Appendix:Glossary of ballet

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This is a glossary of ballet dancing. A significant part of ballet terminology is descendent from the French language.

Contents: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


a la seconde
To the side or in second position. For example you would do a battement tendu à la seconde, to the side. You might place your foot à la seconde, to second position.
adage (French), adagio (Italian)
At ease or leisure. English ballet teachers use "adage", the French adaptation, while Americans prefer the original Italian. Adagio is the opening section of the conventional "Pas de deux".[1] An adagio is a slow ballet combination. focusing on high extentions and body control.
Aplomb refers to stability of the position.
(Literally: 'in Arabic fashion') The position of the body supported on one leg with the opposite leg (with the knee straight) extended behind the body. The back leg may either touch the floor (in tendu) or be raised in the air at an angle upper back up and not fallen forward. See also: Attitude.
Normally used in conjunction with "en"; "en arrière" means a step that moves backwards.
Literally meaning to assemble, a movement where the first foot performs a battement glissé/degagé, "swishing" out. The second foot then swishes under the first foot, thereby launching the dancer into a jump. The feet meet together in mid-air and the dancer lands with both feet on the floor at the same time. A jump: plié, brushing working leg out. Bring both legs together ("assemble" them) while in midair; land on both feet. The brush can be to the front, the side, or the back. Sometimes known as a double changement. - Assemblé. Illustrated Ballet Dictionary. Photos and Pictures.
A pose in which the dancer stands on one leg, with the other leg lifted behind (derriere) or in front (en avant) of the body with the knee bent at approximately 120-degree angle. See also: arabesque. Leave the foot off the ground only lightly so you can lift your foot off easier.
Normally used in conjunction with "en"; "en avant" means a step that moves forwards or a movement done to the front such as "grand battement en avant".


A principal female dancer of a ballet company. Technically, the word for a male dancer would be "ballerino" however this is not in common usage.
A term used to describe the quality of a dancer's jumps. Ballet dancers aspire to develop great ballon, which is that quality of appearing to "hover" in the air at the apex of the jump. Ballon is not to be confused with elevation, or the height of the jump. Even in small, quick jumps ("petit allegro"), dancers strive to exhibit ballon.
This is a kicking movement of the working leg (i.e. the leg that is performing a technique)
  • battement tendu jeté (Russian school) is a battement normally taken to anywhere from 2 cm off the floor up to 45 degrees, depending on the style. It is the same as battement dégagé (Cecchetti) or battement glissé (French school).
  • battement fondu is a battement (usually slower) from a fondu (both knees bent) position and extends until both legs are straight.
  • battement frappé is a battement where the foot moves from a flexed position next to the other ankle, and extends out to a straight position, by doing so hitting the floor (the so-called frappé). In the Russian school the foot is wrapped around the ankle, rather than flexed and does not strike the floor.
  • battement glissé is a rapid battement normally taken to 2-3 centimeters off the floor (literally means a gliding battement). See battement tendu jeté.
  • battement lent a slow battement, normally taken as high as possible, which involves considerable control and strength.
  • battement tendu is a battement where the extended foot never leaves the floor. The working foot slides forward or sideways from the fifth or first position to reach the forth or second position, lifting the heel off the floor and stretching the instep. It forms the preparation for many other positions, such as the ronds de jambe and pirouette positions.
  • petit battement, a battement action where the bending action is at the knee, while the upper leg and thigh remain still.
  • grande battement, a powerful battement action where the dancer takes the leg as high as they can, while the supporting leg remains straight.
  • grande battement en cloche, a grande battement which continuously "swishes" forwards and backwards (literally in large battement with pendulum movement)It still has to turn out in ballet unless the instructor prefers not for you to turn-out.
A whole family of techniques involving jumps, where the feet cross quickly in front and behind each other, creating a flapping or "beating" effect mid-air.

'Also called beats in the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) syllabus.' Usually start to do these in grade 4.

