All movements of ballet are rooted in the five fundamental forms for the feet. All foot forms are performed with the toes and knees pointed outwards (this is known as the dancer’s “turn-out”). This turn-out is produced by rotating the hip joints outward, while maintaining a poised spine and erect head and chin. Along with feet forms, each position has a corresponding arm position. These are known by the technical French term as port de bras (carriage of the arms), and will be discussed in a separate post.
All basic positions are performed with the same positioning of the body’s core: the spine should be aligned, with the abdomen muscles engaged (sometimes described as “scooping the belly”) and the tailbone tucked under. The shoulders should remain soft and square, the chin erect and level with the breastbone, the top of the head held level to the floor and ceiling. Posture is extremely important to maintain throughout the positions, as it allows for proper movement as well as protects the body from injury.
In class, we will refer to the positions both in English and by their technical French names. As time progresses and participants become more familiar with the technical terms, we will use the French terminology more frequently. There is an excellent online dictionary of all of the French ballet terms from the American Ballet Theatre that can be very helpful.
Form 1: Position Première (P1)
The feet are turned out, with heels nearly touching to form a “v” with the feet.
Form 2: Position à la Seconde or Duxième (P2)
The feet and legs are widened so that the heels fall in line with the blades of the shoulder.
Form 3: Position à la Trois or Troisième (P3)
Slide your right foot until its heel touches the inside of your left foot. (If you are facing the opposite way at the barre, then your left foot should be in front, so that your toes point away from the barre.) If you are wearing ballet slippers, your heel should meet the strap on the opposite shoe just inside the arch.
P3 is very rarely used in advanced or professional ballet classes/companies, but is rather a stepping-stone position for dancers to build the strength and balance to dance in P5. For new dancers struggling with P5, I highly encourage you to work instead in P3 – both positions share the same cross-structure (croisé), but P3 requires a little less flexibility and hip strength than P5.
Form 4: Position à la Quatre or Quatrième (P4)
Take one step forward with your right foot, creating a small gap between the two feet. (If you are facing the opposite way at the barre, then your left foot should be in front, so that your toes point away from the barre.) 4th position can be a real challenge to balance because it is crossed – make sure not to allow your body core to twist in response to the separated feet!
Form 5: Position à la Cinq or Cinquième (P5)
P5 is the most common foot position used in ballet, since it is a strong croisé (crossed) possible that provides a very balance setting for the body. Turn out your right foot and place your left foot completely behind it, turning the opposite way, until your toes and heels touch. Your right heel should be tucked just inside where your left big toe meets your left foot. (If you are facing the opposite way at the barre, then your left foot should be in front, so that your toes point away from the barre.) Make sure not to over-cross! The feet should be parallel to one another.
Again, for those starting out who find P5 challenging, I recommend that you to work in P3 instead – it is a good building block towards P5, and it will allow you to build the control and muscle strength needed to hold a strong, proper position rather than a weak P5 in your dancing.
Maintaining good foot position takes practice and time, and expanded turn-out comes with long hours of work to build the necessary muscles in and around one’s hips. But mastery of the five forms is the first step to truly performing ballet – the initial fundamental! So it’s very important to practice them during every class and maintain proper technique throughout even these building blocks of dance.