Ballet Terms Explained – Ballet Dictionary online

Check out the text ‘A to Z’ ballet terms below. We tried to explain them in the most simple and easy way.

Ballet Terminology is very important to learn for anyone starting with this form of dance. Because there are so many specific positions and variations, it helps to know the definitions. You may find it easier to watch a video demonstration of the ballet moves – we just started adding them.

New! Some basic Ballet terms video demos:

5 Ballet Foot Positions (2 Videos)

How to do Plies (Demi & Grand)

How to do a Tendu in Ballet

Fondu Demonstration videos

Arabesque Video

Grand Battement Video

Ballet terms (Ballet Moves):

Adage, Adagio [French: a-DAHZH]

Adage means “slow, sustained” movement and has two meanings in Ballet:

1st meaning: A series of movements following the centre practice, consisting of slow and graceful movements which may be simple or complex, performed with as much fluidity and ease as possible. This helps the dancer build strength and control as the movements are slow. The steps may include attitude, arabesque, développé, grande rond de jambe, and plié, and others.

2nd meaning: The opening section of the classical pas de deux, in which the ballerina is partnered by a male partner. Together they perform slow movements in which the male partner lifts, supports or carries the lady. The lady dancer will usually perform développés, pirouettes, arabesques and more.

Air, en l’ [ahn lehr] In the air

In the air means that a movement will be made in the air. For example, rond de jambe en l’air. And that the working leg will be raised to a horizontal position with the toe on the level of the hip.

Allégro [a-lay-GROH; Italian: al-LAY-groh]

In Ballet terms, Allegro means fast, lively movements and jumps. All steps of elevation such as the sautés, jetés, entrechat, cabriole, assemblé and others are under this classification. The dancers must show smooth and light movements to make it look right.

Arabesque [a-ra-BESK]

Arabesque is one of the most popular basic Ballet moves. It is a position supported on one leg, which can be straight or in demi-plié, with the other leg extended behind and at right angles to it, and the arms held in various positions creating the longest possible lines from the fingertips outward. It can be found in almost every classical and modern Ballet today.

Arrière, en [ah na-RYEHR]

Means to go backward. Used to indicate that a step is executed moving away from the audience.

Assemblé [a-sahn-BLAY]

Simply put it means when two legs are joined together in the air. It is when the dancer shoots one leg up into the air and then jumps the second leg to join the two legs together in the air. Usually the dancer will land in fifth position of plie after the jump.

Attitude [a-tee-TEWD]

It is a standing position on one leg with the other leg lifted in the front or the back with the knee bent at an angle of 90 degrees and well turned out so that the knee is higher than the foot. The supporting foot may be à terre, sur la pointe or sur la demi-pointe. The arm on the side of the raised leg is held over the head in a curved position while the other arm is extended to the side.

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Avant, en [ah na-VAHN]

Avant means to the front or Forward. A direction for the execution of a step. Used to indicate that a given step is executed moving forward, toward the audience.

Balancé [ba-lahn-SAY]
It is a step that rocks or swings from foot to foot. The dancer will alternate their weight from foot to foot in this movement.

Ballerina [bahl-lay-REE-rlah (Italian)]

It used to mean the principal female dancer in a ballet company. In the days of the Russian Imperial Theatres the title was given to the outstanding soloists who danced the chief classical roles. Nowdays this term simply means a female ballet dancer. The leading female dancer will usually be referred to as “principal dancer” these days.

Ballet master, ballet mistress

The person in a ballet company whose duty is to give the daily company class and to rehearse the ballets in the company repertoire. They are part of “staff” and work together with dancers and with directors.

Balletomane

A ballet fan. The word was invented in Russia in the early nineteenth century. Someone who adores Ballet.

Ballon [ba-LAWN]

Ballon means “to bounce”. The dancer must demonstrate a jump with ease and lightness. After the jump, the dancer would pause mid air for a moment and then softly descend with ease.

Barre [bar]

The horizontal wooden bar attached to the walls of the ballet classroom which the dancer holds for support. Every ballet class begins with exercises at the bar.

Battement [bat-MAHN]

Means “beating”. There are two types of battements, grands battements and petits battements. It is when a dancer extends his/her leg to the front, back or side.

