Definition of Ballet Stance

by Sarah McLeod
Stance ensures swan-like grace and posturing.

Stance ensures swan-like grace and posturing.

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In ballet, stance is synonymous with posturing. Stance or perfect posturing is demonstrated by straightening the spine for a center of balance, but it also constructs the muscular positioning of the entire body. Novice dancers are taught to practice the maintenance of stance until proper posturing becomes second nature so that all dance movements appear graceful and fluid. There are five positions to maintain ballet stance, each referred to nominally as first, second, third, fourth and fifth.

Foot Positions

In all five ballet positions, feet are turned outward away from each other to maintain balance, usually at an angle of 180 degrees. Also, knees and legs always remain straight. This helps to project the hips forward. According to University of Tennessee Chattanooga researchers, the second position, which requires feet to be 12 inches apart, is least likely to cause lordosis or an inward curvature of the lower extremities and thoracic spine.


Four of the ballet stances require that the hips and pelvic bone be tilted outward. The second position requires a forward hip rotation, but pelvic tilting would look awkward because the feet are so wide apart from each other. Also, the second position maintains balance with the wide extension of the arms, further decreasing the need for pelvic tilting. Forward hip rotation takes stress off the lumbar spine, knees and ankles while maintaining posture, but it requires absolute tightening of the stomach muscles. Tilting the pelvis forward while the feet are close together also helps to take stress off the lumbar spine. Study results from UTC show that the third through fifth stance positions cause the most anterior tilting of the pelvis.

Muscle Engagement

Ballet stances require that dancers feel comfortable in their positions with all muscles engaged. Naturally, standing begins at the feet, but thigh muscles, buttock gluteals and abdominal muscles are all engaged simultaneously. Keeping the stomach tight during stance is referred to as "pulling up" because it forces the straightening of the spine. The neck follows suit for a head held high. With chin up, however, dancers must remember to let their shoulders roll forward and slightly bend their arms at the elbow to allow their full body weight to come down on the balls of the feet.


Arm positions are the most versatile and distinguishable among the five stances. Positioning of the arms always requires a slight bend at the elbow and helps to maintain balanced posture. In the fourth and fifth positions, at least one arm is brought up over the head, because the heel-to-toe foot positions are the most difficult to maintain. In the third position, the arms almost mimic the feet. The feet are positioned with one heel against the middle of the other foot. To balance this, one arm is bent at the elbow while the other is extended. In the second position, arms are extended to meet foot-width feet positioning, and in the first stance, arms are held down in front of the body.

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