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Dance Info & Basic Beginner Ballet Dance Steps

Updated on April 12, 2012
Typical ballet garb includes tights, ballet slippers, and a leotard. Tutus, traditional symbols of ballet, are just for show & are impractical for dance class.
Typical ballet garb includes tights, ballet slippers, and a leotard. Tutus, traditional symbols of ballet, are just for show & are impractical for dance class.

Dance

Dance is an awesome way to express yourself. Not only that, but it's had enormous influence on our culture, as well as many other cultures around the world. People use dancing for traditional rituals, story telling, and theater. There are tons of different types of dances out there. TONS. As for me, I'm currently taking tap and ballet classes, but I would LOVE to learn salsa dancing. Or hip-hop dancing.

Ballet: Getting Started

If you want to learn ballet, you have to know the basic ballet positions first. This is important, because you often have to return to these positions between dance steps, and many dances and ballet exercises begin and end with these positions. The ballet positions include:

1st position, 2nd position, 3rd position, 4th position, and 5th position

FIRST POSITION - heels together, feet turned out, legs straight. (For all positions, keep your legs straight, no bending at the knee.) You don't have to turn your feet out completely horizontal to the side; think the bottom of a heart or a wide V.
FIRST POSITION - heels together, feet turned out, legs straight. (For all positions, keep your legs straight, no bending at the knee.) You don't have to turn your feet out completely horizontal to the side; think the bottom of a heart or a wide V.
SECOND POSITION - spread your feet apart from first position. Your feet should still be turned out.
SECOND POSITION - spread your feet apart from first position. Your feet should still be turned out.
THIRD POSITION - slide your foot (in this case, the right foot, but it can be either left or right, whichever you choose) slightly in front of your other foot. The heel of the front foot should be touching the middle of the inside of your hind foot.
THIRD POSITION - slide your foot (in this case, the right foot, but it can be either left or right, whichever you choose) slightly in front of your other foot. The heel of the front foot should be touching the middle of the inside of your hind foot.
FOURTH POSITION - slide your front foot forward several inches. Make the heel of your front foot line up with the toes of your hind foot. Remember to keep your feet turned out.
FOURTH POSITION - slide your front foot forward several inches. Make the heel of your front foot line up with the toes of your hind foot. Remember to keep your feet turned out.
FIFTH POSITION - simply slide your front foot back to meet your hind foot. The heel of your front foot should be touching the big toe of your hind foot. Again, your feet don't have to be turned out completely straight to the side.
FIFTH POSITION - simply slide your front foot back to meet your hind foot. The heel of your front foot should be touching the big toe of your hind foot. Again, your feet don't have to be turned out completely straight to the side.
Please disregard my outfit. I should be wearing a leotard, rather than pajamas and a skirt :)
Please disregard my outfit. I should be wearing a leotard, rather than pajamas and a skirt :)

Now for the arm positions:

First position (at rest)

First Position

The most basic arm position. Your arms are in an O shape, with the fingertips close but not quite touching. Don't keep your thumbs up like in this picture. And kudos to Marisa Wright for pointing out that my hands are a little too high up. (see comments)

Second Position

Remember: keep your elbows level or slightly below the level of your wrist. As correctly pointed out by Marisa Wright, in this picture my hands are a bit too high up, and "remember, in second position you must always be able to see your hands out of the corner of your eye (without moving your head)." (see comments)

You probably shouldn't have a bag over your head while dancing.
You probably shouldn't have a bag over your head while dancing.

Third Position

Remember to keep your elbow slightly below the level of your wrist. Also, you can keep your fingers together like a mitten for a more traditional look. There are two types of third position arms that are taught differently, based on the dance teacher and the dance step you're doing at the moment. I'll show you both versions of third position:

(you can also spread your fingers very slightly like a fan, as shown in the picture. If you do, don't spread your fingers too much. It should be VERY slight.)

front tendu
front tendu
side tendu
side tendu
back tendu
back tendu

Now for some dance steps:


TENDU (ton-doo) - You can start in any position. I'm starting in first position. Simply sweep your foot forward, pointing your foot at the end of the sweep. When your foot is pointed, the tips of your toes should still be touching the floor. Sweep your extended leg back again and finish in the position you started with.


There's also side tendu and back tendu.


PLEI (plee-ay) - Looks simple, right? Just bending your knees? WRONG. This step has to be done without leaning forward and sticking your butt out, or it looks awful. Again, you can start in any position. Keeping your back straight and your hips facing forward, bend at the knees. Then, straighten your legs and stand in the position you started with.

Helpful trick #1 - If it helps, use the trick my dance teacher taught our class: imagine that you're being held tall and straight because someone is pulling you up by a string from the top of your head, like a puppet. This trick seriously helps, with balance and with form.

Helpful trick #2 - Also, to keep you from bending forward or having your butt stick out, imagine that you are standing between two scalding hot walls: One behind you, one in front of you. Try to plei without touching the walls.

Helpful trick #3 - To keep balance, you might want to hold onto a dance bar, a chair, etc. Feel free to do this for every dance step; after 6 1/2 years of ballet, we still do this in our dance class.

Keep your feet completely on the floor. Don't let your heels lift up. Only bend to a comfortable distance. This is a DEMI PLEI; a GRAND PLEI is a plei where you bend down further, and your heels come up a little off the floor.

You should end with the opposite foot. In this case, since I started with the right foot in front, so I ended with left in front.
You should end with the opposite foot. In this case, since I started with the right foot in front, so I ended with left in front.


CHANGEMENT (shonj-ma) - Start in 5th position.









Bend your knees in plei and jump straight up (it should be a little jump.)




As you jump, you switch feet. Whichever foot started out in front (in this picture, it's the right foot in front), switch it with your hind foot so the opposite foot is in front.

When you jump and switch feet, keep your legs as close together as possible.










Land in plei, then stand up straight.

front view
front view
side view
side view


COUPE (koo-pay) - This is a cool way to stand for a transition between different types of dance steps.

Kind of wrap your foot around the ankle of your standing leg. Your heel should be in front, the tips of your toes as much behind your ankle as possible. Keep the knee of your bent leg as turned out as possible, to the side.

Have Fun!

Sigh.
Sigh.

These are only the basic steps in ballet, but once you know these, learning more complicated steps will be much easier. Remember: practice makes perfect!


All pictures were 
taken by the 
fantastical Sophie Corwin 
(photos©2012 Sophie Corwin)

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    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 5 years ago from Sydney

      That's a good idea - you are learning, after all, so I wouldn't expect your illustrations to be perfect! Adding in some text about what you should and shouldn't be looking out for is a good idea.

    • Glass-Garden profile image
      Author

      Glass-Garden 5 years ago from A tiny town in New York state, but someday it'll be NYC.

      You have a point there. I noticed too late that my hands were a bit high, and I was debating whether or not to point that out in the photo descriptions. Thank you for your input, I will try to correct that in the future :)

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 5 years ago from Sydney

      Good start, Glass-Garden! One of the difficult things about ballet is that it's not enough to know the positions, you have to keep working at them - it takes a long time to get them absolutely precise, and that's what ballet expects!

      Always aim for the nipple line when doing arm positions - your hands are just a bit too high in first and second position. And remember, in second position you must always be able to see your hands out of the corner of your eye (without moving your head).