How to Use Your Arms in Ballet

Jane Bertin
By Jane Bertin. Updated: January 16, 2017
How to Use Your Arms in Ballet

Ballet is a very formal style of dancing that requires physical strenght, coordination, and above all, technique. Most moves and stances are based on five simple preparatory poses: when you dance ballet, the most important thing is to stand tall and keep graceful lines.

While most complicated steps focus on the legs and feet, it is very important to know how to use your arms in ballet: a strong arm technique will help you to keep your balance and to do higher, sharper jumps. In this OneHowTo article, we'll walk you through some basic steps of the French and English ballet methods.

You may also be interested in: What to Wear to Dance Class

Steps to follow:


Using your arms in ballet is actually quite easy. No matter the position you're holding, your arms should be firm but soft, spreading from your shoulderblades: try to bear the weight of your arms there, but don't push out your chest. Your arms will never be completely straight, but in a slight curve.

  • Don't bend your wrists or elbows sharply: they are part of that line.
  • Don't let your arms or hands touch your torso: there should be some space between them.
  • Keep your shoulders down at all times: this elongates the neck and straightens your back, which makes standing in balance and spinning easier.

Your hands should also be slightly curved, with long soft fingers. It is common to keep the index finger a bit higher, more noticeable, than the rest, especially when the hand is held in front the audience.

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 1

It is very usual to start a ballet combination by holding your arms softly and firmly in front of your body, creating an oval shape around you.

In this preparatory position, also called bras bas, your elbows will be slightly bent. Your hands should almost be touching, with the palms facing each other.

If you're wearing a classical tutu, the preparatory position should be place a bit higher in order not to crush it.


From there you can move to first position. Raise your arms and hold them at the height of your navel. The oval will have changed from vertical to horizontal, but the shape is still there.

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 3

To go into second position, open your arms. The curve of each arm should be kept, and you should not open them completely. Rather, open them in a wide V-shape that does not push your shoulders in and your chest back. Your palms should be slightly facing forward.

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 4

For the third position, keep one arm in the second and move one arm back to first. Now you should have an arm spread to the side and one held in front of you. This is a good starting point for a pirouette.

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 5

To go into fourth position, keep the arm in the second position in its place. Raise the arm in front of you upwards, holding it over your head. Remember the arms should not be straight, but in a soft curve.

There is a variation of this position, called fourth crossed, in which one arm goes up and the arm in the second goes back to first.

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 6

The fifth position is the most famous one, and probably the one you've tried most often when learning how to use your arms in ballet. It has both arms around and over the head in the shape of an oval, and the palms face each other again. It is very easy to pull your shoulders up - remember to keep them down.

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 7

Basic arms sequences in ballet - which move from position to position - are called port de bras. When moving, the soft line must be mantained. Remember to use your shoulders to bear the weight of your arms, and do not push them up to your ears.

In arabesque stances or high jumps, it is common to flick the wrists out, opening the line of the hand to make the arm seem longer. It is quite easy to master once you know how to use your arms in ballet!

Before starting, though, remember to warm up your back and shoulders. If you need some tips on stretching for a dance class, check out our video tutorial!

How to Use Your Arms in Ballet - Step 8

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How to Use Your Arms in Ballet