Back to the Ballet Collection


Ballet English Glossary


The large size of this glossary may result in slow loading time.


Active-foot position:  Position in which you balance on one foot that supports the weight of the body while the other foot assumes various positions either on the floor, in the air, or resting on the supporting leg.


adagio: Slow, sustained movements and poses. In an adagio combination, you strive to perform positions, poses, and steps with an effortless, smooth quality.


à la quatrième derrière [ah lah ka-tree-EM dehr-YEHR]: Classical body position facing en face with the working leg in the fourth position back.


à la quatrième devant [ah lah ka-tree-EM duh-VAHN]: Classical body position facing en face with the working leg in the fourth position front.


à la seconde [ah lah suh-KOHND]: Classical body position facing en face with the working leg to second position.


allegro [ah-LAY-groh]: Fast steps with a brisk, light quality. Petit allegro steps include small hops and jumps.


allemande: The first dance of the four-part suite; derived from a slow couple’s dance from the 16th century done in 4/4 time. The dancers held one or two hands and the gentleman turned the lady under his arm.


aplomb: Perpendicularly; the ability to appear to move vertically either upward or downward.


arabesque [a-ra-BESK]: A versatile pose with several variations. The dancer balances on one leg and extends the working leg behind at approximately 45 degrees.


arabesque à terre: Arabesque with the working foot pointed and resting on the floor.


arabesque en fondu:  Arabesque melted; in this variation of the arabesque pose, the supporting leg is in fondu, or a demi-plié on one leg.


arabesque sauté [a-ra-BESK soh-TAY]: Arabesque jumped or hopped.


assemblé [a-sahm-BLAY]: Assembled. Starting in third or fifth position, the back foot performs a dégagé or jeté à la seconde as the supporting leg descends into demi-plié. The supporting foot hops vertically. Both legs close in the air or on the floor in a demi-plié in third or fifth position.


à terre [ah tehr]: On the floor; refers to movements performed with the working leg touching the floor as opposed to in the air.


B+ (attitude derrière pointe tendue à terre): Standing on one foot, the back leg bends at the knee with the foot pointed and the tip of the great toe touching the floor. The B+ position is an alternative beginning position to fifth position for combinations in the center or across the floor.


balancé [ba-lahn-SAY]: Rocking step; the balancé can be performed slowly (adagio) or briskly (allegro), both side to side and front and back.


ballet d’action: A form of ballet that used dance and pantomime to present a unified, dramatic ballet. Noverre wrote about the four basic principles of ballet d’action in his Lettres sur le Danse et le Ballet (1760).


ballets de cour: Court ballets performed in the 16th and 17th centuries.


ballet technique: Comprises a vocabulary of exercises, steps, positions, and poses.


ballet walk:  An articulated way of walking in ballet, tepping through each foot from the toes to the heels in a turned-out position.


barre: A series of exercises to warm up and strengthen the body as preparation for the center part of class.


battement dégagé en cloche [bat-MAHN day-ga-ZHAY ahn klawsh]: Disengaged beating while swinging like a clapper in a bell.


battement dégagé or jeté [bat-MAHN day-ga-ZHAY or zhuh-TAY]: Battement disengaged (dégagé) from (Cecchetti) or thrown (jeté) from the floor (Russian).


battement développé [bat-MAHN dayv-law-PAY]: Unfolding of the leg.


battement frappé [bat-MAHN fra-PAY]: Beating of the foot by striking the floor.


battement tendu [bat-MAHN than-DEW]: A stretched beating.


battement tendu en promenade [bat-MAHN than-DEW ahn prohm-NAHD]: A series of battements tendus à la seconde executed with alternating feet, closing in the starting position. The en promenade refers to walking backward or forward.


battement tendu jeté pointe [bat-MAHN than-DEW zhuh-TAY pwen-TAY]: See petit battement piqué.


battement tendu relevé [bat-MAHN than-DEW ruhl-VAY]: Battement tendu stretched and raised.


battement tendu with demi-plié [bat-MAHN than-DEW with duh-MEE plee-AY]: A stretched beating with half bend.


center: Part of the beginning ballet class in which students learn steps, positions, poses, and combinations to gain a basic movement vocabulary of ballet.


center barre: Also called center practice, it is one or more exercises learned at the barre and practiced in the center.


chaînés [sheh-NAY]: Linking turns, as in a chain.


changement [shahnzh-MAHN]: Changing feet; refers to a jump in which you start in third or fifth position, jump into the air with legs extended in first position, and change to the other leg in front in third or fifth position in the descent.


