Below is the basic vocabulary of classical ballet. All of the definitions have been provided either through the 'Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet' by Gail Grant or the online dictionary provided by Ballet Dictionary (www.balletdictionary.com/ballet_dictionary/). Click on any of the letters below or follow along.


French: a-DAHZH or ah-dazj'-eh-oh. Slow. A slow, sustained movement. Adage is a French word derived from the Italian ad agio, meaning at ease or leisure. English ballet teachers use "adage," the French adaptation, while Americans prefer the original Italian. In dancing it has two meanings: (1) A series of exercises following the centre practice, consisting of a succession of slow and graceful movements which may be simple or of the most complex character, performed with fluidity and apparent ease. These exercises develop a sustaining power, sense of line, balance and the beautiful poise which enables the dancer to perform with majesty and grace. The principal steps of adagio are pliés, développés, grand fouetté en tournant, dégagés, grand rond de jambe, rond de jambe en l'air, coupés, battements tendus, attitudes, arabesques, preparations for pirouettes and all types of pirouettes. (2) The opening section of the classical pas de deux, in which the ballerina assisted by her male partner, performs the slow movements and enlèvements in which the danseur lifts, supports or carries the danseuse. The danseuse thus supported exhibits her grace, line and perfect balance while executing développés, pirouettes, arabesques and so on, and achieves combinations of steps and poses which would be impossible without the aid of her partner.

Air, en l'

Or en l' air. ahn lehr. In the air. Indicates: (1) that a movement is to be made in the air; for example, rond de jambe en l'air; (2) that the working leg, after being opened to the second or fourth position à terre, is to be raised to a horizontal position with the toe on the level of the hip.


a-lay-GROH; Italian: al-LAY-groh. Brisk, lively. Fast. Jumps performed to a quick, sharp tempo. A term applied to all bright and brisk movements. All steps of elevation such as the entrechat, cabriole, assemblé, jeté and so on, come under this classification. The majority of dances, both solo and group, are built on allegro. The most important qualities to aim at in allégro are lightness, smoothness and ballon.


aa-lohn-jay'. To elongate; to stretch.


a-ra-BESK. A pose on one leg with the other leg extended to the back. One of the basic poses in ballet, arabesque takes its name from a form of Moorish ornament. In ballet it is a position of the body, in profile, supported on one leg, which can be straight or demi-plié, with the other leg extended behind and at right angles to it, and the arms held in various harmonious positions creating the longest possible line from the fingertips to the toes. The shoulders must be held square to the line of direction. The forms of arabesque are varied to infinity. The Cecchetti method uses five principal arabesques; the Russian School (Vaganova), four; and the French School, two. Arabesques are generally used to conclude a phrase of steps, both in the slow movements of adagio and the brisk, gay movements of allégro.


a-sahn-BLAY. Assembled or joined together; a jump from one foot landing on two feet. A step in which the working foot slides well along the ground before being swept into the air. As the foot goes into the air the dancer pushes off the floor with the supporting leg, extending the toes. Both legs come to the ground simultaneously in the fifth position. If an assemblé is porté it requires a preparatory step such as a glissade to precede it. If an assemblé is en tournant it must be preceded by a preparatory step. Assemblés are done petit or grand according to the height of the battement and are executed dessus, dessous, devant, derrière, en avant, en arrière and en tournant. They may be done en face, croisé, effacé or écarté. Assemblé may also be done with a beat for greater brilliance. In the Cecchetti assemblé both knees are bent and drawn up after the battement so that the flat of the toes of both feet meet while the body is in the air.


a-tee-TEWD. A particular pose in dancing derived by Carlo Blasis from the statue of Mercury by Giovanni da Bologna. It is 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. The supporting foot may be à terre, sur la pointe or sur la demi-pointe. The arm on the side of the raised leg is held over the head in a curved position while the other arm is extended to the side. There are a number of attitudes according to the position of the body in relation to the audience.


ba-lahn-SAY. To swing; to rock. Rocking step. A swinging 3-step movement that is usually done either on the musical meter of 3/8 or 6/8. This step is very much like a pas de valse and is an alternation of balance, shifting the weight from one foot to the other. Balancé may be done crossing the foot either front or back. Fifth position R foot front. Demi-plié, dégagé the R foot to the second position and jump on it lightly in demi-plié, crossing the L foot behind the R ankle and inclining the head and body to the right. Step on the L demi-pointe behind the R foot, slightly lifting the R foot off the ground; then fall on the R foot again in demi-plié with the L foot raised sur le cou-de-pied derrière. The next balancé will be to the left side. Balancé may also be done en avant or en arrière facing croisé or effacé and en tournant.


