Ballet Terms  

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Some common Ballet Terms

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - JL - M - N - O - P - R - S - T - V - W

A
 
Adage, Adagio (a-DAHZH) At ease or at leisure.
 
Adage is incorporated into ballet classes and most classical pas de deux combinations.
 
It is a series of slow, graceful exercises during the centre practice which is generally focused on line, balance and fluidity. It takes lots of practice to gain the stability and control whilst still having a sense of fluid movement.
 
En L'Air (ahn lehr) In the air.
 
This ballet term is generally associated with ballet movements that are in the air. For example, tour en l'air which is a high turning jump mainly for the male dancers.
 
It indicates that for ballet exercises like rond de jambe and adage the leg should be lifted off the floor, such as rond de jambe en l'air.
 
Allégro ([a-lay-GROH) Bright and brisk movements. This ballet term is associated to all jumps in ballet. So, whether it is petite allégro, or grand allégro a dancer will aim to show a sense of ballon and spring in the elevation.
 
Arabesque (a-ra-BESK) This is one of the basic poses in ballet. The position of an arabesque shows one leg as the supporting leg and the other extended behind you. The arms can be held in various positions to show a first, second, or third arabesque.
 
An arabesque is like a tendu derriere but lifted en l'air. The aim is to lift the leg without showing too much adjustment in the body, such as pitching forward. Also, the leg should be in a direct line behind the spine and the shoulders should remain square.
 
En Arrière (un na-RYEHR) Backwards. This is used to express a step travelling backwards. For example, glissade en arrière.
 
Assemblé (a-sahn-BLAY) Assembled or joined together.
This step is used in a combination of allegro and usually has a preparation of a glissade. It is taken from fifth position where the front, or back leg if in reverse, uses the floor pressure to push along the ground and join both legs together in the air.
 
The aim is to show a fifth position in the air, like a soubresaut, then land back again in a fifth position. It can be a small or high jump depending on the allegro exercise.
 
Attitude (a-tee-TEWD) The pose is similar to an arabesque, but the lifted leg is bent at a 90 degree angle. The lifted leg should be as turned out as possible, so the knee is not dropping and aimed to be higher than the foot.
 
En Avant(un na-VAHN) Forwards. If a step is travelling forward, it is explained by saying, 'En Avant', such as Glissade En Avant.
B
 
Balancé (ba-lahn-SAY) Rocking step.
 
This is a moving step that is used a lot in travelling and center combinations. You shift from one foot to the other, taking the body with you, and it can be done sideways, backwards and forwards.
 
Ballet master, ballet mistress This is the person who is responsible for teaching class and taking rehearsals for a ballet company.
 
Ballon (ba-LAWN) Bounce. Every dancer aims to show a sense of ballon in allegro exercises. It shows a spring and light quality to the elevation.
 
Barre (bar) This is the crucial supply you will see in every ballet studio. Every class begins at the barre and it holds the dancer's support. There are a set sequence of exercises at the barre of which every class will incorporate, such as plies, tendus, jetes and rond de jambe.
 
Battement (bat-MAHN) Beating.
 
Battement dégagé (bat-MAHN day-ga-ZHAY) Disengaged battement.
 
Battement fondu développé (bat-MAHN fawn-DEW dav-law-PAY) Sinking down, developed.
 
This is an important part of barre work exercises and a preparation for jumps. The supporting leg plies whilst the other is in cou de pied, then both legs co ordinate together to stretch and the leg is brought back to cou de pied. The plie and stretch action is like the landing and take off for a jump.
 
Petit Battement sur le cou-de-pied
Small battement on the ankle.
 
Battement tendu (bat-MAHN tahn-DEW) Battement stretched.
 
Battu (ba-TEW) Beaten. Any step with a beat is called a battu. For example, in jeté battu.
 
Bras (brah) Arms.
 
Bras bas(brah bah) Arms low or down.
 
Brisé (bree-ZAY) Broken, breaking. A fast action allegro step in which the legs beat together in the air.
 
Brisé volé(bree-ZAY vaw-LAY) Flying brisé. This brisé differs from the other, as it finishes on one foot after the beat.
 
