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Ballet Terminology A-Z
Abstract Ballet: A ballet without a plot or story.
Adage, Adagio: [Italian ad agio: "at ease"; the musical direction, adagio, means "slow."]. Slow movement with emphasis on sustained positions and on balance. The principal steps of adagio are pliè, dèveloppè, rand fouettè en tourant, degage, grand rond de jambe, rond de jamb en l’air, coupes, battement tendu, attitude, arabesque, pirouettes and more. Most classical pas de deux start with adagio and end with allegro movement.
Ailes de pigeon:[Means “pigeon’s wings”]. The dancer performs a cabriole devant, then the legs change and beat again, then change again before the dancer lands on the leg he jumped on, leaving the other leg extended in the air. Also known as “pistolet”.
Air, en l’: In the air. Indicates that the movement is to be made in the air versus on the ground such as rond de jamb en l’air.
Alignment: The single most important thing in the foundation of technique. The body must be aligned to perform ballet correctly and safely.
Allegro: [Italian: "happy"; in music, "fast"]. Brisk and lively movement including all steps of elevation such as entrechat, cabrile, assemble, jetè - basically jumps and turns. The majority of ballet dancing is allegro - with the most important qualities being lightness, smoothness and ballon. Usually divided into petit ["little"] allegro and grand ["big"] allegro.
Allongé: ["elongated"]. Extended – outstretched.
Arabesque: ["Arabic"]. A position with one leg stretched straight out to the back while turned out and keeping the upper body straight and lifted. One arm usually is stretched out to the front in fourth, fifth or an open position.
Arrière, en: [“backward”]. A direction for the execution of a step. This word is used to indicate that the step is executed moving away from the audience.
Assemble: ["assembled or joined together"]. 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 ground with the supporting leg extending the toes – then both legs come together to the ground simultaneously into fifth position.
Attitude: ["attitude"]. A position as with the arabesque, where the working leg is raised. But unlike the arabesque, it is bent, not straight, and, also unlike the arabesque, it can be done to the front, the side, or the back. The bent knee is lifted at an angle of ninety degrees and well turned out so that the knee is higher than the foot.
Avant, en: [“forward”]. A direction for the execution of a step used to indicate that the given step is executed forward toward the audience.
Balancé: ["rocking"]. A waltz step shifting the weight from one foot to the other. For a balancé to the right, start in fifth position. On count of 1-2-3, right foot goes out to the side and the weight is transferred to it (1). Immediately bring left foot behind right and and transfer the weight to the ball of the left foot while rising up on it (2). Put your weight back on the right foot flat on the floor (not raised up) (3). A balancé to one side is almost always followed by a balancé to the other side. Balancés can also be done to the front and back or turning.
Balançoire: [“like a seesaw”]. This term is applied to the grand battement when executed with a continuous swinging motion through the first position to the fourth position front and back. The dancer swings the working leg vigorously back and forth; balançoires do not require that the body be held straight.
Ballerina: [Female dancer]. A principle female dancer in the company; an outstanding soloist given title roles.
Ballerina assoluta, prima: [“first ballerina absolute”]. This is the main dancing ballerina who is given all classical title roles over any soloist. A name in the company that draws an audience.
Ballon: ["balloon"]. The appearance of weightlessness and of being airborne. A dancer is said to have ballon if (s)he seems to be in the air constantly with only momentary contact with the floor.
Ballonné: ["ball-like"]. The dancer springs into the air, simultaneously executing a battement, then lands in demi-pliè with the working foot sur le cou-de-pied.. Can be done in many different directions.
Ballotté: ["tossed"]. A jump. Begin in 5th, right leg front. Spring straight upward with both legs held tightly together, as the body begins to tilt slightly backward at the apex of the jump. The body lands on the left foot while the right is thrown open to the front. Repeat backwards, with a slight tilt to the front at the apex of the jump. The French School terms this step “jetè bateau”.
Barre: ["bar"]. 1. The railing, about waist high, along the wall of a studio. Used by dancers as for steadying themselves in the first part of a class. 2. The first part of ballet class, consisting of exercises done with the aid of the barre.
Bas, en: [“low”]. Used to indicate a low position of the arms.
Battement: ["beating"]. A generic term for various movements in which the leg is extended and then returned. See grand battement and petit battement. This is also one of those words (like pas and temps) that are frequently omitted and understood; thus, for example, frappé is short for battement frappé, etc. In this list, look under the second word (e.g.,, under frappé, not under battement frappé. The only exception to this is battement tendu.
Batteriè:[“beaten steps]. A collective term meaning the entire vocabulary of beats. Any movement in which the legs beat together or one leg beats against the other.
Battu: [“beaten”]. Any step embellished with a beat.
Brisè: [“broken, breaking”]. A small beating step in which the movement is broken. It starts on one or two feet and ends on one or two feet. Fundamentally, a brisè is an assemble beaten and traveled. The working leg brushes from the fifth position to the second 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 at the same time in demi-pliè fifth position.
Cabriole: [“caper”]. A step of elevation in which the extended legs are beaten in the air. The working leg is thrust into the air and the underneath leg follows and beats against the first leg sending it higher. The landing is made on the underneath leg.
Cambré: ["bent"]. A bend from the waist in any direction, but especially forward or back.
Chaînés: [“chains, links”]. A series of rapid turns on half or full point with the legs in a tight first position, rotating a half turn on one foot and the other half on the other foot. Done one after the other so they're "chained" together.
Changement: ["change of the feet"]. A jump, straight up, starting from fifth position with one foot in front and landing in fifth position with the other foot in front.
Changer, sans: [“without change”]