French Terms that we use at Inland Northwest Ballet
Intellectual stimulation and fun for our developing dancers!
*Air, en l' - This term indicates that a particluar movement is performed in the air, for example, rond de jambe en l'air (circling of the leg in the air).
*Adagio - This is actually an Italian word meaning "slowly", but we will include it here because we use the term in our ballet classes. This describes music played slowly, or a dancer moving in slow, unfolding movements. The french term, which is also used often, is "Adage".
*Allegro - This is an Italian word meaning music played lively and quick, or a dancer moving lively and quick, such as when performing small quick jumps. Petit allegro is one of our most favorite parts of class at INB!
*Arabesque - Used to describe the position of the body with one leg extended behind, either touching the floor or in the air. The term comes from the art world, describing a shape that is "Arabic".
*Arriere - Describing a step performed moving backwards, "en arrierre" comes from the word "derriere".
*Assemble, or Pas Assemble - To assemble, describing a jump during which the working leg meets the jumping leg in the air, "assembling" together, and then landing, usually in 5th position.
*Attitude - Describes a position in which one leg is raised bent behind the body, in a tabletop position. This position taken on the floor is called B+, a term coined by George Balanchine. We use the Russian attitude, which is a bit more extended than the Ceccchetti attitude.
*Avant, en - Describing a step moving forwards, "en avant" comes from the word "devant".
*Balance, or Pas Balance (with an accent on the E, we are working on making that change). This term means "balance" but describes a rocking step from side to side, performed in 3/4 time.
*Ballerina - Though often casually used to describe any ballet dancer, the term "prima ballerina" actually refers to the leading female dancer in a company.
*Balletomane - This term describes a person who has a passion for watching ballet. They may have never danced, but often know a great deal about ballet, the various styles, choreographers, and schools that exist in the ballet world.
*Ballon - A term used to indicate a lightness and "bouncy" quality of a jump.
*Battement - To beat. Often, this term is used just before the name of another step, for example - "battement tendue", "battement degage", etc. but when used alone, it often refers to "grande battement", a high kicking movement of the leg, with the body in complete control and unaffected by this movement. Well performed grande battements lead to well performed leaps...:)
*Batterie - Indicating many beats through out a jump combination.
*Battu - Indicating a jump is performed with a beat before closing, such as jete battu, or assemble battu.
*Brise - Similar to an assemble, but with a beat and change of position before landing, often performed efface. This terms means broken or breaking.
*Bras - The french term for arms, in every class, we do "port de bars" which means "carriage (or movement) of the arms. A dancer cannot be accomplished without a solid port de bras.
*Chaines - A series of small turns performed on both feet that appear to be a "chaine of circles". The word "chaine" actually means "chain".
*Changement de pied - Usually just called "changement", meanig "change", this indicates a jump in 5th position, changing from right foot front to left foot front, or vic e-versa.
*Chasse - This term means "chase", because beginning in plie, the movement is literally one foot chasing the other. A well performed chasse will always have both legs in plie, sliding forward, or straight up in the air, but never with one leg forward in tendue (or worse, what we call the "troll", a flexed foot position).
*Coda - This terms means "tail" and is the last part of a "grande pas" or a "pas de deux", and often concludes a performance. For example, after Princess Aurora and her prince have both performed their individual variations (solos), they perform the coda together.
*Ciseaux, pas de - This term menas a scissor leap performed with both legs straight. The back leg passes the front leg in the air and then immediately moves back into arabesque. Most often performed by male dancers, especially in contemporary ballet.
*Cloche, en - Meaning like a bell, the leg swings back and forth through 1st position, usually through degage or grande battement.
*Corps de Ballet - Meaning "body of the ballet", referring to the main group of dancers in a ballet company, rather than soloists or principal dancers. The corps is where a young dancer usually begins with a company.
*Coupe - A term meaning "to cut" during which one foot "takes cuts" in front of the other. As Miss Janine reminds dancers, it is an verb/action word, not a position, not to be confused with "sur le cou de pied" which is a position...:)
*Cote, de - Indicates that a movement is permed sideways.
*Couru - Couru designates a running movement.
*Croise - This term means "crossed", and indicates that the dancer is facing the corner and the legs are crossed.Detourne - A turn, usually towards the back leg.
*Danseur - A male dancer, the lead male principal dancer in a ballet company is called "premier danseur".
*Deaxiume - Second position of the feet or arms.
*Degage - This term means "to disengage" or "let go". Also referred to as a "glisse" or a "battement tendue jete" by some schools, it is simply a tendue that has been "let go" up into the air just a couple of inches.
*Demi - This term means half, as in "demi pile".
*Derriere - This term means "behind", as in a "dégagé derriere", which is a brush performed backwards. Miss Janine may also say "Is your derriere in?" and you know exactly what that means...:)
*Dessous - This term means "under", as in a "pas de bourree dessous" where the foot is brought behind, or under the other foot. This term is pronounced "deh-soo".
*Dessus - This means "over", as in "pas de bourree dessus", where the foot is brought in front of, or over the other foot. This term is pronounced "den-syoo:, barely discernible from the above term. Most instructors use the terms "over" and "under", probably to avoid confusion with mispronunciation.
*Devant - Meaning "to the front", to indicate the direction a movement, such as a develope, is performed.
*Develope - The french term for "develop", an unfolding movement of the leg.