A movement similar to an assemblé. The leg that kicks forward, backward, or to the side beats and the movement travels.


This is a common abbreviation for "tours chaînés déboulés", which is a series of quick turns on alternating feet with progression along a straight line or circle. They are also know as "chaine turnes." In classical ballet it is done on the pointes or demi-pointes (on the balls of the feet).
Literal meaning: changing, or, to change. A jump in which the feet change positions in the air. For example, beginning in the fifth position with the right foot front, plié and jump, switching the left foot into the front and the right to the back, landing with the left foot in front, fifth position.
Literal meaning: to chase or to hunt. A slide with both legs bent either forwards, backwards or sideways and meeting in the air straightened. It can be done either in a gallop (like children pretending to ride a horse) or by pushing the first foot along the floor in a plie' and springing into the air where both legs meet stretched.
croisé, croisée
Crossed. One of the directions of épaulement. The crossing of the legs with the body placed at an oblique angle to the audience. The disengaged leg may be crossed in the front or in the back.

Croisé is used in the third, fourth and fifth positions of the legs (the positions that can be crossed). For example: if the front leg in third, fourth or fifth position is the right leg, and the dancer is facing the front-left corner of the stage; or if the front leg is the left, and the dancer is facing the front-right corner, then the dancer is in croisé.


The French word for the back(side). For example, a battement tendu derrière means a battement tendu taken to the back.
The French word "under". This is where the back leg is brought to the front in techniques such as the assemblé and pas de bourrée.
The French word for the front(side). For example, "tondu devant" would mean stretching the foot to the front.
A movement when the moving leg is first lifted to retiré position, then extended, the knee staying in the same place (known as attitude). Can be done en avant, derriere or a la seconde.


effacé, effacée
Shaded. The opposite position of croise. One of the directions of épaulement in which the dancer stands at an oblique angle to the audience so that a part of the body is taken back and almost hidden from view. This direction is termed "ouvert" in the French method. Effacé is also used to qualify a pose in which the legs are open (not crossed). This pose may be taken devant or derrière, either à terre or en l'air. Example: If the the front leg is the right, and the dancer is facing the front-right corner of the stage, or if the front leg is the left and he is facing the front-left corner, he is in efface.
(pronounced: ay-luh-VAY) A relevé without the plié, where you go to demi or pointe from flat feet. Also called "rise" in other schools. See also relevé.
en dedans
A movement within a circle. En dedans is when the leg starts at the back (or the side) and moves towards the front. When the right leg is the working leg, this is a counter-clockwise circle. When the left leg is the working leg, this is a clockwise circle. En dehors is the opposite to en dedans.
en dehors
En dehors is the opposite movement of en dedans, that is a cirular movement of the leg, like rond de jambe, towards the back.
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, usually jumping from the fifth position and landing back in the fifth position. Entrechats are counted from two to ten according to the number of crossings required and counting each crossing as two movements, one by each leg; that is, in an entrechat quatre each leg makes two distinct movements. Entrechats are divided into two general classes: the even-numbered entrechats, or those which land on two feet-- deux, quatre, six, huit and dix-- and the odd-numbered entrechats, or those which land on one foot-- trois, cinq, sept and neuf.

For example: in an Entrecht-quatre, the dancer will jump from the fifth position, crossing his legs twice, landing in the same position he started.

(literally, "shouldering") Rotation of the shoulders and head relative to the hips in a pose or a step.


five positions of the feet
See Positions
fourth position
See Positions
fifth position
See Positions
French: "To whip"; pronounced /fwɛ.te/. A movement on one leg that requires the dancer to change the hip and torso direction, usually with a whiplike sharpness, while maintaining the leg direction and position. Can also be done in the air.
fouetté en tournant
The famous 32 fouettés that mark a virtuosic high point in Swan Lake and other ballets are actually fouettés en tournant (turning), where it is the working leg, not the torso, that does the whipping movement. Each fouetté involves the dancer standing momentarily on flat foot with the supporting knee bent as the other ('working') leg is extended in front then whipped round to the side, creating the impetus to spin one turn as the working foot is then pulled in to touch the supporting knee and the dancer executes a relevé, jumping onto pointe. Done 32 times in sequence without touching the working leg to the ground (or falling over, 'travelling' off the stage, etc.) is a bravura performance designed to express the strength, triumph and indomitability of the character. And, of course, show of the technical brilliance of the ballerina. Male dancers do a variant usually keeping the leg out - they're not en pointe.