Battement dégagé [bat-MAHN day-ga-ZHAY]

Means disengaged battement. A term from the Cecchetti method. The battement dégagé is like the battement tendu but is done at twice the speed and the working foot rises about four inches from the floor with a well-pointed toe.

Battement fondu développé [bat-MAHN fawn-DEW]

It means “battement sinking down”. During a battement fondu, a dancer’s standing leg is slowly bent in fondu with the working foot pointing on the ankle. As the dancer’s standing leg straightens, the working leg also extends to a straight position in the air or with the toes on the floor.

Battement développé [bat-MAHN dayv-law-PAY]

“Battement developed”. It is when the dancer developes their leg to the front, back or side from fifth position.

Battement frappé [bat-MAHN fra-PAY]

A movement in which the dancer quickly extends the working leg from a cou-de-pied position to the front, side or back. This exercise strengthens the toes and thighs and develops the power of elevation.

Battement petit [puh-TEE bat-MAHN]

Small battement on the ankle. An exercise where one leg is extended and moved forward and backward from the ankle of the standing/supporting leg.

Battement tendu [bat-MAHN tahn-DEW]

Means “Battement stretched”. It is where one leg is extended until the point of the stretched foot barely touches the ground. Both knees must be kept straight. When the foot reaches the position pointe tendue, it then returns to the first or fifth position. They can be done in demi-plié in the first or fifth position.

Battement, grand [grahn bat-MAHN]

Means “Large battement”. A movement in which the leg is lifted to hip level or higher and held straight. This must be done with ease to give the feeling of effortlessness. The function of grands battements is to loosen the hip joints and turn out the legs from the hips.

Battu [ba-TEW]

means “Beaten”. When a step requires the striking of the legs together. As, for example, in jeté battu.

Bras [brah]

Means “Arms”.

Bras bas [brah bah]

Means “low” or “down”. Indicates to the dancer to lower their arms down. This is the dancer’s resting position or beginning position.

Brisé [bree-ZAY]

Means “Broken, breaking”. It is a jump and the working leg brushes to the second position and meets the other leg in front of or behind in the air. Finally both feet land in fifth position. This is similar to an assemblé but with traveling.

Brisé volé [bree-ZAY vaw-LAY]

Means “Flying brisé”. In this brisé the dancer finishes on one foot after the beat, the other leg crossed either front or back.

Cavalier

The male partner of the female ballerina.

Choreographer, choregrapher

This is the dance term applied to the person who composes or invents ballets or dances.

Corps de ballet [kawr duh ba-LAY]

This Ballet term refers to those ballet dancers who dance as a group (not as soloists).

Cabriole [ka-bree-AWL]

A jump. The working leg swings into the air as the supporting leg pushes off the ground and beats against the first leg. Finally the dancer lands on the standing leg. Cabrioles are divided into two categories: petite, which are executed at 45 degrees, and grande, which are executed at 90 degrees.

Cecchetti method

Enrico Cecchett was one of the world’s outstanding teachers of ballet. He founded a program of strict routine that included daily exercises for each day of the week to work on the technique of classical Ballet. The Cecchetti Society was formed in London in 1922 to perpetuate his method of teaching.

Center practice

The “Center” is a classical ballet term which typically refers to the portion of class where the exercises are done away from the barre and in the center of the room. The exercises performed are similar to the ones done at the barre but also include more advanced steps because there is more space.

Chaînés [sheh-NAY]

Means “Chains, links”. This is the most simple term for “turns”. The dancer performs a series of traveling turns by quick steps that involve alternating feet.

Changement [shahnzh-MAHN]

Means “Change of feet”. After a jump, the dancer will change feet in the air and alighting in the fifth position with the opposite foot in the front. They are done petit and grand.

Chassé [sha-SAY]

Means “to chase”. It is where one foot extends out in front and then the back foot chases the front foot and very quickly the front foot shoots out again forward. They are usually done in series.

Cinq [senk]

Means “five”. Not a Ballet step. It is used to indicate the number of repetitions a dancer must perform.

Coda

It means the final section of a ballet. And has two meanings:
(1) The finale of a classical ballet in which all the principal dancers perform with their partners.
(2) The final dance of the classic pas de deux, pas de trois or pas de quatre.

