How to Dance Ballet

Ballet dancing is extremely graceful. It requires precise form and perfectly flowing movements to create an artform like no other. Ballet is performed on tip-toes and takes years of dedication to perfect. Learn how to do ballet with free video lessons from Howcast! Professional ballerina Maegan Woodin will have you pirouetting to The Nutcracker in no time.

History of Ballet

Ballet has a deep history stemming back to Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, originally intended to illustrate a story through dance. A century later, it spread to French courts as a result of a royal marriage between King Henry II and Catherine de Medici.

In France, ballet continued to thrive through the 17th century thanks to King Louis XIV’s passion for dancing. From here, ballet eventually found its way to Russia, where it became immensely popular. At this time, ballet began to be performed on tip-toes—or on pointe. This style persisted and is the classic ballet still practiced today.

How to Dance Ballet

Ballet dancing is typically choreographed, so your movements will vary depending on the routing that you are following. However, there are a few key movements that every ballerina will need to know. This includes the plie, releve, and saute, all of which we will cover below. Understanding these positions will help you perform a choreographed routine.

The Five Basic Ballet Position

There are five basic positions for ballet:

  • The first position requires the dancer to position both feet next to each other, with each foot pointing outward. Both arms will be out in front of you at chest level.
  • The second position is similar, but some distance is left between your feet. Your arms will be extended out to the side.
  • The third position is also close to the first position, but your dominant foot is placed behind your other foot. You’ll also want to raise one of your arms straight up into the air.
  • The fourth position is trickier as it requires you to have your feet both facing inward, with some space between both feet. One arm will be up in the air while the other is out in front of you at chest level.
  • The fifth position is almost identical to the fourth position, but there is no space between your feet. Place both arms straight into the air above you.

Essential Ballet Moves for Beginners

Some of the most important ballet moves for beginners to learn include the plie, the releve, and the pirouette. Here’s how to do them!

How to Do the Plie

The first move you should start with is the plie. Plie is basically a squat, or bending of your knees, which is easiest done in first or second position. Here’s how to do a ballet plie:

● Starting from the first or second position, bend both of your knees.

● Continue going down until you form a 90º angle with your upper and lower legs.

● Return to your starting position.

● Now repeat the motion, remember to keep your arms in the same position.

How to Do the Releve

From here, you should learn how to perform the releve. Releve is an extension, placing you on your tip-toes. It is best performed in the first or second position until you’re comfortable with tougher positions. Here’s how to do a Releve:

● In first or second position, press firmly on the balls of your feet.

● Continue doing this until you are on your tip-toes.

● Make sure to maintain form and keep your legs straight.

● Slowly drop back down to your starting position.

● From here, you’ll repeat the motion. Don’t forget to keep your arms in the right position!

How to Pirouette in Ballet

The next move to learn is the pirouette. A pirouette in Ballet is a turn that is very commonly found on the basic to intermediate level. The amount of turns depends on the skill of the dancer. So you can start off by just doing a passe in Releve to doing a half turn, to doing a full turn, to doing two, three, four.

● Start in a plie position

● Open your arms, with one to the side and one to the front

● Bring your arms together and your foot to passe

● Then start your turn

Start Ballet Dancing Today!

We hope this guide helps you learn how to start ballet dancing. Explore the rest of the free videos in this series below! 

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Maegan Woodin

Maegan Woodin was born and raised in Vermont and began her dance training at the age of five at the Vermont Conservatory of Ballet. She continued her studies at Lebanon Ballet School in New Hampshire, where she performed soloist and principle roles for City Center Ballet. Upon moving to New York City in 2006, Maegan began dancing with Ballet for Young Audiences. She performed soloist and principle roles in BYA's productions of The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast and Pirates. She has had the opportunity to perform the works of such esteemed choreographers as Julie Bour, David Fernandez, Nicole Fosse, Earl Mosley, Andrew Parker and Pamela Pribisco.