It’s not easy to create the proper lines and shapes required in classical ballet, but there are many concepts we can impart in class that they can grasp and accomplish even at a very young age. Ruth Brinkerhoff’s Article titled “Using Arms and Feet in Pre-Ballet” is a thorough look into how the little bodies of our pre-ballet students learn the positions of the arms.
We teach the names of arm positions by making and holding certain positions. This is quite a different experience from moving the arms through those same positions during an exercise or dance.
Scroll down for a link to download this poster in 8.5″ x 11″ and 11″ x 17″ sizes. It’s a great classroom tool and/or handout!
Line #1 shows the positions children can learn and use for most Level 1 items:
- Arms Down
- Arms Forward
- Arms Back
- Hands on Waist
Line #2 is harder for them:
- First Position
- Second Position
- Open Fifth
It’s OK to use positions from Line #2, but don’t expect the posture to be as good. Level 1 doesn’t need to remember the names in Line #2. It’s best if they don’t have too many things to remember. When a harder position is a part of an activity, they usually handle it just fine.
Level 1 children cannot maintain their best posture when the arms are higher than the waist. The arm and shoulder muscles which create the rounded ballet style are still quite undeveloped.
Level 2 learns Lines #1 and #2. They are still not able to maintain good posture when the arms are higher than the waist, and even more difficulty with posture when their arms are higher than their shoulders.
Line #3 is harder for Level 2:
- Bras Bas
- Arms up in front
- Third position*
Line #4 is harder for Level 3:
- Fourth position*
- Fifth position (forward of a true fifth)
Children at Level 3 can begin to round their the arms, and they do better with lifting arms than younger children, but they still tend to lose posture in the higher arm positions, because the shoulder joints and muscles are not completely formed yet.
When putting one or both arms in fifth position, keep the arms a bit forward from the true fifth. Arms are just in front of the ears.
Some children need to have the 5th arms even a bit more forward than that. Find the height where the arms can go without also causing the shoulders to lift. Each child may be slightly different.
*The placement of the arms in these positions can be varied dependent on the type of technique being taught.
What shall they do for recitals?
Pre-ballet arms are most charming, and most effective when used to add expression to a story idea, or to the words of a song. One of the reasons songs are so popular for this age group is that children this age do have a very captivating ability with hand gestures, facial expressions and pantomime!
For a part of their time on stage, do have them stand in place and sing or talk, and use their hands, faces, and arms to tell a story or express the words of a song. (See more in “Choreographic Advice for Teachers”)
Arms and Feet Take Turns Dancing!
When they start to actually do dance steps, leave the arms more or less in static positions such as arms down, or hands on waist. Arms can also be allowed to move freely as a natural response to the steps they are doing. This may look sloppy on older dancers, but it looks just fine on the little ones!
They can concentrate on feet, or on arms, but not on both at the same time. When you want specific arm movements, have them stay in one place and not do anything with their feet while “their arms are dancing.” If you have their feet and arms take turns dancing, their memories for dances and dance steps will nearly always improve.
Generally speaking, children younger than age 5 or 6 will not have the muscular control it takes to stay on musical beats for very long at a time. One exception is marching. Most little ones can march on the music, so long as the arms aren’t required to move in any particular pattern.
To use a cute “fifth position” in some parts of a pre-ballet dance is OK! Just don’t keep their arms there very long at one time, and don’t use high positions so often during the dance that they begin to look droopy! These guidelines should help your pre-ballets have beautiful arms!
- Choreographic Advice for Teachers
- 5 Principles of Classical Ballet for Young Children
- Posture Checklist for Ballet Students
- Challenge? Or Frustration?
From Ruth Brinkerhoff’s “Using the Arms and Feet in Pre-Ballet”, Article STN#1