Corps [kawr]

Simple means “Body” in french.

Côté, de [duh koh-TAY]

Means “Sideways”. Used to indicate that a step is to be made to the side, either to the right or to the left.

Cou-de-pied, sur le [sewr luh koo-duh-PYAY]

On the “Neck” of the foot. The working foot is placed on the part of the leg between the base of the calf and the beginning of the ankle.

Coupé jeté en tournant [koo-PAY zhuh-TAY ahn toor-NAHN]

It is basically a split jeté with a turn in between.

Couru [koo-REW]

Means “Running”. Done or executed with a running step.

Croisé, croisée [kmJah-ZAY]

Means “Crossed”. It indicates one of the directions of the shoulders. A Croise position is where it looks crossed from the audience perspective.

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Danse [dahnss]

Means “Dance”.

Danse de caractère [dahnss duh ka-rak-TEHR]

Dance of character. Any national, cultural or folk dance.

Dedans, en [ahn duh-DAHN]

Means “Inward”. The term “inward” is always attached to another Ballet term to describe the direction it should move.

Dehors, en [ahn duh-AWR]

Means “Outward”. It is a word attached to another term to describe which way the step should go.

Demi-plié [duh-MEE-plee-AY]

Means “Half-bend of the knees”. It is half of a Plie (See plie). It is a graceful bending of the knees while externally turning out the feet and hips. Both feet stay on the floor the entire time during demi-plie.

Demi-pointes, sur les [sewr lay duh-mee-PWENT]

Indicates that the dancer is to stand high on the balls of the feet and under part of the toes.

Derrière [deh-RYEHR]

Means “Behind, back”. This term may refer to a movement, position or direction for another step or term.

Dessous [duh-SOO]

Means “Under”. Indicates that the arm or leg should pass behind the other.

Dessus [duh-SEW]

Means “Over”. Indicates that the working foot passes in front of the supporting foot. As, for example, in pas de bourrée dessus.

Deux [duh]

Means “Two”.

Deuxième [duh-ZYEM]

Means “Second”.

Devant [duh-VAHN]

Means “In front”. This term is used to describe a step, movement or direction of another term.

Développé [tahn dayv-law-PAY]

Means “developing movement”. A développé is a movement in which the working leg is drawn up to the knee of the standing leg and slowly extended (develops) to an open position in the air with control. It requires great balance and strong center!

Diagonale, en [ahn dya-gaw-NAL]

Means “In a diagonal” direction. Indicates that a step/movement is to be done traveling in a diagonal direction.

Divertissement [dee-vehr-tees-MAHNLAY]

Means “Diversion, enjoyment”. Pieces of Ballet choreography called “entrées,” inserted into a classic ballet. These short dances are calculated to display the talents of individuals or groups of dancers. They are meant to add more dances to a full production ballet.

Double [DOO-bluh]

Means “Double”. As, for example, describing the number of pirouettes (a double pirouette).

Écarté [ay-har-TAY]

Means “Separated, thrown wide apart”. Écarté is one of the eight directions of the body, Cecchetti method. Facing any corner, the leg nearer to the audience becomes the working leg and is extended in second position, pointing on tendú to the side. The arms are in fourth position. The head is raised slighlty and turned toward the raised arm, so the eyes look into the hand.

Échappé [ay-sha-PAY]

Means “Escaping or slipping movement”. A dancer does an échappé with their legs and feet. Starting in closed position and progressing to open position. For example, starting in a closed position, usually fifth position with the feet, the dancer slides both feet out equally into either second or fourth position.

Effacé, effacée [eh-fa-SAY]

Means “Shaded”. One of the directions of shoulders in which the dancer stands at an angle to the audience so that a part of the body is taken back and almost hidden from view. In the feet it is a position in which the legs are open and “uncrossed” (opposite of croise).

Élévation [ay-lay-va-SYAWN]

Élévation refers to the height or depth of a dancer’s jump or leg extension in relation to the standing leg . It is a term used to describe the height attained in springing steps such as entrechats, grands jetés and others.

Entrechat [ahn-truh-SHAH]

Means “Interweaving or braiding”. A step of beating in which the dancer jumps into the air and rapidly crosses the legs before and behind each other.

