The Australian Ballet

Ballet Vocabulary

Your go-to-guide for decoding ballet terminology

2418481 TAB Etudes Lander Katherine Sonnekus Belle Urwin Sharni Spencer Credit Simon Eeles 1

Katherine Sonnekus, Principal Artist Sharni Spencer and Belle Urwin
Photo Simon Eeles

Whether you’re new to ballet or a seasoned balletomane, deciphering some of ballets terms and phrases can be daunting. Below you’ll find a list of common ballet terms we use everyday at The Australian Ballet, and have you knowing your chaîné from your chassé in no time!

Ballet’s origins can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries and by the late 17th century had reached the aristocracy of France. King Louis XIV was so passionate about ballet that he founded the Academie d’Opera (now the Paris Opéra Ballet) in 1669, formalising many of the exercises that are still practiced today and instigating a ballet vocabulary that is understandably, French.

The Australian Ballet still use these terms when discussing technique, taking class or learning choreography. Discover the language of ballet below.

A

À terre 'On the ground'

Adage/Adagio 'Slow'
Graceful, controlled movements that build up a dancer’s strength and balance, showing off their lines and extensions.

Allegro 'Quick, lively'
Brisk and excited movements often involving turns and leaps.

Allongé 'Elongated'
Poses that are stretched and elongated.

Arabesque
A pose where the dancer is supported by one leg either straight or in demi plie and the other leg is extended behind at a right angle. Shoulders are square to the arms, and the arms can be held in various positions to create the longest line possible from fingertips to toes.

Arriére 'Backwards'

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.

Attitude
A pose where the dancer is supported on one leg with the other leg lifted either the 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.

B

Barre
A wooden bar used to assist dancers balance during classroom exercises.

Balletomane
A ballet fan or enthusiast.

Ballon ‘To bounce’
A delicate, light jump.

Battement ‘To beat’
A step where one foot is beaten against the other foot or leg.

Brisé ‘Broken’
A leap upward off one foot, ‘breaking’ the movement in mid-air through light beating of the legs.

C

Cabriole ‘Caper’
A jump where the dancer extends their legs and beats their calves together before landing.

Chaînés ‘Chain/link’
A series of consecutive turns where the dancer turns on both feet, transferring the weight between the feet quickly to allow for rapid movement.

Chassé ‘To chase’
A travelling step where one foot ‘chases’ the other.

Coupé ‘To cut’
A step in which the foot replaces or cuts in front of the opposite foot.

Croisé ‘Crossed’

D

De Côté ‘To the side’

Demi ‘Half’

Derrière ‘To the back’

Devant ‘To the front’

Developpe ‘To develop/unfold’
One leg moves to the knee of the supporting leg and is slowly extended into the air. Hips remain square to direction the dancer is facing.

E

Échappé ‘Escaped’
When the feet move from a closed position (first, third or fifth) to an open position (second or fourth).

En avant ‘Forward’

En l’air ‘In the air’

En croix ‘To cross’
A step performed to the front, side, and back in succession, with the leg moving in the shape of a cross.

En dedans ‘Inward’
A step where the leg moves circularly counterclockwise towards the supporting leg.

En dehors ‘Outside’
A step where the leg moves circularly clockwise away from the supporting leg.

Entrechat ‘Braiding’
A jump where the feet cross in front and behind each other in quick succession.

F

Fondu ‘Sink/Melt’
A sinking step where the dancer lowers the body by bending the knee of the supporting leg.

Fouetté ‘Whipped’
A whipping movement or turn.

Frappé ‘To strike’
When a dancer uses the pointed foot of the working leg to swipe/strike the floor rapidly.

G - O

Glissade 'To glide’

Grand jeté ‘Large throw’
A high soaring jump in which the legs are extended to 90 degrees.

Jeté ‘To throw’

Ouvert ‘Open’

P - Q

Pas de chat ‘Step of the cat’

Pas de cheval ‘Step of the horse’

Pas de deux ‘dance for two’
A classical ballet duet.

Passé ‘Passed’
A transitional movement where one leg passes the other into the next position.

Penché ‘Leaning’

Petit saut ‘Small jump’

Pirouette ‘Spinning-top’
One or more complete turns of the body on one foot.

Plié ‘Bend’
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.

Port de bras ‘Movement of the arms’

Posé ‘To step’
Stepping onto a straight leg.

R

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.

Rond de jambe ‘Round of the leg’
A circular movement of the leg performed either clockwise or counterclockwise with the hips square and both legs straight.

S

Sauté ‘Jump’

Sissonne
A scissor-like movement

Soutenu ‘Sustained’
A long drawn-out movement. This term often refers to a turn performed in soussus, in which the legs switch positions to allow the dancer to turn in the spot.

T - Z

Temps levé ‘To hop’

Tendu ‘To stretch’
An extending action of the leg with a return closing action.

A TO Z EN POINTE

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Ballet Vocabulary

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