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Ballet Terms Dictionary

July 2, 2019

Adult Ballet and Body Conditioning: Terminology

Ballet classes are divided into a number of sections. Therefore I have categorised terminology used in the class into these section and added sections for anatomical and general terminology.

This online dictionary has some more definitions than are listed here.


  • Posture - This is the term we use to describe the way we are supposed to stand in a dance class.
  • 5 positions of the feet (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th)- These 5 positions were codified by King Louis XIV (also known as the Sun King). He developed the foundations for classical ballet.
  • Turn out - This refers to the way in which ballet dancers rotate their legs outwards from the hip sockets in order to increase the range of motion.
  • Devant - In front.
  • Derriere - Behind
  • A la second - To the side.


  • Plies - Plies as an exercise are performed early in in a ballet class to warm up the hips and knees. Dancers can perform demi plies (half plies) or grande plies (full plies) with their feet in each of the five positions. In a grande plie the heels lift off the floor as the dancer gets closer to the floor, except for when executing the movement in 2nd position. Plies as a movement recur throughout the class and in many different steps.
  • Battement Tendu - This is a movement where the foot slides along the floor so the leg is fully stretched whilst the dancer is supports their body weight on one leg. The working foot remains in contact with the floor. Battement tendus can be executed from 1st, 3rd and 5th positions of the feet and devant (to the front), a la seconde (to the side) or derriere (to the back). The movement can also be called a degage.
  • Battement Glisses - This movement is the same as a battement tendu but the movement is stronger which causes the working foot to come away from the floor by about 3 cms.
  • Battement Fondus - Meaning '“to melt”. During a battement fondu, a dancer’s supporting leg is slowly bent in fondu with the working foot pointing on the ankle.  As the dancer’s supporting leg straightens, the working leg also extends to a straight position in the air or with the toes on the floor.
  • Rond de jambe a terre - This is a movement where the dancer stands on one leg whilst drawing a semi circle with the working leg with the foot touching the floor. They leg can be moved en dehor (front to back) or en dedan (back to front). The exercise is designed to increase and strengthen turn out and the range of motion in the hip joint.


  • 5 positions or the arms (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th) - These 5 positions were codified by King Louis XIV (also known as the Sun King). He developed the foundations for classical ballet.
  • Arabesque arm lines - Arabesque has several different versions, all defined by the position of the dancer’s arms.  The one constant is that the dancer must have a straight leg directly behind them, or it is not an arabesque. The different positions that can be done are first arabesque, second arabesque or third arabesque.


  • Adage - In ballet, Adage refers to slow movement, typically performed with the greatest amount of grace and fluidity than other movements of dance. Adage combinations are typically done both at barre and in center. They usually consist of many basic steps of classical ballet technique, such as arabesque, attitude, développé, grande rond de jambe, and plié, among more advanced steps.
  • Arabesque - Arabesque a body position in which a dancer stands on one leg – the supporting leg – with the other leg – the working leg turned out and extended behind the body, with both legs held straight. The arms may be held in various positions.


  • Spotting - Spotting refers to the way in which a dancer uses their head and eye focus when executing turns. When done correctly it can help to avoid dizziness and controls the turn.


  • Allegro - In ballet, allegro is a term applied to bright, fast or brisk steps and movement, most of which are jumps.
  • Sautes - A jump from two feet to two feet. Sautes can be executed with the feet in 1t and 2nd position.
  • Echappe sautes - Échappé is a classical ballet term meaning “slipping movement” or “escaping.” A dancer does an échappé with their legs and feet.  Starting in a closed position, usually fifth position with the feet, the dancer slides both feet out equally into either second or fourth position. An échappé sauté looks similar but is done with a jump that opens to second in the air.
  • Changement - A changement is when a dancer performs a jump from fifth position with the feet, jumping and changing the foot position in the air so they land with the opposite foot in front. They are usually done in a series but not always.  
  • Soubresaut - Soubresaut is a jump where the dancer performs a quick jump from two feet and lands on two feet either in third or fifth position


  • Balancé - A balancé in ballet is a step where a dancer moves while alternating balance between their feet. The rhythm is usually in three counts like a waltz and has the motion of going “down, up, down” with their legs.



  • Proprioception - Proprioception is the medical term that describes the ability to sense the orientation of your body in your environment. It allows you to move quickly and freely without having to consciously think about where you are in space or in your environment.
  • Core stability - Core stability is the term used to describe the muscular control required to maintain functional stability around the lumbar spine and to prevent lower back pain.
  • Latissimus dorsi - Latissimus dorsi muscle are large, triangularly shaped back muscles which sit over the shoulder blades and help you do things like pull-ups, swimming and even breathing. They should be used when a dancer executes any movements involving use of their arms and are one of the key muscles for establishing and maintaining good posture.

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