Ballet Terms
Ballet Terms

These are basic terms of ballet, listed in alphabetical order starting with “A” and ending with “Z”.

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A

Adagio: a slow movement or combination designed to help a student master the basic poses, turns of the body and head, and the firmness and stability of the body.

Allegro: a fast movement, which develops agility and mobility of the body through jumps and combinations of jumps.

Aplomb: most important part of learning to dance, it is the balance and stability of the body. Once a dancer knows how to find this and have the correct positioning of the body, they will be able to perform even the most difficult steps and combinations

Arabesque: one of the basic poses in contemporary classical ballet. There are four; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arabesques:

- 1st back is arched and leg is lifted behind at no less than a 90-degree angle. Feet are in position efface. The opposite arm as standing leg is out to the side and the arm on the same side as standing leg is forward. Back and head are lifted.

- 2nd body and legs are the same as in 1st, but arms are switched so that the arm on the same side as the standing leg is forward (forms a long straight line from extended hand to foot).

- 3rd faces the audience, leg is in croise at 90-degree angle and head is looking into hand. Arm forward is same as extended leg. Arm side is on same side as standing leg.

- 4th same as 3rd, except arms are opposite and the head is looking over the shoulder

Assemblé: a jump, which, once mastered, provides a foundation for other allegro (jumping) steps. To execute: plié in fifth position, tendu to the side (2nd position), push off of floor, pointing toes, and end with both feet touching the floor at the same time in PLIE!

Attitude: a pose on one leg with the other lifted at a 90-degree angle (similar to arabesque) with knee bent and not dropped. Arms are to corresponding leg. Bent knee allows body to bend and turn. (p.11-12, 21, 54, 56, 73)

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B

Balance: a simple pas allegro often (in classical dancing) used in waltz tempo. TO EXECUTE: start in fifth, tendus the back foot to the side and jete (light), landing in fifth and crossing the opposite foot behind in cou-de-pied.

Ballon: the ability of a dancer to hold in the air a pose or position.

Ballonne: same as balance, only, instead of a jete, do a jump.

Ballotte: it is a movement which requires strength in the legs and body that is very difficult to execute in it's actual correct form. Itresembles the swinging or rocking of a boat.

Battements: the extension of the leg and its return to the position from which it has been extended. Battement tendus help to heal injuries and to warm up the legs. To execute: begin in 5th position (right foot front) with the arms out to 2nd position. Tendu to the front and extend, lifting the left as high as you can (resembling a kick,except without bending the knee and always keeping the back straight). Keep the leg stretched and bring it back down to the tendu and to 5th position.This is all one movement. Always brush through tendu before lifting the leg!

Batterie: (beats) steps in which one leg is beaten against the other. During execution of the step, both legs must be stretched and slightly opened.

Battu: any step embellished with a beat

Brise: two kinds: one ends in 5th position, another ends on one leg (dessus: forward/dessous: back); often used on stage and seldom done to the back.

(p. 26-27, 69, 94,96, 102, and 106)

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C

Cabriole: one of the most difficult forms of the jumps, it is a movement in which the calves meet in the air between 45 and 90 degrees. TO EXECUTE: start in 5th position (left foot front), plie on left foot and extend right leg up, bringing the left one behind. End on the left foot in plie.

Ceccheti: dancer who introduced pointe work on the toes

Changement: two kinds; petit and grand: a.) Petit: develops softness and elasticity of the jump. TO EXECUTE: plie in 5th with the right foot front, and push off of the floor, extending the toes in the air. As you come down, switch the feet and end in 5th plie with the left foot in front. b.) Grand: a larger version of the petit-only you plie deeper and jump higher.

Chasse: a masculine movement - it is a jumping, gliding movement to the side

Ciseaux: combination of a cabriole and a changement. Similar to a cabriole - all you do is change your feet in the air. TO EXECUTE: start tendu back, standing on the left foot in front. Bring the right leg up to the side and plie, bring the left foot up on top of the right, plie on right, and swing left leg back to arabesque.

Cou-de-pied: the foot is placed near the ankle of the other leg, pointed and wrapped when in the front and side, and touching when in the back.

Coupe: done as preparation or "pick up" and looks similar to cou-de-pied.

Croise: a position in which the legs are crossed from an audience's viewpoint.

(p. 21, 33, 93, 96, 100, and 109)

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D

Degage: similar to tendu, only, the foot is lifted about 3 inches off the floor.

