Ballet Dictionary

== A - L ==


adage [Italian adagio: "at ease"]. The second part of a ballet class: slow work with emphasis on sustained positions and on balance.

allegro [Italian: "happy"]. The third part of a ballet class: fast work, jumps, turns. Usually divided into petit ["little"] allegro and grand ["big"] allegro.

allongé ["elongated"]. With the arms stretched out as far as possible.

arabesque ["Arabic"]. A pose with one leg stretched straight out to the back and one arm usually stretched out to the front. The back leg may be on the floor or at 45, 90, or 135 degrees. (These angles are measured from the vertical; 90 degrees means parallel to the floor.)

arms, positions of. These are numbered, as are the positions of the feet, but the numbering varies from one school to the next. The four basic positions are: (a) arms down and a little in front of the legs (called bras bas ["low arms"],) (b) arms to the side, (c) arms forward (at about the height of the bottom of the breastbone), (d) arms overhead. In all positions, the arms are gently curved.

When the arms are forward, they are held as if embracing a large barrel (one large enough that the hands can't meet). The forward position is sometimes known as the "gateway," because in many port de bras, the arms pass through the gateway on the way to a higher position. The position with the arms to the side is universally known as second position. In this position, they are curved forward of the body, as if embracing a large cylinder perhaps 8 feet (2.5 m) in diameter. Arms overhead are sometimes called en couronne ("like a crown"). In this position, they should be far enough forward that you can just make out the little fingers (by peripheral vision) when looking straight ahead.

Numbering: (a) (arms down) is bras au repos according to the French school, "preparatory position" according to the Russian school, and first position according to Cecchetti. (b) (arms to the side) is universally known as second position. (c) (arms in front) is first position according to the French and Russians and fifth position en avant ["in front"] according to Cecchetti. (d) (arms overhead) is fifth position for the French, third position for the Russians, and fifth position en haut ["up high"] for Cecchetti.

assemblé ["assembled"]. A jump: plié, brushing working leg out. Jump. 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.

attitude ["attitude"]. A pose. As with the arabesque, the leg is raised. But unlike the arabesque, it is bent, not straight, and, also unlike the arabesque, it can be done to the front, the side, or the back. In attitude to the front or the back, if the angle is 90 degrees, the calf should be as nearly horizontal as possible.


balancé ["rocking"]. A waltz step. For a balancé to the right, start in fifth position. On count of 1-2-3, right foot goes out to the side and the weight is transferred to it (1). Immediately bring left foot behind right and and transfer the weight to the ball of the left foot while rising up on it (2). Put your weight back on the right foot flat on the floor (not raised up) (3). A balancé to one side is almost always followed by a balancé to the other side. Balancés can also be done to the front and back.

balançoire. Short for battements en balançoire, ["battements like a seesaw"]. The dancer swings the working leg vigorously back and forth between fourth position front and fourth back, through first position. Unlike grand battements en cloche, balançoires do not require that the body be held straight.

ballon ["balloon"]. The appearance of weightlessness and of being airborne. A dancer is said to have ballon if (s)he seems to be in the air constantly with only momentary contact with the floor.

ballonné ["ball-like"]. A jump. From 5th position, right foot front, demi-plié while the right foot glides to 2nd position at 45 degrees. Jump with left while travelling in the air towards the right foot. Land on left foot with the right having come in to the position sur le cou-de-pied front. Repeat by throwing the right foot out to the side again from the position sur le cou-de-pied. Can be done in many different directions.

ballotté ["tossed"]. A jump. Begin in 5th, right leg front. Spring straight upward with both legs held tightly together, as the body begins to tilt slightly backward at the apex of the jump. The body lands on the left foot while the right is thrown open to the front. Repeat backwards, with a slight tilt to the front at the apex of the jump.

Can also be done with bent knees, as the working leg goes through rétiré position front (to go forward). In this case the repeat may start by the left leg jumping up while the right comes back in to join it; the left leg then bending to bring the foot through rétiré back before thrusting backwards as the body lands on the right leg.

barre ["bar"]. 1. The railing, about waist high, along the wall of a studio. Used by dancers as for steadying themselves in the first part of a class. 2. The first part of ballet class, consisting of exercises done with the aid of the barre.

battement ["beating"]. A generic term for various movements in which the leg is extended and then returned. See grand battement and petit battement. This is also one of those words (like pas and temps) that are frequently omitted and understood; thus, for example, frappé is short for battement frappé, etc. In this list, look under the second word (e.g.,, under frappé, not under battement frappé. The only exception to this is battement tendu.

battement tendu ["stretched beat"]. ("Tendu" for short.) Slide the working foot out until only the toes are touching the floor; then slide it back. An important exercise for learning to move the foot quickly and gracefully while maintaining placement. Balanchine considered it the most important exercise in all of ballet.


cambré ["bent"]. A bend from the waist in any direction, but especially forward or back.

