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A Basic Ballet Dictionary: 70 Ballet Terms

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 12, 2020 • 9 min read

Classical ballet is a centuries-old art form that relies on highly-stylized and graceful movements. A professional ballerina begins each day at the barre refining their technique and warming up their body before ballet class. Daily ballet practice is essential for maintaining good form, but before you can begin, it’s essential to understand the basic positions and movements of ballet. Below is a glossary of standard ballet terms.

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Glossary of Fundamental Ballet Terms

Ballet originated in Italy and was formalized over centuries in France, which is why most ballet terms are in French or Italian.

  1. À la seconde: “To the second position” or “to the side,” as in plié à la seconde or grand battement à la seconde.
  2. À terre: "On the ground," indicates a movement.
  3. Adagio: “Slow tempo.” In ballet, a tempo in which the dancer moves slowly and gracefully.
  4. Allegro: “Brisk tempo.” In ballet, a tempo in which the dancer moves briskly and excitedly.
  5. Allongé: “Elongated.” An adjective used to describe poses that are stretched and elongated, like an arabesque.
  6. Arabesque: A pose in which the dancer stands on one leg—either straight or demi-plié, and either flat-footed or en pointe—while extending the other leg straight behind at a right angle. The shoulders are square with the arms held to create a long line from fingertips to toes.
  7. Arriére: "Backwards." A move that indicates backwards movement or motion.
  8. Assemblé: “Joined together.” A move in which a dancer brushes the toes of one foot along the ground, then brings both legs together in the air.
  9. Attitude: A pose in which the dancer stands straight on one leg with the other leg lifted in back or front and bent at 90 degrees. The arm on the side of the raised leg is curved over the head, and the other arm is held to the side.
  10. Ballon: “To bounce.” A light jump. Used to indicate the delicacy of the movement or jump.
  11. Battement dégagé: “Disengaged battlement.” A rapid back-and-forth movement of the non-supporting leg with the toes hovering just off the ground.
  12. Battu: “Beaten.” A step in which one foot is beaten against the other foot or leg.
  13. Brisé: "Broken." Indicates a step where the dancer's legs are moving one right after the other, not simultaneously but in succession. Usually paired with another term, i.e. brisé volé.
  14. Cabriole: “Caper.” A jump in which the dancer extends their legs out from their body and beats their calves together before landing.
  15. Chaînés: "Chain" or "link." A popular movement in which the dancer turns on both feet, bringing each foot up and back down in rapid succession that allows for quick movement.
  16. Changement: The changing of the foot position mid-jump en l'air, or "in the air".
  17. Chassé: “To chase.” A triple-step pattern in which the feet glide together step-by-step.
  18. Coupé: "To cut." Used to describe a step in which the foot replaces or "cuts" the opposite foot.
  19. Croisé: "Crossed." The dancer’s body is diagonal to the audience, and their legs appear crossed.
  20. Dégagé: “Disengage.” Pointing the foot in any direction with a fully arched instep while the dancer’s weight remains on the straight supporting leg.
  21. Derrière: "Back" or "behind." Typically paired with another pose or move to indicate a backwards movement.
  22. Devant: "In front." Indicates a move or position where the leg or arm is placed in front of the body.
  23. Developpe: “To develop.” Moving one leg up to the knee of the standing leg and slowly extending it in the air, holding the hips square according to the direction the dancer is facing.
  24. Effacé: “Shaded.” Indicates an open position for the legs.
  25. Écarté: “Separated.” A position in which the dancer faces one of the two front corners of the room. The leg nearer the audience is pointed in the second position or raised to the second position in the air. With the arm on the same side as the extended leg raised, the dancer turns their head up toward it and looks into the palm of the hand. The other arm remains in demi-seconde position.
  26. Échappé: "Escaped." When the feet move from a closed position (first, third, or fifth position) to an opening position (second or fourth position).
  27. Elevé: “Elevated.” Rising up on the balls of the foot (demi-pointe) or en pointe; a relevé without a demi-plié.
  28. En avant: "Forward." A term used with a movement or step to indicate a forward direction.
  29. En l’air: "In the air." Indicates a movement or leg position that is held in the air.
  30. En croix: "Cross." Indicates a leg movement or step that is completed to the front, side, and back in succession, with the leg moving in the shape of a cross.
  31. En seconde: “In second.” A movement in the second position.
  32. En dedans: "Inward." A move when the leg moves circularly counter-clockwise, or "inward." This can be done on the floor (à terre) or in the air (en l’air).
  33. En dehors: "Outside." A move when the leg moves circularly clockwise, or "outward." This can be done on the floor (à terre) or in the air (en l’air).
  34. Entrechat: "Interweaving" or "braiding." Indicates a jump where the feet cross in front and behind each other in quick succession. The term is typically followed by a number that indicates the number of crosses the feet should complete, i.e. "entrechat quatres."