Demi-plie: done in five positions. Demi is the half-movement of the full (grand) plie.

Dessous: means "under" or "back"

Developpe: a movement from adagio which is an extension of the leg. TO EXECUTE (a basic developpe): start in 5th (right foot front), and bring the right foot up to passe. Then extend forward 90 degrees. Execute to the side, then to the back, and then to the side again for a basic exercise. (p. 17, 35, 61)

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E

Ecarte: facing the corner

Echappe: movement of beginning in 5th jumping to 2nd, and then jumping back to 5th (always pointe toes and stretch the legs)

Efface: a position in which the legs are open and "uncrossed" (opposite of croise)

Elevation: the acquiring of flight, consisting of two elements: elevation proper and ballon

Emboite: a turning jump. TO EXECUTE: start in 5th position (right foot front), demi plie, jump up and turn 180 degrees (right foot up in passe). Land on left foot (right foot still in passe) and repeat one more time to return to the start position.

En dedans: a rotating movement directed inward ("closing the door" is a way to remember it)

En dehors: a rotating movement directed outward ("opening the door" is a way to remember it)

En face: (part of epaulement). It is the natural direction for 1st and 2nd position (head and shoulders remain in the natural position). In other words, just facing front toward where the audience would be. Epaulement: the use of the head and shoulders which helps a dancer master the artistry of classical ballet. After strnght in the body is gained, exercises begin to use the basic body positions.

Extension: stretching body part to its extreme point (example; bent knee to straight leg)

(p. 20, 22-23, 29, 58, 69, 98-99, 103-106, and 127)

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F

Facial expression (in epaulement): facial expression in epaulement changes depending on the position. If the right foot is tendus forward, the head looks up and out. If the tendus is to the side, the head is up and straight ahead. If the tendus is to the back, the head is inclined or up and straight ahead if arms are in arabesque. This basic positioning of the head is used in almost all steps in ballet.

Failli: a movement done on one count, has a characteristic fleeting air about it. Since I have never done this step before, I will use Agrippina Vaganova's explanation from The Basic Principles of Classical Ballet : "stand in 5th position, right foot front. Demi-plie, jump up vertically, feet close together. During the jump, turn body efface back, and immediately, without a pause, move the extended toe of the left foot on the florr through 1st position forward in croise, and then demi-plie." This movement must be done with the correct arm positions.

Flic-Flac: a movement done in exercises and as a linking movement in adagio. Has a "lashing character". It is simply a touch of the toe to the side, then to the front, then into coupe. It is done in en dedans and en dehors, on half toe, and en turnant (turn).

Fondu: a preparation movement used for more complex steps. The basic execution is: plie in 5th (right foot front), bring the right foot up to cou-de-pied and keep the toes pointed. Fondu can be done in battements, jetes, and sissones.

(p. 21-22, 34, and 97-98)

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G

Gargouillade: French term (also known as rond de jambe in the Russian school). In en dedans, it is usually used in class, but not done on stage very often. [I have never ever heard this term before so when I finally learn what it actually is, I will be sure to write it here J]

Glissade: as you can see from the name, this is a gliding movement associated with other steps, such as the leap, in ballet. When executed correctly, it appears that the dancer is “gliding” across the floor, without the bouncing of the body that would be seen in an inexperienced dancer or amateur. TO EXECUTE: This step always begins and ends with a plie. Start in 5th position (right foot front) and demi-plie. As you plie, tendu the right foot to the side in 2nd position. As soon as the body weight is transferred to the right leg, immediately bring the left leg into 5th behind the right foot. The finish with a demi-plie. Remember that this is a very graceful “gliding” movement. There should be no excessive movement of the upper body. It is best to remain in plie throughout the entire movement.

Grand: simply means the enlargement or intensifying of a movement normally done in “petit” or “demi” (grand meaning “big). Various grand steps include: the grand adagio, grand assemble, ballonne, battement, changement de pieds, echappe, emboite, fouette, jete, pas de basque, pirouette, plie, port de bras, releve, and ronds de jombe.

(p. 92, 97-97)

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H

Hands: As unimportant as they may seem, the hands of a dancer are actually very important to their level of technique. When in position, the fingers should be freely grouped and rounded somewhat to continue the curve of the arms. The thumb should touch the middle finger and be held there during exercises. No spread hands or ungrouped thumbs are acceptable.

