There are five main positions in ballet technique (some count parallel as the sixth position).
- First position requires that the feet be turned out with the heels touching each other. If the dancer has been studying ballet for a significant amount of time and has acquired the needed muscle strength and flexibility, they may be able to obtain 180 degree turnout (thetoes and heels all lie on the same invisible straight line). However, all dancers have a different degree of turnout ability, so many dancers may have a first position that is more or less a “V” position rather than a completely straight line from one toe to the other. This is perfectly acceptable, and every dancer should only turn out their legs to the degree in which no strain is placed on the joints and everything is kept in proper alignment (it is important that the dancer does not force turnout by compromising correct muscle usage/placement or alignment).
- Second position is similar to first, except that the heels are not touching. Rather, the heels are placed directly under the hip bones, which creates a more open position. The same turnout rules apply.
- Third position is rarely done at an intermediate or advanced level, though it is often taught to beginners. For this position, the right foot is turned out as it would be in first position and the heel of the left foot is placed at the center of the arch of the right foot, which is also turned out as if in first. The reverse (left/right) is the same.
- Fourth position can be done two different ways, but both involve turned out legs with one leg placed slightly in front of the other (the weight is centered between the two legs). The difference between the two versions is that one version places the heels across from each other (ouverte – “open”), while the other places the right heel across from the left toes (or vice versa; croisé – “crossed”). Another way of saying this is that the dancer can have an open fourth (across from first) or a closed fourth (across from fifth – see “fifth position” below).
- Fifth position is exactly the same as third, except that the heel of the right (or left) foot is placed at the toes of the left (or right) foot, rather than at the middle of the arch. Of the two, fifth position is almost always preferred over third at a more advanced level (professionals generally never use third position unless directed to do so specifically). For the Russian and French techniques, fifth positions are completely crossed, meaning that the heel of the front foot touches the toes of the back foot. For the Italian method, fifth position is not typically crossed all the way over, but rather the back toes are seen as the front foot is positioned in between the arch (which is third position) and the tip of the toes of the back foot.
Tips for achieving correct ballet positions:
- As stated above, turnout should never be forced, but rather the dancer should use the proper leg muscles to achieve the maximum turnout that their body is capable of (this degree of turnout will change and become greater as the dancer continues to strengthen the “turnout muscles”.
- Some instructors may teach an “over-crossed” fifth position (the heel of the right/left foot go passed the toes of the left/right foot), and there is debate on whether this is a correct way to teach fifth position. The general rule, however, is that the feet should not be over-crossed and that to over-cross them is more of a stylization choice than a technique.