Glossary of ballet terms

A significant part of ballet terminology is in French language.

Unless there is much to say about a specific term, there is no reason to put each and every of them into a separate article.

Contents: top - 0-9 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



À la seconde

To the side. For example you would do a battment tendu á la seconde, to the side.


Normally used in conjunction with "en"; "en avant" means a step that moves forwards.


Normally used in conjunction with "en"; "en arrière" means a step that moves backwards.


A movement where the first foot performs a battement glissé, "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.


(Literally: in Arabic fashion) A pose in which the dancer is standing on one leg, the other leg (with the knee straight) is extended behind the body, one hand is usually in front of the body. The back leg may either touch the floor or be elevated by an appropriate angle. See also: Attitude.


A pose in which the dancer stands on one leg, with the other leg raised behind, to side or in front of the body with the knee bent. See also: Arabesque.



Name given to a female dancer of ballet. Technically, the word for a male dancer would be "ballerino" however this is not in common usage.


This is a kicking movement of the working leg (i.e. the leg that is performing a technique)

    • battement jeté is a battement normally taken to anywhere from 2cm off the floor up to 45 degrees, depending on the style.
    • battement fondu is a battement (usually slower) from a fondu (both knees bent) position and extends until both legs are straight.
    • battement frappe 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 frappe).
    • battement glisse is a rapid battement normally taken to 2-3 centimeters off the floor (literally means a gliding battement).
    • 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 toe maintains in contact with the ground. 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.
    • grande battement en cloche, a grande battement which continuously "swishes" forwards and backwards (literally in large battement with pendulum movement)


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.


basically an assemblé volé involving a beat before landing.



literal meaning - to chase. A slide with both legs bent either forwards, backwards or sideways.


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. In classical ballet it is done on the pointes or demi-pointes (on the balls of the feet).



The French word for the back(side). For example, a battement tendu derrière means a battement tendu taken to the back.


The French word for the front(side).


The French word "over". This is where the back leg is brought to the front in techniques such as the assemblé and pas de bourrée.


The French word meaning "under". This is where the front leg is brought to the back, in techniques such as the assemblé and pas de bourrée.



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


First position

When one stands with the feet heel to heel, preferably with a degree of 180 (a straght line). If we make "0" the heel and "----" the foot, the first position should look something like this:

----0 0---- Note the heels are held together, with feet at an 180 degree angle.

Fourth position

Position where the feet are separated by one foot's distance, parallel to each other and in line with the heels at separate ends.


Fifth position

Similar to Fourth position above, however the feet are touching, legs overlapping at the top of the thighs.


French: "To whip"; pronounced 'fweh-TAY'. 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.

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.) it's 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 tougher variant usually keeping the leg out - they're not en pointe.



Literally, movement or a step. A pas de une is a dance for one, a pas de deux is a dance for two.

  • 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.
  • 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)
  • Pas de bourrée - a quick step involving the dancer moving on their toes, taking two small, rapid steps as if running on the spot on their toes.

Port de bras

"Carriage of the arms." 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.


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.


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.

Positions of the feet

Positions of the arms

  • Bras bas; fingers of both arms are almost touching to form an oval shape, 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 a angle of the arms down and forward, and the palms are facing forward.
  • Fifth position; this is a famous position of the arms - this curved position is brought up just above and slightly forward of the dancer's head.
  • Third position is a combination of first and second positions, with one arm in second and the other in first.
  • Fourth position is a combination of first and fifth positions, with one arm in second and the other in fifth.
  • Demi bras is formed by lifting both arms to the side at about 45 degrees, palms still facing the ground.
  • Demi seconde is formed by first forming demi bras and then rotating the palms to face the ceiling.


Ronds de jambe

(Literally: circles of the leg).

Rond de jambe a terre is 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 90º and at 45º. 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 90º.

Retiré position

Position of the working leg where the toe is pointed next to the supporting knee.


Second position

Legs are apart (more than shoulder width), toes turned out, at 180 degrees or slightly less. Chematicallly it may look like as follows ("0" marks heels, "---" marks feet).

___0 . . . . 0___


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.


Third position

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.

Tours en l'air

This is where the dancer jumps into the air, and whilst in the air, performs a rotation. A single tour normally involves a 360º, a double 720º, and professional dancers can often do more. 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.


See also


  • Ryman, R. (1998) Dictionary of Classical Ballet Terminology. Princeton Book Co Publ. ISBN 0952484803

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