bahl-lay-REE-nah. A principal female dancer in a ballet company. In the days of the Russian Imperial Theatres the title was given to the outstanding soloists who danced the chief classical roles. At the Maryinski Theatre in St. Petersburg the ballet company consisted of ballerinas, premiers danseurs, first and second soloists, coryphees and corps de ballet.

Ballerina assoluta, prima

or prima ballerina assoluta. (PREE-mah bahl-lay-REE-nah ahs-soh-LOO-tah). First ballerina absolute. A very rarely given title to the highest ranking ballerina.

Ballerina, prima

or prima ballerina. (PREE-mah bahl-lay-REE-nah). A title for an outstanding soloist or first principal female dancer of a ballet company.


ba-LAY. 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

ba-LAY dak-SYAWN. A ballet with a plot or story. For example, The Sleeping Beauty.

Ballet master/mistress

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


ba-LAWN. Bounce. Ballon is 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. Reference ballonné.


bah-lahn-nay'. Expanded; from balloon (air balloon). A jump from one foot to the same foot as the other leg is extended outward and then returns to original position. Example: begin with the working leg to the back and the body leaning slightly forward, pass the leg through 1st position and straighten the body, then extend the leg to the front and the body leans slightly backwards. Reference ballon.


bar. The horizontal wooden bar fastened to the walls of the ballet classroom or rehearsal hall which the dancer holds for support. Every ballet class begins with exercises at the bar.


bat-MAHN. Beating. A beating action of the extended or bent leg. There are two types of battements, grands battements and petits battements. The petis battements are: Battements tendus, dégagés, frappés and tendus relevés: stretched, disengaged, struck and stretched-and- lifted .

Battement, grand

grahn bat-MAHN. Grand battement. Large battement. An 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. This must be done with apparent ease, the rest of the body remaing quiet.

Battement dégagé

bat-MAHN day-ga-ZHAY. Disengaged battement. A term of the Cecchetti method. The battement dégagé is similar to the battement tendu but is done at twice the speed and the working foot rises about four inches from the floor with a well-pointed toe, then slides back into the the first or fifth position. Battements dégagés strengthen the toes, develop the instep and improve the flexibility of the ankle joint. Same as battement tendu jeté (Russian School), battement glissé (French School).

Battement développé

bat-MAHN dayv-law-PAY. Battement developed. From the fifth position the working foot glides up to the retiré position and forcefully opens in the required direction. On reaching the extreme point, the leg is lowered into the fifth position. This exercise is usually done en croix.

Battement fondu

bat-MAHN fawn-DEW. Battement sinking down. This is an 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. The movement is done devant, derriére and á la seconde. In fondu forward, the conditional position sur le cou-de-pied devant is used. In fondu back, the basic position sur le cou-de-pied derriére is used.

Battement fouetté

bat-MAHN fweh-TAY. Whipped battement. See fouetté á terre.

Battement frappé

bat-MAHN fra-PAY. Struck battement. An 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. It is the basis of the allegro step, the jeté.

Battement tendu

bat-MAHN tahn-DEW. Battement stretched. A battement tendu is the commencing portion and ending portion of a grand battement and is an exercise to force the insteps well outward. 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. Battements tendus may also be done with a demi-plié in the first or fifth position. They should be practiced en croix.


The dancer executes a beat during a jump by striking the calves sharply together. There are three classifications of beats: pas battus, entrechats and brisés.


brah. Arms


bree-ZAY. Broken, breaking. A small beating step in which the movement is broken. Brisés are commenced on one or two feet and end on one or two feet. They are done dessus, dessous, en avant and en arrière. Fundamentally a brisé is an assemblé beaten and traveled. The working leg brushes from the fifth position to the second position so that the point of the foot is a few inches off the ground, and beats in front of or behind the other leg, which has come to meet it; then both feet return to the ground simultaneously in demi-plié in the fifth position.


kahn-BRAY. Arched. The body is bent from the waist, backward or sideways, the head following the movement of the body.


sheh-NAY. Chains, links. This is an abbreviation of the term "tours chaînés déboulés": a series of rapid turns on the points or demi-pointes done in a straight line or in a circle.


sha-SAY. Chased. A step in which one foot literally chases the other foot out of its position; done in a series.


