Positions of the Arms in Ballet

Ballet dancers practising ballet pose
Mike Harrington / Getty Images

Every ballet step originates from one of the five basic feet positions of ballet. There are also five basic positions of the arms in ballet. (Both the names and actual positions vary based on method. The positions shown here illustrate the French Method.)

Practice these positions, as they form the basis for all of ballet dancing.

01
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Preparatory Position

Ballet preparatory position
Ballet preparatory position. Photo © Tracy Wicklund

The preparatory position, or premiere en bas, is not considered one of the basic arm positions of ballet, but it is used often and worthy of noting. The preparatory position is a beginning pose used to start and finish a floor combination.

  • Holding your back straight and your head high, allow your arms to relax in front of you, slightly extended away from the body.
  • Both arms should be rounded with your fingers almost touching.
  • Relax your hands and shoulders.
02
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First Position of the Arms

First position of the arms. Photo © Tracy Wicklund

First position of the arms, as well as the other arm positions, can be executed with the feet in any of the five positions. For example, many times your feet will be in first position while your arms are posed in fifth position.

  • Hold both arms low in front of the body, with hands almost touching.
  • Round the arms, slightly bending the elbows.
  • Raise the arms so that your fingers almost touch your navel.
03
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Second Position of the Arms

Ballet second position of the arms
Ballet second position of the arms. Photo © Tracy Wicklund
  • From second position, raise your arms to the side.
  • Keep your arms slightly rounded.
  • Lower your elbows slightly below your shoulders.
  • Make sure your wrists are lower than your elbows.
  • Keep your shoulders down, your neck long and your chin up.
04
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Third Position of the Arms

Third position of the arms in ballet
Third position of the arms in ballet. Photo © Tracy Wicklund

In third position, the arms work opposite the legs. If your right foot is in front, your left arm should be raised.

  • Raise your left arm over your head, slightly forward.
  • Round your right arm to the side at belly button height.
  • Keep the palm of your hand turned forward.
05
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Fourth Position of the Arms

Fourth position of the arms in ballet
Fourth position of the arms in ballet. Photo © Tracy Wicklund

As in third position, the arms work opposite the legs.

  • Bring your left arm forward, slightly rounded at the height of your chest.
  • Raise your right arm above your head, slightly rounded.
06
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Fifth Position of the Arms

Fifth position of the arms in ballet
Fifth position of the arms in ballet. Photo © Tracy Wicklund
  • Starting with arms in first position, raise the arms over the head. You should be able to see your hands without moving your head.
  • Round your arms with your elbows slightly bent.
  • Your hands should be about 6 inches apart.
  • Make sure your palms are facing inward.

Note: There are actually three positions of the arms in fifth position in ballet: low, middle and high fifth. The illustration pictured is high fifth.