Did you know ? Ballet dance steps

Classic ballet is based on a vast lexicon that defines each of the steps and positions that comprise it. It is important to understand this specialized vocabulary to help you communicate more easily with your dance teacher or a choreographer.  In this blog post covering the main ballet steps and positions, you will notice that all their names are in French!


To understand why we must go back to ballet's origins (especially the 17th century), when Pierre Beauchamp, a leading figure of the era, was a dancer and choreographer in the court of Louis XIV. He codified the five basic positions in ballet and the influence of his work explains why the technical terminology of classic dance is in French all around the world. To learn more about the origins of ballet, please read our blog post exploring the history of dance here.

Explore the lexicon of the main ballet steps and positions.

  • Glissade: This is an essential step in ballet; it is used to connect movements in the chosen direction. Starting in fifth position (1), a glissade consists of extending one foot out, then transferring the weight of the body to the working leg as the other leg closes back into fifth position. Taken from the French word for "slide", the movement entails sliding rather than jumping.


  • Manège:  A circular path of movement around the stage, performed by one or several dancers. The chaînés can vary depending on the choreography: the steps may be piqué turns or grand jumps or linking steps (e.g., glissade or grand jeté). 


  • Pas de chat (or saut de chat): This step begins in plié position. In the upward phase of the jump, the dancer quick flexes and extends each of the knees. The two feet will come together in the air, one above the other, at the same time. The dancer appears to be suspended in the air. 


  • Arabesque:  This is a balancing move in which the supporting leg (2) remains on the floor (flat, on pointe or on demi-pointe), while the other leg is lifted to the back. The torso curves gracefully with one arm extended to the front and the other arm à la seconde (3) or to the rear.


  • Pirouette: A 360-degree turn that consists in a relevé turn on one foot from a plié position. A double or triple pirouette describes a move when the dancer makes multiple consecutive turns.    


  • Attitude: A balancing position in which the dancer lifts one leg rather high to the front or back, with the knee turned. The supporting leg is on the floor and can be flat, on pointe or on demi-pointe. 


  • Fondu: A step that begins with the legs in plié in fifth position. The dancer simultaneously extends the legs and lifts the front leg forward, à la seconde3 or to the rear (to a height that can vary). 


  • Cabriole: Jump in which the dancer achieves a slanting position and beats the legs against one another while he is in the air, before returning to the ground.


  • Reverence:  In general, this is the last exercise of a ballet class, when the dancers pay respects to their teacher. This dance step is also performed at the end of a performance to acknowledge the applaude from the audience. It is a plié dégagé to the front or to the side with a port de bras à la seconde. There are several types of reverences, which may or may not include a bow. 


  • Adage: From the word "adagio", which refers to a slow movement in music. In dance, it refers to a slow-paced classical sequence or to the slow section of a pas de deux. 

(1) Fifth position: One of the basic ballet positions in which the feet are placed  in front of one another and turned out as much as possible. The toes of the front foot should touch the heel of the back foot.


(2) Supporting leg: The leg that carries the weight on the floor.


(3) A la seconde: Arm stretched straight to the side at shoulder level or leg stretched to the side at a height that can vary.

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