Épaulement [ay-pohl-MAHN]]

Means “position of shoulders” or the placing of the shoulders in relation to the lower body. The dancer will twist their torso from the waist upward so that one shoulder has now moved forward and the other back. The head is then slightly inclined over the front shoulder. The two fundamental positions of épaulement are croisé and effacé.

Extension [eks-tahn-SYAWN]

This Ballet term used to describe the ability of a dancer to raise and hold her extended leg in the air. It takes a lot of balance, alignment, flexibility and strength to have proper and high extension. The dancer must not raise their hip in order to get the leg higher.

Face, en [ahn fahss]

Means “Facing the audience”.

Fish dive

Fish or fish dives are seen quite often in classical partnering and pas de deuxes. It is considered an intermediate partnering step where the man holds the ballerina’s waist and under the thigh of the arabesque leg, then lifts and bends his back leg into the fish position.

Fondu, fondue [fawn-DEW]

Means “Melting or Sinking down”. It describes the gradual bending the knee of the supporting leg. It is the same as a plie, but Fondu means you do the plie on only one leg.

Fouetté [fweh-TAY]

Means “Whipped”. It usually describes the quick whipping action of a dancer’s leg or body. The movement may be a short whipped movement of the raised foot as it passes rapidly in front of or behind the supporting foot or the sharp whipping around of the body from one direction to another. There is a great variety of fouettés.

Fouetté rond de jambe en tournant [fweh-TAY rawn duh zhahnb ahn toor-NAHN]

Also called “Fouetté turns”

It is a whipped circle of turning on one leg. This fouetté may be done on demi-pointe, on point or with a jump. It is when the dancer does a pirouette, then a plie of the standing leg, followed by an extension of the free leg into rond de jambes in the air. These Fouettés are usually done in a series. They may be executed inward or outward.

French School

The French School of ballet began in the court ceremonies of the French monarchs. Louis XIV studied with the famous ballet master Pierre Beauchamp and established the first academy of dancing, known as the Académie Royale de Musique et de Danse, in Paris in 1661. The French School was known for its elegant, graceful movements rather than technical execution. Its influence spread throughout Europe and is the basis of all ballet training.

Gateway

This is a position of the arms in which the arms are held rounded in front of the body with the fingertips on a level with the bottom of the breastbone.

Glissade [glee-SAD]

Means “Glide”. It is an in-between step. A traveling step executed by gliding the working foot from the fifth position to the side, then the other foot closes to it in fifth position. You would start by jumping up first and then moving to the side after.

Grand, grande [grahn, grahnd]

Means “Big, large”. As, for example, grand plie or grand battement.

Jambe [zhahnb]

Means “Leg”.

Jeté [zhuh-TAY]

Indicates Throwing of a step. it is a forceful “throwing” of the leg. Starts like tendu and then the leg is thrown up slightly into the air.

Jeté battu [zhuh-TAY ba-TEW]

Jeté beaten. It describes a petit jeté that is beaten with straight legs before landing in cou-de-pied position.

Jeté entrelacé [zhuh-TAY ahn-truh-la-SAY]

Means “Jeté interlaced”. This jeté is done in all directions. It describes a step where the dancer extends one leg into their air wile jumping, then meeting the other leg in the air, and then turning and landing in arabesque position at the end.

Jeté, grand [grahn zhuh-TAV]

Means “Large jeté”. It indicates a big leap. When you jump you shoot out the front leg to the front and and the back leg back. You legs have to be full extended and the toes have to point. The arms can be up in fifth position or in fourth position.

Jeté, petit [puh-TEE zhuh-TAY]

Means “Small jeté”. From a demi-plié in the fifth position, then brush the working foot out into the air, jump getting both legs straight, and come down on the working leg in front.

Leotard [lee-o-tard]

It is the most basic outfit that girls and women wear to practice and learn Ballet. It covers the entire torso and has straps around the shoulders. There are almost countless varieties, designs, fabric choices, colors and designs for leotards today.

Leçon [luh-SAWN]

Means “Lesson”. It is the daily dance classes that Ballet dancers take in order to improve their skill and level.

Ligne [LEEN-yuh]

Means “Line”. It is the outline of the dancers’ body pose or position. Dancers constantly try to achieve the “good line” in their dancing. It is the overall look from toes to arms and the head.