chassé à la seconde [sha-SAY ah lah suh-KOHND]: Chasing step in second position. This versatile step can be executed in various directions, such as chassé devant.


chassé devant [sha-SAY duh-VAHN]: Chasing step front. The chasing part of the step comes from the quick push from the back leg for the air moment.


classical ballets: Ballets produced during the last quarter of the 19th century in Russia that told dramatic or fantastic stories. Classical ballet ranged from two acts to four acts or longer. These evening-long events featured ballet, mime, character dance, and the pas de deux.


classical positions of the body: Eight basic positions that can be performed as a combination in itself or incorporated with other steps into combinations.


corps de ballet: Literally, the body of the ballet. A large number of dancers who performed group dances as entertainment, to establish atmosphere, or to present ballet interludes.


counterbalance: When the torso tilts upward stretching on a slightly forward angle.


counterpull: The oppositional lift to prevent the body giving into gravity.


coupé [koo-PAY]: Literally, cut; sometimes referred to as low retiré.


coupé devant and derrière: Cutting step front and back. Starting in third or fifth position, demi-plié, then jump into the air so that both legs fully extend. Land with either the front foot or back foot touching the middle of the lower leg. In coupé devant, the side of the little toe touches the front of the leg. In coupé derrière, the heel of the working foot touches the back of the supporting leg.


courante: The second dance in the two-part suite; a dance in 3/4 time in which the dancers did light running steps.


croisé derrière [kwah-ZAY dehr-YEHR]: Crossed in the back. In this classical body position the body faces a downstage corner with the upstage, working leg extending back to the opposite, upstage corner. Arms and head depend on the method or school.


croisé devant [kwah-ZAY duh-VAHN]: Crossed in the front. In this classical body position the body faces a downstage corner, and the downstage leg is crossed in front of the supporting leg. Arms and head depend on the method or school.


dancer stage directions (ballet): Relate to the walls and corners of the dance space, which could be the dance studio or another performance space, such as a stage. Russian and Cecchetti methods use different numbering systems for dancer stage directions.


demi-plié [duh-MEE plee-AY]: Half bend of the knees.


demi-seconde position (or half-second): The arms stretch at half the height between second position and fifth position en bas.


derrière: To the back.


devant: To the front.


écarté devant [ay-kar-TAY duh-VAHN]: Separated, thrown wide apart. In this classical body position the body faces a downstage corner, the working leg stretches to the opposite downstage corner, the downstage arm is overhead, and the upstage arm is in second position.


échappé sauté [ay-sha-PAY soh-TAY]: Escaped jump. Beginning in first, third, or fifth position, jump vertically and open the legs to second position in the air before landing in demi-plié.


effacé devant [eh-fa-SAY duh-VAHN]: Shaded, front. In this classical body position, the body faces a downstage corner and the working leg stretches devant to that same corner. Arms and head depend on the method or school.


en arrière: Backward.


en avant: Forward.


en croix: Pattern in the shape of a cross.


en face: Facing fully toward the front toward the audience or the front of the room in the studio.


en l’air [ahn lehr]: In the air; refers to the position of the working foot.


épaulé [ay-poh-LAY]: Shouldered. In this classical body position the body faces a downstage corner, and the downstage working leg extends behind to the opposite upstage corner; the downstage arm extends forward at eye level; the upstage arm extends behind. The torso twists upstage so that the arms create a complete diagonal line. The head lifts and tilts to the right or upstage. The eyes focus on the fingertips of the forward hand.


fifth arabesque (Cecchetti): The body faces a downstage corner; the supporting leg is the downstage leg in a demi-plié. The arms are the same as for third arabesque. The head tilts upstage and the eyes focus toward the downstage corner.


fifth position (feet): The heel of the front foot touches the back foot. In the Vaganova method, the heel touches the tip of the toe of the back foot. In the Cecchetti method, the heel touches the back foot at the joint of the great toe.


fifth position en haut: Rounding both arms high, diagonally upward from the hairline (Cecchetti) or over the crown of the head (Russian).


first arabesque (Cecchetti): Position in which the body is in profile to the audience. The supporting leg is the upstage leg. The forward arm is on the same side of the body as the supporting leg. The other arm opens to second position or slightly behind.


first arabesque (Russian): The torso and downstage shoulder open from the bottom of the sternum. The forward arm is at shoulder height. The downstage arm is in second position or slightly behind.


first port de bras: Position in which the arms begin in fifth position en bas, or preparatory position. Both arms rise to first position, then open to second position.


