Ballet Dictionary

== M - Z ==


movements (Noverre's seven). Noverre (1727-1810)) analyzed all balletic movements into seven basic catgories. These are: plier, to bend; étendre, to stretch; relever, to rise; sauter, to leap; élancer, to dart; glisser, to glide; and tourner, to turn.



opposition. Movement (or position) of the arms in opposite direction to movement (or position) of the legs--as we move our arms when we walk.


pas. A step. Many of the common names of steps in ballet are adjectives (or participles) instead of nouns; these names have the word "pas" understood: thus, for example, "coupé" (which everybody says) is actually short for "pas coupé" ["cut step"] (which nobody says). Also used to refer to a dance, as pas de deux, a dance for two; pas de quatre, a dance for four.

pas de Basque ["Basque step"]. Starts in 5th position; assume right foot front. On the upbeat, demi-plié; the right foot glides forward in croisé and continues with a demi-rond de jambe en dehors to the side, while the left foot remains in plié. A small jump occurs onto the right foot in demi-plié. The left foot now glides through 1st position into croisé forward. On the final count, the weight is transferred to the left foot and a small jump is made to bring the feet together where the left one was placed. The movement finishes in 5th croisé.

pas de bourrée ["bourrée step," the bourrée being an old folk dance]. This term has at least two meanings. 1. One of the simplest connecting steps, used to link other steps in a combination. The commonest form is probably the pas de bourrée dessous. Assume your right foot is in front: left foot on half pointe; step on it and put your weight on it; move the right foot to the side, transfer your weight to it (also in relevé); move the left foot to the front of the right and put your weight on both feet in a plié. 2. (properly called pas de bourrée couru, "running pas de bourrée"). A gliding movement by a dancer on pointe consisting of many very small steps taken with the feet close together. When a dancer uses bourrée as a verb ("Then you bourrée downstage"), she usually means pas de bourrée couru.

pas de chat ["step of the cat"]. A jump. Leap off the left leg, starting from a plié and raising the right leg into retiré. In midair, raise the left leg into retiré, too, so your legs form a diamond shape in the air. Land on the right leg with the left leg still in retiré; then bring it down, landing in another plié. In the famous dance in Swan Lake in which the four cygnets dance with interlaced arms, they do sixteen pas de chat.

pas de cheval ["step of the horse"]. Starting with the working leg in pointe tendu, draw it along the floor back to the supporting leg; then, without pausing, move it up to cou-de-pied and back out to pointe tendu in a small developpé. The step resembles the pawing of a horse.

passé ["passed"]. A movement in which the pointed foot of the working leg is made to pass the knee of the supporting leg. Frequently used--incorrectly--as a synonym for retiré.

penché ["leaning"]. A tilting of the body to achieve an exteme picture. An example is when the dancer is in an arabesque at 90 degrees. She then pushes her working leg upward and over, pushing the body down towards the supporting leg to achieve a much greater angle between legs, often resulting in a 180-degree split.

petit battement ["little beat"]. An exercise for speed and agility in the lower leg. In the starting position, the working leg is sur le cou-de-pied. It opens in the direction of 2nd position but only half way, as the leg does not fully extend at the knee. The working leg then closes to sur le cou-de-pied opposite of where it started (in back if it started in front and vice versa). The knee and thigh stay in the same place and do not move during the process.

petit jeté ["little jump"]. A jump: brush the working foot out, hop off the supporting leg, and land on the working foot with the other foot sur le cou-de-pied behind. Can be done to the front, the side, or the back.

pirouette ["spin"]. A complete turn on one leg. The dancer usually goes round more than once. The raised leg is most commonly held in rétiré, but pirouettes with the leg in other positions are not uncommon. If the direction of the turn rotates the raised leg away from the front of the body, the pirouette is en dehors; if it rotates the leg toward the front, it is en dedans. The dancer spots (see "spotting") in order to avoid becoming disoriented. Pirouettes are usually fast, but supported pirouettes, in which a partner steadies the soloist, may be done very slowly.