chaîné turns. Short for tours chaînées déboulés, "chained, rolling turns." Fast turns on half or full point with the legs in a tight first position, rotating a half turn on one foot and the other half on the other foot. Done one after the other so they're "chained" together.

changement (short for changement de pieds ["change of the feet"]). A jump, straight up, starting from fifth position with one foot in front and landing in fifth position with the other foot in front.

chassé ["chased"]. A gliding step. The working leg slides out; put weight on working leg and draw other leg along floor to it. (In American folk dancing, this word was mispronounced, giving rise to the term "sashay.")

ciseaux ["scissors"]. Opening the legs, like the blades of a pair of scissors, to a wide second position; may be jumped. Not to be confused with sissonne.

class (in French, also leçon ["lesson"]). A ballet class is a carefully graded sequence of exercises lasting, typically, an hour and a half. The work falls into three parts. The first part consists of stretching and warming-up exercises done with the support of the barre. You may spend anywhere from forty minutes to an hour at the barre. Then you move to the center of the studio to work without support. The second part of class, called adage, consists of slow work in which the emphasis is on sustaining positions and on balance. The final part of class, allegro, consists of fast work, mostly combinations (sequences of steps) with the big jumps and turns that make ballet such an impressive and dazzling sight.

combination. A series of steps linked together, usually as an exercise in class.

cou-de-pied ["neck of the foot"]. The thinnest part of the calf, just above the ankle.

cou-de-pied, sur le ["on the neck of the foot"]. A position. A foot is sur le cou-de-pied if it is placed on the the calf just above the ankle. In the Russian school, the foot is actually wrapped around the ankle, with the heel forward and the toes back. It may be placed on the front of the calf in this position, at the side, or in back. The back position is sometimes called, incorrectly, coupé.

coupé ["cut"]. A linking step in which the working foot displaces the supporting foot (cuts it away). Sometimes used, incorrectly, for the position sur le cou-de-pied in back or, less often, in front.

croisé ["crossed"]. A position on stage in which the dancer faces one of the front corners with the legs crossed. In croisé devant, the downstage leg is in fourth position to the front; in croisé derrière, the upstage leg is in fourth position to the back.

croix, en ["in (the form of) a cross"]. Usually applied to exercises at the barre: the exercise is done first with the working leg moving to the front, then to the side, then to the back, and then to the (same) side again.


dedans, en ["inward"]. Used to describe motion toward the front of the body. In a pirouette en dedans, the dancer turns so the raised leg moves toward the front. In a rond de jambe en dedans, the working leg moves in a half-circle from the back toward the front.

dégagé ["disengaged"]. A movement or position in which the working leg is lifted off the floor.

dehors, en ["outward"]. Used to describe motion away from the front of the body. In a pirouette en dehors, the dancer turns so the raised leg moves away from the front. In a rond de jambe en dehors, the working leg moves in a half-circle away from the front toward the back.

derrière ["behind"]. Directed behind the body. À la quatrième derrière is with the leg pointing back from the body.

dessous ["under"]. Describes motion of the working foot under (i.e., behind) the supporting foot. English speakers have trouble with the difference between the French -ou- and -u-, so they tend to use "under" and "over" in preference to dessous and dessus.

dessus ["over"]. Describes motion of the working foot over (i.e., in front of) the supporting foot. English speakers have trouble with the difference between the French -ou- and -u-, so they tend to use "under" and "over" in preference to dessous and dessus.

détourné ["turned aside"]. A smooth turn made by pivoting on the toes in relevé.

devant ["ahead"]. Directed in front of the body. À la quatrième devant is with the leg pointing ahead of the body.

developpé ["developed"]. A movement in which the working leg is drawn up to the knee of the supporting leg and from there smoothly out to a position in the air, usually at 90 degrees (i.e., parallel to the floor).


écarté ["separated"]. A position on stage in which the dancer faces one of the front corners with the working leg in second position, either on or off the floor. The body is tilted slightly away from the working leg. The arm on the side of the working leg is raised; the arm on the side of the supporting leg is in second. If the working leg and raised arm are downstage (toward the audience), this is écarté devant; if they are upstage, this is écarté derrière.

échappé ["escaped"]. A movement in which the legs move from fifth position out to second position or, occasionally, to fourth position.

effacé ["effaced"]. A position on stage in which the dancer faces one of the downstage corners with the legs crossed, upstage leg forward. The downstage arm is usually raised in this position, so that the face is shaded, or effaced; hence the name.

