Terminology

This is just a stripped-down version of what is featured on the dense Wikipedia article. Terms on this page are selected as the most basic ballet terms.

arabesque — The position of the body supported on one leg, with the other leg extended behind the body with the knee straight.

attitude — A position in which the dancer stands on one leg (known as the supporting leg) while the other leg (working leg) is lifted and well turned out with the knee bent at approximately 90-degree angle.

avant — (ah vahn) Forwards, Front. A step travelling en avant moves forwards, towards the audience, e.g. sissonne en avant.

balance — It is usually executed in three counts The dancer typically begins in fifth position, in plie. Before the first count, one foot extends in a degage, typically to second position (though you can balanc? front or back, as well).

ballerina — Italian for “female dancer”. Ballerina is a principal female dancer of a ballet company. The male version of this term is danseur (French) or ballerino (Italian).

ballerino — Italian for “male dancer”. A Ballerino is a principal male dancer of a ballet company and is also referred to as a “danseur”, a loan term from French.

ballet — A theatrical work or entertainment in which a choreographer has expressed his ideas in group and solo dancing to a musical accompaniment with appropriate costumes, scenery and lighting.

balletomane — A ballet fan or enthusiast. The word was invented in Russia in the early nineteenth century.

barre — A horizontal bar, approximately waist height, used for warm-up of various parts of the body that will later be used in the centre and exercises for ballet techniques. Warm up exercises may sometimes include stretching and various ballet position that relax a ballerina’s muscles. The study of ballet, and each class, will commonly start at the barre for everyone. Usually wooden or metal and mounted along a wall, often with the mirrors, There are also portable barres for individuals or group work. Make sure you also have enough room if you choose to work at the partner at the barre.

battement — It is a kicking movement of the working leg (i.e. the leg that is performing a technique). Battements are usually executed in front (en avant or a la quatrieme devant), to the side (a la seconde) or back (en arriere or a la quatrieme derriere), and have other variations such as battement developpe and battement fondu.

chasse — literally “to chase”. A slide forwards, backwards, or sideways with both legs bent, then springing into the air with legs meeting and straightened. It can be done either in a gallop (like children pretending to ride a horse) or by pushing the first foot along the floor in a plie to make the springing jump up.

coupe — Meaning to cut. Where the working leg is placed on the ankle of the supporting leg with toes pointed. This position is similar to the sur le cou-de-pied position, and in some schools or methods the two positions are the same.

couru — Small quick steps in most cases calves are kept together can also be described as “massaging the floor with your feet”.

demi detourne — A half turn executed on both feet. Start right foot front (5th position). Demi plie and then releve onto the demi pointe whilst making a 1/2 turn, lower through demi plie. The feet will have now changed position and the left foot should now be in the front. To finish pull the legs up and stand in 5th position.

demi — meaning of half. Applied to plie and pointe and other movements or positions to indicate a smaller or lesser version.

derriere — At or to the back side.

devant — Literally “front”. For example, tendu devant would mean stretching the foot to the front

developpe — A movement in which the leg is first lifted to retire position, then fully extended passing through attitude position. It can be done in front (en avant), to the side (a la seconde), or to the back (derriere).

echappe — A movement done from a closed (first or fifth) position to an open (second or fourth) position.

en dedans — Movement within a circle so that the leg starts at the back or the side and moves towards the front. For the right leg, this is a counter-clockwise circle. For the left leg, this is a clockwise circle.

en dehors — Literally “outwards”. Movement within a circle so that the leg starts at the front or the side and moves towards the back. For the working leg, this is a clockwise circle.

fondu — Literally “to melt”. Abbreviation for a battement fondu. A term used to describe a lowering of the body made by bending the knee of the supporting leg.

fouette — Literally “whipped”. The term indicates either a turn with a quick change in the direction of the working leg as it passes in front of or behind the supporting leg, or a quick whipping around of the body from one direction to another.

glissade — Literally, to glide. This is a traveling step starting in fifth position with demi-plie: the front foot moves out to a point, both legs briefly straighten as weight is shifted onto the pointed foot, and the other foot moves in to meet the first.

jete — Jete is a jump from one foot to the other (like a leap), in which one leg appears to be “thrown” in the direction of the movement (front, back or sideways).

pas — Literally, “step”. In ballet, the term pas often refers to a combination of steps which make up a dance

pas de bourree — It consists of three quick steps i.e. behind, side, front.

pas de chat — “step of the cat”. The dancer jumps sideways, and while in mid-air, bends both legs up (two retires) bringing the feet up as high as possible, with knees apart.

passe — As a position passe means when a foot is placed near or on the other knee.

pique — Literally “pricked”. A movement in which the strongly pointed toe of the lifted and extended leg sharply lowers to hit the floor then immediately rebounds upward. Same for some as the term pointe.

pirouette — A controlled turn on one leg, starting with one or both legs in plie and rising onto demi-pointe (usually for men) or pointe (usually for women). The non-supporting leg can be held in retire position, or in attitude, arabesque level or second position. The pirouette may return to the starting position or finish in arabesque or attitude positions, or proceed otherwise.

plie — Literally “bent”. A smooth and continuous bending of the knees.

port de bras — Literally “carriage of the arms”. Movement of the arms to different positions, it is considered a simple movement but a dancer works hard to make it seem graceful, poised and seamless.

pulling up — Pulling up is critical to the success of a dancer because without it, the simple act of rising up would be extremely difficult. It involves the use of the entire body. To pull up, a dancer must lift the ribcage and sternum but keeps the shoulders relaxed and centered over the hips which requires use of the abdominal muscles. In addition, the dancer must tuck under and keep their back straight as to avoid arching and throwing themselves off balance. Pulling up is also essential to dancer on pointe in order for them to avoid putting more weight than necessary onto their toes.

releve — Literally “lifted”. Rising from any position to balance on one or both feet on at least demi-pointe which is heels off the floor or higher to full pointe where the dancer is actually balancing on the top of the toes, supported in pointe shoes.

retire position — the working leg is raised to the side, with knee sharply bent so the toe is pointed next to the supporting knee (front, side, back). Common pose during standard pirouette, intermediate position for other moves.

rond de jambe — Literally “circle of the leg”. Actually, half-circles made by the pointed foot, returning through first position to repeat; creating the letter ’D’ on the floor. From front to back rond de jambe en dehors, or from back to front rond de jambe en dedans.

sickle — A term that refers to the reverse of a turnout. It occurs when the dancers ankle is facing inward as well as the toes, creating a D-like shape. It is also notably harmful to one’s instep when performed repeatedly. An injury that often results from sickling is a sprained ankle.

sissonne — A jump done from two feet to one foot or in some cases two. Named after the originator of the step.

tendu — Literally, “stretched”; a common abbreviation for battement tendu.

turnout — A rotation of the leg from the hips, causing the knee and foot to also turn outward, away from the center of the body. This rotation allows for greater extension of the leg, especially when raising it to the side and rear. Properly done, the ankles remain erect and the foot arch remains curved and supporting. Signs of improper turn-out is the knee pointing forward while the foot point sidewards(turning out from the knee), and rolling in of the ankle.