Ballet Terms

Rachel Hanson
dancer

Learning ballet terms will not only make you a stronger dancer, but will give you a sharp sense of dance vocabulary too. Knowing the terms can be beneficial for teaching and helping others hone their craft. Before you tackle the steps below, make sure to learn the ballet positions that come back repeatedly in these terms.

Common Ballet Terms

  • Arabesque: The body with one leg extended behind it, with a straight knee
  • Assemblé: The working leg slides along the floor before kicking into the air, and the standing leg propels the body into a jump. The two feet are 'assembled' in fifth position before landing on the floor.
  • Attitude: One leg extended behind the body, with the knee bent at a 90 degree angle
  • Balancé: A three-step that resembles a waltz, the leading foot steps out and weight is placed on it, with knee bent. The second foot comes either in front or in back, touches down shortly, but no weight rests on it before returning to the beginning foot. This step can be done in front, back, to the side, or even in a turning movement.
  • Battement: One leg 'beats' the other one
  • Battement-dégagé: The working leg's foot leaves the ground in this step, but just barely (about four inches from the ground). This is similar to a battement-tendu, but is about twice as fast.
  • Battement-frappé: The working foot is not on the ground at the start, but rather at the standing leg's ankle. From here, the foot beats out forcefully (front, side, or back), with the ending, stretched, position having the toes off the ground.
  • Battement-tendu: 'Beating' the foot of the working leg, the foot slides out of fifth position (front or side), and stretches without leaving the floor at the end of the stretch.
  • Cabriole: A majestic jump, the working leg leads, and the following leg beats against the first one, giving the illusion of pushing it away. This jump can be done either at 45 or at 90 degrees.
  • Chaîné: Always done in a series, these are quick turns that link to one another. Step with one foot to the side, and then the following foot, completing a full rotation each time your first step goes out to the side.
  • Changement: A simple jump in fifth position, the foot that was in front at the start of the jump lands in back (fifth position)
  • Chassé: Meaning 'to chase,' the second foot chases the first one as it moves across the floor.
  • Demi-plié: The knees slightly bend, which can be done in all five ballet positions
  • Développé: The working foot goes into the air in a sustained lift, slowly developing from the knee level up to a high, extended, straight-knee position (front, side, or back).
  • Échappé: The two feet escape one another, both going away from one another simultaneously in either a jumping motion (échappé sauté) or ending en pointe.
  • Entrechat: A jump in which the feet change positions (front or back), this can take on several different forms depending on the number of changes. The most common is the entrechat-quatre, in which the leg in front beats in the back and returns to the front position before landing.
  • Fouetté: Meaning 'to whip,' this term most often refers to a type of turn that dancers do center stage. The standing leg is the axis of the turn, and the working leg whips around, propelling the turns. These are often done in series of 32 or 64 turns.
  • Glissade: Traveling leap that starts with one foot gliding along the floor and then taking off into the air with the other foot following suit
  • Grand jeté: A split leap in the air with the body pointed over the front leg
  • Grand-battement: A high-kicking movement, the non-planted foot goes high into the air, leg straight, with the accent being on the leg's return instead of on the upward motion
  • Grand-plié: A deep bend in the knees, bringing the body over the feet, can be done in four positions (not in second position)
  • Pas de bourrée: Small steps, but with toes passing by the knee on the way to the ground
  • Pas de chat: A jump in which the knees bend, bringing both feet into the air with knees bent before landing on first the leading foot, followed by the second one
  • Petit jeté: Often also called jeté, this step refers to the small jumps in which the working foot is thrown away from the body, and the standing leg comes off the ground to land on the leg that left the ground first.
  • Petit-battement: Can be either a battement-tendu, a battement-frappé, or battement-dégagé)
  • Piqué: Stepping directly onto the foot (en pointe or demi-pointe) instead of rolling into an elevated position
  • Pirouette: A basic turn that can multiple rotations, the leading leg is bent with the foot at the knee
  • Plié: A bent stance from a variety of ballet positions (see grand-plié and demi-plié)
  • Rond de jambe: The standing leg is straight and doesn't move, while the working leg makes a round motion on the floor (rond de jambe à terre) or in the air (rond de jambe en l'air)
  • Sissonne: A quick jump that makes a grand impression, a sissonne starts from two feet and lands on one. A variation is the sissonne fermée, in which both feet are on the ground at the end (you still land on one foot, and the second foot slides in behind it).
  • Tour en l'air: As the name suggests, this is a turn in the air. Typically a male dancer's step, this involves jumping into the air from demi-plié and completing a single or double turn in the air before landing.
  • Tour jeté: A complete body rotation in the air with the legs switching positions

Learning the Steps

While pairing the names above with the movements they refer to can seem daunting at first, especially with their impressive French names, the terms will fall into place as you practice. Once you spend a bit of time getting acquainted with these steps both by executing them and talking about them while you do so, you will find they are easier to learn than it seems.

Ballet Terms