Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ballet Steps: Foot Positions

1st position
In the latest instalment of my ballet steps series, I look at the basic ballet positions of the feet, which are fundamental both for technique and choreography.
In 1st position, the heels are placed together with the toes pointing outwards, usually forming a ‘v’ shape. If a dancer has particularly good turn out, the feet may be in a straight line, but this should not be forced unless the hips can maintain the position without overly stressing the rest of the legs. In certain ballet styles, the heels may be placed slightly apart, especially if the dancer has swayback knees.
Marianela Nunez in Apollo
 (4th position on pointe)
Photo: Johan Persson / ROH
2nd position is like a wide 1st position with feet apart. To form 2nd, the dancer needs to stand in 1st, point one foot to the side, and then lower the heel of the pointed foot. This gives the correct distance between the feet for most uses of 2nd position, although a slightly smaller gap is common when doing pointe work. The distance is approximately one and a half times the length of the dancer's foot.

4th position also involves feet that are apart, but this time with one in front of the other. There are two variations – open 4th, where the edge of the front heel is in alignment with the edge of the back heel (appearing like 1st position from the front), and closed 4th, where the front heel is in alignment with the toe of the back foot (appearing like 5th position from the front). Grand pliĆ©s change according to whether the open or closed position is used – the heels stay on the floor in the former, but lift in the latter. The gap between the feet is also typically smaller - equivalent to the length of one of the dancer's feet - in closed 4th. The picture to the left shows a very wide 4th position on pointe.   
5th position involves placing one foot in front of the other, such that the legs are ‘crossed’ with the heel of one foot in line with the toe of the other foot. It’s a particularly useful position because the body weight is centralised, such that the centre of gravity does not have to be shifted when one leg is lifted.
3rd and 5th positions
3rd position is rarely used in professional ballet and is instead a training position for young students. It is like 5th position, but the front heel is aligned with the arch – rather than toe – of the back foot. 
There are several potential problems in all positions of the feet. Weight is often incorrectly placed, such that it is not distributed evenly between and across the feet. Forcing the feet to turn out excessively is problematic and results in misalignment in the knees as well as ‘rolling’, where the feet rock forward rather than staying flat on the floor. In the wide positions (4th and 2nd), it can also be tricky to get the distance between the feet correct.

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