  35. Fifth position: The feet turn outward, one foot directly in front of the other with the first joint of each big toe extending past each heel.
  36. First position: The heels stay together, and the feet turn outward in a straight line.
  37. Fondu: “Sinking down.” A one-legged version of a plié.
  38. Fouetté: “Whipped.” A whipping movement. It can refer to one foot whipping in front of or behind the other foot, or when the body whips around from one direction to another.
  39. Fourth position: The feet turn outward with one foot in front of the other, parallel and separated by about a foot. The big toe of each foot should align with the heel of the other.
  40. Frappé: "Struck" or "to strike." When a dancer uses the pointed foot of the working leg to swipe (or "strike") the floor in quick succession.
  41. Grand battement: “Large battement.” Lifting one leg in the air from the hip with the knee straight and the standing leg straight, then bringing the working leg down again without bending the knee.
  42. Grand jeté: “Large throw.” A high jump in which the legs are extended to 90 degrees. It is preceded by a preliminary movement, like a glissade (a gliding step).
  43. Ouvert: "Open." Indicates a step, position, or move that is open. Another term for effacé.
  44. Pas de basque: “Basque step.” The dancer stands in fifth position, then executes a plié with the back leg. Extending the front leg in a tendu, the dancer moves the front leg in a circular movement around to the back. They then transfer the weight to the working leg and finish in fifth position.
  45. Pas de bourrée: “Step of the drunk.” A rapid move that begins in a demi-plié. The first leg extends sideways to meet the other leg in front or behind before returning to the original position.
  46. Pas de chat: "Step of the cat." A sideways jump in which the legs bend, one after the other.
  47. Pas de cheval: "Step of the horse." The leg extends from first position to fifth position, then to a cou-de-pied. The step ends with the foot pointing to a tendu.
  48. Pas de deux: A “dance for two,” or duet, in classical ballet.
  49. Passé: “Passed.” A passing movement, in which one foot passes in back or in front of the knee of the supporting leg, or one leg passes the other in the air.
  50. Penché: “Leaning” or “inclining,” as in arabesque penché, in which the dancer’s body leans far forward, with the forward arm and head low and the foot of the raised leg behind high in the air.
  51. Petit saut: A small jump.
  52. Piqué en arabesque: A movement in which the right foot is in front in fifth position, then the dancer demi-pliés and dégagés the right leg to step onto the point of the right foot, extending the left leg in arabesque.
  53. Piqué turn: A pirouette where the dancer steps onto pointe or demi-pointe and raises the other leg in any position. Also known as piqué tour.
  54. Pirouette: A complete turn of the body on one foot, either turning inward or outward, with the body centered over the supporting leg, the arms propelling the turn but remaining stationary during the turn, and the eyes “spotting” a fixed point while the head quickly turns.
  55. Plié: Bending the knees in either a grand plié (full bending of the knees) or a demi-plié (half bending of the knees), with the legs turned out from the hips and the knees open and over the toes.
  56. Port de bras: “Movement of the arms.” The passage of the arms from one position to another.
  57. Relevé: “Raised.” A movement in which the dancer starts in a demi-plié and then rises up to pointe or demi-pointe on one foot or both feet.
  58. Renversé: “Reversed.” The bending of the body during a turn, such as a pirouette, which shifts the dancer’s normal balance but not their equilibrium. The body bends from the waist, sideways, and backward, with the head following the movement of the body.
  59. Retiré: "Withdrawn" or "retired." Indicates a position with a raised thigh en l'air, and the knee bent and foot pointed. The toes should rest on the knee, either in front (devant), behind (derrière), or to the side.
  60. Rond de jambe: “Round of the leg.” A circular movement of the leg, either clockwise or counterclockwise with the working leg either in the air or with a foot touching the floor.
  61. Sauté: "Jump." Any step in which a jump is executed.
  62. Second position: The feet turn outward in a straight line, separated by about a distance of one foot.
  63. Sissonne: “Like scissors.” Jumping from both feet onto one foot—except for sissone fermée, sissone tombée, and sissone fondue, which land on both feet.
  64. Soubresaut: Indicates a rapid jump executed from both feet and landing on both feet.
  65. Soutenu: "Sustained." A movement when the dancer turns en pointe in fifth position, landing on the opposite foot. The back foot should now be in front. Used often by the corps de ballet.
  66. Temps lié: “Connected movement.” A combination of steps and arm placement based on the fourth, fifth, and second positions. It prepares the dancer to maintain balance and control while shifting their weight from one position to another.
  67. Tendu: “Stretched,” as in battement tendu. One foot slides across the floor with the toes touching the floor. Both legs remain straight, and then the extended leg returns to the position from which it was extended.
  68. Third position: The feet are turned outward with the heels placed together, one in front of the other.
  69. Tournant: “Turn.” A term paired with a movement to indicate a body turn. For example, fouetté en tournant.
  70. Variation: A solo in classical ballet.

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