Literally, to glide. This is a traveling step starting in a fifth position demi-plie, in which the working foot moves out to a point, both legs briefly straighten as weight is shifted toward the pointed foot, and the other foot moves in to meet the first. The movement may also be done sur les pointes.
grand plié
A full plie, or bending of the knees is similar to a deep knee bend but turned or rotated out and rather than dropping below the knees you stretch the thighs by gently forcing the knees down while the heels come off of the floor (except for second position where the heels are kept on the floor) and returning to a straightened positions by pressing the heels to the floor as you straighten the knees.
grand jeté
A grand jeté is a long horizontal jump, starting from one leg and landing on the other. It is most often done forward and usually involves a split in mid-air (also called grand écart en l'air). It is referred to in some schools as a Saut de chat, or "Grand Pas de Chat".


For a male dancer, this includes lifting, catching and carrying a partner, also assisting with leaps, promenades and suppported pirouettes. For a female dancer, it includes being lifted, carried, and being assisted with or caught after leaps.In general it is an effort by both the male and female dancers to achieve a harmony of movement so that the audience is unaware of the mechanics but just the effect which can be both physical and emotional. Also known as a pas de deux (dance for two).
Literally, movement or a step. In ballet, a Pas often refers to a combination of steps which make up a dance (typically, in dance forms such as jazz, hip-hop, tap, etc., this is called a routine). Pas is often used as a generic term when referring to a particular suite of dances, i.e. Pas de deux, Grand Ballabile, etc., and may also refer to a variation. The use of the word Pas when referring to a combnation of steps which make up a dance, is used mostly in Russia, and parts of eastern Europe, while in english speaking counties the word combination often suffices.
  • pas de chat - "step of the cat". This involves the dancer jumping sideways, and whilst in mid-air, bending both legs back up to touch the top of their buttocks while the knees are apart. The position sustained in mid-air is similar to the "butterfly" stretching position. The Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake involves sixteen pas de chat, performed by four dancers holding hands with their arms interlaced.
  • pas de basque - a grand movement ("step of the Basques") which is halfway between a step and a leap, and can be taken strictly on the floor (glissé) or with a jump (sauté)and can be done moving toward the front or toward the back.
  • pas de bourrée - three quick steps, when done to the a la seconde the feet usually switch derrier positions (right left right).
  • pas de cheval- (literally: step of the horse) where the dancer does a coupé then a small developpé and tendus back into starting position.
  • pas de poisson- (literally: step of the fish) requires the dancer to begin from two feet in fifth position, and jump, arching the back with the legs straightened behind, so that the body resembles a fish jumping out of water. This position may also be used in partnering work.
  • pas de valse - waltz step. A travelling step done to music in 3/4 time, which can be done either straight or turning (en tournant).
The movement, passé, usually refers to the working foot passing close to the knee of the standing leg and can be done by the front or back foot withdrawing from the floor, as in fifth position, and performing the retiré movement(this movement is literally the 'withdrawing') and when the foot arrives by the knee of the standing leg it passes and continues its movement either to return to the floor by sliding down the back (or front depending on where it started the movement) of the standing leg or into an arabesque or attitude or variations thereof depending if the passé foot is coming from the back or front. The term, passé, has also come into popular usage for the position in which the foot is placed near or on the knee.
One of the most famous ballet movements; this is where the dancer spins around on demi-pointe or pointe on one leg. The other leg can be in various different positions; the standard one being retiré. Others include the leg in attitude, and grand battement level, second position. They can also finish in arabesque or attitude positions.