Head: The head of a dancer is important in every aspect of ballet technique. It symbolizes the true artistry and beauty of ballet and it is necessary for a dancer to learn the correct placement for it. To see examples of this and to gather more detailed information, see “Port de bras” in the Basic Movements section of Arabesque.

(p. 42, 45)

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I

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J

Jete: comes from the French word, jeter, which means to “throw” or in ballet, “to throw the leg and fall onto it”. This movement is similar to the glissade in that they are both types of “gliding” movements. TO EXECUTE: the most common jete starts in 5th position (right foot front). Demi-plie and tendu the right foot front. Execute a pas de bourree or simple preparation movement and bring the back foot forward in what resembles a leap. The arms are immediately in arabesque position and the front foot lands first, with the back foot following in behind. Finish in 5th position and demi-plie. More complex jetes include: the jete battu, en tounant, en tournant par terre, entrelance, ferme, fondu, grand, in half turns, passé, on pointes, and renverse.

Jumps: the act of swiftly moving into the air in an upward motion. To see a complete list of jumps and information, click here.

(p. 68-69, 77)

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L

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M

Movements (Noverre's seven): Noverre (1727-1810, a dancer and ballet master whose writings revolutionized ballet) analyzed all balletic movements into seven basic categories. These are: plier, to bend; étendre, to stretch; relever, to rise; sauter, to leap; élancer, to dart; glisser, to glide; and tourner, to turn.

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N

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O

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Opposition: Movement (or position) of the arms in opposite direction to movement (or position) of the legs--as we move our arms when we walk.

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P

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Pas: A step. Many of the common names of steps in ballet are adjectives (or participles) instead of nouns; these names have the word "pas" understood: thus, for example, "coupé" (which everybody says) is actually short for "pas coupé" ["cut step"] (which nobody says). Also used to refer to a dance, as pas de deux, a dance for two; pas de quatre, a dance for four.

Pas de Basque ["Basque step"]: Starts in 5th position; assume right foot front. On the upbeat, demi-plié; the right foot glides forward in croisé and continues with a demi-rond de jambe en dehors to the side, while the left foot remains in plié. A small jump occurs onto the right foot in demi-plié. The left foot now glides through 1st position into croisé forward. On the final count, the weight is transferred to the left foot and a small jump is made to bring the feet together where the left one was placed. The movement finishes in 5th croisé. (Charlotte's FAVORITE!)

Pas de bourrée ["bourrée step," the bourrée being an old folk dance]: This term has at least two meanings.

1. One of the simplest connecting steps, used to link other steps in a combination. The commonest form is probably the pas de bourrée dessous. Assume your right foot is in front: left foot on half pointe; step on it and put your weight on it; move the right foot to the side, transfer your weight to it (also in relevé); move the left foot to the front of the right and put your weight on both feet in a plié.

2. (properly called pas de bourrée couru, "running pas de bourrée" or pas de bourrée suivi, "followed pas de bourrée"). A gliding movement by a dancer on pointe consisting of many very small steps taken with the feet close together. When a dancer uses bourrée as a verb ("Then you bourrée downstage"), she usually means pas de bourrée couru.

Pas de chat ["step of the cat"]: A jump. Leap off the left leg, starting from a plié and raising the right leg into retiré. In midair, raise the left leg into retiré, too, so your legs form a diamond shape in the air. Land on the right leg with the left leg still in retiré; then bring it down, landing in another plié. In the famous dance in Swan Lake in which the four cygnets dance with interlaced arms, they do sixteen pas de chat.

Pas de cheval ["step of the horse"]: Starting with the working leg in pointe tendu, draw it along the floor back to the supporting leg; then, without pausing, move it up to cou-de-pied and back out to pointe tendu in a small developpé. The step resembles the pawing of a horse.

Passé ["passed"]: A movement in which the pointed foot of the working leg is made to pass the knee of the supporting leg. Frequently used--incorrectly--as a synonym for retiré.

Penché ["leaning"]: A tilting of the body to achieve an exteme picture. An example is when the dancer is in an arabesque at 90 degrees. She then pushes her working leg upward and over, pushing the body down towards the supporting leg to achieve a much greater angle between legs, often resulting in a 180-degree split.

Petit battement ["little beat"]: An exercise for speed and agility in the lower leg. In the starting position, the working leg is sur le cou-de-pied. It opens in the direction of 2nd position but only half way, as the leg does not fully extend at the knee. The working leg then closes to sur le cou-de-pied opposite of where it started (in back if it started in front and vice versa). Done repeatedly, back and front. The knee and thigh of the working leg stay in the same place and do not move during the exercise.

