How To Learn Ballet Dancing: Moves, Steps and Technique

Instructions for the Beginning Ballet Dancer

Learning ballet

How To Learn Ballet Dancing

Ballet is a form of classical dance. Even though ballerinas look very graceful and delicate, a great deal of strength is required to perform properly. Dancing en pointe, or in toe shoes, is a more challenging form of classical ballet and is only recommended after years of rigorous training. Blisters and painful feet are a way of life for any ballet dancer, specifically once a dancer begins en pointe. 

Learning this form of dance, in the absence of professional instructors, does not have to be an impossible feat (or did I mean feet?). You can purchase a pair of ballet slippers, but if you do not have room in your budget for that, do not worry; simply dance barefoot. If you do plan to purchase slippers, your best option would be to visit a dance apparel store. Then, if you find a better deal online, at least you will know what size to order. The size you need will not be the size that you typically wear for normal everyday shoes; it will be a few sizes smaller. They need to fit snugly and conform to your feet. Snug-fitting shoes are essential because you need to be able to feel the floor.

Ballet has 5 basic positions that serve as a foundation for more complicated steps. You will learn the proper positions for both your arms and legs for each of these 5 positions. Several popular children's videos that demonstrate ballet dancing can be found in the toy section of many stores.You will have a live instructor in your very own home for under $50. Use these dance instructions to learn ballet moves and basic ballet technique.

The Five Positions

First position.

  1. Stand upright with your feet together. Make your heels touch. Your left toes will face toward the left, and your right toes will face toward the right. Your feet nearly form a straight line except your toes point ever-so-slightly forward.
  2. Place your arms in front of your body as though you are hugging a giant ball.
  3. Press your shoulders down and elongate your neck.
  4. Soften your fingers. No tension in your fingers is permitted.

Second position.

  1. Begin in 1st position and move your legs a little beyond shoulder width apart.
  2. Place your arms out to your sides at shoulder height. Your lower arms and hands will be facing forward slightly so that they are shy of a 180-degree angle.

Third position.

  1. Stand in 1st position. Now move your right heel so that it touches the arch of your left foot. This is 3rd position.
  2. You can also perform 3rd position on your left side. Again, begin in 1st position. This time move your left heel and place it so that it is touching your right arch.
  3. Begin with your arms in 2nd position, now move your left arm overhead as though you are reaching up to pick an apple off a tree. Imagine a line going down the center of your body. Your left arm will never cross over that line.

Fourth position.

  1. Begin in 1st position. Move your right leg in front of your left leg so that your legs are apart. Your right toes point toward the right, left toes point toward the left. You could draw a straight line from the heel of your right foot to the toes of your left foot if you are doing this position properly.
  2. Go back to 1st position. This time move your left foot forward and place it in front of your right foot. This is considered the left side of 4th position.
  3. Place you arms as they were in 3rd position, now move only your right arm out in front of you like it was in 1st position hugging a beach ball.

Fifth position.

  1. Begin in 4th position and slide your front leg back so that it is touching your back leg. If you began 4th position with your right leg in front, your right heel will be touching your left toes.

    As you can see, 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions can all be done on either side. There is a left-side and right-side variation to each of these positions. With 1st and 2nd positions, there is only one way to do these.

  2. Begin with your arms in 4th position and move your right arm overhead just as your left arm already is positioned.

Ballet has rigorous requirements for proper body alignment. When you are performing any of the 5 basic positions, there are several important things to remember.

  • Your gluteus will always be tucked under, and your abdominal muscles will always be flexed.
  • Press your shoulders downward (do not hunch them upward toward your ears).
  • Keep your neck elongated.
  • Keep your chin tilted slightly upward.

Now, that you have mastered the 5 basic positions. You can attempt to do some basic moves. We'll now discuss the following moves: plié and grand plié. They are traditionally done in the early part of a practice session at the barre. A barre is a wooden railing attached to a wall and is used to practice. It is usually affixed to the wall somewhere midway between waist and shoulder height. For now, the back of a dining room chair will suffice.

The first step you are going to practice is a plié. Plié means to bend. Pliés are a more graceful version of deep knee bends and build strong quadriceps. A demi plié is a move that can be done in all 5 positions and can be described best as a half bend.

To perform a demi plié:

  1. Starting in 1st position, begin bending your knees while descending towards the floor until you reach a point where you cannot bend any further without lifting your heels off the floor. Stop as this point.
  2. Ascend toward your starting position. Both the descending and ascending portions of a demi plié are each done to a count of 2.

Try doing 10 demi pliés in all 5 positions. Remember, for 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions you will need to perform 10 demi pliés on both the left and right sides. Demi pliés in 1st and 2nd positions can be done with your hands placed lightly on the back of a dining room chair. Do not lean or hang on the chair for balance or support. When you are doing demi pliés in positions 3 through 5, you will rest your left arm on the chair when you are doing the right side, meaning you right leg is in front. Your body will be perpendicular to the back of the chair. When you are doing the left side, your right arm will rest on the chair.

Once you have mastered a demi plié in all 5 positions, you are ready for grand pliés.

To perform a grande plié:

  1. Begin in 1st position. Maintain a virtually upright posture as though you are sitting on a chair with your back against the chair. Move your upper body just ever-so-slightly forward. You are not leaning forward very much, but you are never so upright that you risk arching your back.
  2. Continue to maintain your upright posture and begin bending your knees descending towards the floor. This will cause your knees to go outward in either direction. Go as far as you can without lifting your heels off the floor.
  3. When you cannot descend any further without lifting your heels, simply lift your heels and continue to descend towards the floor. Balance on the ball of your foot.
  4. Do the descending portion of a grand plié to a count of four.
  5. Stop when your buttocks come close to your heels but are not touching. You are not to sit on your heels at all. You are still holding your weight. The moment you reach this point, is when you immediately begin to ascend upward to eventually end up in 1st position where you started.
  6. Do the ascending portion to a count of 4.
  7. On your way up, touch your heels back to the floor at the first possible point where it feels natural to do so (this occurs when your legs are still bent) and then continue up to your starting position.

Do grande pliés in all 5 positions. Same as with the demi plié, you will be doing more grande pliés in 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions because you will have to do grande pliés on both your left and right sides.

Even if you never audition for a world-renowned ballet dance company, doing 20 minutes of ballet dance exercises per day can be a great anaerobic form of exercise that strengthens your muscles and has similar benefits to other forms of resistance training such as weightlifting. In fact, it is rumored that many professional football players have taken ballet class to improve their game. If you eventually decide to pursue ballet further, you will have strengthened core muscles and have a solid foundation from which to advance.


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