The back muscles really work to support the upper torso and with the use of the important trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles which promote strong, supported yet graceful arm lines
A barre is a stationary handrail that you hold on to while doing steps in ballet. It helps you develop strength and skill while being supported. You should never lean on the barre and should stand at arms length away from it.   In the ballet world barre work helps dancers prepare for partnering work, with the barre simulating the support of a real partner. Facing the barre - The hips are squared to the barre with both hands placed on the barre at shoulder width apart with the elbows slightly in front of the body and relaxed. The hands are directly in front of the elbows and the line of the wrists is unbroken. Sideways to the barre - The body is at a right angle to the barre with the nearest hand placed so that the elbow is slightly in front of the body and relaxed, with the line of the wrist unbroken.
A tendu is the opening and closing of a stretched leg à terre (on the ground).  This action strengthens the use of the foot and brings all the foot and leg muscles into play on both the outward and inward movements.  There is a continuous outward rotation (turnout) of both the supporting leg and the working leg. There is a use of the foot through the floor with a great use of pressure. Imagine licking the toes along the floor! The leg remains long and fully stretched and the toes are in light contact with the floor on the extended position.
Battement Glissé (bat-mahn glee-sei) is the opening and closing of the fully stretched working leg with a quick gliding action of the foot which causes the toes to be released just off the floor.  It is a movement to develop speed of footwork, balance, leg strength and use of the feet through the floor. It is the foundation of many other movements in ballet such as jumps and leaps.⠀⠀ You want to think about drawing a straight line forward with lots of pressure of the foot through the floor. Imagine licking the foot through the floor with so much pressure that the toe pops off the floor at the end of the movement.
Bras Bas means arms down. This is the position of the arms from which all other positions commence. It is also a resting position of the arms.  It is a low position in which both arms curve down to form an oval shape. The arms, which are held a little in front of the body, should never touch the thighs and should be relaxed and a little rounded at the elbow.  The fingers continue the curve in the arm to create the oval shape, with the palms face in towards each other.
A good breathing pattern is fundamental to the use of the upper body. Shallow breathing causes tension in the neck and pulls the shoulders up and back, disturbing general placement.  The sideways expansion of the ribs allows an efficient and deeper use of the lungs without affecting postural control, and therefore discourages tension.  Breathing well feeds the hard working muscles and increases stamina in allegro. It is also used to phrase movement, and to help with the lift required in pirouettes and jumping.  Controlled rhythmical breathing is necessary in all forms of exercise to focus the mind and install confidence.
Cou-de-pied means neck of the foot, or ankle joint.  Petit retiré or sur le cou-de-pied is a placement of the working leg with the knee flexed and a pointed toe placed in contact with the supporting leg at the base of the Achilles tendon.  Cou-de-pied devant (as shown in the picture) is when the working toe is placed at the front of the supporting ankle. Cou-de-pied derrière is when the working toe is placed at the back of the supporting ankle.
Dégagé – Means to free, separate or disengage.  The term is given to the movement of the leg and foot when it is separated or disengaged from a closed to an open, extended position of the working leg à terre (on the ground.  The movement can be taken either devant, to 2nd, or derriére.  The supporting leg may be straight or en fondu (bent).
Demi-bras  – Means half-arms. This is a position in which both arms are held in front of the body, wider and lower than 1st, with the palms turned upwards. From a rounded first position, keep the upper arms still  and supported and rotate just the forearms upwards opening the palm of the hand towards the ceiling.  I always liken it to giving a tray of something (cookies, champagne) to someone!
A demi-plié means 'a half-bend of the knees'. Knees should bend sideways, tracking them over your  middle toes. Heels stay firmly grounded to the floor, try not to lift them up. The pelvis should maintain a neutral position, try not to stick your bum out! Keep the spine long and lengthened, imagine sliding your back  down a wall behind you. Your body weight should be evenly distributed between your  two feet throughout. The movement should be soft, fluid and smooth. Use pressure through the floor, pushing down with your legs  and feet as you straighten your knees.
The glutes get a great workout in ballet-inspired fitness classes. When we say glutes we are actually referring to three distinct muscles: The Gluteus Maximus, the Gluteus Medius and the Gluteus Minimus. These three are responsible for hip extension (arabesque), abduction (side leg lifts), external/internal rotation (turnout) and proper pelvis placement in ballet. Gluteus Maximus - This is the largest muscle in your glutes, the true Power Muscle. This muscles drives big moves like squats and jumps and many functional movements like standing up out of a chair. Gluteus Medius - This muscle covers the area on the side and back of your pelvis and it helps to rotate your legs inwards and outwards and balance on one leg by stabilising your hips. Gluteus Minimus - This is the smallest muscle of the glutes but plays an important role in rotating the leg inward and work together with the Gluteus Medius to help stabilize.