This is the term applied to one who composes or invents ballets or dances.


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


The daily lesson taken by dancers throughout their career.

Classical ballet

(1) The traditional style of ballet, which stresses the academic technique developed through the centuries of the existence of ballet. (2) A ballet in which the style and structure adhere to the definite framework established in the nineteenth century. Examples of classical ballets are Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

Classical walk

A slow, dignified walk done by the ballerina and danseur noble at their entrance and during the adage of a grand pas de deux. As the pointed toe stretches forward it reaches the ground first, then the heel is lowered so that the foot is slightly turned out in the fourth position. The moment the heel touches the ground, the weight is transferred forward, then the back knee bends and with a small développé the back foot steps forward to repeat the step.


kawr. Body.

Corps de ballet

kawr duh ba-LAY. The dancers in a ballet who do not appear as soloists.


koo-duh-PYAY. Neck of the foot. The part of the foot between the ankle and the base of the calf is termed the cou-de-pied


koo-PAY. Cut, cutting. A movement that calls for the foot to be sharply pulled off the floor and placed either in front or back of the ankle.


dahnss. Dance.


day-ga-ZHAY. Disengaged or disengaging step. Pointing of the foot in an open position with a fully arched instep. It is not a transfer of weight.


duh-MEE. Half.


Time developed, developing movement. Through common usage the term has become abridged to développé. A développé 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.


Escaping or slipping movement. An échappé is a level opening of both feet from a closed to an open position. There are two kinds of échappés: échappé sauté, which is done with a spring from the fifth position and finishes in a demi-plié in the open position, and échappé sur les pointes, or demi-pointes, which is done with a relevé and has straight knees when in the open position. In each case échappés are done to the second or fourth position, both feet traveling an equal distance from the original center of gravity.


Shaded. One of the directions of épaulement in which the dancer stands at an oblique angle to the audience so that a part of the body is taken back and almost hidden from view. This direction is termed "ouvert" in the French method. Effacé is also used to qualify a pose in which the legs are open (not crossed). This pose may be taken devant or derrière, either à terre or en l'air.


ay-lay-va-SYAWN. Élévation is the ability of a dancer to attain height in dancing. It is a term used to describe the height attained in springing steps such as entrechats, grands jetés and so on, combined with ballon so that the dancer jumps with a graceful elasticity like the bouncing movement of a rubber ball which touches the ground a moment and then rebounds into the air. The elevation is reckoned by the distance between the pointed toes of the dancer in the air and the ground. In alighting after a pas d'élévation the tips of the toes should reach the ground first, quickly followed by the sole and then the heel. All steps of' elevation begin and end with a demi-plié.


ahn. In.


ahn-vuh-law-PAY. Enveloped.


ay-pohl-MAHN. Shouldering. The placing of the shoulders. A term used to indicate a movement of the torso from the waist upward, bringing one shoulder forward and the other back with the head turned or inclined over the forward shoulder. The two fundamental positions of épaulement are croisé and effacé. When épaulement is used the position of the head depends upon the position of the shoulders and the shoulder position depends upon the position of the legs. Épaulement gives the finishing artistic touch to every movement and is a characteristic feature of the modern classical style compared to the old French style. which has little épaulement.


eks-tahn-SYAWN. Term used to describe the ability of a dancer to raise and hold her extended leg en l'air. A dancer is said to have a good extension if, when doing a développé à la seconde, she is able to hold and sustain the raised leg above shoulder level.


fawn-DEW. Sinking down. A term used to describe a lowering of the body made by bending the knee of the supporting leg. Saint-Léon wrote, "Fondu is on one leg what a plié is on two." In some instances the term fondu is also used to describe the ending of a step when the working leg is placed on the ground with a soft and gradual movement.


fweh-TAY. Whipped. A term applied to a whipping movement. The movement may be a short whipped movement of the raised foot as it passes rapidly in front of or behind the supporting foot or the sharp whipping around of the body from one direction to another. There is a great variety of fouettés: petit fouetté, which may be devant, à la seconde or derrière and executed à terre, sur la demi-pointe or sauté; and grand fouetté, which may be sauté, relevé and en tournant.