*Echappe - Echappe is the french term for "escape". Echappe releve indicates a sliding movement from a plie into a releve. *Echappe sauté indicates a jumping movement. Both can be performed many different ways, for example, from 1st to 2nd, or from 5th to 4th position.
*Elancer - Elancer means "to dart" and indicates a quick movement from a plie to a releve, but with one foot leading the other.
*En bas - This means "below", to indicate the arms held in a low curve in front of the body.
*En croix - "In the shape of a cross", this refers to a common leg pattern performed often at the barre, for example: Tendue 4 devant, 4 a la seconde, 4 derrierre, and 4 a la second.
*En dedan - This indicates a movement performed in the "inside" direction, or toward the body.
*En dehor - This indicates a movement performed in the "outside" direction, or away from the body.
*En haut - This means "on high", to indicate the arms held in a high curve above the body.
*Fondue - Just like the chocolate that one dips strawberries in, fondue means "melt", and is performed as a single leg plie, often with a develop of the gesture leg. An excellent fondue with a turned out supporting leg is necessary for graceful landings of allegro.
*Frappe - This term means to strike. The foot strikes the floor in a quick percussive motion, and the stretch of the foot is often held until the last minute when the foot strikes again. Frappe is performed to simulate the pushing off of the floor when jumping, and holding the toes pointed in the air for the duration of the jump.
*Glissade - Meaning to glide, the legs extend one after another through degage into either 2nd or 4th position in the air. Glissade is often done to build momentum for large jumps, or a longer jumping sequence.
*Grande - Meaning big, the term may refer to many various movements, most often grande plie, grande battement, or grande allegro.
*Jete, grande - This term actually means "big throw", with the legs thrown up in the air into the splits. A grande jete en tournant is a scissor like movement of the legs, during which the legs pass each otehr (as scissor blades do) rather than move in a circular motion.
*Jete - Means "to throw", and can be performed a s a petit jete or a grande jete.
*Manege, en - To indicate that a step is performed in a circle, as in "pique turns en manage".
*Pas de Basque - Step of the Basque people or country, this step begins in 5th, with a degage devant, a rond de jambe and quick transfer to the other leg, closing 5th and then finishes with a chasse moving forward. Maybe done in sur le cou de pied, with grande battlements rather than degages, and jumping rather then stepping.
*Pas de bourree - A three step transitional phrase, that may be performed under, over or de cote.
*Pas de chat - Meaning step of the cat, this leap is performed with both legs tucking underneath the body in passé. Both legs leave and land at different times.
*Pas de Cheval - Step of the horse, the foot begins in tendue and draws in quickly to sur le cou de pied and then extends develop a terre.
*Pique - Meaning "to prick", the dancer steps on to a very straight (needle like) leg quickly, with the other leg raised in retire, attitude, arabesque or some other variation. May be performed turning. Piques performed with a bent knee demonstrate a weak dancer, not ready for pointe work.
*Pirouette - To turn on one leg with the other leg raised, often in retire, though many various positions may be assumed. May be performed en dehor or en dedan, and may start and end in various poses.
*Plie - Meaning to bend, this term describves the bending of the knees, either demi or grande, that is always performed at the barre as a warm up exercise. A well placed plie is essential for proper landings from jumps.
*Penchee - Meaning that the position leans, this term usually refers to arabesque penchee, which at it's highest describes the lifting of one leg so high that it forms a straight line, while the dancer leans forward. A strong back is essential for an excellent penchee.
*Premier - This terms means first, usually referring to first position of the arms or legs.
*Quatrieme - Fourth position of the arms or legs.
*Releve - This term means to "re-lift", and describes a rise onto the toes from a plie (if there is no plie it is simple "eleve").
*Reverance - To bow or curtsey, a reverence is how we finish every ballet class. This is performed at the end of class as a show of respect and a thank you for the instructor.
*Rond de Jambe - This means "circling of the leg" and describes the half circles drawn on the floor with the working or "gesture" foot. Can also be done "en l'air" or in the air.
*Saute - Saute is the french term for jump, and can be performed in many different positions or poses.
*Seconde, a la - To the second position, or to the side.
*Sissone - This term desribes a jump from two feet to one, can be done in many various ways.
*Soussous - Meaning a rise onto both feet, pulling both feet under the body into 5th (as opposed to a releve, which is just a lift of the heels).
*Sur le cou de pied - Meaning "at the neck of the foot", this term desribes the wrapped shape of the foot at the ankle. Can also be performed deviant or derriere.
*Sur le barre - Sometimes given as a command to dancers to go to the barre, this phrase means "at the barre".
*Sur la pointe or sur la demi pointe - Meaning "on the toes" or "on half-toe".
*Tendue - Essential for any dancer wishing to achieve good placement, a well articulated tendue leads forward with the heel and back with the toes, regardless of which direction the leg is moving. Poor tendues always result in poor dancing, excellent tendues are good progress towards becoming an excellent dancer. The word "tendue" means "stretch".
*Tour - Meaning to turn, any step that is turned can be called "en tour" or "en tournant".
*Tour Jete - Tour jete is a nickname for "grand jete en tournant".
*Troisieme - Third position of the arms or legs.
*Valse, pas de - This term means waltz step, and may be performed en diagonal, en manage, or en tournant.
The above is only a sampling of all of the terms used in classical ballet training. There are many books that include more,, including Gail Grant's ballet dictionary at https://www.amazon.com/Technical-Manual-Dictionary-Classical-Ballet/dp/0486218430
Last updated 07/24/2021