Glossary of Terms

Ballet Terminology


  • Adagio

    A music term used for slow, sustained movements.

    The ‘adagio’ portion of ballet class may encompasses high développés above 90°, or partnering work.

  • Allegro

    Rapid tempo movements, often includes jumping steps. Petit allegro includes smaller jumping steps.

    Grand allegro includes large expansive jumps such as grand jeté.

  • Arabesque

    The gesture leg is extended behind the dancer’s body at 90° or higher, which requires hip and spine hyperextension, knee extension, and ankle-foot plantarflexion.

  • Arrière, en

    To the back.

  • assemblé

    To assemble or place (the feet) together in the air (usually in fifth position) during a jump.

  • Attitude

    The hip of the gesture leg is at 90°, the knee is bent, and the foot is pointed.

    Attitude croisée devant: the leg is lifted to the front. Attitude croisée derriere: the leg is lifted to the back.

  • Avant, en

    To the front.

  • B

  • Balanchine

    Founder, director, and principle choreographer of New York City Ballet.

    Trained in the Russian school, he developed a neo-classical technique known for rapid footwork and abstract choreography.

  • Ballón

    The quality of lightness, ease in jumping.

  • Ballotté

    “Tossed”. A light, rocking quality, jump sequence.

    Ex: A jump from the point tondu front to the point tondu back.

  • Barre

    The introductory / warm up portion of the ballet class, conducted while holding onto a ballet bar.

    The dancer always starts with the left hand at the bar, working the right gesture leg.

  • Beats

    To hit the legs together, moving in and out of fifth position in the air. See petite batterie.

  • Bourrée

    A step performed on pointe from fifth position.

    Initiated with the front foot, there is a rapid weight shift from one foot to the other, performed in place or traveling.

  • Brisé

    A jumping beat which allows the dancer to travel in a specified direction.

  • C

  • Cabriole

    “Caper like a goat”.

    A jump where one leg is kicked up into the air and the supporting leg pushes off and beats underneath the gesture leg, propelling it higher. The jump lands on the kicking leg.

  • Cambré

    A bend of the body from the waist to the front, back, or side, with an accompanying port de bras.

  • Cecchetti Method

    A school and style of ballet, originated by Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928) in Italy.

    Emphasizes seven basic movements in dance: Plier (to bend), Étendre (to stretch), Relever (to rise), Glisser (to slide or glide), Sauter (to jump), Élancer (to dart), Tourner (to turn). Used by the Italian and Royal (English) Ballets.

  • Center Floor

    The second portion of the ballet class, comprised of the adagio, turns, and small jumps (petit allegro).

  • Chaînés

    "Linked like a chain”.

    A series of small turning steps with the feet in first position relevé. Weight is shifted rapidly from one to the other limb with each half turn.

    Performed continuously in rapid succession.

  • Changement

    “Changing the feet”.

    A vertical jump with a change of feet in the air (from fifth position front to fifth back).

  • Chassé

    “Chasing one foot with the other”.

    The leading foot slides forward into fourth (or side-ward into second), then with a spring off the floor, the stance limb draws up to it in the air, and the leading foot opens to land in fourth (or second).

    Used as a traveling or transition step.

  • Cou-de-pied

    A unilateral standing posture with the pointed gesture foot held in front of, back of, or wrapped around the ankle of the stance leg.

  • Coupé

    “To cut”.

    A small intermediary step, used as a link between steps, such as jeté, pas de bourré, etc., using the cou-depied position.

  • Croix, en


    Unilateral leg gesture carried out in three directions relative to the dancer’s front (en avant), side (a la seconde), and back (en arrière), making the shape of a cross.

    Typical barre exercises (tondu, dégagé, dévelopé, frappé, grand battement, etc. are performed en croix.

  • D

  • Dedans, en

    Inward. A circular movement of the gesture limb from the back to the front (as in ronde de jambe), or a turn done toward the stance limb.

  • Dégagé

    “To disengage”.

    Sharp brushes of the pointed foot to develop speed and precision of the feet and legs.

  • Dehors, en

    Outward. A circular movement of the gesture limb from front to back, or a turn which moves away from the stance limb.

  • Demi

    Half. As in demi-plié.

  • Derrière


  • Devant

    In front.

  • Dèveloppé

    A large, relatively slow leg gesture.

    The gesture limb begins from first or fifth position, passes through passé, to extend at 90° or higher to the front (en avant), side (a la seconde), or back (en arrière - arabesque).

  • E

  • Elevé

    A rise upward onto the toes.

  • échappé


    A two-part movement from fifth position out to second (or fourth), and returning to fifth again, either with a jump or en pointe.

  • Envelopé

    A unilateral leg movement in which the gesture limb begins in a knee extended position away from the body, and ‘folds’ back into the body.

    (The reverse of a dèveloppé).

  • épaulement

    Position of the shoulders in relation to the head and legs.

    Sets the head-neck, back, shoulder girdle, and port de bras in a codified relationship.

  • F

  • Fifth Position

    The legs are externally rotated, one foot is crossed in front of the other, with forward toe touching the back heel.

  • First Position

    The legs are externally rotated, and heels are together.

  • Fondu


    A slow demi-plié of the stance limb, bringing the gesture limb into cou-de-pied, followed by simultaneous extending of both knees to end in dèveloppé (battement fondu dèveloppé) or tondu (battement fondu simple) as specified.