The knee should be regarded as a hinge joint and should therefore always be worked in alignment with the leg.  All turnout is controlled from above in the hip joint which is the only ball-and-socket joint in the lower limb.  The patella is kept in line with the tibia and the foot, whether the knee is held straight or flexed in a fondu. This joint relies on equal support from the main muscle groups controlling it: the quadriceps pull up the front of the thigh controlling the patella, while the hamstrings brace the back of the knee.  The knee also relies on support from the muscles of the inner thigh balancing the muscles of the outer thigh.
Lunges – Although not a balletic movement I use lunges in my Balletiques classes as they are such a good functional, multi-joint exercise that really work your hamstrings, quads and glutes so well. They also really work your abdominal muscles while improving your core stability and balance...especially if you don't hold onto a barre while doing them! Always make sure you take a large step backwards so that you have a wide base. Lower your hips so that  your front thigh is parallel to the floor with the knee positioned directly over the ankle and bend both knees to 90-degree angles. Keep the back tall and straight and brace the core muscles. Push up through the front heel to really work the glutes.
Pelvis Placement  – The pelvis is the connection between the spine and the lower limbs and, when correctly positioned, gives strength to the back and facilities the control of the hip. In ballet the pelvis is kept “square”. The squareness is controlled by the oblique abdominal muscles on either side of the waist which hold the pelvis in relation to the rib-cage. The pelvis is also held, " in balance” with a neutral pelvic tilt. This is controlled by the straight rectus abdominal muscle pulling up the front and the seat muscles (gluteal muscles) pulling down at the back. The hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh also play an important part in holding this tilt without tucking the pelvis under too much (posterior tilt). Proper pelvic alignment enables effective muscle use, efficient movement execution, and enables the correct external rotation (turnout) from the hip joint.
In all the positions of the arms, the hands follow the line of the arms and the fingers are softly grouped.  The centre finger continues the curve of the inner arm and the thumb is in line with the index and middle fingers.  In bras bas, 1st and 5th positions, the arms are held slightly apart so that the centre fingers do not touch.  Do not stick the thumbs out “no texting thumbs!”, they should be kept in line with the middle finger.
Ports de Bras means carriage of the arms.  The arms move the arms gracefully, expressively and continuously through positions, in harmony with the rest of the body, when you are dancing.  Fluidity of ports de bras and tension-free, expressive arms and hands result from a strong, correctly placed back and shoulder girdle.
Posture – The fluidity and ease of movement in classical ballet rely on strength and flexibility of muscles, flexibility of joints, and balance at all times. The coordination of muscles groups in movements is complex and depends on a biomechanically sound posture at the start. This produces a balanced use of the main muscle groups. Attention must be paid to several areas of the body (pelvis, spine, shoulders and arms, breathing, turnout, foot, knees and weight placement). The body works as a whole and perfect placement relies on a coordination of all these parts.
 Rise – A rise is an ankle action in which the legs are straight and the heels are released from the floor until the ankle is fully stretched. Here my client is en demi-pointe (half-point) into the position on the balls of her feet.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Rising strengthens the ankles in preparation for relevé (a strong and speedy pull-up action of the legs to demi-pointe) and allegro (jumping).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The rise is assisted by lifting in the waist and lengthening in the spine with the shoulders held down, and by pushing away from the floor using the whole of the back of the leg. The forefoot pushes down into the floor, causing the calf muscles to lift the heels to maximum height, with the body-weight moving forwards into the heads of the metatarsals and the toes. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Turnout is maintained with the gluteal muscles and inner thighs remaining engaged, with the hamstrings supporting the back of the thighs. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ As the heels lower with control and resistance, turnout is maintained allowing the body-weight to settle into the front part of the foot.
Retiré is a drawing up action of the working foot to a position at knee height.  You want to think of a bow and arrow being drawn swiftly and smoothly.  The toes of the working leg remain in contact with the supporting leg. Imagine drawing a line with the big toe up the supporting leg until it gets to the inside of the knee.  The aim to to lift the knee to a high position where the knee is in line with the hip and you make a flat table top with the thigh.
Only if the thoracic spine is well placed and the shoulder girdle held directly over the pelvis can muscles controlling the scapulae be fully engaged.  The shoulder blades are held flat against the chest wall and held down by latissimus dorsi muscles which span the back giving it support from the lumbar spine upwards. A strong base is created from which the arms can move.  Fluidity of ports de bras and tension-free, expressive arms and hands result from a strong, correctly placed back and shoulder girdle. You should feel like they are coming from the back.  We also use our deltoids, triceps and biceps. While the biceps are important for strong arms, your triceps are even more important for holding your arms properly, especially in 2nd position to the side.
The use of turnout is fundamental to ballet. The external rotation of the hip is controlled by the gluteus maximus (the main seat muscle), the small rotators which are the deepest muscles in the gluteal area, and, most importantly, the adductors, or inner thigh muscles. Once the pelvis is balanced, these muscles of the inner thigh are activated strongly, rotating them forwards and flattening the thigh at the front. With this action the rest of the leg rotates and the foot is held in a turnout that corresponds with that of the hip. Never push your foot out beyond the knee as this can cause problems and injury to the knee.

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