Here is a list of Ballet Terms and Definitions. Ballet became formalized in France which is why all the ballet terms and definitions are in French.
Because ballet terms are in French, it is sometimes difficult to know what a term means and how it is pronounced. But this is the universal ballet language that is usually understood worldwide by well-trained dancers.
Because French is not an easy language, we sometimes battle to remember what the ballet terms definitions mean. Some of the ballet terms definitions will have links so that you can read more about the steps.
Here is a list of all the more popular ballet terms and definitions.
A la Seconde
The working leg is held to the side of the body in 2nd position.
A la Quatrieme
One of the directions of the body, facing the audience (en face), arms in second position, with one leg extended either to fourth position in front (quatrième devant) or fourth position behind (quatrième derrière).
The ballet term a Terre means touching the floor.
Another word that could be used is Adagio. The word adage could have two meanings.
- A dance designed particularly to enable a dancer generally assisted by a male partner, to display her grace, sense of line, and perfect balance.
- A series of exercises designed to develop grace, a sense of line, and balance, particularly when the body is supported on one foot.
The word adage is derived from the Italian word ad agio which means at ease or at leisure.
This is a generic term applied to all light and brisk movements.
The word allegro is derived from the Italian word allegro which originates in turn from the Latin word alacer which means brisk and lively.
This word means lengthened or outstretched.
Allongé is usually used with arabesque, such as extending your arm and leg further before closing into another position.
The complete control of the body and feet during movement in a vertical plane.
Aplomb is to the dancer what touch is to the pianist.
The French ballet master Jean-Étienne Despréaux used the term ‘aplomb’ in 1806 to refer to the dynamic balancing that is fundamental to all well-executed ballet positions and movements. In 1887, German dance theorist Friedrich Albert Zorn analogized aplomb in dancers as “the sureness of touch of the pianist.”
The use of the back is particularly important in achieving this control as the stem of aplomb is the spine. The basic concept of alignment, leading to stability (aplomb) is an important concept to understand early on in dance training and perfect over the years, as stability allows dancers to move freely without tension.
This is a position in dancing. The dancer above in front of the moon is doing a 1st arabesque en pointe. The ballet dancer stands on one leg with the other leg straight back behind them.
The supporting leg is either straight or in demi-plié, while the other leg is extended straight behind and at a right angle. The shoulders are square and the arms are held in various positions to create a long line from fingertips to toes. An arabesque can be executed en pointe or on a flat foot.
There are four variations to the traditional arabesque, all of which are dependent on the arm placement. The footwork is the same for all arabesques.
First Arabesque: Extend the arm of the working leg back and diagonally. The arm of the supporting leg is extended forward and straight.
Second Arabesque: The arm of the working leg is forward and straight, slightly above shoulder height. Extend the arm of the supporting leg back and diagonally, and lower than the other arm.
Third Arabesque: Both arms are extended straight forward and are 12 inches apart. Raise the arm of the standing leg higher than the other. The arm of the working leg is squared with the shoulders and is slightly lower than that of the standing leg.
Fourth Arabesque: As with the third variation, both arms are forward and one foot apart. Raise the arm of the working leg higher than the other. The arm of the supporting leg is squared with the shoulders and is slightly lower than that of the working leg.
This means arched or in the ballet world bow-legged. When the dancer is standing in parallel first there is a space visible between the knee joints.
This means backward.
This ballet term indicates that the dancer is moving backward or away from the audience.
The word means assembled and refers to assembling or bringing together of the legs in the air.
The literal meaning of this is step assembled sustained or sustained assembling step.
This is a way of holding the body.
An attitude is a ballet dance position where one leg and both arms are raised. The leg can extend to either the front or back, but it never fully straightens. This position is practiced in ballet class, but it’s also implemented in turns or jumps in a variety of dance routines.
The attitude is a position similar to the arabesque except that the knee of the raised leg is bent.
Carlo Blasis claims to e the inventor of this position which was suggested to him by the statue of Mercuty by Jean Bologne (1524 – 1608).
This ballet definition means forwards and used to signify that a step is executed towards the audience.
This ballet definition means rocking steps. This step is very similar to the look of a waltz.
A balancé de côté is when a dancer performs a balancé to the side.
A balancé en tournant is when a dancer performs a balancé while turning either half or quarter turns.
A dancer could also perform a Balancé en Avant (forwards) and en Arriére (backwards).
Used to be a title given to the principal dancer in the company.
Classical style of expressive dancing with gestures and movements of grace and fluidity.
