jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Invoking the fifth


Two posts today. First, I have been reading a number of ballet books lately in order to learn more about alignment. Here’s what Valerie Grieg’s Inside Ballet Technique has to say about fifth position.

Fifth position is the ballet dancer’s home base. By no means a position of the feet only, it is an attunement of the entire body. Fifth position is the smallest possible base for the weight of the body; freeing one leg requires no sideways adjustment and only a minuscule forward-backward adjustment is needed. It is the best possible position from which to propel the body in any new direction or into a combination of directions. (emphasis mine)

What caught my eye was the idea that being this position means that there is no need (or minimal need) to adjust one’s balance to get from one leg to another.

So there is a reason why fifth position is often invoked where mohawks and choctaws are concerned. Both turns make use of fifth position, as this Kseniya and Oleg video illustrates:

Of course, in good ballet form fifth position looks something like this:


Notice how the dancer’s excellent turnout allows the feet to be almost parallel to one another. In my case, however, my feet are nowhere close to that position. And given all my hip-femur issues on the left side, I doubt that even diligent stretching will help this dire situation. As Ari says, sometimes you just have to work with what you got.

I thought about taking a picture to illustrate my anatomical problem, but decided against any further public humiliation, at least not today.

Instead, I will just hope that what Greig’s Inside Ballet Technique says about doing fifth position in plié might actually help with this:

But perhaps the greatest value of fifth position is in plié, when the relaxed ligaments cause a slight additional turnout of the knee, enabling the dancer to center the weight–or spine, or line of gravity–over this very small base. In this centering action the full effects of a good turnout are fully realized. An inadequate turnout will force the dancer to sit back in the plié (or, heaven forbid, allow the knees to fall forward) thus limiting, however slightly, full control and mobility. In motion the dancer continually returns to this centered position, if only for a split second, restoring balance momentarily before the quick transition into the next movement.

So basically I think bending my knees will help me “fake” some of the turnout through the mohawk.

And even if I’m having some trouble executing it correctly, fifth position is actually a really useful concept . It allows me to think about how to keep my hips in position. In addition to mohawks, it helps with other edges in which I draw up the free leg behind the skating leg (like three turns). More on this in future posts.

Author: Joskates

Don't see me on the ice? I may be in the classroom or at the theater, or hanging out with my family and friends.

2 thoughts on “Invoking the fifth

  1. Choctaws are one of those elusive figure skating moves that I have extreme trouble with. While I can get into 5th position (in ballet), I can’t seem to execute it on the ice. I know what one of my problems is – speed. Like the narrator in the video says, choctaws are easier done with speed, which I definitely don’t have on these!


  2. Yes, Eva, without speed the turn devolves into a kind of weird T-stop! I’ve found that thinking of some acceleration into the turn helps (I don’t think I actually accelerate, but just don’t put the brakes on as I am won’t to do!)


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