C
 
Cabriole (ka-bree-AWL) The legs beat in the air e
ither petite, which are carried out at 45 degrees. Or Grande, which are carried out at 90 degrees.
 
Centre practice This is the section of a class when the dancers move from the barre into the center. Without the support of the barre, they continue to work of their sense of balance and co ordnation in a series of exercises.
 
Chaînés (sheh-NAY) Chains, links. A fast series of turns, on pointe or demi-pointe, with the legs held tightly together to create an exciting and energetic effect.
 
Changement de pieds (shahnzh-MAHN duh pyay) Change of feet..
 
Chassé (sha-SAY) Chased. This is a travelling step where the legs move forward in a series, taking the body forward too.
 
Choreographer The name for the person who has created and choreographed a dance with their own ideas.
 
Classical Pose A position in ballet where the dancer stands on a turned out foot with the other either in a straight leg tendue derrière, or with the knee bent. It can also be known as B-Plus.
 
Coda The ballet term associated with the exciting and upbeat part of a performance or class. It is the finalé of a ballet where the principal dancers perform impressive jumps and turns. Also, the final dance of the pas de deux, pas de trois or pas de quatre.
 
Contretemps (con-treh-tump) Counter beating. There is both demi-contretemps, demi and full contretemps.
 
Combinations Sequences of steps in a ballet class or choreography.
 
Corps de ballet The group of dancers in a company who dance together as unit. They have to form the patterns on stage and stay in lines, formations and time.
 
De Côté (duh koh-TAY) Sideways. Like En Avant and En Arrière, De Côté is the ballet term used to explain a step moving to the side.
 
Sur le Cou-de-pied (sewr luh koo-duh-PYAY) On the "Neck" of the foot. The foot is remained pointed and placed usually above ribbons, or by the ankle bone.
 
Coupé jeté en tournant (koo-PAY zhuh-TAY ahn toor-NAHN) The step is mostly done in a series, it makes a three-quarter turn and a grand jeté en avant to complete the turn.
 
Couru (koo-REW) Running. For example, pas de bourrée couru.
 
Croisé, croisée (croz-ZAY) Crossed. One of the directions of épaulement and usually associated with facing one of the corners before an exercise, so not directly to the front.
D
 
En Dedans (ahn duh-DAHN) Inwards This term is commonly used in exercises like pirouettes or rond de jambe. In a pirouette en dedan the turn is made inwards to the supporting leg.
  
En Dehors (ahn duh-AWR)Outwards This term is used in opposition to 'en dedan'. So, for example, a pirouette is performed outwards towards the working leg.
 
Demi-plié Half-bend of the knees.
 
Sur les Demi-pointes
(sewr lay duh-mee-PWENT) On the half-points. This term is used for when the dancer, male or female, stands high on the balls of their feet.
 
Derrière (deh-RYEHR) Behind, back In ballet terminology this is when a movement or step is placed behind the body.
 
Dessous (duh-SOO) Under The working foot passes behind the supporting foot, such as 'pas de bourrée dessous'.
 
Dessus (duh-SEW) Over The working foot passes in front of the supporting foot, like 'pas de bourrée dessus'.
 
Devant (duh-VAHN) In front This is used in ballet terminology when any move or step in ballet is performed infront of your body.
 
Temps Développé (tahn dayv-law-PAY) Time developed, developing movement In ballet terminology this is often shortened to développé.
 
Divertissement (dee-vehr-tees-MAHNT) Diversion, enjoyment A short dance to show an individual talent or group dance.
 
E
 
Écarté (ay-har-TAY) Separated, thrown wide apart The leg is placed a la second en l'air with the direction of the body facing on an angle, usually to the front two corners of the room.
 
 
Échappé (ay-sha-PAY) Escaping or slipping movement.
 
In ballet terminology, an échappé is an opening of both feet from a closed position. It can either be a jump from fifth position to second posiiton. Or a relevé with straight knees on demi-pointes, or pointe for the ladies.
 
Effacé, effacée (eh-fa-SAY) Shaded In the French method the term for this is "ouvert". It is one of the directions of épaulement and also used to qualify a pose in which the legs are open (not crossed).
 
Élévation (ay-lay-va-SYAWN) This term would apply to all jumps, as ballet dancers aim to have a great sense of height in allegro.
 
