A Beginner’s Guide to Ballet – Basic Positions of the Feet and Arms


“It’s not about the shoes. It’s about what you do in them.” – Michael Jordan

During a student ballet training, one of the most essential things they will learn is the five basic ballet positions. Positions one through five are important as each movement in ballet begins and ends with one of them. Each step a ballet dancer takes originates from one of the five basic feet and arm positions. These five basic positions for feet and for arms are a ballet dancer’s building blocks – truly foundational to everything they do.

The Five Basic Feet Positions of Ballet

The most important thing to remember when setting up for all of the five basic positions of the feet is your turnout. While a full 90-degree turnout may take years of practice, an instructor in a beginner’s class will only ask a new dancer to rotate as much as is comfortable to them.

First Position of the Feet: When in the first position, the balls of the feet are turned out completely, with the heels touching and toes pointed outward. The rotation of the feet comes from the top of the leg, and both legs are in contact with each other as much as possible and both feet – including all ten toes – are placed firmly on the floor.

Second Position of the Feet: To move into the second position, begin in first, and then slide the feet shoulder-width apart while maintaining the same rotation and turnout.

Third Position of the Feet: When moving into the third position, begin in the second position. Slide one foot in front of the other so that the heel of the front foot touches the arch of the back foot.

Fourth Position of the Feet: The fourth position is a very similar position to third, but with the feet further apart. Slide the foot that is forwards away from the body and towards an imagined audience.

Fifth Position of the Feet: Think of the fifth position as an extension of the fourth position; the feet are now in full contact with one another. Ensure that the toes of one foot are in contact with the heel of the other as much as possible.

The Five Basic Arm Positions of Ballet

Just as every step in ballet starts and ends with one of the basic feet positions of ballet, there are also five basic arm positions each ballet dancer should master.

First Position of the Arms: The first position of the arms can be done within any of the five positions of the feet. Hold both of the arms low in front of the body, with the hands almost touching. Round the arms by slightly bending the elbows and lift the arms to the level of the navel. Keep your hands soft.

Second Position of the Arms: Move the feet into the second position and raise the arms out to the side. While keeping the arms slightly rounded, lower the elbows slightly below the shoulders. Keep the shoulders down, neck long, and chin high.

Third Position of the Arms: When in the third position, the arms move opposite of the legs. If the right foot is in front, the left arm should be raised and vice versa. Raise the arm overhead and slightly forward. Round the arm to the side at navel height. The palm of the raised hand should be turned forward.

Fourth Position of the Arm: Third and fourth positions are very similar in that the arms and legs are working opposite of each other. Bring the left arm forward, keeping it slightly rounded at chest height. Raise the right arm above the head, maintaining the rounded arm.

Fifth Position of the Arm: Start with the arms in the first position and raise them over the head. Keep the arms rounded with the elbows slightly bent, and the hands about six inches apart with the palms facing inward. It is important to note that the arms in the fifth position have three other positions: low, middle, and high fifth.

Alberta Ballet School is excited for each new dancer starting their dance journey. Check out our recreational, open-division dance lessons in Edmonton and our recreational, open-division dance lessons in Calgary.