How to Ballet Dance

Three Parts:Getting Ready to DanceLearning the Barre BasicsPracticing Plies, Tendus, and Extensions

Ballet began in royal courts in the early 1600's, and early forms of this elegant and sophisticated art involved long skirts and wooden clogs. Dancing ballet is extremely popular throughout the world, and studying ballet can help develop strong bodies, spatial and temporal awareness, and improve coordination. People who study ballet also retain flexibility throughout their adult lives, making this technique the basis of training for all types of dance. While dancing ballet takes dedication and requires serious training, you can learn the basics to prepare yourself for further study. Learn to get ready for practicing, the basic positions, and some of the first techniques you're likely to encounter in ballet.

Part 1
Getting Ready to Dance

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    Stretch your muscles thoroughly. Stretching is important to loosen muscles, strengthen muscles and to elongate your posture. It is vital that it is done at the beginning of each ballet session, including before a performance. When taking on ballet, it is important to stretch daily for at least 15-30 minutes, to give the muscles ample opportunity to warm up, reducing the risk of injury. You should also stretch to "wind down" at the end of ballet dancing.
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    Always wear ballet slippers. Properly-fitted ballet shoes should be snug, but not so tight they cut off blood flow and create numbness in the feet. There are different styles and types of shoes, so ask your ballet teacher or a salesman at the store for advice, given your intentions for dancing.
    • Don't buy shoes to grow into, because your feet will seem flexed when you pointe and will look flat. You should fit them to where the drawstring is tied slightly loose. If your drawstring is longer than your pinkie then you should cut it off till it is roughly the size of your fingernail. The drawstring just completes the fit. It isn't made to tighten overly large shoes.
    • If you can't buy ballet shoes, that it is okay. Use socks without the stickies on the bottom, so you can turn!
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    Wear comfortable and snug-fitting athletic clothes. The most important thing is that you are comfortable, and that you're not wearing baggy or loose fitting clothing so you can make sure you're forming and moving correctly in the mirror. A plain black leotard and pink tights are usually a safe bet. Pink or black ballet slippers are also appropriate.
    • If you're signed up for a class, check with your instructor to find out if there is a dress code at the school. Some schools may have students wear the same thing and others may just require any type of leotard and tights and sometimes ballet skirts. Mostly they require tight fitting clothing so they can see that your muscles are working properly and so on.
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    Find an appropriate space to practice. Ballet is less about learning the moves and more about perfecting them. The moves themselves are relatively straightforward, but the positing, the timing, and the elegance required takes a lifetime of practice. For this reason, it's always better to practice ballet in a ballet studio under the guidance of a good instructor, who will be able to correct your positioning and make sure that you're dancing properly. A dancing studio is equipped with mirrors for correcting your positioning and seeing what you're doing accurately, and a barre for practicing.[1]
    • If you want to practice at home, make sure you've got enough open space to move freely, preferably on a hard wood floor. The back of a chair can replace the need for a bar. Position a large mirror so you can check your positioning and see what you're doing.

Part 2
Learning the Barre Basics

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    Start every dancing practice at the ballet barre. At the barre, you learn the basics of ballet that will be important as you progress. If you're just getting started, an entire dance practice should involve barre work. This is vital for building your strength, agility and flexibility, so do not see it as wasted time. If you skipped this, you wouldn't be able to dance. Even professional dancers begin each class at the barre.
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    Learn the fundamental positions. The fundamental cornerstone of ballet, and the basis from which all your more complicated moves will be developed are the five starting positions (and the "parallel position" which some consider the sixth position). You won't be able to learn to do anything else until you practice, perfect, and make automatic the six beginning positions. These should be so ingrained in your muscle memory that they're part of your DNA.
    • All positions should be practiced either facing the barre or with your left hand on the barre. Beginner dancers usually start facing the barre, and intermediate or advanced dancers usually start with the left hand on the barre while practicing positions.
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    Practice first position. In the first position, your feet should be turned out from your body, and held together at the heels. Your legs should be straight and kept together, your back should be straight and your head held high. Maintain excellent posture and balance.
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    Practice second position. In second position, your feet will have the same angle as in first, except that your feet should move so they are about shoulder width apart. Widen your base of support, but maintain the same posture and poise when in second as when you're in first. Practice transitioning from first to second position without changing the angle of your ankles.
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    Practice third position. To move into third position, bring your lead foot (usually your dominant foot, or the foot you use to kick with) behind your other foot. The heel of your lead foot should be even with the ankle strap on your other ballet slipper. Move your hips forward and maintain your balance. Your legs should be straight and your shoulders should be back.
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    Practice fourth position. To transition into fourth position from third, move your lead foot back, spreading your weight in a backward direction, much as you did between first and second position.
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    Practice fifth position. Here, the positions start to get slightly more complicated. To transition into fifth position, bring your other foot back toward your lead foot, bending your ankle so your heel is on top of your lead toe. Your knee should be flexed slightly, but your back and shoulders should remain very straight and balanced. Practice this transition frequently.
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    Finish in parallel position. Both of your feet are together, side by side, like parallel lines.