first position (arms): The arms stretch in front of the body parallel to the bottom of the sternum or higher. The fingertips are slightly separated.


first position (feet): The heels of the feet touch with both legs turned out equally.


flick and press: Exercise in which the foot flicks quickly from a full-foot position to a point off the floor. On the return path, the tips of the toes and the foot press with resistance through three-quarter relevé to the full-foot position.


foot flexion: Also called flexing; the reverse of pointing the foot. The flexion begins at the ankle joint with the heel pushing forward.


foot pedal: Exercise in which the action begins with a quick release from the ankle through the foot. The tips of the toes can point, resting either on the floor or just above it.


foot press: Exercise in which the foot stretches from the full-foot position to the three-quarter relevé position; the toes and metatarsals rest on the floor. On the return path, the foot resists as it presses to the full-foot position.


fourth arabesque (Cecchetti): The body faces a downstage corner most often. The downstage leg is the supporting leg similar to second arabesque, but in a demi-plié. The arms are the same as for first arabesque. The eyes focus to the downstage corner.


fourth arabesque (Russian): The legs are in the same position as for third arabesque. The torso turns upstage, with the downstage arm stretching forward and the upstage arm extending behind. The arms create a continuous line through the body.


fourth position (arms): One arm is rounded and high overhead and the other arm is curved in front of the waist. The arm in front is opposite to the foot in front in a fourth position.


fourth position (feet): One foot is forward of the other foot. The distance between the back and the front foot is the length of one foot. For the beginning dancer, fourth position can be forward of either first position or third position.


fourth position en avant: In fourth position, one arm curves in front at the waistline and the other arm stretches in second position. The curved arm is opposite to the foot in front.


full-foot position: When the entire sole of the foot rests on the floor.


glissade [glee-SAHD]: Gliding step that can be performed with or without change of feet to the side, its basic form.


grand allegro: Steps in the center moving across the floor; they include large jumps and leaps.


grand battement [grahn bat-MAHN]: Large beating, or kicking action of the leg into the air.


grand jeté [grahn zhuh-TAY]: Big leap; a large leap in which the body travels in an overcurve.


grand pas de deux: Performed by the ballerina and the premier danseur, it is the dance that showcases each dancer’s ballet technique and artistry as dancers in the leading roles in the ballet.


grand plié [grahn plee-AY]: Large bend of the knees.


jeté [zhuh-TAY]: Thrown. Jump in which the back foot brushes full-foot to à la seconde and the body is pushed directly upward into the air. Both legs extend in a small second position before descending and landing with the front foot in demi-plié and the back foot in coupé derrière.


opéra-ballets: Themed evening-long entertainments of the 18th century that included a series of opera and dance scenes.


pas de Basque [pah duh bask]: Step of the Basque. This step is generally learned in a smooth, gliding adagio style. Later it can be executed with tiny jumps in a petit allegro style.


pas de bourrée [pah duh boo-RAY]: Step of the bourrée, or stuffed step, has the same name as a historical dance performed in the baroque period.


pas de chat [pah duh shah]: Step of the cat. Starting in demi-plié in third or fifth position, the back leg lifts to retiré derrière as the front foot pushes into the air. The front leg lifts to retiré devant during the air moment and then both feet land sequentially into demi-plié in third or fifth position.


pas de deux: Dance for two; challenges the male and female lead dancers’ technique, virtuosity, and style. The highlight of the classical ballet was the grand pas de deux danced by the ballerina and the premier danseur.


passé [pa-SAY]: Passing step; the passé step learned at the barre is often performed as a series moving en arrière (backward), then en avant (forward).


petit allegro [puh-TEE ah-LAY-groh]: The small, quick steps in this category use hops, leaps, and jumps that move from one foot to the other.


petit battement piqué [puh-TEE bat-MAHN pee-KAY]: Also called battement tendu jeté pointe; a stretched beating, thrown and pointed.


petit battement sur le cou-de-pied [puh-TEE bat-MAHN sewr luh koo-duh-PYAY]: Small beating at the neck of the foot.


piqué en avant [pee-KAY ahn a-VAHN]: Pricked step forward. The working leg begins pointe tendue devant. As the supporting leg executes a demi-plié, the working leg lifts to the height of a battement dégagé.


pointe tendue: Stretched point.


pointing: Refers to the characteristic ballet foot position. It begins with flexing the ankle of the foot, then stretching and lifting the arch and the entire foot, continuing the extension through the lower foot, metatarsals, and toes.


