The Ballet Dictionary

Dictionary of French ballet terms

Adage (Adagio)

a succession of slow and graceful movements which may be simple or of the most complex

Air, en l'

Indicates that a movement is to be made in the air


bright and brisk movements.


extension of arms in arabesque


standing on one leg with raised leg extended in straight line to rear and foot pointed (4 positions used)

Arriére, en

backwards; shows a step is executed moving away from the audience


rising off floor, on one leg and landing on two (straightening both legs in air) and returning to fifth position


a position on one leg with the other lifted in back, the knee bent at an angle of 90 degrees and well turned out so that the knee is higher than the foot

Avant, en

a given step is executed moving forward, toward the audience


a rocking step; an alternation of balance, shifting the weight from one foot to the other


usually the principal female dancer in a ballet company


A theatrical work or entertainment in which a choreographer has expressed his ideas in group and solo dancing to a musical accompaniment with appropriate costumes, scenery and lighting.

ballet d'action

ballet that tells a story, many times tragic

Ballet master, ballet mistress

person in a ballet company whose duty is to give the daily company class and to rehearse the ballets in the company repertoire


A ballet fan or enthusiast. The word was invented in Russia in the early nineteenth century.


the light, elastic quality in jumping in which the dancer bounds up from the floor, pauses a moment in the air and descends lightly and softly, only to rebound in the air like the smooth bouncing of a ball


broad leap with battement kick

Ballonné, pas

step in which the dancer springs into the air extending one leg to the front, side or back and lands with the extended leg either sur le cou-de-pied or retiré


step consists of coupé dessous and coupé dessus performed in a series with a rocking, swinging movement - ballotté is performed traveling forward on ballotté en avant and backward on ballotté en arrière to the place from which the first jump began


horizontal bar opposite mirrors and along a wall in studio for class exercises - where every class begins exercises


high or low kick: grand battement or petit battement

Battement fondu développé

exercise in which the supporting leg is slowly bent in fondu with the working foot pointing on the ankle. As the supporting leg is straightened, the working leg unfolds and is extended to point on the floor or in the air

Battement frappé

exercise in which the dancer forcefully extends the working leg from a cou-de-pied position to the front, side or back. This exercise strengthens the toes and insteps and develops the power of elevation

Battement sur le cou-de-pied, petit

an exercise at the bar in which the working foot is held sur le cou-de-pied and the lower part of the leg moves out and in, changing the foot from sur le cou-de-pied devant to sur le cou-de-pied derrière and vice versa

Battement tendu

the working foot slides from the first or fifth position to the second or fourth position without lifting the toe from the ground. Both knees must be kept straight. When the foot reaches the position pointe tendue, it then returns to the first or fifth position

Battement, grand

exercise in which the working leg is raised from the hip into the air and brought down again, the accent being on the downward movement, both knees straight


beating together of feet or legs, especially in midair


beaten - any step embellished with a beat is called a pas battu. As, for example, in jeté battu


traveling movement with feet moving in tine steps from tight fifth position



Bras bas

arms low or down - This is the dancer's "attention." The arms form a circle with the palms facing each other and the back edge of the hands resting on the thighs. The arms should hang quite loosely but not allowing the elbows to touch the sides

Bras, positions des

the four arm positions


jump in which one leg beats against the other in midair;  small beating step in which the movement is broken. Brisés are commenced on one or two feet and end on one or two feet

Brisé volé

flying brisé - the dancer finishes on one foot after the beat, the other leg crossed either front or back


An allegro step in which the extended legs are beaten in the air

Cabriole, double

a cabriole in which one leg strikes the other in the air two or more times before landing.


The male partner of the ballerina

Centre practice

a group of exercises similar to those à la barre but performed in the centre of the room without the support of the barre. These exercises are usually performed with alternate feet and are invaluable for obtaining good balance and control


a series of rapid turns on the points or demi-pointes done in a straight line or in a circle.


springing steps in the fifth position, the dancer changing feet in the air and alighting in the fifth position with the opposite foot in the front


step in which one foot literally chases the other foot out of its position; done in a series.


term applied to one who composes or invents ballets or dances


term used to describe the actual steps, groupings and patterns of a ballet or dance composition





Classical ballet

traditional style of ballet, which stresses the academic technique developed through the centuries of the existence of ballet


the finale of a classical ballet in which all the principal dancers appear separately or with their partners.



Corps de ballet

The dancers in a ballet who do not appear as soloists

Côté, de

indicates that a step is to be made to the side, either to the right or to the left.

Cou-de-pied position

working foot is placed on the part of the leg between the base of the calf and the beginning of the ankle

Coupé jeté en tournant

compound step consisting of a coupé dessous making a three-quarter turn and a grand jeté en avant to complete the turn. The step is usually done in a series either en manège or en diagonale



Croise', croisée

pose in which a dancer stands with legs crossed at an angle to the  audience. The disengaged leg may be crossed in the front or in the back

Croix, en

the shape of a cross. Indicates that an exercise is to be executed to the fourth position front, to the second position and to the fourth position back, or vice versa



Danse de caractère

dance of character, character dance

Dedans, en

inward - indicates that the leg, in a position à terre or en l'air , moves in a circular direction, counterclockwise from back to front.  In pirouettes it indicates that a pirouette is made inward toward the supporting leg

Dehors, en

outward - indicates that the leg, in a position à terre or en l'air, moves in a circular direction, clockwise.  In pirouettes it indicates that a pirouette is made outward toward the working leg


Half-bend of the knees. All steps of elevation begin and end with a demi-plié

Demi-pointes, sur les

On the half-points. Indicates that the dancer is to stand high on the balls of the feet and under part of the toes. Also used in the singular, "sur la demi-pointe.


refers to a movement, step or placing of a limb in back of the body. In reference to a particular step, the addition of derrière implies that the working foot is closed at the back

Dessous (duh-Soo)

Under. Indicates that the working foot passes behind the supporting foot

Dessus (duh -Sew)

Over. Indicates that the working foot passes in front of the supporting foot






in front - refers to a step, movement or the placing of a limb in front of the body. In reference to a particular step the addition of the word "devant" implies that the working foot is closed in the front


is a movement in which the working leg is drawn up to the knee of the supporting leg and slowly extended to an open position en l'air and held there with perfect control. The hips are kept level and square to the direction in which the dancer is facing.

Diagonale, en

a step is to be done traveling in a diagonal direction


diversion, enjoyment; short dances calculated to display the talents of individuals or groups of dancers.




diversion, enjoyment; short dances calculated to display the talents of individuals or groups of dancers.