Terms & Positions

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Ballet’s major training systems all use Beauchamps’s original five positions of the feet and, for the most part, the same French terminology. On the most fundamental aspects of technique there is no disagreement.

However, the schools do diverge on, among other things, which arm positions are codified and how they are identified. In some cases there are variants along with “official” positions. Sometimes two or even more terms exist for the same position.

 

Hands and Wrists:
Hands and wrists should be relaxed and natural, flowing along with the arm, with space between the fingers.

 

Head and Gaze:
Head and gaze should be coordinated with the port de bras. It makes all the difference between confident, expressive dancing and dancing that looks clueless or robotic.

 

Shapes and Distance:
The oval shape the arms make when they are both over head is exactly the same shape they make when in front of the body and when lowered in bras bas. Men maintain slightly more distance between the fingertips (about the width of the face), than do women (about the width of two fingertips).

 

Bournonville: Bras Bas
Cecchetti: Fifth en Bas
French: De Départ, Preparation, Au Repos, or Première en Bas
R.A.D.: Bras Bas
Soviet Russian: Preparatory Position

Bournonville: First Position
Cecchetti: First Position

Bournonville: Bras Arrondis Devant or First Position en Avant
Cecchetti: Fifth Position en Avant
French: First Position
R.A.D.: First Position
Soviet Russian: First Position

Bournonville: Demi-seconde
Cecchetti: *
R.A.D.: Demi-seconde?
*
Not an official position, but it’s called Demi-seconde of Allegro when the palms face the body and Demi-seconde of Adagio when the palms are higher and face slightly upward.
? For women, the fingertips should just touch the edge of the tutu. The R.A.D also uses a similar position called demi-bras, in which the arms are more in front of the body and the palms face upward as if offering.

Bournonville: Bras à la Ligne or Second Position
Cecchetti: Second Position
French: Second Position
R.A.D.: Second Position
Soviet Russian: Second Position*
*men hold the arms at shoulder height, women slightly lower. 
                                                                                                             

 

Bournonville: Third Position Low
Cecchetti: Fourth Position en Avant*
French: Third Position?
R.A.D.: Third Position‡
Soviet Russian: Small Pose
* Cecchetti Third Position, not shown, is like this but both arms are lower—one en bas, one demi-seconde.
? Not an official position but sometimes called “Sixth”

‡ In Third and both Fourth Positions, the R.A.D. distinguishes between regular positions and those “in opposition,” depending on which foot is front or is working. “In opposition” is when the working foot or the front foot corresponds to the arm that is out to the side, or in Fourth Crossed, the arm to the front.

 

  Bournonville: Third Position en Haut
Cecchetti: Fourth Position en Haut
French: Third Position
R.A.D.: Fourth Position
Soviet Russian: Big Pose

 

Bournonville: Fourth Position
Cecchetti: *
French: Fourth Position
R.A.D.: Fourth Position Crossed

* As a “softened” rather than an official position, with head turned, gaze up and épaulment, it is called Spanish Fourth.
In both Third & Fourth Positions, the R.A.D. distinguishes between regular positions and those “in opposition,” depending on which foot is in front or working. “In opposition” is when the working foot or the front foot corresponds to the arm that is out to the side, or in Fourth Crossed, to the arm in front.

 

Bournonville: Á la Couronne or Fifth Position
Cecchetti: Fifth en Haut
French: Fifth Position or Bras en Couronne
R.A.D.: Fifth Position
Soviet Russian: Third Position

Excerpted from The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden, Simon and Schuster, 2005.
Copyright © 2005, 2012. Eliza Gaynor Minden. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

First Position

First Position

Second Position

Second Position

Third Position

Third Position

Fourth Position

Fourth Position

Fifth Position

Fifth Position

Parallel First Position (also called Sixth Position)

Parallel First Position (also called Sixth)

B Plus (also called Attitude a Terre (Soviet) and Preparatory Position (R.A.D.))

B Plus
also called Attitude a Terre (Soviet) and Preparatory Position (R.A.D.)

 

Excerpted from The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden, Simon and Schuster, 2005.
Copyright © 2005, 2012. Eliza Gaynor Minden. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

The major training systems differentiate among arabesques in different ways. The French school considers the orientation: which leg is raised relative to the audience. R.A.D. and Bournonville consider the positions of the arms; Cecchetti does, too, and adds variations for the supporting leg and the gaze. The Soviet system incorporates both orientation and port de bras.

 

The working leg – always long and stretched – may range in height from arabesque à terre, in which the working toes touch the floor, to a “six o’clock” arabesque penchée in which the upper body leans forward to allow the working foot to pointe straight up to the ceiling.

 

Bournonville: First
Cecchetti: First
Soviet Russian: First

 

Bournonville: Second
Cecchetti: Second
R.A.D.: Second
Soviet Russian: Second

 

Bournonville: Á la Lyre
Cecchetti: Third
R.A.D.: Third
Soviet Russian (Variant): Á deux bras

 

Cecchetti: Fourth
Faces corner and supporting leg is in plié. 

 

Cecchetti: Fifth
Faces corner and supporting leg is in plié.

 

Soviet Russian: Fourth
The body twists, and the head turns in opposition, so both the back and the face are toward the audience.

 

Soviet Russian: Third
Faces the audience.

 

French: Ouvert

 

French: Croisé

 

Excerpted from The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden, Simon and Schuster, 2005.
Copyright © 2005, 2012. Eliza Gaynor Minden. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Ever conscious of how the body is presented to the audience, ballet has specific terminology for the dancer’s orientation. The impact of steps and positions changes greatly depending on how the body and head are angled; for example, arabesque done facing the audience conceals its beautiful lines, arabesque done in profile displays them. Many steps look best oriented along the diagonal.

Croisé Devant

Croisé Devant

À la Quatrième Devant

À la Quatrième Devant

Effacé Devant

Effacé Devant

Croisé Derière

Croisé Derière

À la Quatrième Derrière

À la Quatrième Derrière

Effacé Derrière

Effacé Derrière

Écarté Devant

Écarté Devant

À la Seconde

À la Seconde

Écarté Derrière

Écarté Derrière

Excerpted from The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden, Simon and Schuster, 2005.
Copyright © 2005, 2012. Eliza Gaynor Minden. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.