Enchaînement (ahn-SHane-munt)A combination of several steps or movements.
 
Entrechat (ahn-truh-SHAH) Interweaving or braiding A quick beating step where the dancer jumps and crosses their legs into the air then lands back down in a fifth position.
 
Entrechat six (ahn-truh-SHAH seess) Six crossings.
 
Épaulement (ay-pohl-MAHN)Shouldering This movement happens in the shoulders and should show a slight twist of alignment, just so that the one shoulder is brought slightly in front of the other. It gives a finishing artistic touch to a movement and used to give more style to a position.
 
Extension (eks-tahn-SYAWN) In ballet terminology this is means when a dancer lifts and holds their leg in the air. If a dancer is said to have 'nice extensions' then it refers the clarity, height and strength of their legs when lifted.
 
En Face (ahn fahss) Opposite, facing the audience.
F
 
Fish dive This ballet terminology is used in pas de deux, it is an advanced and impressive move.
 
Most commonly, the female is supported by the male and she is off the floor in a horizontal position. The male often takes away both hands so it looks even more spectacular.
 
Fondu, fondue (fawn-DEW) Sinking down. This is when the supporting knee bends and so the body is slightly lowered in the movement.
 
Fouetté (fweh-TAY) Whipped.
 
Grand Fouetté en tournant (grahn fweh-TAY ahn toor-NAHN)
Large fouetté, turning. This move is usually done en dedans and the movement finishes in attitude croisée, attitude effacée or any of the arabesques. It can be done on demi-pointe or on point for the females and also with a jump.
 
Fouetté rond de jambe en tournant
(fweh-TAY rawn duh zhahnb ahn toor-NAHN) Whipped circle of the leg turning. This is a challenging move specifically for the female dancers. It is more advanced and quite spectacular once grasped the technique.
 
Fouetté show the dancer turning in a series with the supporting leg turning and the working leg in a whipping movement. The working leg comes into retire during the turn and extends quickly out through the a la second position in between the turns.
 
Battement frappé To strike. This is a fast and energetic movement, whilst also preparing a dancer for the jumps later to come.
G
 
Glissade (glee-SAD) Glide.
This a linking step for jumps which starts from a plie in fifth position, then the leg glides along the floor before showing a light jump in the air, then landing back in fifth position.
 
It can be performed to the front, side or back but most commonly used to the side in ballet for a preparation into another jump.
 
Grand, grande (grahnd) Big, large. For example, grand battement which is a big movement showing the legs thrown into the air.
 
Grand Battement Large beating. An exercise where the working leg is lifted into the air in a fast and quick motion, then brought back down again.
 
Grand Jeté en avant Large jeté forward. The dancer throws the foot forward, like a grand battement, at 90 degrees and jumps into a spilt position in the air. The height of the jump depends on the power of the legs and momentum in the dancer's body to get high off the floor.
 
J
 
Pas Jeté (pah zhuh-TAY) Throwing step. A jump from one foot to the other where the working leg is brushed into the air and looks as if it has been thrown.
 
Jeté battu (zhuh-TAY ba-TEW) Jeté beaten.
 
Jeté entrelacé (zhuh-TAY ahn-truh-la-SAY) Jeté interlaced.
This jeté is performed in all directions and in a circle.
 
Petit Jeté (puh-TEE zhuh-TAY) Small jeté.
L
 
Ligne Line. Through the movements and positions, the dancer can create nice lines. It is the effort of the arms, legs, head and also the sync coordination of the whole body which creates a good line.
M
 
Manèges (ma-NEZH) Circular This is when a dancer performs the steps in a circle and usually known as a virtuoso movement. For example, grand jetes or pique turns on pointe travelling around the room.
 
Mazurka or mazurek
A character dance which is in a 3/4 rhythm to the music.
 
In the classical ballet, Sleeping Beauty, the Mazurka dance at the very end of the performance where all the dancers come together on stage to perform this joyous, upbeat dance.
 
Mime Every classical ballet will use mime as well as dance, it is when the face is used for dramatic expression and it helps portray the story and characters.

 

N
Notation Just like music notes are scored down in an orchestra, it also happens with the dance movement. Benesh notation is a well known method that many young dancers study at a vocational school as part of the curriculum.
 