élancer ["to dart"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

elevation. The ability to jump high in the air. A step of elevation is a jump.

emboité ["boxed"]. A jump. Start in 5th; assume the right leg is in front. Jump up, bend the right leg to 45 degrees. Land on the right foot with the left leg slightly bent and the left foot in front of the right ankle. The feet fit closely together, like a lid on a box; hence the name. Usually repeated to the other side: jump off right foot onto the left and land with right foot in front of the left ankle. This movement is often done while turning and travelling.

en face ["facing"]. A position on stage facing directly forward, toward the audience.

en l'air ["in the air"]. Used to describe movements in which the working leg is raised a considerable distance off the ground.

enchaînement ["chaining"]. A series of steps linked (chained) together.

entrechat ["braided, interwoven"]. A jump in which the dancer's legs cross each other--from fifth in front to fifth in back--several times in the air. The number of crossings is indicated by a number after the word, and each crossing is counted twice (once for going out from fifth and once for returning to fifth). In even-numbered entrechats, the dancer lands on both feet, in fifth. In odd- numbered ones, the dancer lands with one foot sur le cou-de-pied. For example, in entrechat quatre the dancer starts in fifth position. If the right foot is in front, he jumps, changes his feet to left foot in front and back, and lands with the right foot in front again. (I suppose you could call a simple changement an entrechat deux, but I've never heard this.)

épaulement ["shouldering"]. Rotation of the shoulders and head (relative to the hips) to add beauty or expressiveness to a pose, step, or movement.

étendre ["to stretch"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

extension. The ability to raise the working leg high in the air. Good extension comes from a combination of inborn flexibility and training.


failli ["giving way"]. 5th position, right foot front. Demi-plié, jump up vertically, feet together. Turn the body efface in the air. The body is lowered into demi-plié on the right foot, while the left leg, fully extended, is opened to 45 degrees in effacé back. Without hesitation, the left foot glides through first position and ends in croisé in demi-plié.

feet, positions of. There are five basic positions of the feet in ballet. 1: feet in line with heels together; 2. feet in line, heels apart (separated by about the length of one's foot); 3. feet touching, one foot in front of the other and overlapping by about half the length of the foot; 4. feet apart, separated about the length of a foot, one foot in front of the other; 5. feet touching, one foot in front, heel to toe and toe to heel. In a Cecchetti fifth, the feet do not overlap completely; in a Russian fifth, they do. Fourth position is sometimes qualified as an open fourth (like first position except for the separation of the feet) and a closed fourth (like fifth position except for the separation of the feet).

fondu ["melted"]. Any movement that lowers the body by bending one leg. In a plié, both legs support the body; in a fondu, only one leg supports the body.

fouetté ["whipped"]. Typically, a movement in which the working leg is brushed vigorously either forward or backward. You then use the inertia of the leg to turn the body around, so that the body turns 180 degrees away from the leg, which remains where it was.

fouetté en tournant ["turning fouetté"] A turn in which a whipping motion of the working leg makes the body go round. Usually but not always done en dehors, which is the description that follows. The working leg opens to 2nd position at 45 degrees. The working leg whips in behind the calf of the supporting leg, while the arms come in, the body turns en dehors, and the supporting leg rises to releve. Quickly, the working foot is brought to the front of the calf and is opened to 2nd at 45 degrees while the working foot is lowered into demi-plié. While in this position, the arms open to second in preparation for a repeat of the movement. When you hear of "32 fouettés" in Swan Lake or some other ballet, this is what they mean.

frappé ["struck"], in full, battement frappé, "struck beat". Working foot rests lightly on the ankle of the supporting foot. Throw the working leg forcefully out to a dégagé position so that it strikes the floor 1/3 of the way out. Hold the leg out as long as possible, returning it to its initial position at the last moment. (Russian frappés start in tendu, darting to the supporting leg and back out again.) Can be done to the front, side, or back.


glissade ["glide"]. A connecting step. Start in plié; move the right foot out to pointe tendu; then move onto that leg, closing the left foot and landing in plié. Can be done in any direction.

glisser ["to glide"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

grand battement ["big beat"]. A "kick" in which the working leg is raised as high as possible while keeping the rest of the body still. "Kick" is in quotes because the battement should be a controlled lift, not a throwing of the leg into the air, and the leg must be controlled while coming down. The kicks one associates with a chorus line are grands battements. There's a terrific grand battement in W. C. Fields's short, "The Fatal Glass of Beer"--not (unfortunately) executed by Fields himself.

grand battement en cloche ["grand battement like a bell"]. Grand battements in which the leg swings continually between fourth position front and fourth position in back, the body being held erect.

grand jeté ["big thrown (step)"]. A long horizontal jump, usually forward, starting from one leg and landing on the other. In the middle of the jump, the dancer may be doing a split in midair. One of the most memorable of all ballet jumps; the dancer seems to float in the air, as a result of the shift of his center of gravity from the split.




jeté ["thrown"]. A jump from one foot to the other foot, throwing the working leg out. See petit jete and grand jete.

jumps. Jumps have been classified as follows: (1) from both feet to both feet (e.g. changements); (2) from both feet to one foot (e.g. sissonnes); (3) from one foot to both feet (e.g., assemblés); (4) from one foot to the same foot (e.g., temps levés); (5) from one foot to the other foot (e.g., jetés).




== M - Z ==