port de bras [pawr duh brah]: Carriage of the arms; uses the entire arm and hand as a unit to move to and through a position. Port de bras can be simply moving your arms through a position when performing an exercise.


port de corps [pawr duh kawr]: Carriage of the body; as part of the ballet barre the term refers to bending the torso forward, side, or back.


pre-barre exercises: Exercises that warm up body parts, increase flexibility and articulation, and help the dancer acquire the right mindset and breathing for the barre exercises that follow.


premier danseur: Leading male ballet dancer who performs solos, duets, or pas de deux and mimes the dramatic action of the ballet.


preparatory position: Starting position for port de bras in which arms are low; similar to fifth position en bas. The arms stretch downward and are slightly rounded in front of the body.


pull-up: Stretching the legs upward from the floor while engaging the abdominals and extending upward to lengthen the torso between the hips to the ribs. Also known as lift.


regisseur: Individual who stages a dance work.


relevé [ruhl-VAY]: Raised; the heel of the foot lifts off the floor and the ball of the foot and the toes remain on the floor.


retiré [ruh-tee-RAY]: Withdrawn; the working foot moves through sur le cou-de-pied and traces a line up either the front or back of the supporting leg to rest under the kneecap, behind the knee, or at the side of the knee.


révérence [ray-vay-RAHNS]: A combination performed at the end of class to thank the teacher and accompanist. It involves port de bras with a bow for men and a curtsy for women.


romantic ballets: Dramatic action stories told through dancing, music, and pantomime in two acts. The romantic ballet era began in the 1830s and only lasted a few years, but its style and influence extended throughout the 19th century.


rond de jambe à terre [rawn duh zhahmb ah tehr]: Circular movement of the leg described by the pointed foot on the floor. The circular movement describes a half circle in two directions, en dehors (outside; away from the supporting leg) or en dedans (inside; toward the supporting leg).


sauté [soh-TAY]: Jump.


second arabesque (Cecchetti): Position in which the body is in profile to the audience. The upstage supporting leg is straight and turned out. The body line is square yet open to the audience. The forward arm is on the same side of the body as the leg extends behind. The other arm extends behind second position. The two arms create a complete diagonal line. The eyes focus over the fingertips of the forward hand, and the head tilts toward the audience.


second arabesque (Russian): Similar to Russian first arabesque, the body is in profile with the supporting leg upstage from the audience. The downstage arm stretches forward while the upstage arm extends behind the body. The head turns to the audience.


second port de bras: The arms begin in fifth position en bas. Both arms rise to fifth position en haut. Then, the arms rotate to second position. The elbows lift slightly and the arms float downward, finishing fifth position en bas.


second position (arms): Arms are immediately in front of the side of the body. Arms stretch from shoulder level or sloping downward and are slightly rounded.


second position (feet): Feet separate the distance of one and one-half foot lengths up to shoulder width. Both great toes are on a straight line to ensure equal turnout of the legs.


sous-sus: Literally means under-over. A relevé, or rise, with the feet in a tight fifth position.


sur la place: Staying in one place during a movement sequence that moves up or down within the space.


sur le cou-de-pied [sewr luh koo-duh-PYAY]: On the neck of the foot. In this position, the heel of the working foot rests on the front of the ankle and may or may not touch the back of the ankle.


temps levé [tahm luh-VAY]: Time raised; a step that begins from two feet in third or fifth position and ends on one leg with the working foot touching the supporting leg either in front or back below the knee.


third arabesque (Cecchetti): Position in which the body is in profile to the audience. The supporting leg is straight and turned out. Shoulders and hips are square. Both arms are forward; the upper arm is away from the audience and extends level to the top of the forehead. The lower arm is nearest the audience and at shoulder height. The eyes focus straight ahead as if looking through a window created by the arms.


third arabesque (Russian): Position in which the body faces a downstage corner. The downstage leg is the supporting leg and is in demi-plié. The upstage leg stretches behind in croisé derrière. The upstage arm extends forward, while the other arm opens in second position. The face looks toward the forward hand.


third position (arms): One arm is high overhead, while the other arm stretches in second position. If the right foot is front in third position, then the right arm is overhead.


third position (feet): The heel of the front foot touches the middle of the arch of the back foot.


three-step turn: A small turning step practiced in preparation for other turning steps, such as chaînés.


tonnelet: An above-the-knee hooped skirt worn by male dancers in the first part of the 18th century.


turnout: A significant feature of ballet technique in which the legs outwardly rotate from the hip socket.