A pirouette can be en dehors - turning outwards, starting with both legs in plie, or en dedans - turning inwards.

A basic bending movement of the knees; in French, it means "bent". This can be taken to demi-plié (a comfortable, natural bend) or grand-plié, where the dancer bends all the way down until their buttocks reach their feet, whilst maintaining classical turn-out.Turn-out through the hips.
pointe work
The action of rising to the tips of the toes while performing steps.
port de bras
"Carriage of the arms and head." Movement of the arms in a motion around the body. The basic port de bras moves from bras bas to first position of the arms, to second position of the arms, then back down to bras bas. A full port de bras moves from bras bas to first to fifth, down through second and back to bras bas. Examples: Video, the second port de bras with music: [2], Page with this video


Positions of the feet[edit]

Five positions of the feet were set down by the dancing master Pierre Beauchamp at some point in the late 17th century.

first position 
with pointe shoes

When the dancer stands with the feet heel to heel in the shape of a "-", arms should be out like the dancer is holding a beachball with your hands about an inch above your belly button.

second position 
with pointe shoes

third position 
with pointe shoes

fourth position 
with demipointe shoes

In fourth position the dancer's feet are like the fifth, but farther apart. The thighs should be still touching. Do not roll the feet like the picture below keep them flat by putting your weight on them. Dancer has the weight going down as if she or he were tied to the ground or being pushed into the ground but does not bend the legs, keeping them straight bend in a plie. If the right leg is in front, the right arm should be above the head, curved, and the left in front of the dancer's belly button, also curved. When left leg is in front do the opposite. In each the palms are facing the dancer, the elbows are up, and the shoulders down.

fifth position 
with pointe shoes

Positions of the arms[edit]

Arms in a Bolshoi fourth position

There are two basic positions for the arms: in one, the dancer keeps the fingers of both arms almost touching to form an oval shape; in the other, the arms are extended laterally with the elbows slightly bent. These positions may be combined to give other positions; the nomenclature for the position of the arms differs according to the method followed (Vaganova, French, Cecchetti...). The following descriptions apply to the 'rounded' positions of the arms; the corresponding allongés positions are obtained by stretching the elbows and rotating the palms of the hands downwards. A description for each school is given for better clarity.

Vaganova (or Russian school):

  • bras bas (or preparatory position): both arms are rounded with the fingers almost touching, with both hands just in front of the dancer's hips.
  • first position: maintaining this curved oval shape, the arms are brought up so that the tips of the fingers are in line with the navel, and no higher than the sternum.
  • second position; the arms are stretched out to the side, however there is an angle of the arms down and forward, and the palms are facing forward. The elbow is slightly lower than the shoulder and the wrist is level with the elbow.
  • third position: the arms are as in the first position, but just above and slightly forward of the dancer's head.

French school:

  • bras bas (or 'bras au repos'): both arms are rounded with the fingers almost touching, with both hands just in front of the dancer's hips.
  • first position: maintaining this curved oval shape, the arms are brought up so that the tips of the fingers are in line with the navel.
  • second position: the arms are stretched out to the side, however there is an angle of the arms down and forward, and the palms are facing forward. The elbow is slightly lower than the shoulder and the wrist is slightly lower than the elbow.
  • third position: one arm is in second position, while the other is rounded and raised above the head (French fifth position).
  • fourth position: one arm is in first position, while the other is rounded and raised above the head (French fifth position).
  • fifth position (or 'bras en couronne'): both arms are rounded and held just above and slightly forward of the dancer's head.

