Learn Classic Ballet Positions, With Tips From an Xtend Barre Teacher

Learn Classic Ballet Positions, With Tips From an Xtend Barre Teacher

While you don’t need any ballet experience to do Xtend Barre, the dance-inspired workout may pique your curiosity about the art form. Perhaps you’ve heard references to ballet positions or terms like “plié” and “relevé” and wondered what they mean outside the context of a 30-minute Sculpt & Define class. What are all the ballet positions for both the feet and the arms? Do world-class dancers use the same ballet positions in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker as we do in Xtend Signature?

We asked Jen Cordiner, a former professional dancer and Director of Training and Creative Coordinator at Xtend Barre, to walk us through each of the ballet positions and provide some pointers for doing them safely and effectively, whether you’re in an Xtend Barre class or on stage.

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First Position

first position ballet | ballet positions


  • To stand in first position, draw your heels together and turn your toes outward while keeping your legs straight.
  • Distribute your weight evenly and press all four corners of each foot into the floor. “Never force your turnout or rotation,” Cordiner says, as doing so could lead to injury. “Think of initiating the movement of turnout from your glutes.”
  • “In Xtend Barre, we plié (bend the knees) in first position often,” she says. “Be sure your knees are always pressing outward and gliding over the second and third toes.”


  • To bring your arms into first position, bend your elbows slightly (aim for a gentle curve) and lift your arms up in front of you.
  • Pretend that you’re holding a large exercise ball against your stomach.
  • Keep your elbows lower than your shoulders but higher than your hands. Angle your hands so that your palms face up toward your face. Keep the fingertips of each hand a few inches apart.
  • “As with all ballet positions, the shoulders should remain relaxed,” says Cordiner.


Second Position

second position ballet | ballet positions


  • If you begin in first position and step the feet about hip-width apart, you’ll find your feet in second position.
  • Again, work with your natural turnout — never force it. “Think about pointing the toes diagonally rather than directly to the sides,” Cordiner says.
  • When you plié in second position, your knees should align with your second and third toes.


  • You can easily find second position by bringing your arms to first position and then opening them up (dropping the invisible exercise ball).
  • Initiate the opening with your elbows, then bring your arms back a little farther, keeping your arms slightly in front of your shoulders and your palms tilted upward.
  • “Engage the lats as well as the triceps to support the elbows from underneath,” Cordiner says.


Third Position

third position ballet | ballet positions


  • You won’t see third position in any Xtend Barre classes or professional ballet performances. “Third position is used in ballet mainly to teach and prepare younger students before advancing to fifth position,” explains Cordiner.
  • To find third position, begin in first position, then slide the heel of one foot inward until it aligns with the middle of the other foot.


  • In third position, one arm is in first position while the other extends into second position (as if you’re holding that exercise ball under just one arm).


Fourth Position

fourth position ballet | ballet positions


  • To stand in fourth position, point your toes outward in your natural turnout and place one foot in front of the other, allowing for about a foot of space between your feet.
  • In Xtend Barre, you’ll find that fourth position looks a little different than standard fourth position.
  • “We work in fourth position with the front heel flat and the back heel lifted in relevé,” Cordiner says. “Your weight should be centered between both feet, with the front foot flat (position the knee over the ankle, keeping weight in the heel). For the back foot, shift your weight to the ball of your foot.”


  • From third position, take the arm that’s in first position (the one holding the invisible exercise ball) and lift it overhead but still slightly in front of you.
  • Maintain a softly bent elbow and continue to position your hand so that your palm is facing you.
  • “Feel your arms working or moving from your back,” Cordiner says. “This will not only strengthen and tone the upper body, but it will also ensure you are moving injury-free.”


Fifth Position

fifth position ballet | ballet positions


  • In fifth position, you place one foot directly in front of the other.
  • “The legs are externally rotated with the front heel crossing over to meet opposite toe — the crossing action is what strengthens and tones the inner thighs,” Cordiner says.
  • It’s important to keep the hips and shoulders facing forward and the legs straight. But, as with every ballet position, avoid forcing an unnatural turnout.


  • To find fifth position, start with your arms in first position and lift them overhead, maintaining softly bent elbows.
  • Your fingertips should extend toward each other but not touch. Keep your chest “proud and open,” Cordiner says.


7 Common Ballet Terms

plie tendu and releve demonstrations | ballet positions

In addition to the basic ballet positions, these terms are often referenced in ballet-inspired workouts like Xtend Barre. Here’s a quick primer on what these French terms mean in the world of dance.

  • Plier (plié): to bend the knees.
  • Étendre (tendu): to stretch the foot from flat on the ground to a pointed position. In tendu, the toes remain in contact with the floor.
  • Relever (relevé): to rise up onto the toes or balls of the feet.
  • Glisser (glissade): to slide or glide across the floor.
  • Sauter (sauté): to jump vertically.
  • Élancer (élancé): to dart, or travel through the air quickly.
  • Tourner (tourné): to turn the body.
Jenessa Connor


Jenessa Connor has written for Men’s Journal, Shape, Runner’s World, Oxygen and other health and fitness publications. When it comes to exercise, she’s a bit of a dabbler, but she always comes back to running, CrossFit and yoga. Follow her on Twitter.