Learning French through Ballet

From age four through seventeen, my world revolved around ballet. Through it, I developed my interest in the French language and my appreciation for culture expressed through performed art. Interestingly, much of the terminology for ballet is rooted in common French verbs. For example, tendu, French for stretched, is arguably the most basic of ballet steps and involves the dancer stretching the foot and leg to a pointed position. Below, I have provided a short glossary of both common and unique ballet terminology. Several of the terms are quite literal; are there any that you’ve heard outside of the ballet context?

Assemblé: assembled – This is a jump that lands on two feet.

Sketch of dancer in croisé position via michaelminn.net

Sketch of dancer in croisé position via michaelminn.net

Croisé: cross – Instead of facing the audience directly, the dancer will turn slightly toward the corner of the stage.

Battement: beat – A step involving a beating action of the extended leg such as stretching, lifting or striking.

Changement: change – A dancer jumps, landing with the opposite foot in front.

Croisé: cross – Instead of facing the audience directly, the dancer will turn slightly toward the corner of the stage.

Développé: developed – The toe is drawn up the standing leg before bringing the working leg out to the front, side or behind the dancer.

Moving through the steps of a developpé via ballethub.org

Moving through the steps of a developpé via ballethub.org

Échappé: escaped – A dancer moves both feet from a closed to an open position.

Pas: step. A movement where a dancer transfers weight. In ballet terminology, there are several pas…

Pas de deux: dance for two – A duet between two dancers.

Pas de chat: step of the cat – Named for the similarity of the dance step to a cat’s leap.

Plié via pixshark.com

Plié via pixshark.com

Pas de poisson: step of the fish (a lot more graceful than it sounds).

Plié: bent – Known as the mother step of ballet, a dancer simply bends her knees.

Port de bras: way of the arms – Made by passing the arms through various positions.

Relevé: raised – A dancer lifts her body from a standing position to putting all weight on either the toes or ball of the foot.

Sauté: sprung – The same meaning as carried by the popular cooking technique. In ballet terminology, this means simply a jump.

Tombé: fell – Normally not taken literally. The dancer will step from a straight-legged position to a bent position on one leg. This step is generally done as a link between other steps.

Sauté via abt.org

Sauté via abt.org