Ballet Glossary

Find professional definitions, images, and videos (where possible) to explain, demonstrate, and bring life to ballet terminology.

À la quatrième derrière – “To the fourth back”.  Torso facing directly front, working foot pointing to the back fourth position.

À la quatrième devant – “To the fourth front”.  Torso facing directly front, working foot pointing to the front fourth position.

À la seconde – “To the second”.  Torso facing directly front, working foot pointing towards the second position (side).

À terre – “On the earth”.  The exercise should be performed on the ground, and the toes of the working foot should not …more

Allongé – “To elongate / stretch” or “elongated / stretched”, usually in reference to an arm or leg.

Allongée – “To elongate / stretch” or “elongated / stretched”, usually in reference to an arm or leg.

Arabesque – Position in which the dancer stands on one straight leg with the other leg extended straight back in the air …more

Assemblé – “Assembled” or “joined”.  The dancer brushes the working foot out on the ground, then points out into the air …more

Attitude – Position in which the dancer stands on one straight leg, with the other leg extended in the air with a bent knee …more 

Balancé – A rocking step, which can be performed in various directions, created by making three small steps or little …more 

Ballonné – This step is so called for it’s bouncing quality.  The dancer jumps into the air and extends one leg to the …more 

Balloté – “Tossed”.  The dancer performs this step effacé, executing coupé dessous and coupé dessus in a consecutive series, …more 

Battement – “Beaten” or “Beating”.  There are two types – grands battements and petits battements.

Battu – “Beaten”. A step with an added beat before landing is referred to as battu, such as “changement battu”.

Bourrée – This step is characterized by tiny, quick steps on pointe, or demi-pointe, with the legs constantly crossed and the toes …more

Brisé – Starting from fifth, the dancer brushes the back leg forward through first plié, through battement off the ground to 45 …more

Cabriole – A jumping step in which the working leg brushes through first, with a degage battement a la seconde, and the …more

Chainés – “Chains” or “links”.  A turning step executed on pointe or demi pointe, performed in series in a straight line or circle.  …more

Changement – “Change” or “change of feet.”  Beginning in fifth position, the dancer springs into the air with both feet …more

Changement battu

Changement de pieds – “Change” or “change of feet.”  Beginning in fifth position, the dancer springs into the air with both feet …more

Chassé – To chase” or “chased.”  Refers to the appearance that one foot slides behind the other, and chases the front foot out of …more

Contretemps – “Against time”.

Coupé – “Cut” or “to cut.”  In this step, the working leg is changed by bringing it either in front or back, in a cutting motion …more

Coupé jete en tournant – A turning and leaping step, consisting of a coupé dessous and three quarter turn toward the back, and …more

Croisé derrière – “Crossed to the back”.  Working foot pointing directly to the back, while the body is angled to about 1/8 rotation …more

Croisé devant – “Crossed to the front”.  Working foot pointing directly to the front, while the body is angled to about 1/8 rotation …more

De côté – “Sideways”. A step is to be performed towards the side.

Dégagé – The working leg brushes outward through the pointe tendue position, raises off the floor (25-45 degrees, depending on …more

Demi-plié – “Little bend.”  A very basic step, in which the knees are bent over the toes, while the heels are kept on the floor.

Demi-pointe(s) – Commonly known as the balls of the feet.

Dessous – “Under”. Refers to the working foot, and it’s movement under or behind the non-working/supporting foot.

Dessus – “Over”. Refers to the working foot, and its movement over, or in front of the non-working/supporting foot.

Detourné – This is a turn on two legs that exchanges the position of the feet. It can be performed en dedans, or en dehors, and …more

Devant – “In front”.  A movement in front, or placement of an arm/leg/foot in front of the body. Also, the working foot should …more

Developpé – “To develop”. The working leg is drawn up the supporting leg into retiré position, and extends (develops) into an open …more

Ecarté – An open body position, whereby the leg is open to the side, and the arms are open to face the audience. For further clarity, …more

Ecarté derrière – “Spread to the back”. Body is facing to the front corner (left or right) and the working leg is in the second position …more

Ecarté devant – “Spread to the front”.  Body is facing to the front corner (left or right) and the working leg is in the second position …more

Echappé – “To escape”.   In this step, the feet escape to an open position from a closed position, and return to a closed position.  An echappé can be jumped (as inechappé sauté) or performed on pointe or demi pointe (echappé sur les pointes).

