Comments for Ballet positions - Third Position

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Thoughts on 3rd position and its role in ballet training
by: KJH

This is a really interesting question, but perhaps one with no obvious answer. In my professional dance career, I don't recollect a single time in class or on stage where the teacher or choreographer specifically asked for 3rd position. So yes, it's rare.

Thinking about it, perhaps there is an historic reason for its current lack of use. As ballet technique and standards have developed through the generations, the intensive training has resulted in dancers which are far more turned out and flexible than before. 5th position is now therefore the acceptable minimum whereas 100 years ago, perhaps 3rd was more commonly achievable and acceptable.

I do still think that 3rd position of the feet has an important role in ballet training though - especially in very young dancers. Firstly, young dancers should never plant their feet into 5th position, using only their own body weight and friction between the shoe and the floor to maintain the position. This is not only a recipe for subsequent injury, it also does absolutely nothing to develop the strength needed for turn out. When you're attempting to close a tendu from a la seconde to 5th, to maintain turn out you need to think about passing through 1st position as a gateway - so the heel of the working leg moves towards the heel of the supporting leg initially. After passing through 1st, you should naturally also pass through 3rd on your way to 5th, maintaining the turn out of the working leg as you do so. Do this by concentrating on the top of both working and supporting legs, from where turn out should originate. This process of attempting to maintain turnout simultaneously strengthens the muscles required to achieve more of it - so it's a double win!

I think it's important to point out (to young dancers especially) that it's easy to get sucked in to the thought that "If I can get my feet into 5th position, then I'll look more like a professional". Maybe you will - until you start to move. Please don't think that those efforts to unnaturally force your feet into 5th won't be noticed elsewhere on the body such as a bend in the front leg and/or a tilting pelvis. It's a false economy. Your body (and your career) will thank you for making the effort to do it properly. As a student, you shouldn't think that 5th is the be all and end all. 5th position will happen as the natural and inevitable consequence of working correctly and intelligently. You can help yourself to get there quicker by doing pilates based floor exercises to strengthen the muscles needed for leg rotation (for that is bio-mechanically what turn out is) and by carefully and sensibly stretching to increase flexibility. Remember that you stretch for flexibility to attain the positions. You strengthen to then be able to hold those positions. One is little good without the other.

In summary, 3rd is rarely used professionally. However it remains an important training point in a dance student’s journey to attaining 5th position.

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