Manèges [ma-NEZH]

Means “Circular”. A term applied to Ballet moves that are to be done in a circular movement.

Mazurka or mazurek

A famous Polish folk dance in 3/4 time which has been introduced into a number of ballets as a character dance.

Neuf [nuhf]

Means “Nine”.

Ouvert, ouverte [oo-VEHR, oo-VEHRT]

Means “Open, opened”. This may refer to positions, limbs, directions, or certain exercises or steps. It is another way to describe a step is done effacé and is the opposite of a step done croisé.

Pas [pah]

Means “Step”. Refers to a step that requires a transfer of weight. “Pas” also refers to a dance executed by a soloist (pas seul), a duet (pas de deux).

Pas de bourrée [pah duh boo-RAY]

Bourrée step. It is a step that cossists of back, side, and front steps. Starts with plie in coupe position, then releve’ to second position with your legs out. And then, you’re going to cross forward and go back to that coupe position of the feet.

Pas de bourrée couru [pah duh boo-RAY koo-REW]

Means “running”. Starts with demi-pointes by a series of small, even steps with the feet close together. It may be done in all directions or in a circle.

Pas de chat [pah duh shah]

Means “Cat’s-step”. It is a step resembling how a cat jumps. First one foot jumps up and then the other one immediately follows into a jump as well. For a moment both legs in the air are in passés before coming down.

Pas de deux, grand [grahn pah duh duh]

Means “Grand dance for two”. It describes that a dance has two dancers – meaning a partner dance. Famous Pas de deux dances include Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, and Romeo and Juliet.

Pas de quatre [pah duh KA-truh]

Means “A dance for four”. It is when 4 dancers perform a dance together (similar to ‘Pas de deux’ above) . One of the most famous pas de quatre in ballet was the dance of the four little swans in Swan Lake.

Pas de trois [pah duh trwah]

Means “A dance for three”. Similar to the above terms, but this has 3 dancers.

Pas de valse [pah duh valss]

Means “Waltz step”. It represents the 1,2,3 timing of a Waltz with quick weight changes. Done with a graceful swaying of the body with various arm movements.

Pas marché [pah mar-SHAY]

Means “Marching step”. This is the classical walk of the ballerina.

Penché, penchée [pahn-SHAY]

Means “Leaning, inclining”. As, for example, in arabesque penchée.

Petit, petite [puh-TEE, puh-TEET]

Means “Little, small”. For example, petit battement, Petit jeté, petit allegro, etc…

Pieds, cinq positions des [sen paw-zee-SYAWN day pyay]

Refers to the five positions of the feet. There are five basic positions of the feet in classical ballet, and every step or movement is begun and ended in one or another of these positions.

Piqué [pee-KAY]

Means “Pricked or pricking”. It is a term used to describe other ballet terms. For example, in piqué en arabesque, piqué développé and so on.

Pirouette [peer-WET]

Means “spin”. A complete turn made one foot while the other foot is normally in Passe position. the spins could go in any direction. There is a strong emphasize on keeping the “center” aligned properly in order to do the pirouette.

Pirouette à la seconde, grande [grahrul peer-WET a lah suh-GAWND]

Refers to a large pirouette in second position. This pirouette is usually performed by male dancers. It is a series of turns on one foot with the free leg raised to the second position in the air at 90 degrees.

Plié [plee-AY]

Means “Bent, bending”. One of the most famous moves in Ballet. It refers to the bending of the knee or knees with strong turn out from feet, knees and hips. They are typically done in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th positions in classical ballet, both at the barre and center in classes.

Pointes, sur les [sewr lay pwent]

Means “On the points”. It is when a dancer dances on her toes. A dancer starts to dance on point only when they have achieved a certain level of proficiency.

Pointe shoes

Pointe shoes are the satin ballet shoes used by dancers when dancing on point (see above term).

Poisson [pwa-SAWN]

Means “Fish”. This pose is taken while jumping into the air with the body arched to one side and the feet crossed in fifth position.

Polonaise

Dance that is performed in 3/4 time with which the court ballets of the seventeenth century were opened. It may be seen today in such ballets as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.

