All About Port De Bras In Classical Ballet

When you join a qualified ballet class, you will hear frequent corrections for the arms, specifically during the practice for Port de Bras. 

The instructor needs to be strict and set the highest standards, because nailing Port de Bras means you are one step closer to the perfect posture. 

Let’s have a deeper look at this challenging exercise and learn the way to achieve perfection!

What Is Port De Bras?

In classical ballet, Port de Bras might refer to two different topics: the dancer’s arm movements in general and the standard exercises to make those movements better. 

Its exact translation is “the carriage of the arms”, for the posture resembles the “carriage” part.

Each ballet method has a different name for its exercise sets but the quintessence remains the same. The dancer’s arms should form a soft and round shape, the elbows imperceptible and the hands simple yet graceful.

Why Is Port De Bras Important?

According to many ballet masters of our time, the performance will lack so much vibrancy and vitality without proper Port de Bras. It requires a combination of strength in your arms, your body coordination, and your sense of artistry.

For professional ballet dancers, arm movement is a whole language of its own. Using your arms, you can visualize the social status of your character, the emotions they are feeling, and even the signature of a mythical race.

Check more: 16 Interesting Ballet Facts You Might Not Know

Port de Bras Positions

The most commonly known set of exercises for Port de Bras in our time includes five positions. 

The dancers will start from the bras bas, also known as the preparatory position. With their shoulders relaxed and open, they will keep both arms right beneath and in front of their thighs in a soft oval shape. 

The elbows point to the sides and not behind, while the hands are a breadth away from the torso and the legs.

Port De Bras Ballet position
Credit: dancingbarefoot3 – Flickr

First Position

The oval shape is maintained while the hands are raised to the level of the waist. The gap between your hands and the relaxation in your shoulders should also remain the same.

A beginner’s mistake is turning the palms downwards or upwards when the correct pose would be them facing the dancer.

Second Position

You will extend your arms to both sides, while still keeping them slightly inclined to the front. 

There should be a gentle slope from the shoulders to the fingertips, which means your arms shouldn’t form a horizontal line.

As always, relax your shoulders and make sure your palms face the space in front of you, not the floor or the ceiling.

Third Position

It is a combination of first and second, with each arm in one of the two positions. 

Your dance teacher will tell you to imagine a straight vertical divider running past the center of your body. Your first-position arm should stay within its corresponding half.

Fourth Position

It is also a combination of first and second, albeit with one hand raised over the dancer’s head and inclined to the front slightly. The vertical divider rule also applies here.

Fifth Position

For this position, you will keep the oval shape formed by your arms like a bras bas and first position. The distance between them will remain unchanged when you raise both your hands over the crown of your head, making sure they lean forward a little bit.

Beginners will train in the fifth position with their arms leaning forward more and gradually moving back as their control and core strength improve. 

Therefore, you will see highly skilled dancers doing fifth straight above their heads with no incline. 

However, this is the farthest they should go. When your arms lean too far behind, you will have a wrong posture.

How To Do A Port De Bras?

First of all, train your posture

Many problems with Port de Bras learners come from improper posture. When your back and arms have a connection that you can’t give them, you might end up with flapping wrists or off-position elbows.

To grasp a sense of that connection, you can start with a handstand. This position will give you the tension of a bowstring, hence your entire body will be aligned from the neck to the tailbone. As a result, your sides will also be engaged by default.

Next, hold your arms in the first position and face the wall. Make sure your hands are inverted and push your back against the wall so you can feel the heat in your back muscles.

All the while, the breathing technique is extremely important. You need to engage your sides and your rib cages while leading the air into the upper part of your chest and creating a connection between your clavicles, sternum, back, and lungs.

Start with your middle

We have the habit of moving our wrists before our arms but, for Port de Bras, you will have to get rid of this intuition and start from your lower back.

The motion in Port de Bras begins from the dorsal and the obliques to the waist, and then the back. You will guide that flow through your shoulders, biceps, forearms, and finally your wrists.


Rather than starting with combinations right away, a repetition of Port de Bras alone will be much more efficient in improving your fluidity and strength. 

10 – 15 minutes of continuous Port de Bras per day will keep your back lifted and open.

As you attempt to move from one position to another, coordination plays a crucial role. Barre practice will give you the materials to build that coordination.

Insert meanings

When you have reached a higher level of ballet and performing arts in general, you will learn that each movement should carry a motive and that the flow of arms is as eloquent as well-thought words.

Although your arms don’t move exaggeratedly, they can convey different meanings when combined with a nod of the head, a shrug of the shoulders, or an abrupt stretch of the back.

Tips For Perfecting Your Port De Bras

Since Port de Bras is an essential position that all ballet dancers must master, there are a lot of tips for you to perform it perfectly.

  • Get the accurate form of Port de Bras along with its positions while you are at the barre first.
  • When you activate your arms, never start from your wrists. You will also need to keep your shoulders free from tension.
  • Your ribs need to be engaged, your shoulders in sockets with the blades spread in a relaxed manner rather than scrunched up.
  • The base of your breastbone is the guide for how high your arms should be in the classical first position.
  • The Port de Bras should have a reasonable proportion with the movement of the rest of your body. For example, if your arms are too aggressive, your body motion will be diminished.
  • When you want to include an en pointe, you will still want to stay loyal to the basic steps of Port de Bras and not mess up the proper approach.
  • Set your hands free as if they are extensions of your arms.
  • Don’t let the movement and its intentions become less lively.
  • Try to use your arms only when you grind the combinations such as grand allegro and petit.
  • Make sure your body’s placement and your breath are always proper and steady.

Final Words

With an elaborate view of Port de Bras, I hope to show you the importance of seemingly simple aspects in the elegant art of ballet. 

Every position and posture can help you convey a thousand words to your audience, and Port de Bras is the key to unlocking the beauty of line and expression. 

Every qualified ballet instructor would correct their student’s arms very often, and every passionate student would stop at nothing to make their arm movement perfect.

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