Ballet Positions

Ballet has a world of its own, and within it, its own terminology as well (based primarily upon French – see our ballet glossary). Sometimes it can be useful to understand the phrases that your child uses when they come back from a ballet lesson. For example when they come crying that they can’t manage a double attitude, you might wonder why one attitude isn’t enough.

Ballet has its own strict and firmly set discipline, certain foundations that everyone must master if they wish to understand their body.

Our first focus will be on leg positions. Over the development of classical dance, five positions have stabilized for the lower limbs, the legs.

Leg Positions

1st Position

Have your legs touching at the feet, tips facing away from each other – ideal angle 180°. (This position is generally not recommended due to instability at maximum turn-out. Naturally the individual dancers’ dispositions for turn-out must be taken into account.)

2nd Position

Your legs have the same placement as in the 1st position, but your feet are separated by one to one-and-a-half foot lengths.

3rd Position

One leg is moved in front of the other such that it halfway covers it (this position is primarily used in character dances and historical dances; it is used only rarely in classical dance).

4th Position

Place one leg in front of the other such that it covers it along its whole length. Your legs are not touching, but instead rest on the ground parallel to each other at a distance of one foot length. (A less-open version of the 4th position also exists in which the legs do not cover each other but are instead opened up such that your feet are against each other at one foot-length).

5th Position

Same placement as in the 4th position, but your legs are apart. This means that one leg’s foot is touching the tip of the other leg and vice-versa.

One principle in classical dance is that every step starts out from a certain position (generally the 1st or the 5th position), continues with the transferring of your weight from the supporting leg onto the working leg past a certain position (usually the 2nd or the 4th position) and ends with the 5th or the 1st position. Knowledge of the individual positions is thus perceived as one of the foundations for a good dancer.

Foot Positions
(Cecchetti Method)

Here you can place your feet in the positions you have already learned. The ways in which your feet are placed in the individual positions also have their own classification, which naturally has its reasons behind it.

1) pied a terre– the whole foot is on the ground
2) pied a quart– the whole foot is slightly raised off the ground
3) pied a demi– the foot is a little bit higher, halfway on tiptoe (sur la demi pointe)
4) pied a trois quart– the foot is somewhat above demi pointe
5) pied a pointe– – the foot is on tiptoe (sur la pointe)

– At present, classical dance technique most frequently utilizes the 1st, 4th, and 5th positions.

Arm Positions

Here things start to be more complex. The foot leg positions are normally the same in all of the methods for teaching classical dance. When it comes to arm positions, each method has its own different designations. See here for more on the individual methods for teaching classical dance.

The French school uses a preparatory arm position plus five other basic positions, while the Cecchetti method also has five basic positions of its own, including two variants of the 4th position and three variants of the 5th position. During its development, the Russian School—which is the one most widely used in the Czech Republic—stabilized three basic arm positions along with a preparatory position. Many variants for other positions are developed out of these three basic positions, and these are combined into a variety of ports de bras.

Preparatory position:

The arms, hanging along the body, are lightly rounded at the elbows, and the wrists continue in the rounded line of the entire arm. The palms, which are almost next to each other (about 5 cm apart) are turned upwards and must be a little away from the body (about 10 cm). The elbows are also away from the body and are aimed to the side, with a feeling as if they were aimed forward, and the entire arm from the armpits to the tips of the fingers forms a rounded line.

1st position

The arms retain the same placement as in the preparatory position, but they are placed at waist height. The elbows are strongly aimed towards the sides with a feeling of aiming upwards; the distance from the body must be enough to avoid disrupting the rounding of the line for both arms.

2nd position

The arms are spread out to the sides and are still rounded in the elbows and wrists. They are placed slightly in front of the body at shoulder level, as if extending the line of the shoulders leading out to the sides and downwards, and the elbows have a feeling of being pointed upwards. The palms are rounded and aimed forward.

3rd position

The arms are lifted upwards (a continuation of the 1st position) and slightly in front of the body (both arms must always be visible to the dancer). The elbows should be rounded, and the dancer should feel a strong pull to the sides. The palms are directed downward.

Learning to correctly work with the arms takes a dancer practically their entire career. The arms and their “speech” gradually become the most important thing that a dancer can offer. After learning the basic positions, you thus must continue in work with the arms, for example with the arrondie or allongé positions, and then learn the port de bras. These elements are capable of breathing the fragile perfection of ballet into the individual positions,

Port de bras

Port de bras thus essentially means arm movements that pass through the individual positions and thereby elaborate and develop the coordination of motion. The arms color the expression of all dance motion; the head and face complete it. The variety of port de bras is, it could be said, infinite. Just as for the basic arm positions, the different schools each have their own form for port de bras. The Cecchetti method, for example, has eight kinds of port de bras, while in the Russian school, six kinds of port de bras took form.

1st port de bras

The starting position is en face 1st position or épaulement croisé, 5th position right foot forward, arms in the preparatory position:
The arms are led from the preparatory position into the 1st position and then continue into the 3rd position. They open up into the 2nd position and close back into the preparatory position past allongé.

2nd port de bras

The starting position is épaulement croisé, 5th position right foot in front, left arm in 3rd position, right arm in 2nd position: The left arm opens up into the 2nd position and at the same time the right arm crosses over into the 3rd position and the left arm completes its motion into the 1st position. Both arms are then joined in the 1st position and open up again into the starting position.

