Five basic ballet terms you need to know

October 13, 2015

Five basic ballet terms to know to trick someone into thinking you are an expert

Classical ballet defines the steps that each dancer takes with a range of French words. From each class' first plié ― bending of the knees ― to the last jeté ― a big jump ― grasping terminology is crucial for dancers and fans alike.

Here's a cheat sheet of the five ballet terms you need to know.

Five basic ballet terms you need to know

1. Arabesque

This is one of the most common positions in classical ballet.

In this position, the dancer stands on one leg with the other extended behind them. The arms can be a variety of positions.

Female dancers often step into arabesque during solos (variations) or when a partner is supporting them. Male dancers also often perform this step.

2. Fish Dive

This position occurs in partnered (pas de deux) work.

Here's how it happens:

  • The male partner catches the female dancer.
  • She arches her back and tucks one leg behind his while he holds her.
  • Then, he lets go and she holds herself in place.

3. Plié

This step occurs at the barre and in centre whenever a dancer lands a jump. It refers to the dancer softly bending his or her knees.

Dancers use this move to absorb shock as they land. It also adds an air of softness and lightness to their landing.

4. Jeté

Jeté literally means "to throw."

In dance, this word refers to several different small and large jumps. Some of these land on the same leg while others switch feet.

But, regardless of the differences between these different jumps, all jetés consist of brushing the floor with one foot, then jumping up into the air.

5. Pas de Deux

This term refers to a dance literally made for two. In classical ballet, this pair is typically a male and a female dancer.

A grand pas will feature a section in which both dancers dance together. Then, each one of them dances a solo piece. The end of the grand pas then features them dancing together again.

Don't be afraid to ask for explanations in class

These five definitions should help you better understand the world of classical dance.

However, not all ballet companies and schools use strictly French terms. In some classes, for example, you might hear a teacher say something like "tendu (a brushing motion with the leg) back," rather than the French tendu derriere. Teachers and students alike will use the terminology that they're most comfortable with.

The most important things to remember when you're trying to better understand ballet is to keep the terms you know in mind and to not be afraid to ask your teacher or fellow students to explain an unfamiliar term.

After all, a class or troop is only as good as their communication. So your best bet is to constantly build up your understanding of ballet terms from the foundation of these five.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
Close menu