placement. Roughly, alignment of the body. Becoming properly placed means learning to stand up straight, with hips level and even, shoulders open but relaxed and centered over the hips, pelvis straight (neither protruding nor tucked under), back straight, head up, weight centered evenly between the feet. This posture is frequently described as "pulled up," but it is also a relaxed posture; you aren't tensed up like a soldier standing at attention. (A teacher once said you should imagine that you are suspended by a thread attached to the top of your head. This suggests both the "pulled-up" and relaxed aspects of good ballet posture.) And as you dance, you seek to maintain this posture except when the step requires something different, like épaulement, or like the slight forward arch of the spine that accompanies an arabesque.

plier ["to bend"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

plié ["bent"]. Knee bends, done with the legs turned out. Normally the first exercise in a ballet class. Demi-plié ["half-bent"] is a shallow bend (in all positions but second, as far down as you can go without lifting the heels off the floor); grand plié ["big plié"] is a deep bend, down to where the thighs are almost horizontal. In all positions except second, the heels release from the floor in a grand plié.

pointe ["point"] (demi ["half"], quarter, three-quarter, sur les pointes ["on the points"]). The point of the foot. Demi-pointe, etc., refer to how far the heel is raised off the floor in a relevé. Definitions vary, but this will do for starters: quarter point is with the heel just off the floor; three-quarter point is a straight line from the knee to the ball of the foot. Demi pointe is half way between. Sur les points is on the tips of the toes--literally.

pointe tendu ["stretched point (of the foot)"]. A position in which the working leg is stretched straight out in any direction with only the tip of the foot touching the floor.

port de bras ["carriage of the arms"]. 1. How a dancer uses his arms. 2. Specific movements of the arms, as first port de bras, second port de bras, etc. 3. Sometimes used instead of cambré. A grand port de bras is a circular bend, either toward the barre, then down, then up away from the barre, and then backward and back toward the barre: or the same thing in the opposite direction.

positions: see feet, positions of and arms, positions of.

positions on stage. See: Croisé, effacé, en face, écarté.

promenade ["walk"]. A pivot turn in which the dancer moves slowly around by shifting the heel of the supporting leg. The rest of the body may be in arabesque or attitude. In a supported promenade, the partner turns the soloist.


quatrième ["fourth"]. Fourth position. (See feet, positions of and arms, positions of.)

quatrième, à la ["in the fourth"]. À la quatrième devant is with the working leg in stretched out to the front; à la quatrième derrière is with the working leg stretched to the back.


relever ["to rise"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

relevé ["raised"]. A movement in which the heels are raised off the floor. The rise may be smooth or aided by a slight spring, depending on the school. A dancer in such a position is said to be "in relevé."

retiré ["withdrawn"]. A position in which the working foot is drawn up to the knee of the supporting leg. Also frequently (and incorrectly) called passé.

rond de jambe ["circular movement of the leg"]. A movement in which the working leg is made to describe a letter D about the supporting leg. May be done with the working foot on the floor or in the air. In a rond de jambe en dehors ("outward") on the floor, the working leg moves from first (or fifth) position to pointe tendu forward, makes a half circle to pointe tendu in back, and then returns to first, if the rond de jambe is to be repeated, and otherwise to first or fifth. A wonderful exercise for turnout. In a rond de jambe en dedans ("inward"), the direction of movement is reversed. In a demi rond de jambe, the working leg goes only half-way around, stopping in second position. A grand rond de jambe, is executed with the supporting leg in plié. A rond de jambe en l'air ("in the air") is done with the working leg raised off the floor, frequently at an angle of 90 degrees (parallel to the floor).


sauter ["to leap"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

seconde, à la ["in second"]. In second position. (See feet, positions of and arms, positions of.)

sissonne [Named for its inventor]. A type of jump that has several forms, among them: sissonne simple, sissonne ouverte, sissonne fermée, sissonne fondue, and others. Not to be confused with ciseaux.

