No matter what method of ballet you take or teach, the five basic positions of the feet are the same. It is the position of the arms that make them different. As a teacher of the Cecchetti method, the method I have been certified in and teach, we will discuss those arms with the prospective feet and the Russian or Vaganova and French methods will follow.
In First Position the dancer stands with feet turned out and heels together. The arms are curved and are down next to the dancer’s thighs. Vaganova or Russian Method and the French Method -The arms are curved, fingers almost touching and the finger tips are in line with the navel.
In Second Position the dancer stands with feet turned out and with heels about one foot apart. The arms are curved and out to the sides. The shoulders are higher than the elbows which are higher than the wrists. The palms of the hands are facing forward. Vaganova or Russian Method – The arms are curved and out to the sides. The shoulders are lower than the elbows and the elbows are at the same level as the wrists. Palms are facing forward. French Method same as Cecchetti Method.
In Third Position the dancer stands with the feet a lined as in first position but the heel of one foot touches the inside arch of the other foot. The opposite arm of the foot that is in front is in front of the same thigh and the other arm is in demi-second. Vaganova or Russian Method – Arms are curved as in first position and raised above the head and slightly forward. French Method –The opposite arm of the foot that is in front first position and the other is in second.
In Fourth Position the dancer stands with feet turned out and one foot is in front of the other with heels in line with each other. This is called open fourth. When the front heel is in line with the back toe it is call closed fourth. There are two fourth positions of the arms called fourth en avant and fourth en haut. Fourth en avant (in front) is where one arm is in second position and the other arm, the opposite of the foot that is in front is in fifth front. Fourth en haut (high) is where one arm is in second position and the other arm, the opposite of the foot that is in front is in high fifth. Vaganova or Russian Method – The arm of the foot that is in front is in middle fifth and the other arm is in high fifth. The French Method – One arm is in first position, the other is rounded and raised above the head.
In Fifth Position the dancers stands with feet turned out with one foot in front of the other. The front heel touches the inside of the back toe. The arms are rounded in front with fingers almost touching. There three positions of fifth arms. Low, middle and high. Vagnova or Russian Method and the French Method –Both arms are rounded and held above and slightly forward of the head.
Although, not officially a part of any of the three traditional methods of ballet there are three more positions of the feet. I don’t teach them along with the five basic positions as mentioned above, but do use them in choreography.
Sixth and Seventh Position were added to the original five in the 1930’s by Serge Lifar a dancer and choreographer who at the time was Ballet Master at the Paris Opera Ballet. The sixth and seventh positions were not really Lifar’s inventions, but revivals of positions that already existed in the eighteenth century, when there were not five but ten positions for the feet in classical ballet.
Sixth Position is just a parallel version of the traditional first position. This position is used frequently in modern dance but has its’ uses in classical ballet also.
Seventh position is just a parallel version of the traditional fourth position. Sometimes flat and sometimes on demi pointe.
I myself while using these two positions in choreography I normally call them parallel first or fourth.
Eighth Position or the B-Plus Position is thought to have originated with Balanchine. The position is basically pointe tendue derriere but with the working knee bent so that both knees are touching and the big toe rests on the ground. The foot should be pointed as usual, neither winged or sickled. The actual proper term is attitude a terre. Your leg is in the shape it would take for an attitude, with the toes resting on the floor. As for the widely-accepted slang term B-Plus, there are several theories on its origins. The best known and most probable is that the B is for Balanchine because he made such frequent use of the position in his choreography for the New York City Ballet. Another is that in the Labanotation system of dance notation, the notation for this position resembles B+. I have worked with a ballet mistress for five years in the 1980s. She was originally from the Kirov Ballet. When she would see dancers stand in this position she was annoyed and felt it sloppy version of a tendue derriere.