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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Turnout & Fifth Position


balletpearl

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Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas all!  🎄  I am a newcomer to this forum and have been so excited to join that I actually asked my family for a laptop! 

I just started ballet this year as an adult beginner- no experience with ballet whatsoever. I started back in September at a local dance studio but ran into some issues mid November that stopped me from attending said studio. I continued to practice techniques at home with Kathryn Morgan barre classes and doing general exercises to build strength and flexibility, however it just does not compare to the class experience! 

Thankfully a couple of weeks ago one of my mutual friends on social media is also a ballet dancer and actually is an instructor at another local studio and recommended I join and give it a try. I most definitely am going to do that because it is slightly less expensive than my previous studio, and also the adult classes for ballet at that studio are about 1 hour and 45 minutes long and 2 times a week, as opposed to one time a week and 1 hour at the former. 

Anyways, sorry for the rambling just excited to be joining a new studio that is starting out. I have quite an athletic build- especially in my legs. I'm not overweight, I am 5'3" and 120lbs give or take, so I don't feel it has anything to do with my actual weight. I was a runner for about 3 years so my calves and quads are thick and strong, I noticed often during class that this was sort of became an issue for me when doing literally anything in 5th and sometimes even 4th position. My feet wont remain turned out and since my legs are a little larger I find it rather difficult to keep my knees straight and not slightly bent when in 5th position. I am able to accomplish a 4th position demi-plie easily, but once I try the grand plie in 4th it's a wrap lol. Also I find that ronde de jambe movements can be difficult for me as well because I bend my knee slightly to compensate.

Point is, I really want to work on this as these techniques so crucial to ballet and I've been struggling with it for quite long enough already. Do you guys have any advice or tips in order to improve this? I am working to lose more weight in a healthy manner and see if that helps any, but I don't have my fingers crossed for it because even at my lowest weight which was 108~lbs I had a larger leg build. Any help is greatly appreciated!!!

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Hello! I’m glad to hear you have found a studio that works for you, 1 hour 45 minutes is much better than a 1 hour class, which just isn’t enough time for a full ballet class.

If you only started ballet this September then it’s totally normal to not be able to close in 5th, especially as a runner and as an adult starter! Honestly I’m surprised that your class is even working in 5th position, but I know it’s hard as a teacher to run a class that’s interesting for adults that doesn’t use this position. 
 

I would say it takes 3 years to develop the strength and flexibility to use a nice 5th position. Some people recommend supplemental exercises like clam shells and some other say they do more harm than good. Personally, I think the best way to improve is to make sure you always close in your best fifth at the barre (in your tendus and jetes and so on). Each week you can slightly improve your turnout! Trust the process, but remember it’s going to take time.

 

Best of luck and merry Christmas!

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Miss Persistent

Welcome Ballet Pearl! I'm so glad you found us and have been bale to get involved.

5th position is both a gorgeous, classical miracle - and at the same time a ridiculous, unnatural request! 🤣

It is not at all uncommon for dancers of all ages and levels to struggle with 5th position so you are certainly not alone.  5th position is affected but a number of other things other than just the shape of the legs (although they do have an impact for some people).  More important to worry about it the alignment of the pelvis, and the correct rotation of the legs and lower limb from the hips.  Personally I believe there is no need for an adult student who just wishes to enjoy dance to contort themselves or damage their body just to achieve this position for no reason.  Ballet can easily be done and enjoyed from 1st position, or 3rd position - which is halfway between first and fifth (generally with your front heel around the middle of your back foot).

I would first work on establishing correct posture and weight placement - as the alignment of the pelvis has a dramatic impact on the ability to stand in 5th correctly.  Then I would work on ensuring you understand where your "turnout muscles" (for lack of a batter phrase) actually are - and make sure they are working well. Then I would start working form 3rd, and only once all of those other things were established - THEN I would attempt 5th position by slowly moving my front foot across more towards 5th in increments, making sure it did not affect my posture or rotation.

The same rules apply for 4th position.  You can perform 4th position opposite 1st, 3rd, and 5th.  All the above principles apply.

If you have hyper extended legs (or swayback as it is sometimes called) you may feel your knees are bent in 1st or 5th.  There are many threads on dealing with hyper extension here and while it is best addressed but a knowledgeable teacher in a class setting to begin with, have a search and read some of the threads for tips.

To be totally honest - I was a professional dancer, but always had a difficult body.  I always struggled with 5th and still have days where my body just refuses.  I just go back to 3rd and get everything working again and coax my body back into co-operation! 5th, while beautiful - is not necessary in the world of just enjoying ballet.

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, BalletPearl - glad you found us, and the adult ballet forum. As you can already see, there's lots of advice & encouragement.

As an adult ballet student, I echo what other posts have said about easing into 5th gradually. In one of my classes (in-person so currently suspended) our teacher has beginners work in 3rd position (as Miss Persistent suggests). I myself find that 5th with right foot in front feels like "home" whereas with left leg in front, I still have to keep working y turnout very consciously.

I do one online class with a teacher who uses the "Equal weight" method, developed by Christina Bernal, and taught by Antonia Francheschi (in the US) and Renato Paroni (ballet master at the English National Ballet, but before that a well-known teacher at various London studios). The barre is based around very deliberately and methodically activating turnout and getting "on your leg" - we do a lot in 1st position, and only about halfway through the barre (at ronde de jambes) do we go into 5th. It's a really interesting technique, and I remember when I first took a class with Mr Paroni, I came away feeling more turned out than I had ever been!

As Miss Persistent says, your focus as a beginner-learner should be on finding and activating your turn out muscles from the hip, not the feet. It's about finding the muscles at the point where your legs join your buttocks - that crease - it's part of the collection of gluteal muscles.

Another teacher I take class with has a really good way of helping beginners find those muscles. She has us stand in parallel with feet & ankles & knees together, and then imagine we have tights with seams down the back, and - in parallel, - asks us to think about bringing those seams together. Because we're in parallel, we can't over-turn from the knees and feet, but have to think about turning out from the top of the leg/hip. Then she asks us to turn out our legs, keeping that sense of turn out from the top of our legs, and keeping all our toes on the floor. 

Activating your turn out while your legs are in parallel is a really good exercise - it also teaches you that you need to engage and pull up the abdominal muscles within your skeletal frame. You can't tun out if you're not "pulled up."

It's all about alignment - have a look at MissClara's pinned sticky post at the top of this forum, all about alignment.

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