Petit jeté ["little jump"]: A jump: brush the working foot out, hop off the supporting leg, and land on the working foot with the other foot sur le cou-de-pied behind. Can be done to the front, the side, or the back.

Pirouette ["spin"]: A complete turn on one leg. The dancer usually goes round more than once. The raised leg is most commonly held in rétiré, but pirouettes with the leg in other positions are not uncommon. If the direction of the turn rotates the raised leg away from the front of the body, the pirouette is en dehors; if it rotates the leg toward the front, it is en dedans. The dancer spots (see "spotting") in order to avoid becoming disoriented. Pirouettes are usually fast, but supported pirouettes, in which a partner steadies the soloist, may be done very slowly.

Placement: Roughly, alignment of the body. Becoming properly placed means learning to stand up straight, with hips level and even, shoulders open but relaxed and centered over the hips, pelvis straight (neither protruding nor tucked under), back straight, head up, weight centered evenly between the feet. This posture is frequently described as "pulled up," but it is also a relaxed posture; you aren't tensed up like a soldier standing at attention. (A teacher once said you should imagine that you are suspended by a thread attached to the top of your head. This suggests both the "pulled-up" and relaxed aspects of good ballet posture.) And as you dance, you seek to maintain this posture except when the step requires something different, like épaulement, or like the slight forward arch of the spine that accompanies an arabesque.

Plier ["to bend"]: One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

Plié ["bent"]: Knee bends, done with the legs turned out. Normally the first exercise in a ballet class. Demi-plié ["half-bent"] is a shallow bend (in all positions but second, as far down as you can go without lifting the heels off the floor); grand plié ["big plié"] is a deep bend, down to where the thighs are almost horizontal. In all positions except second, the heels release from the floor in a grand plié.

Pointe ["point"]: (demi ["half"], quarter, three-quarter, sur les pointes ["on the points"]). The point of the foot. Demi-pointe, etc., refer to how far the heel is raised off the floor in a relevé. Definitions vary, but this will do for starters: quarter point is with the heel just off the floor; three-quarter point is a straight line from the knee to the ball of the foot. Demi pointe is half way between. Sur les pointes, or "on pointe," is on the tips of the toes--literally. Children should not be allowed to go on pointe until the bones of their feet are fully developed--typically about the age of 11 or 12.

Pointe tendu ["stretched point (of the foot)"]: A position in which the working leg is stretched straight out in any direction with only the tip of the foot touching the floor.

Port de bras ["carriage of the arms"]: 1. How a dancer uses his arms. 2. Specific movements of the arms, as first port de bras, second port de bras, etc. 3. Sometimes used instead of cambré. A grand port de bras is a circular bend, either toward the barre, then down, then up away from the barre, and then backward and back toward the barre: or the same thing in the opposite direction.

Positions: see feet, positions of and arms, positions of.

Positions on stage: See: Croisé, effacé, en face, écarté.

Promenade ["walk"]: A pivot turn in which the dancer moves slowly around by shifting the heel of the supporting leg. The rest of the body may be in arabesque or attitude. In a supported promenade, the partner turns the soloist.

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Q

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Quatrième ["fourth"]: Fourth position. (See feet, positions of and arms, positions of.)

Quatrième, à la ["in the fourth"]: À la quatrième devant is with the working leg stretched out to the front; à la quatrième derrière is with the working leg stretched to the back.

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R

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Relever ["to rise"]: One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

Relevé ["raised"]: A movement in which the heels are raised off the floor. The rise may be smooth or aided by a slight spring, depending on the school. A dancer in such a position is said to be "in relevé."

Retiré ["withdrawn"]: A position in which the working foot is drawn up to the knee of the supporting leg. Also frequently (and incorrectly) called passé.

Rond de jambe ["circular movement of the leg"]: A movement in which the working leg is made to describe a letter D about the supporting leg. May be done with the working foot on the floor or in the air. In a rond de jambe en dehors ("outward") on the floor, the working leg moves from first (or fifth) position to pointe tendu forward, makes a half circle to pointe tendu in back, and then returns to first, if the rond de jambe is to be repeated, and otherwise to first or fifth. A wonderful exercise for turnout. In a rond de jambe en dedans ("inward"), the direction of movement is reversed. In a demi rond de jambe, the working leg goes only half-way around, stopping in second position. A grand rond de jambe, is executed with the supporting leg in plié. A rond de jambe en l'air ("in the air") is done with the working leg raised off the floor, frequently at an angle of 90 degrees (parallel to the floor).

