Ballet is hard, like really hard but teachers expect young children to get into classical positions by the age of 5. And you know, at some dolly dinkle studio they are teaching their students ridiculously hard techniques to students who are like 9…. If people really understood the body and complexities of ballet technique and pedagogy, well we would have better dance studios across America… lol. The reality is, that teachers teach a certain way because someone back in the day told them this is how it is done… Well because of physics, physio, and the perfection of anatomy- ballet technique has become redefined and developed. For example… who pliés in third anymore? So, where is this leading to?
A fun fact about little kids… the plus side about a 5-year-old in dance is that their bones and ligaments aren’t set… Soooo, they are able to reshape their legs, feet, and overstretch in moderation…. So, until a child is actually able to think about their own bodies and their own interworkings… They probably shouldn’t be put into ballet positions… I mean, unless you like forcing kids to turn out without using the proper muscles just so that their bodies learn it… I guess that works too…
As much as first position teaches you to turn out… Whether that is forced from the ankles, knees or properly from the hips… First position really isn’t about the turn out factor… It is really just how to align your body evenly before your legs start crossing the lateral axis of the body and weight shifts. First position teaches you how to stand and properly align your body. Little kids like to booty tooch, and splay their ribs all over the place, and do the weirdest things with their hips. It is why we start plies in first or second position… No one should start their day with doing plies in fourth…. (God, just thinking about it is awful)
Here are the complexities of just standing in first position…. The hardest part isn’t even turning out. Turn out can be faked, forced or non-existent. The hardest thing is engaging your core to your center/pelvic shelf and stabilizing that.
If you ever have gotten corrections like, “Are you training to be a hula girl?” Or my favorite, “This is ballet not clubbing.” Or the standard, “Don’t move your hips!” The issue is that most teachers don’t tell you how you stop your hips from moving, besides the old school, “Squeeze your cheeks together.” (I hate that correction because gripping your butt is so gross) Anyways, in order for your hips to not move, while you simultaneously move your legs, spinal cord and arms independently are to: create tension in your hips to stabilize them. And no this isn’t by gripping your cheeks together to squeeze a dollar and make change.
So to create tension properly, you can’t be splayed like a dead chicken. And you definitely can’t be Quasimodo. You definitely can’t have slouchy shoulders and well upper body that’s a whole different subject… But here are some of the basic principals of first position:
1. Create horizontal tension between your hips by rotating your hip joint outwards. The principle of turnout. The ball part of your hip joint, also known as the femur heads, should be like french doors opening outwards and wrapping into the backs of your legs… Which actually starts at your crease. Turnout is usually limited to 180 degrees unless you are gifted with hypermobility and overstretching. So the tension can’t be released because the femur head/ femoral neck has to stop, and usually stops against the cartilage of your pelvis; specifically the acetabulum.
2. Create vertical tension. Vertical tension is created via hip flexor… By drawing your iliopsoas up and into your core, and using your sartorius and pectineus to press down and out it creates a tension that gives the lifted out of your hips aspect of ballet.
3. Another way to create tension is to use your lower glutes and upper hamstrings to create the support for your pelvis.
This is all really hard stuff. Honestly, I didn’t really feel all of this till I was about 14. Then I could really feel and control all of these things. But ask a 9-year-old to use their psoas and they will probably look at you funny.
Now, standing in first position is usually defined as heels together and toes out. But, most books and teachers forget to tell you that positions are always active. If you are building tension in your pelvis, engaging your core, and properly using your neck and back… It is all good, but your feet are super important in first. In first position don’t pronate or supinate. One it messes up your Achilles, and two that is a sprain and fracture waiting to happen.
1. In first position make sure all five toes are spread out, fanned out.
2. Don’t grip the tops of your arches. Some teachers ask you to lift your arches in first, and to do that all of the tendons in your feet have to be super developed. This can also be done by shifting the majority of the weight of your legs into the balls of your feet, and then counterbalancing that with pressure in your heel. This creates a triangle to balance the weight and tension in the legs on top of your feet.
3. Shift your pelvis to be in the center of your ankles. I know that sounds weird, but it is to align your hips on top of your ankles.
Port de bras for first is simple and relaxed. But should be engaged through your back. In theory… the tension/engaging of muscles isometrically through your body looks something like this…But port de bras… that should get it’s own post because… a lot of you have crazy ugly arms… Just kidding… No arms are just as complicated as legs, kind of.
(in retrospect, I should have made all of the first positions that light purple/blue color but for some reason I made this one green. Lol)
CORPS DE BALLET CONFESSIONAL: have you ever wondered what it was like to be in the corps de ballet of the world’s most elite companies? Click the photos to read the interviews!
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