O
 
Ouvert, ouverte (oo-VEHRT) Open, opened. This term can be applied to the alignment and position of your body, as well as the arm and leg direction.
P
 
Pas (pah) Step. A simple step or movement with a transfer of weight. For example, pas de bourrée. In the ballet dictionary "Pas" also refers to a dance performed by a duet. For example, pas de deux.
 
Pas de bourrée (pah duh boo-RAY) Bourrée step.
 
Pas de bourrée couru (pah duh boo-RAY koo-REW) Running step.
A series of small, running steps and the feet have to keep as close as possible. Usually the step is traveled forwards and can be done on pointe or demi-pointe.
 
Pas de chat (pah duh shah) Cat's step. It is like cat's leap in which the movement jumps into the air with both feet coming quickly underneath you to land back on two feet again.
 
Grand Pas de deux (grahn pah duh duh) Grand dance for two. Every classical ballet will consist of a grand pas de deux from the principal couple. It is romantic, impressive and quite spectacular.
 
It has always definite structure and most commonly starts with a gentle adage, then a variation for both the male dancer and the ballerina, then a final coda which is a grand finish to the dance.
 
Pas de quatre (pah duh KA-truh)
Dance for four. Swan Lake has a pas de quatre with two males and two females. They perform together and in solos to make an impressive dance.
 
Pas de trois (pah duh trwah)
A dance for three. The ballet Paquita has a pas de trois of two females and one male.
 
Pas de valse (pah duh valss) Waltz step It is a fluid and flowing step, similar to a balancé.
 
Pas marché (pah mar-SHAY) Marching step.
 
Penché, penchée (pahn-SHAY) Leaning, inclining.
This position is mostly known as an arabesque penché which shows great flexibility for a dancer when they extend the leg beyond an arabesque and split the legs whilst remaining on balance.
 
Petit, petite (puh-TEET) Little, small.
 
Piqué (pee-KAY) Pricked, pricking. There are many variations such as jete piqué or arabesque piqué, the general quality of this movement is sharp and energized.
 
Pirouette (peer-row-RET) Whirl or spin.
A test of balance as the dancer turns on one leg on demi-pointe and the head keeps spotting as you turn. The other leg is raised to a retire and the body is contained in a strong effort to control the turn.
 
Pirouette à la seconde
(grahrul peer-row-ET a lah suh-GAWND) The same theory as a pirouette, but the leg is to the side at 90 degrees. It is usually a male dancer's virtuoso trick, but females also do it on pointe too.
 
Pirouette piquée (peer-row-ET pee-KAY) Pricked pirouette.
 
Plié (plee-AY) Bent, bending. The key position in ballet that controls all movements, steps and jumps. A dancer always starts a ballet class with pliés at the barre in all five positions of the feet.
 
There is a Demi-plié, which is what we need for all movements, and a grand plié which is to the very depth of your plié. In any plié, the dancer aims to have both feet turned out and all muscles engaged to have the ultimate power from the legs.
 
Sur les Pointes (sewr lay pwent)On the pointes. The term for when a dancer is stood on pointe, either by a rise or releve.
 
Pointe shoes The satin shoes allow a ballerina to dance on the tips of her toes in every ballet performance.
 
The shoes are hand made by different manufacturers and give a ballerina the support she needs in every way.
 
The box of the shoe is a solid, hard material and the shank is strengthened to each dancer's different needs.
 
The ribbons and elastic are sewn individually by each dancer to give further support to the ankles and make sure the shoe stays securely on the foot.
 
 
Polonaise Like a mazurka dance, it is in 3/4 time in which the dancers take two steps forward on demi-pointe and one more step on flat with the supporting knee bent. It can continue in a series of steps and travel to move across the stage.
 
Port de bras (pawr duh brah) Carriage of the arms. The movement in which your arms take to pass through each position. In a typical ballet class, the dancers would have a set port de bras exercise designed specifically to work on the back and arm muscles.
 
Porté, portée (pawr-TAY) Carried A step which is traveled in the air from one place to another, e.g. Assemblé dessus porté.
 
Promenade (prawm-NAD) Turn in a walk. The turn can be done held in a position, such as an arabesque, and it is usually in an adagio exercise so the control is in the supporting leg to turn you around.