  • Fouetté

    A “whipping’ en dehors turn, in relevé, requiring coordinated dèveloppé devant,whipping the gesture leg to second, and returning it to passé, with opening and closing port de bras.

    The opening and closing action of the gesture leg and arm create spin of the stance limb, allowing it to turn.

  • Fourth Position

    The legs are externally rotated, one foot is crossed in front of the other, separated by the distance of one foot.

  • Frappé

    Beginning from the cou-de-pied position, a rapid striking ricochet (off the floor) of the gesture foot, ending in a pointed position.

    Develops strength and precision of the gesture limb.

  • G

  • Glissade

    “Slide or glide”.

    A linking or preparatory step. The initiating leg slides out into dégagè, weight is transferred to it to allow the other leg to point and slide into fifth.

    It can be performed slow (adagio) or fast (allegro), but is always smooth and continuous.

  • Grand


  • Grand Battement

    A large, swift leg “kick” with the knee extended and foot pointed.

    Performed to the front, side, or back and from first, fifth, or the point tondu.

  • Grand ronde jambe en l’aire

    A unilateral, circumducted hip action where the gesturing limb describes a semi-circle in space at > 90° of hip flexion.

  • J

  • Jeté

    A “throwing step” where a leaping jump is executed from one foot to the other.

    The forward leg battements to the front, and the other leg follows in arabesque. (May also be executed to the side).

  • L

  • L’aire

    In the air.

  • P

  • Pas


  • Pas de Basque

    A traveling step from fifth position plié, which includes one 1/2 ronde de jambe from front to side, weight transfer to this leg, and closure into fifth plié.

  • Pas de Bourreé:

    A basic linking step which permits a change from one fifth position to another.

  • Pas de Chat

    “Step of the cat”. A jump beginning and ending in fifth position.

  • Passé

    Similar in shape to the retiré: the hip is abducted and externally rotated, the knee is bent, the foot is pointed, and the toe touches the knee of the stance limb.

    However, the passé is a transitional movement as the foot passes on its way to another position (such as dèveloppé).

  • Penché

    Inclined. Usually arabesque penché, in which the torso and gesture limb are tilted forward from the hip.

    This directs the torso and focus toward the floor.

  • Petite

    Small, little.

  • Petite Batterie


    During a sauté, one calf beats against the other.

    The number of beats have specific terms: royale (from fifth position, the front leg beats in front and closes back), entrechat quatre (from fifth position, the front leg beats in back and closes front), etc.

  • Piqué:


    A step in which the body moves sharply onto the pointe or demi-pointe of the opposite foot.

    This action can be immediately followed by a turning motion, known as a piqué turn.

  • Piroutté

    “Whirl or spin”.

    A controlled turn on one leg in relevé. The gesture leg may be held in retiré (passé), seconde, attitude, cou-de-pied, etc.

    The turn may be performed en dedans or en dehors.

  • Plié

    A bend of the knees while the torso is held upright.

    The action relies on varying degrees of hip and knee flexion, with ankle and MTP dorsiflexion, depending on whether the plié is demi- or grand.

  • Pointe, en

    On pointe. Position of the foot in a pointe (or toe) shoe, in which the dancer stands on the toes.

  • Port-de-Bras

    Carriage of the arms.

    The codified arm positions which provide strength and balance to the trunk, and may also serve as gesture or enhancement of focus.

  • Port-de-Corps

    Carriage of the body.

    Basically, port-de-bras action supplemented with flexion, lateral flexion, or hyperextensio movement of the spine.

  • Promenade

    A slow pivot of the body while standing on one leg.

  • R

  • Relevé

    A rise or spring onto the toes (demi- or full pointe) from plié.

  • Retiré

    A static position in which the hip of the gesturing leg is externally rotated and abducted, the knee is flexed, and the foot is pointed and touching the knee of the stance limb.

  • Rèvèrence


    Traditional port-de-bras and port-de-corps showing respect and gratitude to the ballet master or audience.

  • Ronde de Jambe

    A unilateral leg action in which the gesture leg is circled from front to back of the dancer’s body, or vice versa.

    May be performed on the ground (a terre) or in the air (en l’aire).

  • S

  • Sauté

    A simple jump in the vertical direction.

  • Seconde, la

    To the side (second position).

  • Second Position

    The legs are externally rotated and separated by the distance of one foot, in the frontal plane.

  • Sissonne

    A jump from two feet onto one foot in various directions.

  • Soussus

    Springing into fifth position relevé en pointe or demi-pointe from demi-plié.

  • Soutenu

    From demi-plié on the stance leg and pointe tondu with the gesture leg.

    Rising to demi-pointe while simultaneously drawing the gesture leg into fifth.

  • T

  • Tendu

    A “stretched” action of the gesturing limb from a stance position with flat foot to a pointed foot, with the toes keeping contact with the floor.

  • Terre, a

    On the ground.

  • Third Position:

    The legs are externally rotated, and one heel is placed in front of the other.

  • Tour

    Turn of the body.

  • Tour en l’aire

    “Turns in the air”.

    Sauté which incorporates airborne rotations. Primarily performed by men.

  • Tour jeté

    A jeté which incorporates an angular rotation of the body and switching of the legs in mid-air.

  • Tourant, en


  • V

  • Vaganova Method

    A school and style of ballet developed by Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951) in Russia.

    Most of the Russian ballet syllabus is based on this style.