Like many dance forms ballet has its own terminology. These words can act as shorthand for participants allowing them to talk about complex moves or concepts. They’re also a part of the dance’s rich history. In many ballet studios you may have heard people saying things but have no clue what they were talking about. For dancers who are just starting out (or those who just want to know) we have compiled a list of ballet related terms and their meanings.
Adage; in dancing it has two meanings. The first refers to a series of exercises following centre practice, which are made up of slow and graceful movements that can be simple or complex that are performed with apparent ease. The second is the opening sequence of a dance called the pas de deux where the female dancer is carried by her male partner.
Allegro; a term for all brisk and bright movements. All the steps of elevation such as the entrechat, cabriole, assemble, jete, and so on, are covered by this category. Most dances, both solo and group, are built on allegro. In allegro the dancer must try for lightness, smoothness, and ballon.
Assemble; a step where the working foot slides along the ground before being swept in to the air. As it goes in to the air the dancer pushes off the floor with the supporting leg, extending the toes as they do so. Both legs come down simultaneously as the dancer lands.
Ballon; the light, elastic quality in jumping where the dancer bounds up from the floor, hangs in the air for a moment then softly comes down before rebounding in to the air again.
Cabriole; an allegro step in which the legs are beaten in the air. Cabrioles are divided in to two categories: petite, which are performed at 45 degrees, and grande, which are performed at 90 degrees. The working leg is thrust in to the air, the underneath leg follows and beats against the first leg causing it to go higher. The dancer then lands on the underneath leg.
Centre Practice; a group of exercises similar to a la barre but perform in the center of the room without a bar to support the dancer. Usually they are performed with alternate feet. They can be useful for improving balance and control.
Couru; a term that means running.
Elevation; a dancer’s ability to obtain height in dancing. It’s used to describe the height achieved during spinning steps like entrechats, grand jetes, and so on, combined with ballon so the dancer moves with a certain grace. The elevation is judged by the distance between the dancer’s pointed toes and the ground.
Entrechat; a step of beating in which the dancer jumps in the air and quickly crosses their legs before and behind each other. Entrechats are counted from 2 to 10 according to the number of crossings required. They are divided in to two classes; even-numbered, where the dancer lands on both feet, and odd-numbered, where the dancer lands on one foot.
Exercises a la barre; a group of exercises done by a dancer while holding on to a bar with one hand. Ballet lessons usually begin with these exercises. They are used for developing the dancer’s muscles, turning the legs out from the hips, and gaining greater control and flexibility of the joints and muscles.
Glissade; a traveling step made by propelling the working foot from the fifth position in the needed direction, the other foot closing to it. It is used to link other steps. There are six different types of glissades, the difference between them is the starting and finishing positions as well as the direction in which that they go.
Jete; a step from one foot to another in which the moving leg is brushed in to the air and looks like it’s being thrown. There are a number of different types of jetes.
Jete, grand; a large jete. In this step the legs are thrown to 90-degrees with a corresponding high jump. Grand jete is almost always preceded by a movement like glissade, pas couru, or a coupe.
Ligne; the outline of a dancer while they’re executing steps and poses. A dancer is said to have good or bad line due to how well their head, body, and limbs are aligned while they are in a pose or movement.
Pas; a simple step or a compound movement which involves a dancer transferring their weight. “Pas” also refers to a dance done by a soloist (pas seul), a duet (pas de deux), and so on.
Turn-Out; a dancer’s ability to turn their feet and legs out from their hip joints to a 90-degree position.
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