Part 3
Practicing Plies, Tendus, and Extensions

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    Do plies. Plies are like squats, performed in each of the different positions. There are two types of plies: grande plies and demi plies. Beginners do plies in the first and second position. Intermediate and advanced do them in all the positions except third and sixth.
    • To do a demi plie, you want your legs to form a diamond, essentially. Bend your knees and squat so your knee forms a perfect 90 degree angle with your thigh and your shin. You should support your weight on the balls of your feet, keeping your heels off the ground and flexing your calves as you dip.
    • To do a grande plie, you want to dip down much farther, so your thighs are almost parallel with the floor. You'll also dip your arm while you do this. As you practice plies, focus on keeping your back very straight and your posture secure.
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    Do tendus. Tendus are essentially points and stretches with your lead foot. A typical tendu combination is tendu en cross, which means "in a cross." You'll basically stand in first position and point with your lead toe to the front, to the side, and to the back.
    • It's common to mark the floor with tape to help you learn. You want to step a full step in front of you, leading with your heel and bringing your toe to a point in front of you. The distance should be equal in front, to the side, and behind you.
    • The exact distance of the step will vary, depending on the dancer and the length of your leg. You want your tendu to turn your legs into a right triangle, your plant foot remaining straight and your lead foot going far enough bring your leg straight.
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    Practice extensions. Stand very straight, in either first or fifth position. You may face the barre or be sideways to it. As you progress, you will get strong enough to do it at center.
    • Lift one leg to the side or front, keeping it straight, as high as you can. Point your feet once your foot leaves the floor. Keep both of your knees very straight and maintain correct posture. It's important to not lift your hip or butt to get your leg higher. Always turn your leg out, never turned in.
    • Keep correct technique by slowly lowering your leg and standing in the position from which you started, usually either first or fifth.
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    Try letting go of the barre. Make sure you are balanced by testing to see if you can let go of the barre. Keep your leg up there. This makes you stronger. Make sure you are not slouching or leaning your core towards or away the leg that you have extended.
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    Go en pointe when you're ready. The next step in ballet training is dancing en pointe, which involves using pointe shoes and balancing yourself on your toes. It's one of the most challenging and exciting parts of ballet study, and it needs to be done with the aid of an experienced instructor. This is typically done after four or five years of intermediate to advanced ballet study.
    • You should never dance en pointe without your teacher's permission! In most ballet schools teachers will not want you to even go en pointe at home. This is because without experience, you may strain your toe and feet muscles. Try going en pointe for small durations of time first, and then slowly work your way up.


  • Never start ballet with pointe shoes, and be very wary of a school that puts unqualified students in pointe shoes. They are for experienced dancers who have probably been dancing a few years.
  • Do not go en pointe (toe shoes) until your ballet instructor says that you are ready! You can do severe damage to your toes, feet bones and legs if you are not ready.
  • A good way to practice balancing is to releve in posse every time you brush your teeth. Hold it as long as possible and switch.
  • Listen to and respect your teacher. Respect is a big part of ballet. Don't talk with friends or to yourself during class. If you do not obey proper ballet etiquette you may very well be kicked out of class.
  • Never force turn out. It can hurt your knees. Turn out comes from your hips.
  • Point your toes.
  • Always choose a professionally qualified ballet school. If your class does not include stretch, it may be one indicator that the teacher is not properly trained or that the ballet school is not proper either. Seek advice from another dance school, or better still, change to a school/class with certifiable qualifications.
  • Keep yourself relaxed -- stress will show on your body. Relaxing can relieve tight shoulders, which would otherwise make you appear awkward and prevent you from looking graceful.
  • Change teachers immediately if your teacher does not stress the importance of correct placement of the hip and torso.
  • When it comes to pointe shoes, never dance an important combination in new shoes. It will strain your feet and injure them. Always break-in your pointe shoes before a performance ( This is correctly done without a hammer)
  • Don't force it. The teacher will have techniques to show you or may even decide that your body is not able to cope with it at a particular stage.
  • Don't try anything new without a teacher present, because you might learn it the wrong way and develop bad habits. A good class will teach you slowly and carefully over the first few months, so don't be too worried about not knowing much. Enthusiasm and willingness is the key!
  • This is a strenuous activity that can raise your heart rate. If you are susceptible to heart problems, you could end up with serious and life threatening injuries. Check with your doctor before starting.
  • Learn the names of the steps before your first class so you don't feel overwhelmed. Even if it is to just look over the words so you feel familiar with them. Most of them are French, so don't be shocked if they don't sound exactly the way they look. See if your local ballet shop has a ballet dictionary that you could borrow.
  • Do not use socks! You could fall and injure yourself. Get foot undies at the dancewear store. If you absolutely can't afford them, ballet shoes, or jazz shoes and can't turn bare foot, use only the first half of the sock to where your heel is bare so you can stop yourself.
  • Never start dancing en pointe without ballet experience. If you don't want to dance ballet en pointe in the future that's fine, but if you do it requires multiple years of ballet experience and hard work! Be willing to take multiple classes at the studio throughout the week and work on your strength at home!

Things You'll Need

  • Ballet shoes (flats to start with); pale pink is the usual colour but black or white are also possibilities (ask the school for their preference or requirement).
  • Leotard or other costume required by the school
  • Hair ties, clips and pins - most schools will require your hair to be up, or even wrapped into a bun and pinned back.
  • Ballet tights - usually pale pink/skin color; these tights are different in texture from most mainstream tights.
  • Ribbon - many ballet shoes arrive without ribbon attached, in which case you'll need to sew on your own ribbon; it should be pale pink, black or white to match the shoe colour. Some schools prefer no ribbon and just elastic, check before sewing.
  • A parent or a trusted adult willing to shuttle you to and from classes, rehearsals & concerts.

Sources and Citations

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