The 5 Basic Foot Positions of Ballet

Every basic ballet move begins and ends in one of those positions

Basic ballet foot positions. Ballerinas posed in first, second, third, fourth, and fifth positions.

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When you begin to study ballet, one of the first things that you will encounter is the five basic ballet positions, normally referred to as positions one through five. They are important because every basic move in ballet begins and ends in one of those positions. Can you stand in all five positions correctly? It is extraordinarily difficult to execute these positions correctly, and something that few beginning dancers can do. 

In all five basic positions, the leg is rotated (or "turned out") from the hip. As a result, the feet are displaced from their usual toe-forward orientation and are positioned instead with the feet rotated 90 degrees. A full 90-degree rotation may take years of practice, so when you are beginning, your teacher will probably ask you to rotate only as much as is comfortable.

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First Position

Legs of a ballerina
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In first position, the balls of the feet are turned out completely. The heels touch each other and the feet face outward. You may not be able to achieve a full rotation, but it is important that even in the beginning the soles of both feet are firmly and entirely in contact with the floor. When you see professional ballerinas in first position, you will also notice that their legs are in contact with each other from the top of the leg down as far as the calf and thereafter as close as possible, with the heels in full contact. 

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Second Position

Female ballet instructor teaching children in ballet studio
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A good way to get into second position is to begin in first position and then, maintaining the same rotation, slide the feet apart. The balls of both feet are turned out, if not completely then as much as is comfortable, with the heels separated by the length of one foot. 

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Third Position

Ballet Dancer With Feet In Third Position
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When you are beginning ballet, your instructor may introduce you to the third position for the sake of completeness and because it is a popular position in barre exercises. In practice, however, the third position is rarely used by contemporary choreographers, who favor the similar but more extreme fifth position. The two look somewhat similar—you could say that the third position looks like a slightly sloppy execution of the fifth.

One good way to get into third position is to begin in second position and then slide one foot toward the other so that the heel of your front foot touches the arch of your back foot.  

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Fourth Position

Dancing Ballerina
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The feet are placed in much the same position as in third position, but farther apart. You can get into fourth position from third by sliding your forward foot away from you and toward an imagined audience. Your feet should be about one foot apart. 

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Fifth Position

Ballerina feet
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Fifth position is a little more demanding for beginners. It is similar to fourth position (you can begin to execute a fifth position from the fourth), but instead of there being some distance between the two feet, they are now in full contact with one another, with the toes of one foot oriented and as much as possible in contact with the heel of the other.