Someone who loves ballet.
A series of stretches done at the barre.
This means bounce or bounciness. This is the smooth falling and rising of the feet in the passage from step to step. To bounce Ballon means “to bounce,” and in ballet refers to a dancer showing lightness and ease in jumps.
Ballon describes the quality of jump, not the height.Because French is not an easy language, we sometimes battle to remember what the ballet terms definitions mean. Some of the ballet terms definitions will have links so that you can read more about the steps.
This term means ball-like and is a bouncing step in ballet.
A wooden bar attached to the wall horizontallyl that dancers use to strengthen their work and warm up on.
Bending exercise at the bar where both legs bend and stretch together.
To strike or knock.
Beating raided or raising beating.
Stretched beating or disengaged beating.
Broken or 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 traveling.
A goat-like leap. In a cabriole, a ballet dancer jumps into the air from one leg as the other is thrown upwards. A cabriole can also be done as a double cabriole where the beating happens twice in the air before landing.
Arched. Usually bending and stretching to the front, side or back, or in a circular motion from the waist
Chains or links. Usually a series of turns.
Change of feet. Normally happens in a jump where the feet are changed in the air.
Chasing step. The name is derived from the fact that, as originally executed, one foot seemingly chased the other out of its position.
Scissors-like movements made by the dancer. The dancer can either open the feet to a wide second position or the dancer can jump in the air and open both legs to second position en l’air so that the legs form an inverted T.
Like a bell. This term is applied to a grand battement executed from 4th position in the front and passing to 4th position at the back, both en l’air.
The name seems to be derived from the fact that the above movement resembles the pendulum-like swinging of a bell.
Against time. This is a movement made unexpectedly and seemingly out of time.
Corps de Ballet
This term means body of the ballet. This also refers to the rank of a company of dancers.
Sideways. Implies that a step is taken to the left or the right.
Court side. This refers to a stage direction implying the dancer’s left or the public’s right.
Garden side. This refers to a stage direction implying the dancer’s right of the public’s left.
Coup de Talon
The striking of the heel in the Polish Mazurka.
To cut or cutting.
Running or ran.
Crossed. This refers to the particular placing of the body, legs and head in which the dancer stands at an oblique angle to the audience. This term is also used to qualify a pose and indicate that the working leg is nearest the audience and opened to 4th position in the front.
Similarly a pose can be said to be cruise derriere, when the woking leg is farthest from the audience and opened to 4th position at the back.
This ballet definition means crosswise. This indicates that an exercise is to be executed to the 4th position in front, to 2nd position and then to 4th position at the back.
First appearance. Indicates that a dancer is making his or her first appearance on the stage or his or her first appearance in a particular style or ballet.
Inwards. The leg is moving from the back around to the front or a pirouette is done inwards towards the supporting leg.
Disengage. The dancer moves her leg away from the supporting leg with foot pointed on the floor and leg stretched.
Outwards. The leg moves in a circular direction from the front to the back or could indicate the body turning away from the supporting leg.
On the half pointes. The raising of the body on the balls of the feet.
Half-second position. This is a position of the arms midway between first and second positions.
Unwound or unwinding.
Behind or Back.
Under. In its application to dance, dessous indicates that the working foot passes behind the supporting foot.
Over. In its application to dance, dessus indicates that the working foot passes in front of the supporting foot.
Turned aside in direction contrary to normal.
To unfold. Refers to the slow unfolding of the working leg until it is fully extended.
Diagonal. Indicates that a step is travelled in a diagonal direction.
Double eg. a double pirouette.
Doubled eg. Sissone double.
Separated or thrown wide apart. Normally an open line facing a corner with the leg pointed in second and the front arm lifted with head turned to front corner.
Time escaped or slipped.
Shaded. This is a particular placing of the body, legs and head in which the dancers stands at an oblique angle to the audience to that a portion of the body is in shadow.
Darted or darting. Indicates that a step is to be made in a darting manner eg. Jeté élance.
Elevation. Term used to indicate the height attained by a dancer from the ground in springing steps.
Pupil or student.
Step fitted together or dove-tailing step. This comes from the movement of the feet which must be as close together as possible.
The linking of two or more steps.
In a walk. This walking step indicates that the dancer turns slowly on one foot while maintaining a definite pose.
Interweaving or braiding. This noun is qualified by the ordinals deus, trots, quatrefoil, cinq, six, sept, hit according to the number of times each foot crosses in the air.
Entrance or entry. Making an entrance.