3rd port de bras

The starting position is en face 1st position or épaulement croisé, 5th position right foot forward, arms in the 2nd position: The dancer’s arms perform an allongé (breath at the 2nd position); their trunk begins to lean forward and their arms simultaneously drop and close into the 1st position; they then straighten their trunk, and their arms cross into the 3rd position. Their trunk leans forward with the arms in the third position. Then the trunk straightens while the arms simultaneously open up into the 2nd position.

4th port de bras

The starting position is épaulement croisé, 5th position right foot in front, left arm in 3rd position, right arm in 2nd position: The dancer’s left arm opens up into the 2nd position, and meanwhile their trunk forms a spiral in the trunk section of the spine; their right arm remains in the 2nd position; both palms extended and aimed downward (this produces the trunk and arm position for a future pose of the 4th arabesque). Then the arms are joined in the 1st position and gradually open up into the starting position.

5th port de bras

The starting position is épaulement croisé, 5th position right foot in front, left arm in 3rd position, right arm in 2nd position:
The dancer leans their trunk forward, joins their arms in the 1st position, then straightens out their trunk with a light side bend to the left, and meanwhile their arms keep on retaining the 1st position. The trunk is leaned slightly forward, and the right arm begins to open up into the 3rd position. The left arm opens up into the 2nd position, and the trunk and arms are led past a relatively deep bow into the starting position.

6th port de bras

The starting position is épaulement croisé, right foot in front, left leg piqué croisé in back, left arm in 3rd position, right arm in 2nd position:

In this position a deep plié is performed on the supporting leg, while the working leg slides along the floor in back; the trunk, which is stretched, leans forward and is aimed forward into the distance; the arms remain in their starting position. After this the dancer’s weight is shifted onto the stretched working leg in back, which is placed on the floor in the direction of its extended tip; the working leg becomes the supporting leg, and the dancer forms the croisée pose in front; they straighten their trunk and join their hands in the 1st position. After this they slightly lean their trunk to the left with their arms in the 1st position; the right arm opens up into the 3rd position, and the left arm into the 2nd position. The trunk and arms are led past a bow into the starting position (the same as the 5th port de bras).

Students only begin learning these forms of port de bras after mastering the basic arm positions and the épaulement. The port de bras must be performed smoothly, but at the same time it must pass precisely through the individual positions. A properly managed port de bras should look very natural and simple.

Head positions

The head, which accompanies work with the arms, is an inseparable part of both every port de bras and all other poses in classical dance. There are many different variants of head positions. We can count three positions among the absolutely most basic ones. They are en face, profile, and diagonal. Out of these three basic positions, many different kinds of positions are formed via various slants, side bends, forward bends, rotations of many out of a wide variety of types of positions that supplement poses and movements, often thereby forming a particular style of classical dance. Naturally the gaze of the eyes has an undeniable importance as well. In all of the ports de bras, the correct coordination of the arms, head, and eyes creates a feeling of natural and cultivated expression.
cultivated expression.

Division of space

The fixed basic points (point 1 through point 8) in the hall or on the stage help the students and dancers to maximally speed up communication between the teacher/choreographer and the dancer. Here once again there are several options for how to divide up the hall, most of them authored by various educational personalities (Cecchetti, Vaganova, or Stepanov).

The spatial positioning of the dancer’s body

The dancer moves within a particular defined space, in which they form various positions and poses, which are faced toward a particular direction based on precisely defined rules. They are four classifications for types of facings based on how the dancer’s body is turned:

1. en face – (directly) toward the audience
2. en profil – with their side to the audience
3. en retour – with their back to the audience
4. en épaulement
a) rotation of the body diagonally toward the audience
b) rotation of the trunk and shoulders

Classical dance technique most frequently makes use of the en face and épaulement facings.

En face

The dancer’s body is turned directly to face the audience. This is the “purest” and most basic position and the most advantageous for all of the basic teaching of all elements of classical dance for younger students. It enables them to better perceive the body’s individual levels in relation to correct body positioning. The lines are plain and very readable.


This is a special rotation of the shoulders and trunk. The dancer stands in such a way that the audience sees one shoulder in front and the other in back. They have their head turned towards their shoulder that is placed in the front—that is, closer to the audience. An épaulement can be formed in a pose with the legs and sides en face, with the dancer turning only their head and trunk.

The other possibility for the épaulement pose is such that the dancer turns their whole body diagonally toward the audience, with the shoulder closer to the audience feeling like it is opening more in the en face direction.

The épaulement pose increases the artistic impression from every movement in classical dance technique, and it creates a style and character of motion, especially in the traditional, classical variants. This is a special phenomenon of confrontation between the audience and the performer.



The fundamental épaulement stances are the croiséand effacépositions and poses.

Épaulement croisé: croisé means “crossed”

The dancer stands in the 5th position with their right foot forward, in the direction of point 8; their head is aimed toward the audience into
point 1.


Épaulement effacé: effacé means “open”

The dancer stands in the 5th position with their right foot forward, in the direction of point 8; their head is aimed toward the audience into
point 1.

Author: Nela Petrová. I was greatly aided in this task by the syllabus from the Department of Dance