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S

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Sauter ["to leap"]: One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

Seconde, à la ["in second"]: In second position, i.e., to the side. (See feet, positions of and arms, positions of.)

Sissonne [Named for its inventor]: A type of jump that has several forms, among them: sissonne simple, sissonne ouverte, sissonne fermée, sissonne fondue, and others. Not to be confused with ciseaux.

{ In sissonne simple, the most elementary form, the movement begins in 5th position. Jump straight up, with the legs together and the feet pointed. Land on one foot in demi-plié, with the other foot sur le cou-de-pied either in front or back (corresponding to whether the foot sur le cou-de-pied began in front or back--it does not change). }

Soubresaut ["sudden leap"]: A jump from both feet to both feet. Beginning in 5th croisé, the feet push off the floor so that the body flies forward with feet pointed and legs together. Before the jump, the body inclines forward, and then during the jump bends forcefully back, so that the legs remain at the back. The movement ends in 5th croisé. The arms are free and depend only on the design of what is being sought after; when studying, they usually begin in preparatory, come up to first during the jump, and end in preparatory again.

Sous-sus ["under-over"] (or sus-sous ["over-under"]): A relevé in a tight fifth position with one foot almost on top of the other.

Soutenu ["sustained"]: (a) Performed smoothly and slowly. (b) Also used to indicate a smooth détourné. For (a), can be: where from 5th position, the working leg is taken out to the front, 2nd position, or to the back, while the supporting leg is lowers to demi-plié. Then the supporting leg rises to demi or full pointe while the working leg is drawn into it, ending in a tight sus-sous position.

Spotting: A technique for for keeping oriented and avoiding dizziness during turns. Pick a spot (some conspicuous object); keep looking at it as you turn until you can't any longer; then quickly turn your head so you are looking at it again.

Sur le cou-de-pied: See cou-de-pied, sur le.

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T

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Temps: Literally, "time," but perhaps "moment" would be better. A movement that forms part of a step. Grant says a part in which there is no transfer of weight, which raises some interesting questions about temps lié.

Temps levé ["raised movement"]: Temps levé is the very simplest jump from one foot onto the same foot with the other foot raised.

Temps lié ["joined movement"]: This is a term for a whole series of conventionally connected movements executed in the center of the room, often during an adagio. However, it is also the term for an independent form of a step. In the basic form of the temps lié, stand in 5th position croiseé, arms in preparatory position. The working leg is drawn, without taking the toe off the floor, into croisé devant, while the supporting leg bends into demi-plié; simultaneously, the arms are raised into 1st position with the head slightly inclining towards the shoulder corresponding to the supporting leg. Then, the weight is transferred through demi-plié to croisé derrière onto what was the working leg. Here, both legs are completely stretched with the now working leg stretched toe to the floor in back. At the moment of weight transfer, the arm that corresponds to the now working leg is raised overhead, while the other arm opens sideward; the head turns towards the sideward arm. Finally, the working leg closes in 5th back; arms may remain or stay.

Tendu ["stretched"]: See: battement tendu and pointe tendu.

Terre-à-terre ["ground to ground"]: Used to describe steps in which the dancer's feet do not leave the floor. Antonym: movements).

Travesti, en ["in disguise"]: Of a female dancer: dancing a male role in a man's costume; of a male dancer: dancing a female role in a woman's costume.

Turnout: The balletic stance in which the legs are rotated outward so that the legs (and feet) point in opposite directions. A dancer adopting this position is said to be "turned out." Usage varies, but most people seem to measure the degree of turnout by the angle between the foot and the mid-saggital plane of the body. The ideal, with both feet in a straight line, is thus 90 degrees of turnout. Turnout must begin at the hip. Forcing the feet and letting everything else follow puts severe strain on the joints, especially the knees, and defeats the purpose of turnout, which is to rotate the thigh bone to permit greater extension, especially to the side.

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Sources

1. Parsons, Tom. "100 (more or less) Common Ballet Terms Defined". http://www.home2.planetinternet.be/tor-4084/links.htm released: Aug. 19, 1999. (letters M-Z)

2. Vaganova, Agrippina (as translated by Chujoy, Anatole). "Basic Principles of Classical Ballet". Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1969. (letters A-H)

3. Charlotte and her experience as a dancer.

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