Echappé sauté – Beginning in a closed position, such as fifth plié, the dancer jumps to the second or fourth position, then closes in fifth plié.

Echappe sur les pointes – Beginning in a closed position, such as fifth plié, the dancer slides both toes to the second or fourth position and simultaneously rises to relevé position and straightens the knees, then closes in fifth plié.

Effacé derrière – Body is facing to the front corner (left or right) and the working leg is pointed towards the back. The corner that the body is facing must be the standing leg, or the position becomes croisé derrière.

Effacé devant – Body is facing to the front corner (left or right) and the working leg is pointed towards the front. The corner that the body is facing must be the working leg, or the position becomes croisé devant.

Effacé – “Shaded.”  Refers to the position of the body and working leg during an exercise. One part of the body is directly facing the audience, and part is turned away about 1/8 turn.

Efacée – “Shaded.”  Refers to the position of the body and working leg during an exercise. One part of the body is directly facing the audience, and part is turned away about 1/8 turn.

En arrière – “Backward” or “In the back”.  Indicates that a step is performed moving away from the audience.

En avant – “In the front” or “Forward”.  Indicates that a step is performed towards the audience.

En cloche – “Like a bell”. Refers to the swinging motion of the straight leg resembling a bell when performing grand battements devant and derriere, traveling through the first position.

En croix – “In a cross”. Indicates that an exercise is performed making the shape of a cross – to the front, side, and back. For example, tendus at the barre en croix are performed to the font, then side, then back during the exercise.

En dedans – Indicates that the exercise moves in a circular direction, guided by the working foot away from the body/non-working leg.  For example, rond de jambe en dedans en l’air indicates working from the back to the front in a counterclockwise direction.

En dehors – Indicates that the exercise moves in a circular direction, guided by the working foot in towards the body/non-working leg.  For example, in pirouette en dehors on the right foot, the right foot comes up, and the turn is towards the back right.

En diagonale – “On the diagonal”, referring to the position of the body while performing a step.

En face – “Facing”, referring to the position of the body while performing a step.

En l’air – “In the air”, such as rond de jambe en l’air.

En tournant – “While turning” or “turned”.  For example, fouette en tournant.

Entrechat – A beating step, counted by the number of crossings of the legs (i.e., entrechat quatre has four beats).  Even numbered entrechats land on two feet, while the odd numbered entrechats land on one foot.

Failli – Give away. Preparing in pointe tendue derriere, the dancer releves or jumps to a low 45 degree arabesque opening with a quarter turn en dedans, then brings the open leg through first position relevé and finishes in fourth position demi plié, or fourth arabesque plié a terre.

Fermé – “Closed”, usually referring to a position of the feet (i.e., fifth position) or body.

Fifth position – Click for more information about fifth position of the arms and feet – http://www.balletterms.net/fifth-position

First position – Click for more information about first position of the arms and feet – http://www.balletterms.net/first-position

Fondu – “Melted” or “to melt”.  The action of bending the suppporting leg, like a plié, and often used synonomously with plié.

Fondue – “Melted” or “to melt”.  The action of bending the suppporting leg, like a plié, and often used synonomously with plié.

Fouetté – Turning step, usually done in series, that can be performed en dedans or en dehors. For a fouetté en dehors, begin with a pirouette en dehors, then coupe into plié devant or croisé devant, followed by a demi rond de jambe a la seconde.   Next, relevé and raise the working leg to retiré, turning en dedans, coupe into plié, and repeat.

Fouetté en tournant – Turning step, usually done in series, that can be performed en dedans or en dehors. For a fouetté en dehors, begin with a pirouette en dehors, then coupe into plié devant or croisé devant, followed by a demi rond de jambe a la seconde.   Next, relevé and raise the working leg to retiré, turning en dedans, coupe into plié, and repeat.