Port de bras [pawr duh brah]

Means “movement of the arms”. A movement or series of movements made by passing the arm or arms through various positions. Usually there are many exercises to help dancers master graceful arm movements. For example, if a ballerina moves her arms from first position to fifth position, that is considered a port de bras.

Porté, portée [pawr-TAY]

Means “Carried”. Refers either to a step which is traveled in the air from one spot to another.

Premier, première [pruh-MYAY, pruh-MYEHR]

Means “First”.

Promenade, tour de [toor duh prawm-NAD]

Means “Turn in a walk”. A promenade is when a dancer turns around on one leg with the standing leg’s heel on the floor, while the other leg is in a position such as an arabesque or attitude derriere.

Quatre [KA-truh]

Means “Four”.

Quatrième [ka-tree-EM]

Means “Fourth”.

Relevé [ruhl-VAY]

Means “rising”. It is the rising on the toes or the balls of feet (on point or demi pointe). Relevé may be done in the first, second, fourth or fifth position and many other positions. Releves can be done very quickly with sharp springs or with slow graceful style.

Retiré [ruh-tee-RAY]

Means “Withdrawn”. A position in which the dancer stands on one foot and lifts the other foot up in the air and bring it to touch the standing leg with the toes. This foot is turned out and usually around the hip level.

Rise

This is a smooth relevé from a position à terre through all the levels of the foot (quarter-point, half-point and three-quarter point). The toes do not move from the spot at which the rise began.

Rolling

Dancers “roll” in or out using their ankles instead of getting the turn out from the hips. This is usually what dancers need to avoid.

Ront de jambe [rawn duh zhahnb]

It is the circle of the leg. Ronds de jambe are used as an exercise at the bar and in the center. It is when the weight is on one leg and the working leg makes a circle inward or outward.

Rond de jambe à terre [rawn duh zhahnb a tehr]

Rond de jambe on the ground. It is where one leg makes circular movements while connected to the ground. Both legs must be kept perfectly straight and all movement must come from the hip, along with the arching and relaxing of the instep. The toe of the working leg is connected to the floor at all times.

Rond de jambe en l’air [rawn duh zhahnb ahn lehr]

Rond de jambe in the air. Ronds de jambe in the air is when the working leg does the circular movement but in the air.

Sauté, sautée [soh-TAY]

Means “Jumped, jumping”. It is used with other Ballet terms to signify that the step must be done with a jump. For example, Sauté arabesque means “jump in arabesque position”.

Seconde, à la [ah la suh-GAWND]

Means “To the second”. A term that means that the certain move is done in or from the second position of the feet.

Sept [set]

Means “Seven”.

Sickling

This is when a dancer tries to turn out or point his/her foot from the ankle at a bad angle that breaks the line. Should be avoided!

Sissonne fermée [see-SAWN fehr-MAY]

It is a jump done sideways or forward/back. It is when the dancer jumps with both feet in the air and then lands in fifth position.

Six [seess]

Means “Six”.

Supporting leg

It is the leg that the dancer has their weight on or “stands” on.

Temps lié sur les pointes [tahn Iyay sewr lay pwent]

Movement on the points.

Terre, à [a tehr]

Means that the move is done on the ground.

Tour de force [toor duh fawrss]

A brilliant performance that was achieved with great technical skill.

Tour en l’air [toor ahn lehr]

Means “Turn in the air”. lt is a turn where the dancer jumps straight into the air from a demi-plié, makes a complete turn and lands in the fifth position with the feet in reverse position. The turn may be single, double or triple according to the ability of the dancer.

Tournant, en [ahn toor-NAHN]

Means “Turning”. Indicates that the body should turn during a particular step or movement.

Trois [trwah] Three. As, for example, in entrechat trois.

Troisième [trwah-ZYEM]

Means “Third”.

Turn-out

This is the ability of the dancer to turn out his/her feet from the hip. Essential for Ballet dancing.

Tutu [tew-TEW]

This is the short classical ballet skirt.

Variation [va-rya-SYAWN]

Means “Variation”. A solo dance in a classic ballet.

Virtuoso

A dancer with great technical ability and skill.

Working leg

The “working leg” Ballet term refers to the free leg that is moving or in motion. It is the opposite of the “supporting leg” which has the weight on it.

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