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Classical Ballet Arm Positions

The positions of the arms in Classical ballet and the more famous methods will be briefly described.

Although the technique of holding the arms is almost the same in all different methods of teaching dance, the actual numbers of arm positions do differ slightly, causing dance students some confusion when changing dance schools and methodology.

I have written a lengthy blog on the correct use of arms and I hope that his blog helps clear up what numbers are used in different methods.

In terms of style in the English and French school, the arms are held slightly lower than in the Russian school, and in the Bournonville school, the arms are lower and always more forward of the body.

Numbering of the arm positions:

In the Russian Agrippina Vaganova method in the Bras bas or preparatory position, both arms are down and rounded with both of the hands just in front of the hips and fingers almost a head's width apart with fingers curved to meet each other so that the finger tips,if the dancer closed the arms together, would meet.

In First position, while maintaining exactly the same oval curved shape, arms are brought up so that the tips of the fingers are in line with the navel, but no higher than the rib cage.

In Second position, the arms are extended out to the sides and slightly forward of the body, with the arms only sloping minimally down from shoulder height and forward, with palms facing the angle of the floor where it meets the wall. The elbows are slightly lower than the shoulders, but the wrists are level with the elbow. Four separate lines should be visible: the curve of the back, top, side and front of the arm.

In Third position, both arms maintain the oval curve and are raised just above and slightly forward of the head so that without lifting the head the dancer can see the little fingers.

There are then more combinations of the Vaganova basic arm positions:

Petite pose: One arm is in second position, the other is in first position.

Grande pose: One arm is in second position, the other is in third position.

The renowned French school and the Royal Academy of Dance (basically the English school) have the same numbers and the same Bras bas or bras au repos as the Vaganova method.

First position and Second position are the same although Second position is held lower than the Vaganova school with the hand sloping down slightly from the elbow.

Third position is the Petite pose from the Vaganova but very slightly lower.

Fourth position is the Vaganova Third, but again, very slightly lower.

The French and English us a Fourth crossed position: one arm is in First position, the other is rounded and raised above the head.

Fifth position is the same as the Vaganova Third position with both arms raised above and slightly forward of the head.

The Italian school or Enrico Cecchetti method use yet other numbers and a slightly different style. In First position, both arms are slightly rounded with the fingers slightly away from the dancer's thighs as though placed just above the tutu and, therefore, higher than the other methods.

In Second position, arms are out to the sides with an angle down and forward, palms facing forward. The elbow is slightly lower than the shoulder, and the wrist is slightly lower than the elbow. A position intermediate between the First and Second position is called demi-seconde and is also used in the French and English methods.

In Third position, one arm is in the first position and the other is in demi-seconde.

There are two Fourth positions. Fourth en avant (in front) has one arm in Second position and the other is in Fifth en avant. Fourth en haut (high) has one arm in Second position and the other is in Fifth position en haut.

Whenever the arms are rounded to form an oval in the Cecchetti method they are in Fifth position. There is a Fifth position en bas (down); en avant (forward - Russian and French first position); and en haut (high - Russian Third position).

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