Cecchetti method:

  • first position: both arms are slightly rounded with the fingers almost touching, with both hands just in front of the dancer's thighs; it is equivalent (but not identical) to the 'preparatory position' of the Russian and French schools.
  • second position: the arms are stretched out to the side, however there is an angle of the arms down and forward, and the palms are facing forward. The elbow is slightly lower than the shoulder and the wrist is sligtly lower than the elbow. A position intermediate between the first and the second position is called 'demi-seconde' (half-second position).
  • third position one arm is in the first position, while the other is in a position intermediate between the first and the second position ('demi-seconde').
  • fourth position: there are two forth positions. Fourth 'en avant' (in front): one arm is in second position, while the other is in fifth en avant. Fourth 'en haut' (high): one arm is in second position, while the other is in fifth position en haut.
  • fifth position: whenever the arms are rounded to form an oval shape, they are said to be in the fifth position. Therefore, there is a fifth position 'en bas' (down), 'en avant' (forward; similar to the Russian and French first position) and 'en haut' (high; Russian third position).


(pronounced: reh-luh-VAY) to Snatch. When you raise your heels off the ground with or without the help of a plié and balance on the ball of your foot or en pointe.

See also elevé

retiré position
Position of the working leg where the toe is pointed next to the supporting knee.
rond de jambe
Literally: circles of the leg.
  • rond de jambe à terreis a rond de jambe on the ground. The moving leg describes a semicircle on the floor, either from front to back (rond de jambe en dehors) or from back to front (rond de jambe en dedans), between degage positions front and back, passing through first position as the foot comes to through the centre of the circle.
  • rond de jambe en l'air is rond de jambe in the air. It can also be en dedans and en dehors. The movement is only below the knee of the working leg. It can be done in two positions of the working leg at 90° and at 45°. If the thigh of the working leg is horizontal, the toe of the working leg draws an oval approximately between the knee of the support leg and the second position in the air. If the thigh of the working leg is semi-elevated (demi-position), then the working oval is to the calf of the support knee.
  • grand rond de jambe is a rond de jambe where the leg is sustained at grand battement height.
  • demi grand rond de jambe is a rond de jambe where the leg is sustained at a lower height than a grand battement, usually 90°.


This is the French word for a jump. Sautés include:
  • Petits sautés - these are small jumps where the feet don't change positions mid-air.
  • Echappés sautés - (literally a ripping jump) these are jumps where the legs jump up together, but split apart mid-air and land in second position.
  • Changements - these are sautés where the feet change position, i.e. front and back feet swap, whilst still very close together, mid air.
  • Entrechats quatres - this is like a changement but involves a rapid beating of the feet, where the front leg moves to the back and then moves back to the front, creating a rapid, blurring effect of the feet mid-air.
second position
See Positions. Legs are apart (more than shoulder width), toes turned out, at 180 degrees or slightly less. Schematically it may look as follows ("0" marks heels, "---" marks feet): ---0 . . . . 0---


third position
See Positions. This is similar to Fifth position , however the legs are allowed more room; i.e. they do not overlap totally. It is sometimes regarded as an 'introductory' fifth position for beginners before they develop the turn-out required for a proper fifth position. Instead of the heel being placed at the toe of the other foot, the heel is placed at the arch of the other foot. One arm is extended laterally while the other forms a half arc above the head.
tours en l'air
This is where the dancer jumps into the air, and whilst in the air, performs a rotation, landing in fith position. A single tour is a 360° rotation, and a double; 720°. This is a grand movement, normally performed only by male dancers. It can finish on one leg with the other extended in attitude or arabesque, or to one knee as done at the end of some variations. Vaslav Nijinsky was known to perform triple tours en l'air.
Turnout is a rotation of the leg which comes from the hips and the derriere, causing the legs to turn outwards, and the feet to turn outwards; this being a dancer's turnout. Turnout technique is used mainly in Classical Ballet, whereas Jazz Dance uses primarily the opposite "straight feet" techniques.


  • 1998, Ryman, R., Dictionary of Classical Ballet Terminology, Princeton Book, →ISBN:

Further reading[edit]