In classical ballet training, the body is placed to be facing an audience, and fully stretched arms do not look lively or natural.  Therefore, the arms should always be slightly in front and rounded, with the lower part of the arm from the elbow to the wrists (forearms) on a level with the elbow.

When the arms are in either low or high positions, they should create a vertical oval shape (longer than the medium-front.)

When the arms are in medium-front position, they should be in between the sternum and the navel, creating a horizontal oval shape (shorter than the low and high ones) with the middle fingers nearly touching.  The forearms should be closer to the body from the elbows, which will produce a more controllable arm position for pirouettes (turns on full or three-quarter pointe on one leg).


Low arms                                  Medium arms                          High arms

(down)                                      (front)                                       (up)


Side arms


Palms should be a mirror image of each other in low, medium and high arm positions, and they should face in front (en face) in side ones.  From the shoulders, the arms should only be engaged vertically, not horizontally.

The side arm position is in fact a front arm position carried sideways only from the elbows.  This way, we can have a correct upper body position ready for épaulement (a French word meaning “something to do with shoulders”:  One shoulder is moved horizontally forward while the other is moved backwards.)

When the arms are brought marginally back (behind the body), the torso naturally adjusts itself by projecting the ribs out and letting the lower back arch (these are referred to as “the character arms”.)

The sensitive and sensible use of the hands and the fingers is also essential.  I find it harder to correct them when they are facing forward (en face).  When the palms are facing down (elongation under) in a side arm position, the index finger and the pinky should continue the line of the arm on both sides.

The thumb should aim for the third section (from the top) of the middle finger.  The ring finger should be in between the middle finger and the pinky.  The hands should look spread out, yet small, with no sign of tension.  All fingers should be seen and active, ready for movement.


“All fingers are visible; a small yet spread out form.”


Every movement in ballet should be executed as if initiated from the furthest part of the limb, and the importance of keeping both arms in students’ peripheral vision must be emphasized (even at the barre) to prevent the hands from touching the legs in low arm positions.  Although the spine is not a limb, it should also be treated as one.

Breathing normally, the elongation of the entire body (pulling up and pushing down), the use of forearms and the initiation of port de bras from the finger tips will increase overall control, adding a fluid quality from position to position.

With years of practice, when executed properly without an excessive wrist movement, the hands and the fingers are never left behind creating a “flapping” movement.  Imagine feeling the resistance of water while performing the exercise submerged.

Watch Cem Catbas dance in Les Sylphides male variation.