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Why only five basic feet positions?


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#1 Cliff

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Posted 28 March 2005 - 09:20 PM

Ballet has five basic positions of the feet. Yet, a very common position is missing. Both feet parallel, heel next to heel and toe next to toe.

Is it that this position requires no practice and so isn't mentioned? Or is it superfluous?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 28 March 2005 - 10:06 PM

In the 20th century, this position (called sixth) was added.

The five positions all depend on turn out, which is a basic requirement for classical ballet (the danse d'ecole, to distinguish it from social dancing). The first dancers were courtiers, which meant they were skilled fencers, and the five positions of the feet in ballet are similar to fencing positions. They're also similar to the movements in chess. (Take fourth position on a chess board, and you've just moved a knight: up two squares and over one.)

Why turnout? It gives the body the broadest base of support. And they liked the look of it -- Baroque furniture also had turned out legs.

Dancers or teachers may have a more extensive answer, but that's one to start!

#3 carbro

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Posted 28 March 2005 - 10:08 PM

Some ballet teachers have used it for specific exercises in classes I've taken (generally for stretches), calling it Sixth Position. Keeping feet perfectly parallel, heels and toes on each foot aligned precisely with the other? It's not the corkscrewing of the legs that we have in Fifth, but it still demands awareness. It doesn't happen by itself.


Whoops! Posted simultaneously with Alexandra.

#4 Balletaime

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 07:30 AM

Ballet has five basic positions of the feet.  Yet, a very common position is missing.  Both feet parallel, heel next to heel and toe next to toe.

Is it that this position requires no practice and so isn't mentioned?  Or is it superfluous?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Cliff,
Not to compete with erudition, I would like to add my 2 cents.
Not to get personal but why do we have five fingers? Five toes? Seems that in some examples of evolution we had six even eight! But five was decided as necessary and sufficient. Same in ballet. QED.

#5 Old Fashioned

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 07:34 AM

Well, you can do any of the 5 positions in parallel. 6th is basically 1st in parallel.

#6 rg

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 02:59 PM

re: the 5 positions of the feet, i understand that around the time these were being 'established' there was a category known, if mem. serves, as the '5 false positions' - i've tried but never learned what these might be.
i believe they were mentioned in a piece written by john chapman, who is an expert on the history of ballet technique.
anyone here know what these 'faux' positions might me and/or what their 'meaning' was.
i'm fascinated by their existence but in the dark beyond that....

#7 carbro

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 03:13 PM

But even with the addition of Sixth Position, there are still only five positions, as Third is generally considered obsolete. :)

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 03:38 PM

And there is a seventh, which is fourth parallel.

#9 Cliff

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 08:32 PM

Perhaps the 5 false positions are the five basic positions with feet turned in. Reversed turnout may have a comedic effect.

As a system of movement, compare first position (heels touching and toes 180 degrees apart) with feet in parallel. Its easy to move forward or backwards when feet are parallel. First postition would seem to facilitate movement sideways, which is probably better on a stage. I guessing here because I have a 90 degree turnout and no instructions.

Do choreographers experiment with other positions?

#10 Treefrog

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 09:11 PM

I think the real question is not why we have ONLY five positions, but why we have five and not four. This is because I can envision a geometric explanation for everything but third position.

Imagine the body is at the intersection of two perpendicular axes lying on the ground. The (turned out) feet can be aligned along the side-to-side axis; when in that alignment, they can be either touching (first position) or apart (second). Or, the feet can be aligned along the forward-and-back axis; similarly, they can either touch (fifth) or be apart (fourth).

In any other position -- third, for example -- the feet are not aligned along either axis.

It is true that each of these positions have analogues with the feet in parallel. But then it is no longer ballet.

Alexandra, I don't think I buy your suggestion that turn out gives the body a broad base of support. Stability is more easily achieved by moving the feet apart (for side-to-side support) and using the inherent length of the foot for front-to-back support. Put another way, if turn out were genuinely advantageous our bodies quite likely would have evolved to have turned out feet.

What turn out DOES do is to enable the body to glide side-to-side. This probably doesn't have much evolutionary advantage, but it has artistic advantage: the dancer can range across the stage while facing front the whole time.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 09:47 PM

Treefrog, the point about turnout giving a broad base of support isn't my idea. It's what's in the dancing manuals going back to the 14th century.

#12 carbro

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 09:56 PM

To simplify what Treefrog noted above, in the studio, we talk about
the open positions (Second and Fourth), and the
closed ones (First and Fifth).

The feet can be placed front and back (Fourth and Fifth)
or side by side (First and Second).

Turning out gives the leg a more beautiful silhouette. I don't imagine that this was an important consideration, though, until quite late in the the 19th century, with the advent of short tutus.

Turning out changes the balance. Once you train the body to work in Fifth Position, turn out helps balance. After you've missed a few years of classes, it's hard to believe you could ever have balanced in Fifth!

#13 Amy Reusch

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 09:20 PM

Treefrog, I'm having trouble understanding... isn't Third aligned through the ankles? To me, Third is sort of like Fifth sousus's alignment only flat on the floor.

In the car, I was telling my 6 year old daughter about the connection between the five basic positions and fencing. She said she thought it made sense to learn dancing before fencing... because if you got good enough at dancing, you wouldn't need to learn to fence: you could kill them with your pointed foot!

#14 Clara 76

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 10:26 PM

I'm going to throw this out there:

The reason there are 5 foot positions has to do with the steps. Every ballet/jazz/ballroom step can be broken down into 5 foot positions because the body can only move forward, backward, side to side, and turn.

Break apart a tombe pas de bouree and you've got:
tombe- 5th to 4th
pas de bouree- 5th, 2nd, through 1st/5th to 4th (if you're doing pirouette after but you get the idea)
etc.

3rd position would be more of a transitional position ie. the foot might move through that position to get to somewhere else., but it's also useful for finding ecarte etc.

And yes, turn-out definitely assists with balancing and gives you a broader base from which to move off of.

The usage of 6th or parallel is more for teaching younger students- you can't find turn-out if you can't find neutral. It also helps to balance the muscles that you must use for turn-out, but you shouldn't find 6th position in any classical ballet choreography anywhere- with the exception of character dances!

Clara 76

#15 danceintheblood

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Posted 12 April 2005 - 07:12 PM

My humble opinion on third, is that it mainly used for young dancers as a transitional stage before they have the stability to work in fifth


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