 

R
 
 Relevé (ruhl-VAY) Raised. A raise either on pointe or demi-pointe and your foot rises off the floor, either with a small spring or softer motion.
 
Retiré (ruh-tee-RAY) Withdrawn. The position for pirouettes where the thigh raised and the toe is placed in front, behind or at the side of the knee. The supported leg in straight, on demi-pointe for pirouettes and balances.
 
Rise This is a smooth relevé, so the toes do not move from the place at which the rise began.
 
Rolling This is a common technical correction for dancers, so if the feet roll inwards or outwards it is not the correct placement but the weight should be place in the middle of the foot
 
Romantic ballet A style of ballet created during the early nineteenth century, such as La Sylphide and Giselle.
 
Ront de jambe (rawn duh zhamb) Round of the leg, a circular movement of the leg. Rond de jambe can be done clockwise (en dehors) and counterclockwise (en dedans).
 
Rond de jambe à terre
(rawn duh zhamb a tehr) Rond de jambe on the ground. The toe of the working foot does not leave the ground. There are two kinds of ronds de jambe à terre: En Dedans (inwards) and En Dehors (outwards).
 
Rond de jambe en l'air
(rawn duh zhamb ahn lehr) Rond de jambe in the air. The movement can also be done en dehors and en dedans. The whole movement is made by the leg below the knee, so the thigh must not take the action but it is in the lower leg work.
 
Royale (ruah-YAL) Royal. A jumping movement where the feet and calves are beaten together before the feet change position. It is also known as "changement battu." It easy to get Royale mixed up with Entrechat, because both beat in the air but the difference is a Royale changes feet when you land.

 

S
 
Saut de basque (soh duh bask) Basque jump. A jumping step where the dancer turns in the air with one foot drawn to retire or cou de pied. The male dancers also perform it with a double turn in the air.
 
Sauté, sautée (soh-TAY) Jumped, jumping.
 
A la Seconde (ah la suh-GAWND) In the second position, for example, Grand battement à la seconde.
 
Sickling This term is a technical fault in ballet and applies to the line of your pointed foot, because if the dancer turns their foot in from the ankle, it breaks the straight line of the leg and becomes a sickle. The opposite of this would be called fishing the foot.
 
Sissonne (see-SAWN) A jump from both feet onto one foot. There are many variations including sissonne fermée, sissonne tombée and sissonne fondue, all of which finish on two feet. It can be jumped in either petite or grande allegro
 
Sissonne fermée (see-SAWN fehr-MAY)Closed sissonne. This type of sissonne finishes on two feet into a fifth position.
 
Sissonne ouverte (see-SAWN oo-VEHRT)Open sissonne.
 
Supporting leg A term used by dancers and teachers for the leg which  supports the body, so that the other working leg is free to carry the movement.
 

 

T
 
Temps levé Raised Movement This is a simple jump from one foot and landing back on the same foot.
 
A Terre (a tehr) On the ground.
 
Tour en l'air (toor ahn lehr) Turn in the air. This is essentially a male dancer's step, although girls can practice it too. The turn can be a single, double or triple.
 
You jump straight up into the air from a demi-plié in fifth, then make a complete turn and land back again in the fifth position. The arms support the turn in first position and the head must spot like in pirouettes.
 
En Tournant (ahn toor-NAHN) Turning. The body turns while completing the required ballet step, for example, Assemblé en tournant.
 
Turn-out Turn-out is one of the main parts of technique for ballet. The turn out is initiated from hip joints right through to the feet, so the whole leg is engaged to achieve the range of turn out you have.
 
Tutu (tew-TEW) The traditional costume for a ballerina and there are several different styles of tutu, with the most common being the classical tutu. It is made of many layers of net and decorated in different styles for each ballet.
 

 

V
 
Variation The name for a solo dance performed in a classic ballet.
 
Virtuoso The grand and challenging steps in ballet such as tour en l'air for the males and fouette turns for the ladies. It takes a lot of skill to master these steps and always the part that gets the big applause from the audience.
W

Working leg The leg that is carrying out the movement, while other leg is supporting the balance of the body.

 

 
 
 

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