Outreach & EducationPhysics & Dance


Balance can be defined as a condition in which the body is in stationary equilibrium without the tendency to topple due to the effect of gravity. Your students will see several examples during the ballet of dancers being en pointe, which means standing while balanced on the toes of one foot. This is an extremely difficult position in which to maintain balance and it only through practice and training that the effect is achieved.

For a person standing on two feet, in a “normal” standing position, the center of gravity is located in the abdominal region. This center is typically higher in the male body than the female body due to muscle mass distribution (men have it higher, women lower). If a person extends his or her leg out to the side, back or front, part of the mass of the rest of the body must be displaced to maintain balance. This displacing of mass may cause a person to lean in the opposite direction of the extended leg. When a dancer is en pointe, the center of gravity must be in a vertical line above the toe position (see image at left). The dancer in the diagram is in a position known as arabesque. You can see that for the dancer to maintain her balance, arm and leg position, as well as torso position are used to hold the center of gravity in place. If the center of gravity is not in line, the dancer will topple. The more out of line the center of gravity, the faster the toppling will occur.

It is not uncommon for a dancer to find herself off-balance in a practice session. The body usually corrects itself in order to once again achieve a state of balance. However, from time to time a dancer may topple. This is why practice and training are so important. It is one thing to fall in a practice, it is another to do so in front of an audience!

Other things to look for during a ballet are dancers who may even hop while en pointe or when performing a pirouette – a complete turn of the body while on one foot.

In the Classroom

A simple experiment can be done in the classroom to demonstrate how the body automatically corrects for an off-balance situation. Have a student stand with his or her back to either the teacher or another student. Tell the student to imagine that he or she is on the edge of a table and certainly doesn’t want to fall off. Let the student know that you or another student will gently push them on the back. Tell the other students to watch what happens as the student’s body fights to maintain balance. Perform push. Some students will take a step forward to regain their balance. If the student were truly on a table, over they would have gone! However, other students may bend their body forward at the waist and even move their arms in a windmill-like fashion. This is the body’s attempt to compensate for a sudden shift (the push) in balance.

There are 3 single elements that affect movements for dancers . There is ALIGNMENT of the body. Practice your body alignment with stationary balances, weight shifts or transfers (from 2 legs to l and back again) Try tilting the upper body forward or backwards. Incorporate a circling motion of one leg on the floor or in the air.

There is FORCE, the amount of push or pull . Newton’s 3rd law – to every action or force applied there is equal or opposite reaction. A dancer is drawn to the floor by gravity and the floor exerts equal or opposite force against the dancer.

There is FRICTION. Try simple steps wearing shoes with different types of soles, try one foot with a sock and go barefoot on the other.