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Home | Research Library | Port De Bras

Port De Bras
Dance Theory

The French term "Port de bras" (PDB) can be translated as positioning/carriage of the arms. It refers to the techniques, pathways and lines of your arms when dancing, irrespective of the dance form.

Commonly referred to in ballet, port de bras contains five elementary positions, known as "first", "second", "third", "fourth" and "fifth". A full PDB starts from a low arm position all the way to fifth position over the head and back down.

The definition in ballet is

  • a) A movement or series of movements made by passing the arm or arms through various positions. The passage of the arms from one position to another constitutes a "port de bras".

  • b) A term for a group of exercises designed to make the arms move gracefully and harmoniously. In the "Cecchetti" method there are eight set exercises on port de bras. In the execution of port de bras the arms should move from the shoulder and not from the elbow and the movement should be smooth and flowing. The arms should be softly rounded so that the points of the elbows are imperceptible and the hands must be simple, graceful and never flowery.

The body and head should come into play and a suggestion of épaulement should be used. In raising the arms from one position to another the arms must pass through a position known in dancing as the gateway.

This position corresponds to the fifth position en avant, Cecchetti method, or the first position, French and Russian Schools.

In passing from a high position to a low one, the arms are generally lowered in a line with the sides. Exercises on port de bras can be varied to infinity by combining their basic elements according to the taste of the professor and the needs of the pupil.

ABT Video of PDB: http://media.abt.org/qtime/port.bras.mov

Russian Prima Ballerina Uliana Lopatkina rehearsing PDB for "The Dying Swan": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK02YhsgxQY

Former San Francisco Ballet Soloist Alexi Zubiria gives an introduction on Port De Bras: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD74fIxMzko

Tips for Improving Port de Bras

  • Always maintain proper placement throughout the entire body
  • Make sure the ribs are in; shoulders naturally placed in their sockets; and the shoulder blades spread, not pinched together
  • Never activate the arm from the wrist
  • Avoid for tension in the shoulders
  • Use the base of the sternum (breastbone) as a guideline for the height of the hands in classical first position of the arms
  • Learn the correct form for all positions of port de bras at the barre and carry it into the center work
  • Keep the port de bras in proportion to the movement of the entire body. The arms shouldn't be exaggerated or weak or they will diminish what's happening in the rest of the body
  • Always be aware of the breath
  • When doing pointe work, don't tighten up and change your approach to the port de bras. Remember the basics
  • Lengthen and free the hands as an extension of the whole arm
  • Practice combinations, especially petit and grand allegro, using only the arms
  • Keep the intention of the movement alive in your port de bras

Sources: Britannica; American Ballet Theater (ABT), Wikipedia Ballet Dictionary; Joseph Carman, Dance Magazine (contributing editor to Dance Magazine and author of Round About the Ballet)