Some dancers find it very challenging to keep their heels together in first position. When they do, they have the feeling that their knees are bent, it does not seem right. If you feel this way, chances are that you are used to going into knee hyperextension when you stretch your legs.
What is a first position?
A foot first position is: legs in turn-out, feet together. Basics. But what’s its function? A first position gives you a solid base of support to easily move from a single leg movement to another. In a first position, you can raise one leg or another and the public wouldn’t see your preparation. The public shouldn’t see you shifting your weight from one leg to another.
Ever played Jenga?
Jenga is a game with wooden blocks being stacked up and removed to create a standing structure. Lots of households have one so I like to use it to explain simple structural concepts, although I recognise that this is oversimplifying how the human body stands. What’s the relationship with ballet you’ll ask. When you stand up on one leg, you are creating a Jenga tower with your foot, your ankle, lower leg, knee, thigh, hips, torso, shoulders, neck, head.
Standing on one leg: create solid foundations
Now standing on one leg is like removing half of the bottom part of your Jenga tower. How is it going to remain standing? There is a force being applied from the top to bottom parts of your Jenga tower: the compression force. The top parts are applying pressure down to the bottom part. And it goes straight down, you need (1) solid and large enough foundations – your foot, (2) proper alignment for the compression force to be sustained by the bottom of your structure – your foot. So your foot position is essential to maintaining balance on one leg. You cannot win Jenga with a single block at the bottom that is placed on the outside. With only one block at the bottom, the block has to be in the center of your structure.
Standing on one leg: find your axis
Now let’s get back to your body and look at Margherita Venturi who demonstrates in this picture a 1st position with the heels not touching. She has no axis to stand on. The bottom part is not in alignment to sustain the weight of the top part if she decides to lift one leg off the floor. What we observed on the Jenga applies to the human body, you cannot stand on one leg if your foot is 10 cm away to the side compared to your leg axis.
So the only way for her not to fall will be to shuffle herself until she finds her standing axis again. But this shuffling is visible and that’s un-ballet like. So keep your heels together…
If you were able to manage to make this shuffling invisible then I’d still argue that it defeats the principles of efficient movement patterns. Efficient movement is a movement that requires the least amount of effort and tension. So again you’re not achieving this either. So keep your heels together…
First position: heels together to be able to move
So if you’re having troubles keeping your heels together, then focus for now on improving how you straighten your legs. Take a few minutes to watch this video with Margherita Venturi, who has naturally hyperextended knees, and Cathy Laymet as they review for us how to correct hyperextension.