Third instead of Fifth Position?

I am an adult ballet student who has come back to the fold after many years away. When I stopped in my late teens, I was discouraged because things like 4th and 5th position never was easy for me. I thought my body just wasn’t right for dance – but I miss it and love moving in that way so have returned to class in my thirties. I still question why I can’t do 5th position – can you shed any light on this issue? I can’t be the only dancer who is challenged by a perfect 5th.

Such a rich question! First, I want to say congratulations for returning to class! Ballet, and other dance classes are not just for the younger body. There are so many benefits to dance – no matter when you start and what your skill level is. Kudos to you

Through the years of testing anatomical turnout I will say with confidence that third is more appropriate than fifth position for probably 50% of dancers. A bold statement – for sure – but one that is backed up by the injuries to the hips, knee and ankle joints that I so often see.

The ability of a dancer to get into a perfect 5th position is dictated by the physics of their body for one thing. The slim hipped, long legged dancer has an easier time creating 5th than the wider hipped more muscular body. Just bringing the leg past the midline of the body to 5th often tilts the pelvis forward slightly, if the dancer doesn’t have adequate rotation and flexibility at the hip.

It’s super common to have a dancer stand more on their back foot and slightly bend the front knee in order to close heel to toe – and with slightly bending the knee they can then twist the lower leg and pronate the foot to make it look good

Yup.. 5th is not an easy position to do well! I would prefer a well-executed third position that doesn’t strain the knee and foot for my students. Does this mean we shouldn’t keep trying for that gorgeous position? Of course not… but we do need to remember that barre is the preparation for center movement and gorgeous choreography.

I would love it if more teachers did barre without the barre so that their students could see if they are ‘holding’ their fifth with an overly firm grip on the barre. I like the turnout exercise (away from the barre) of starting with your left foot in coupé and keeping that gesture leg turned out, slowly turn the whole body towards the right. Keep the left leg turned out, but simply rotate the whole body towards the right (which is turning in on the right leg) then rotate back to your starting position. It’s really easy to feel when you go too far and start to pronate on that right foot – you want equal energy in both hip with working rotation. Do that several times standing on the right leg, then of course, do the other side.

What insights do they have after doing that? Is one side easier than the other? One foot pronate more? Hard to keep the rotation on the coupé leg? An easy way to check out how you are working the rotation of both legs away from the barre!

Bottom line… if standing in 3rd position allows you to move more anatomically correct then that’s the best position for you.

To your success,


5 replies
  1. Ruth - Ballet La Jeunesse
    Ruth - Ballet La Jeunesse says:

    Great topic: I ask my students to adopt and use their very best “crossed position” whatever that may be. It may be a text book fully crossed “5th” and it may be something not that crossed. I had a very wise teacher tell us our “crossed position” is unique to us and should enable our legs able to be fully stretched with knees fitting comfortably together like the pieces of a puzzle. It is only by NOT over-crossing that one can safely and consistently improve their rotation over time.

    Here is my “go to” exercise: I ask my students to face the mirror (away from the barre, in the center) and stand in first position with straight knees and their best turnout, and without lifting what would be the working foot off the floor, slide that foot to cross over until the knees fit together – and that’s their ideal and functional “crossed position” for this dance lesson. I also ask my students to do many barre exercises in the center – great feedback and they can immediately tell if they are not working within their anatomical turnout capability. I see so often, this really helps them feel balanced and able to work effectively and correctly without danger of injury.

    I watched young students at a very respected school in the Los Angeles area train in this fashion. I saw through the years how this approach resulted in very good, safe, confident 5th positions. And … with my teaching of adults now, I see it works for a grown dancer’s body, too!

  2. Kevin Tuohy
    Kevin Tuohy says:

    Deborah, Thank you for sharing this invaluable information and advice shared by my teacher. I’m an older adult beginner ballet student (pushing 60) and when trying to achieve 5th position, my teacher noticed i was forcing the turnout. She told me to use 3rd position until I could achieve a safe and proper 5th position.

    Ruth, That sounds like a terrific exercise. I will try it myself and share it with my teacher. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    Thank you for the info! My teacher was helping me with my fifth position, and after reading this, I think she may have pushed me a bit further than my body was comfortable with, as I had a death grip on the barre (I think she may have only been looking at my feet only and not how my hips, shoulders, and my hand on the barre).


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