Fourth position – Click for more information about fourth position of the arms and feet – http://www.balletterms.net/fourth-position

Glissade – A gliding step.  It should be executed in a smooth, flowing motion, and the feet should barely leave the ground. The accent is on the closure of the feet into fifth or fourth.  From fifth in plie, extend one leg to the side and low to the ground, press the floor and extend the other leg in the air, so now both are stretched in matching positions and extended towards the floor, but barely off the floor.  Next, the dancer lands on the first leg in plie, leaving the second outstretched, and quickly closes to fifth plie.

Grand battement – A quick, large brush of the leg to over 90 degrees height, that can be performed front, back, or side.  The movement should always be strong, sharp and controlled, and the upper body should appear effortless.

Grand jeté – Big leap.

Grand -“Big”, such as grand plie or grand jete.

Grande – “Big”, such as grand plie or grand jete.

Jeté – Leap.

Jeté battu – A leap, beaten. The dancer performs a basic jeté, but adds a beat of the thighs before landing the leap.

Ouvert – “Open”, or “opened”, often referring to a body position.

Ouverte – “Open”, or “opened”, often referring to a body position.

Pas – “Step”. Any single step.

Pas de bourrée – This is a linking step, used as a transition between steps in combinations. It can be performed dessous, dessus, avant, en arriere, on pointe, on demi-pointe, turning, with pique, etc. It contains three steps/weight changes – coupe (over or under), step to the side, and coupe on the other foot.

Pas de chat – “Step of the cat”.  Beginning in fifth position, the dancer lifts the back leg to the side, bending at the knee 90 degrees or more, and immediately brings up the other leg to match it in the air.  The dancer then extends the back leg to land first, followed by the front leg, which passes through the retiré position before closing in fifth.   The step travels slightly to the side.

Pas de cheval – “Step of the horse”. In this step, the dancer immitates a horse hoofing at the ground, by sliding the working foot up the front of the shin to about knee height, and extends it to its most oustretched position with toes pointed on the foor (pointe tendue devant).

Pas de deux – A dance for two dancers.

Pas de valse – “Waltz step.”

Pas marché – “Marching step.”  The classical walk of the prima ballerina, characterized by an exaggerated developé and fondue.

Passé –  step that moves the working leg past the supporting leg from position to position. For example, from closed fifth position, the toe of the working leg draws up the calf of the supporting leg, stops at the knee, and passes through to an arabesque in the back.  Often confused with the position retiré.

Penché – A lean of the body. In arabesque penchee, the body leans forward towards the floor, as the leg extends higher behind the dancer.  The distance between the back and the working leg should be maintained, thus the body may only lean forward as high as the leg behind the dancer will allow.

Penchée – A lean of the body. In arabesque penchee, the body leans forward towards the floor, as the leg extends higher behind the dancer.  The distance between the back and the working leg should be maintained, thus the body may only lean forward as high as the leg behind the dancer will allow.

Petit jeté – A small leap.

Petit – “Small” or “tiny”, such as petit battement.

Petite – “Small” or “tiny”, such as petit battement.

Piqué – “Pricked” or “pricking” movement.  The dancer transfers weight directly onto pointe or demi-pointe onto a straight leg, while the working leg is lifted in the air at any height or direction.

Piqué turn – Pricked turn.  The dancer reaches a perfectly straight, strong leg with extended toes, transfers weight directly onto pointe or demi-pointe and brings the other leg up to retiré position behind the knee, and closes his or her arms to first position. The dancer then completes a full rotation (en dedans or en dehors) and brings the bent leg back down to the ground in demi plie, as the straight leg follows back into its original position, in preparation of another turn.  The straight leg never bends in a piqué turn.

Pirouette – A turn on one leg.  It can be performed en dedans, or en dehors, and on pointe or demi-pointe, and in a vairety of poses. Most commonly, the pirouette is en dehors with passé.