frah-PAY'. To strike; to strike powerfully; a quick action of the leg. Example: the working leg's foot is placed in the front of the supporting leg's ankle, quickly throw the foot forward then softly bring it back to the ankle. This movement can be done front, side, or back, and can also be done with beats.


glee-SAD. Glide. A traveling step executed by gliding the working foot from the fifth position in the required direction, the other foot closing to it. Glissade is a terre à terre step and is used to link other steps. After a demi-plié in the fifth position the working foot glides along the floor to a strong point a few inches from the floor. The other foot then pushes away from the floor so that both knees are straight and both feet strongly pointed for a moment; then the weight is shifted to the working foot with a fondu. The other foot, which is pointed a few inches from the floor, slides into the fifth position in demi-plié. When a glissade is used as an auxiliary step for small or big jumps, it is done with a quick movement on the upbeat. Glissades are done with or without change of feet, and all begin and end with a demi-plié. There are six glissades: devant, derrière, dessous, dessus, en avant, en arrière, the difference between them depending on the starting and finishing positions as well as the direction. Glissade may also be done sur les pointes.


glee-SAY. Glided, gliding.

Jeté, pas

pah zhuh-TAY. Or pas jeté. Throwing step. A jump from one foot to the other in which the working leg is brushed into the air and appears to have been thrown. There is a wide variety of pas jetés (usually called merely jetés) and they may be performed in all directions.


A tightly fitting practice or stage costumer for dancers, covering the body, mainly the torso, leaving the thighs free.


The lifting of the danseuse by her male partner


The art of using the face and body to express emotion and dramatic action.


There is no universally accepted system of recording the choreography of ballets although many systems of dance notation have been devised by dancers and choreographers. At present, there are two systems of notation in general use, Labanotation and Benesh notation.


pah. Step. A simple step or a compound movement which involves a transfer of weight. Example: pas de bourrée. "Pas" also refers to a dance executed by a soloist (pas seul), a duet (pas de deux). and so on.

Pas de bourrée

pah duh boo-RAY. Bourrée step. Pas de bourrée is done dessous, dessus, devant, derrière, en avant, en arrière and en tournant, en dedans and en dehors, on the point or demi-pointe.

Pas de chat

pah duh shah. Cat's-step. The step owes its name to the likeness of the movement to a cat's leap.


pah-SAY'. To pass; a position and/or movement that requires the working leg to have its foot pointed to the side of the supporting leg's knee.


pee-KAY. Pricked, pricking. Executed by stepping directly on the point or demi-pointe of the working foot in any desired direction or position with the other foot raised in the air. As, for example, in piqué en arabesque, piqué développé and so on.


peer-WET. Whirl or spin. A complete turn of the body on one foot, on point or demi-pointe. Pirouettes are performed en dedans, turning inward toward the supporting leg, or en dehors, turning outward in the direction of the raised leg. Correct body placement is essential in all kinds of pirouettes. The body must be well centered over the supporting leg with the back held strongly and the hips and shoulders aligned. The force of momentum is furnished by the arms, which remain immobile during the turn. The head is the last to move as the body turns away from the spectator and the first to arrive as the body comes around to the spectator, with the eyes focused at a definite point which must be at eye level. This use of the eyes while turning is called "spotting." Pirouettes may be performed in any given position, such as sur le cou-de-pied, en attitude, en arabesque, à la seconde, etc.


plee-AY. Bent, bending. A bending of the knee or knees. This is an exercise to render the joints and muscles soft and pliable and the tendons flexible and elastic, and to develop a sense of balance. There are two principal pliés: grand plié or full bending of the knees (the knees should be bent until the thighs are horizontal) and demi-plié or half-bending of the knees. Pliés are done at the bar and in the centre in all five positions of the feet. The third position is usually omitted. When a grand plié is executed in either the first, third or fourth position croisé (feet in the fifth position but separated by the space of one foot) or the fifth position, the heels always rise off the ground and are lowered again as the knees straighten. The bending movement should be gradual and free from jerks, and the knees should be at least half-bent before the heels are allowed to rise. The body should rise at the same speed at which it descended, pressing the heels into the floor. In the grand plié in the second position or the fourth position ouverte (feet in the first position but separated by the space of one foot) the heels do not rise off the ground. All demi-pliés are done without lifting the heels from the ground. In all pliés the legs must be well turned out from the hips, the knees open and well over the toes, and the weight of the body evenly distributed on both feet, with the whole foot grasping the floor.