Shouldered. A particular placing of the body in which the dancer stands at an oblique angle to the audience in which the shoulders are square to the direction the dancer is facing.
Position of the shoulders or shouldering. It is a term used to indicate a particular placing of the shoulders in relation to the body.
Exercices a la Barre
Exercises at the bar. This is a generic term applied to a special group of exercise in which the dancer derives assistance in the support of his body and the maintenance of his equilibrium by holding onto a bar which is usually made of wood and affixed to the wall in a horizontal position.
Exercices au Milieu
This term is applied to exercises in the centre performed without the support of a bar.
Step given away or giving away step.
Bend one leg or melting
To force or exercise vigorously.
Time whipped or whipping movement. Describes the quick whipping action of the dancers’ leg.
Struck. The foot strikes the floor as it extends out.
Crack of a whip. It describes a ballet dancer “flicking” a foot on the ground and around the standing leg, then another quick hit of the floor to arrive in a coupe position.
Dabbling or paddling. A dancer points one leg to the side, then doing a small rond de jambe with that leg while pushing off the floor with the other leg and then doing a rond de jambe with that leg.
To the left.
Glided or gliding.
Taking the leg around off of the floor.
The leg goes up with force either to the front, side or back and is controlled on the way down.
High, usually in relation to the arms.
A position in which the working leg is raised at right angles to the hips.
A male dancer’s step in which the dancer jumps into the air with the legs drawn up, one in front of the other, then reverses their position several times before landing with the feet apart again. This step almost looks like swimming in air.
Gartered or knock-kneed. This is a term used to indicate a common malformation of the legs. A dancer is said to be Jarreté if they stand in first and the knee-joints tough or nearly touch, the calves closely touch and the heels are separated.
Throw or Thrown
This is a boatlike throwing step.The step derives its name from the dancer’s swaying from side to side, or forwards and backwards.
Circles. Dancer does a circular pattern around the stage
Polish Character Dance.
To mine or mimic. The dancer conveys a story or expresses an emotion by means of gestures.
To pantomime. To convey a story or express an emotion by means of the features and gestures of the dancer’s.
Pas de Basque
Step of the Basque. This is the most charateristic step in national dance.
Pas de Bourrée
Step of the Bourrée. The word means stuffed and it is possible the step derived its name because of the stuffing of steps.
Step of a cat.
Pas de Cheval
Step of a Horse. This step looks like a horse pawing the ground.
Step marched. The term has come to mean a dignified walking step.
Step fallen or falling step.
Little beating on the neck of the foot.
Pricked or pricking. Generally implies a shooting forward of the body onto the pointe of the front foot with the other foot raised in any desired position. The movement can be made forwards or backwards.
Whirl or could be derived from spinning top. A whirl involving a complete turn of the body.
Pirouette a la Seconde
This is a girl of the body with one foot raised in second position.
Pirouette en Arabesque
This is a whirl of the body with the leg in arabesque position.
Pirouette en Attitude
A whirl of the body with the one leg in attitude.
To bend or fold. The bending of the knee.
Port de Bras
Carriage of the arms. This term could mean two things, either a movement of the arm or arms or a series of exercises designed to make the arms move gracefully and harmoniously.
A poising of the body made by sipping with the knee straight onto the point or half point.
Shortened or short and sharp.
Picked up or picking up.
Raised or raising.
Upset or reversed. An upsetting fo the normal balance without disturbing the Equilibrium.
To draw – drawing of the toe up the calf to the knee.
Ronds de Jambe a Terre
Round the leg. Circular movement of the leg on the ground.
The working foot does an oval action from the side of the knee and out to 2nd at 45 degrees.
Refers to the revolving of the leg with the hip socket as axis.
Jump or jumping
Saut de Basque
Jump of Basque similar to Pas de Basque.
This term may imply the feet are in second position, or that a movement is to be mad to second position.
Sudden leap or bound. Generally the legs are squeezed closely together in fifth when in the air.
A configuration of the legs extended in opposite directions.
Sur Les Cou-de-Pied
On the neck of the foot.
Sur Les Pointes
On the points or on tips of dancers toes.
Time, but usually used with other words.
Temps de Fléche
Time of arrow or arrow movement.
Linked – transfer of weight from one leg to the other.
Time raised is the literal meaning, but in ballet it is a hop on one foot.
On the ground.
Terre a Terre
Ground to ground. Term indicates that the feet hardly leave the ground.
A classical ballet full circle short skirt.
The rotation of the legs in the hip socket.
A solo dance.
Flying or flown.
Travelled or traveling.