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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Fourth Position


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I have a couple of questions about fourth position.


I always thought that you got to correct fourth position by performing a tendu en avant from fifth and then lowering the foot (while thinking about maintaining turn-out and without any shuffling). We had a new teacher recently who instead said that fourth should only be as wide as the length of the dancer's foot. Although I'm 5'8, my foot is rather small (UK size 4, which is a U.S....6, I think?). This method, subsequently, makes my fourth substantially smaller. It felt very odd in demi plie, and I think it strained my knees a little. I find grande plie in fourth very problematic anyway, so it just felt a different kind of terrible in this position. :rolleyes:


So, tendu or foot-length?


Also, arm position in pirouette. Our new teacher also introduced what (I think) is fourth position arms for pirouette. Our arms were virtually straight to the front and side, almost no curve at all. This felt flat-out terrible. I've only just got the hang of minimal arm movement in turns, but asking me to have them straight and then curving them in the turn just resulted in a lot of faffing about at the elbows and my arms setting off before my torso. :)


Does everyone else do turns with these straight arms?

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I too make my fourth smaller than my tendu. It's almost as if you are bringing your toes back on a line with your heel rather than putting the heel down on a line with the toes. Grand plie in fourth has two versions - fourth opposite fifth is a small position in order to enable you to keep the knees from dropping in as you lower all the way (raising the heels as in plie in fifth) - especially the back knee! There is also a grand plie in fourth opposite first position which is taken like a plie in 2nd - wider and with no lift of the heel.


About the arm preparation in pirouettes - I presume you mean like in a low arabesque, which then curves in on the turn. I know a lot of people who work this way - I may be wrong but I think it's Balanchine. I'm sure someone will correct me! There are also those who start with straight legs rather than in plie. You basically have to do whatever your teacher asks of you. Many exercises often have different ways of doing them, all of which are correct according to the system used. My students also have lessons with a Russian teacher and I teach using the RAD guidelines. It's confusing for them, but important. A dancer has to be prepared to perform steps according to what the choreographer wants, so it's useful to be flexible and to try and do things in different ways.

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Okay, Mazenderan, let us take one thing at a time here. First, the 4th position.


When you are in class you are expected to do things the way the teacher wants them, right or wrong. Personally, I don't measure 4th position, as it is quite easy to see whether it is right or not. I generally use the tendu, although for en dehors pirouette preparation I will shorted it slightly from the tendu. I have no idea if it is the length of my foot, or the students foot, or not, and really don't care. It either looks and feels right or it doesn't.


That said, I don't use 4th position for grand plié, EVER. I've spouted off on this ad nauseum in many different topics here about grand plié and 4th position, so will not go into it again. If you feel that you HAVE to do a grand in 4th, then open it, as in not crossed in opposition to 5th but like from first. But my suggestion is just not to do it, and tell the teacher it hurts your knees.


As for the arms in pirouette preparation, that is another soapbox area for me, but, hopefully in brief, the answer is the same. If teacher wants it straight, do it, and if another teacher wants it curved, do that. The problem is that there is a difference in the action of the arms from a straight position, and if that is not explained, then you will be moving that front arm out to the side like you do with the curved arm, and that is not correct. If the teacher has not explained the principle of turning from that position, then ask about it. You do not want the arms in à la seconde straight out with palms flat. Looks like airplane wings and then when they come in looks like karate! :rolleyes: Either way that they are held and move, they must be motivated from the back, not from the elbows. Most of the people I see turning from the straight arm position seem to just bend the arms from the elbows and jerk them in, instead of opening in a curved second and moving from the back into the circle by bringing the outside of the body around to meet the leading side in a smooth, circular fashion. Turns are circular, but today way too many people are making them look very angular. :)

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Firstly, thanks Hamorah and Miss Leigh for your explanations :)


An explanation. I would never usually question a teacher's judgment, or do otherwise than asked (hence maximum confusion when I started ballet, unaware of differing styles, and had two teachers: one asking for Vaganova arms and one for Cechetti arms :rolleyes: ). However, I had a couple of very sound reasons to question this teacher's ability and judgment (credentials in general), and wanted to make sure that I wasn't being asked to do anything that was outright wrong and/or dangerous. There were a number of other exercises that had made me rather wary.


Hamorah, it did look sort of like a low arabesque - I didn't think of it like that! That imagery might actually help me for next time, because it will feel like a more familiar position.


Miss Leigh, I've seen a few Youtube videos with the type of very angular arms you mention, and I think it does look rather odd. The curve of the arms seems to be almost completely lost, which does seem to impact on the turn.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Mazenderan, I find it very interesting that you made the comment of never questioning your teachers' judgements. I question it all the time! In a sense that I want to know why the teacher is asking me to perform a movment in a certain way, rather than doubting their abilities.

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At one of the studio's that I teach at, there is a teacher that REQUIRES the students to do 2nd & 4th positions the EXACT width distance of their foot. She also requires that the 4th position is opposite a perfectly crossed 5th position. As a result, the students with "shorter" achilles tendons (a large percentage) roll inward in order to do demi plie and grand plie (yikes!).


Personally, I do not believe in that at all. I teach 4th position as approx. the width of a tendu devant and lowering the heel (I say approx., because your toes will come backward thus shortening the distance a little bit). I teach 2nd position the same way - however, I also teach to tendu the inside leg into 2nd position, as well, when you are at the barre. Also, my 4th position is opposite 3rd, not 5th, but not as wide as 1st (I feel that opposite 1st is too wide for pirouette prep).


I feel that wider positions are safer on the knees. It has taken 3 years to get the students to use wider positions in my class - and 3 years to see better alingment of the knees in demi plie and grand plie. Yes, the students need to do as asked by each teacher - thus 3 years to get proper alignment (as I see it).


As a dancer, I questioned everyone - unless they explained themselves. I am not a fan of doing things for the sake of doing it.... I really wanted to make sure there is a reason behind it. If someone wanted something different than I was already doing, I asked why they needed me to do it that way - nicely of course. In the end, it was my body, and me on that stage.

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