Pointe shoes

The satin ballet shoes used by dancers when dancing sur les pointes. The ballet shoes of Marie Taglioni, the first major ballerina to dance on her points, were not blocked but were padded with cotton wool. Later (about 1862) the toes of the ballet slippers were stiffened (blocked) with glue and darned to give the dancer additional support. Today the toes of pointe shoes are reinforced with a box constructed of several layers of strong glue in between layers of material.

Port de bras

pawr duh brah. Carriage of the arms. The term port de bras has two meanings: (1) A movement or series of movements made by passing the arm or arms through various positions. The passage of the arms from one position to another constitutes a port de bras. (2) A term for a group of exercises designed to make the arms move gracefully and harmoniously. In the Cecchetti method there are eight set exercises on port de bras.In the execution of port de bras the arms should move from the shoulder and not from the elbow and the movement should be smooth and flowing. The arms should be softly rounded so that the points of the elbows are imperceptible and the hands must be simple, graceful and never flowery. The body and head should come into play and a suggestion of épaulement should be used. In raising the arms from one position to another the arms must pass through a position known in dancing as the gateway. This position corresponds to the fifth position en avant, Cecchetti method, or the first position, French and Russian Schools. In passing from a high position to a low one, the arms are generally lowered in a line with the sides. Exercises on port de bras can be varied to infinity by combining their basic elements according to the taste of the professor and the needs of the pupil.


ruhl-VAY. Raised. A raising of the body on the points or demi-pointes, point or demi-pointe. There are two ways to relevé. In the French School, relevé is done with a smooth, continuous rise while the Cecchetti method and the Russian School use a little spring. Relevé may be done in the first, second, fourth or fifth position, en attitude, en arabesque, devant, derrière, en tournant, passé en avant, passé en arrière and so on.


ruh-tee-RAY. Withdrawn. A position in which the thigh is raised to the second position en l'air with the knee bent so that the pointed toe rests in front of, behind or to the side of the supporting knee.

Rond de jambe

rawn duh zhahnb. Round of the leg, that is, a circular movement of the leg. Ronds de jambe are used as an exercise at the bar, in the centre and in the adage, and are done à terre or en l'air. When used as a step, ronds de jambe are done en l'air and may be sauté or relevé. All are done clockwise (en dehors) and counterclockwise (en dedans).


soh-TAY. Jumped, jumping. When this term is added to the name of a step, the movement is performed while jumping. As, for example, échappé sauté. Note: In all jumping movements the tips of the toes should be the first to reach the ground after the jump, then the sole of the foot followed by the heel. In rising from the ground the foot moves in the reverse order.


soo-SEW. Below; above; a term used to describe a very tight 5th position on demi-pointe.


Movement of the head and focusing of the eyes in pirouettes, etc. In these turns, the dancer chooses a spot in front and as the turn is made away from the spot, the head is the last to leave and the first to arrive as the body completes the turn.


Connecting movement to transfer the weight from one leg to the other.


tahn. Step; in time (time-step); though the action is similar as sauté, the sauté action is usually even in its jumping form where the temps denotes a sharper, springy action.

Temps lié

tahn lee-YAY. Step to connect; to thicken; a movement where the legs transfer the weight of the body from on eleg to the other; it can be done front, side, or back.


Tightly fitting garment covering the dancer's up to the waist


tahm-BAY. To fall; a movement that requires the dancer to fall with all the weight of the body onto the other leg.


This is the ability of the dancer to turn his or her feet and legs out from the hip joints to a 90-degree position. This turn-out, or en-dehors, is one of the essential principles of the classical dance, giving the dancer freedom of movement in every direction.


tew-TEW. This is the short classical ballet skirt made of many layers of tarlatan or net. The romantic tutu is the long skirt reaching below the calf.


A performer with great technical ability.


Exercises dancers perform in the wings before going on a stage before a performance or before class or rehearsals. These usually include stretching and limbering. These are done to help prevent injury and to make sure the body is pliable.

Working leg

A term used by dancers and teachers to denote the leg that is executing a given movement while the weight of the body is on the supporting leg.