Plié – To bend,” referring to the legs at the knees.  A basic step, essential to mastery of ballet.  The knees should be turned out in line with the toes, and when they bend, they should track over the toes.

Port de bras – “To carry the arms”.  Refers to positions of the arms, or movements of the arms.

Porté  – “Carried”, usually referring to the arms or legs.

Portée – “Carried”, usually referring to the arms or legs.

Promenade – A slow rotation of the body, on one leg, characterized by holding a pose, and making tiny movements of the heel, moving the body around in a circle.  In pas de deux, the male partner supports the female  in her pose on pointe.

Relevé – “To rise,” either onto the balls of the feet, or onto pointe.

Retiré – A position in which the supporting leg is straight, while the toe of the working leg is pointed and resting very gently in front of the supporting knee, and the thigh of the working leg is extended to second position en l’air with the knee bent.

Rond de jambe – Performed either on the floor, or in the air, and either en dehors or en dedans, this step features a D shape motion created by the toes at the end of the extended, working leg.

Royale – A jump, in which the dancer takes off from fifth position, extends the toes towards the ground, beats the front leg into a tight fifth in the air, switches the feet front to back, and lands in fifth.

Saut de basque – This is a jumping, turning step.  From croise, the dancer tombes diagonally onto the front foot in efface position. The back leg brushes through first position demi-plie, and extends forward as the body continues turning upstage.  The dancer presses off the ground into a jump, turning his or her back to the audience, and brings the second leg into retire position, as the body continues turning around towards the front. The turn is landed on the back leg in fondu, sur le cou de pied devant.

Sauté – Jump.

Sissonne – A jumping step froma closed two footed position onto one foot or two feet, with many variations, such as moving forward, back, to the side, landing on one foot, landing on two feet, different body positions in the air, etc.

Second position – Click for more information about first position of the arms and feet – http://www.balletterms.net/second-position

Sissonne fermée en avant – Beginning in fifth, the dancer battements both legs to an open arabesque (either first or third) and lands on the front leg, but immediately closes the back leg into fifth, such that the leg closing appears almost simultaneous with the landing leg.

Sissonne ouverte en arriere – Beginning in fifth, the dancer pushes both legs into the ground and jumps backwards, opening the front leg into a grand battement.  The landing is executed on the back leg in fondue, and the front leg may be held in an open position at 45 degrees, 90 degrees, etc.

Soubresaut – A jump beginning in fifth position, the legs squeeze into a tight fifth in the air, and land in fifth with the same foot front as the jump originated.  The jump should travel in the air, in any direction.

Sous-sus – The dancer brings both legs in simultaneously, into a tight fifth position on pointe or on demi pointe.

Soutenu – A half turn, in any direction, from sous-sus position, to change sides.

Soutenu en tournant – A half turn, in any direction, from sous-sus position, to change sides.

Sur la demi-pointe – On demi-pointe, also known as relevé onto the ball of the foot.

Sur le cou-de-pied – On the neck of the foot. The working foot is wrapped around the ankle of the supporting leg.

Temps levé – “Time raised”.  A jump in which the dancer springs and lands in the same position. The upper body should remain upright and the width of the toes in the air should be in line with where they were on the floor – neither further apart nor closer together.

Temps lié – An old, classical step, in which the dancer transfers weight in a stylized, courtly manner.  Step forward, close the back leg in fifth, step sideways toward the front foot, and close the back leg in front in fifth.

Tendu – “To stretch”.  A movement in which the working foot brushes from a closed position to an open position, elongating the toes.  The toes never leave the ground, but there is no weight on them. Both legs should be straight with tight knees, and strong turnout.

Third position – Click for more information about first position of the arms and feet – http://www.balletterms.net/third-position

Tombé – “To fall”.  In this step, the dancer changes weight onto the working leg in a demi plié.

Tour de promenade – A slow rotation of the body, on one leg, characterized by holding a pose, and making tiny movements of the heel, moving the body around in a circle.  In pas de deux, the male partner supports the female  in her pose on pointe.

Tour jeté – A turning leap. This typically refers to a grand jeté dessus en tournant.

Tours – A turn.