In sissonne simple, the most elementary form, the movement begins in 5th position. Jump straight up, with the legs together and the feet pointed. Land on one foot in demi-plié, with the other foot sur le cou-de-pied either in front or back (corresponding to whether the foot sur le cou-de-pied began in front or back--it does not change).

soubresaut ["sudden leap"]. A jump from both feet to both feet. Beginning in 5th croisé, the feet push off the floor so that the body flies forward with feet pointed and legs together. Before the jump, the body inclines forward, and then during the jump bends forcefully back, so that the legs remain at the back. The movement ends in 5th croisé. The arms are free and depend only on the design of what is being sought after; when studying, they usually begin in preparatory, come up to first during the jump, and end in preparatory again.

sous-sus ["under-over"] (or sus-sous ["over-under"]). A relevé in a tight fifth position with one foot almost on top of the other.

soutenu ["sustained"]. (a) Performed smoothly and slowly. (b) Also used to indicate a smooth détourné. For (a), can be: where from 5th position, the working leg is taken out to the front, 2nd position, or to the back, while the supporting leg is lowers to demi-plié. Then the supporting leg rises to demi or full pointe while the working leg is drawn into it, ending in a tight sus-sous position.

spotting. A technique for for keeping oriented and avoiding dizziness during turns. Pick a spot (some conspicuous object); keep looking at it as you turn until you can't any longer; then quickly turn your head so you are looking at it again.

sur le cou-de-pied. See cou-de-pied, sur le.


temps. Literally, "time," but perhaps "moment" would be better. A movement that forms part of a step. Grant says a part in which there is no transfer of weight, which raises some interesting questions about temps lié.

temps levé ["raised movement"]. Temps levé is the very simplest jump from one foot onto the same foot with the other foot raised.

temps lié ["joined movement"]. This is a term for a whole series of conventionally connected movements executed in the center of the room, often during an adagio. However, it is also the term for an independent form of a step.

In the basic form of the temps lié, stand in 5th position croiseé, arms in preparatory position. The working leg is drawn, without taking the toe off the floor, into croisé devant, while the supporting leg bends into demi-plié; simultaneously, the arms are raised into 1st position with the head slightly inclining towards the shoulder corresponding to the supporting leg. Then, the weight is transferred through demi-plié to croisé derrière onto what was the working leg. Here, both legs are completely stretched with the now working leg stretched toe to the floor in back. At the moment of weight transfer, the arm that corresponds to the now working leg is raised overhead, while the other arm opens sideward; the head turns towards the sideward arm. Finally, the working leg closes in 5th back; arms may remain or stay.

tendu ["stretched"]. See: battement tendu and pointe tendu.

terre-à-terre ["ground to ground"]. Used to describe steps in which the dancer's feet do not leave the floor.

tombé ["fallen"]. A movement in which the dancer extends the working leg and falls onto it in plié.

tour jeté ["thrown turn"]. Short for grand jeté dessus en tournant, "big turning jete over." A jump in which you leap in the air, starting with a grande battement as if you were beginning a grand jeté; but in midair, you turn around 180 degrees (by "scissoring" the legs) so you land on the other foot facing back the way you came.

tournant, en ["turning"]. We say a step is done en tournant if it is executed while turning around.

tourner ["to turn"]. One of Noverre's seven movements (see movements).

travesti, en ["in disguise"]. Of a female dancer: dancing a male role in a man's costume; of a male dancer: dancing a female role in a woman's costume.

turnout. The balletic stance in which the legs are rotated outward so that the legs (and feet) point in opposite directions. A dancer adopting this position is said to be "turned out." Usage varies, but most people seem to measure the degree of turnout by the angle between the foot and the mid-saggital plane of the body. The ideal, with both feet in a straight line, is thus 90 degrees of turnout. Turnout must begin at the hip; forcing the feet and letting everything else follow puts severe strain on the joints, especially the knees.