The ABCs of Ballet

February 8, 2018
By Effie BRONZE, St. Louis, Missouri
Effie BRONZE, St. Louis, Missouri
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Ballet isn’t for wimps… Especially not for the faint of heart. Entering the dance world is also exceptionally hard at the later ages. This is a book for those courageous enough (and maybe crazy enough) to brave a dancer’s life although they may not have grown up at the studio and are in need of a place to begin.


A is for arabesque. Arabesque literally translates to "in Arabic fashion." When a ballerina executes an arabesque, she lifts her straight leg behind her, turning out both of her legs from the hips, so both knees are facing out and away from each other. Meanwhile, both shoulders are square, facing the same direction, and the sternum is pulled upright. Arms can be held in many variations of the five main positions. Arabesque also has its own set of arms. The working legs arm is held out to the side while the standing leg,s arm is placed in front.


B is for Balançoire. Balançoire means to "swing” in French. When a ballerina execute a balançoire, she swings one leg, hence the name, back-and-forth from underneath her, generally ranging from 15° from the standing leg to 90° from the standing leg. The sternum and shoulders may shift to an épaulment position and the arms are generally held in second, but may take on the other four positions.

C is for Chaînés. Chaîné translates to "chains" or "links." When a ballerina executes chaîné turns, She rélevé’s and turns 180° with one step, and another 180° with another step, repeating this process until she reaches her destination. Her knees are straightened by "pulling up" in her quadriceps. Legs are turned out from the hips, so that the knees face away from each other. Arms are traditionally taught to open from 1st to 2nd position from each step. A second method is the arms stay closed and in first throughout, although they may take on other positions due to choreography.

D is for Développé. Développé is “to develop.” When a ballerina executes a développé, one bent leg is raised while she is standing on the other straight leg, supported by pulling up through her quad. Once her working leg reaches its height, she extends, or straightens, it. Both legs are turned out from the hips. Her sternum is pulled out and her back is straight. It is also important to remember the hip of the working leg must be pushed down so it it not in a raised position. Arms can be found in a variety of places because développés are incorporated into many other steps in ballet, such as leaps, grande jetes, and pas de chevals.

E is for Échappés. Échappé in English is "slipping movement" or "escaping.” When a ballerina executes an échappé, she usually starts in first or fifth position. She then plies, jumps, and lands in a demi-second position. Jumping again from second, she lands in her original position or may go into a new step depending on choreography. She keeps her back straight and sternum lifted. Arms tend to match the positions of the feet but can also be choreographed differently.

F is for Frappè. Frappé changes to "to strike” in English. When a ballerina executes a Frappé, she is most likely positioned at the barre. She begins with the leg away from the bar, or the working leg, flexed and turned out, right above her ankle of her standing leg. She then straightens her knee to hit the floor with the ball of her foot. Frappés can be done to the front, side, or back. arms can be in any of the five positions, with one hand generally resting on the barre.

G is for Glissade. Glissade means "to glide.” When a ballerina executes a glissade, her feet begin in the first or fifth positions. The front leg or the leg pointing to the direction she is going to, shoots out and is pointed. The standing leg then plies and jumps, sending her in the direction toward her pointing or working foot. She then land on her traditionally working foot, which is now her standing foot, and places the now working foot into a first or fifth position. This is a transition step, so with choreography, you don't always finish the glissade in the traditional way. Arms are generally placed in the third or fourth positions, but do not strictly have to be in those positions.

H is for en Haut. En Haut literally translates to “high.” En Haut is used to give details about a certain position. If a choreographer asked for a ballerina’s arms to be First en Haut, the ballerina would execute ‘high first’ arms, so that her arms would be held up, the tip of her middle finger inline with her waist.

J is for Jeté. Jeté is "to throw” in English.There are many types of jetés. When a ballerina executes a grande jeté, she typically takes a few steps to gain momentum, lifts her leg from her hip, typically at a 90° and go to a 140° Ingle from her standing leg, and leaps from her standing leg onto her working leg. The goal is to leap high and to reach a full split. She keeps both legs straight and turned out and well as pointed as they leave the ground. She keeps her sternum held upright and hips and shoulders pushed down and square. Arms are customarily in an arabesque position.

K is for mm’K. Mm’K literally translates to “Thank you! I will do my best to add your correction to the twelve other things I’m trying to do at the moment, and I'm  not trying to sound sarcastic, even if its coming off that way.” When a ballerina  executes the mm’K, she is really tired from dancing, but is doing her best to still work hard and be respectful to the director or choreographer in charge.

L is for Line. A good line is an imaginary line, again, hence the name, that all dancers strive for when performing steps. It can be used as an optical illusion to have the audience perceive that the dancer’s legs are longer than they actually are, or maybe that she has a better turn out, or has very flexible hips.

M is for Manéges. Manége is the French word for “circular.” When a ballerina executes a manége, she does one step in particular over and over again, generally in a circular shape. A few examples maybe Piqué turns, Chaîne turns, leaps, and so on.

N is for Natural Opposition. Natural Opposition is when one dancer does a combination, while a second dancer mirrors the combination on the other side. When a ballerina executes natural opposition, there will be a second dancer on the other side of her that is doing the same thing as her, but with a different foot. Let's say Ballerina 1 points her right foot to stage left, then Ballerina 2 will point her left foot to stage right, mirroring each others movement.

O is for Ouvert. Ouvert is to “open forward.” When a ballerina executes and ouvert position, also known as an effacé, her hips are faced open to the audience. This could be done in many ways, but a simple way to explain it is if she would step with her left leg to the left side of the stage or room, not having her right hip directly facing left.

P is for Plié. Plié means "to bend." When a ballerina executes a plié, her feet are in one of the five positions with her hips turned out, her back strait, and her sternum lifted. She then bends her knees without letting her heels leave the ground. After she reaches her bottom-most point, she will straighten then, returning to her original position. There are many arm positions for a plié, the most traditional moving through a port de bra through first, second, and fifth position.

Q is for Quatriéme. Quatriéme is English is “fourth.” When a ballerina executes a “pirouette à la quatrième derrière,” she is doing a pirouette to the fourth position. Fourth position is when one leg is about a foot and a half in front of the other leg, with the front foot’s heel lining up with the back foot’s arch. Arms are done by having one in the position of a high first, with the other in the position of a fifth.

R is for Relevé. Relevé translates to “raised.” When a ballerina executes a relevé, she is standing on her toes. Relevés can be done with almost every step in ballet. Arm positions include but are not limited to the five positions.

S is for Spotting. Spotting is the movement of a dancer’s head while she is turning. When a ballerina spots, her eyes focus on a single place or location, generally in the direction she is moving toward, or in the direction in which she will land. She keeps her head facing a target for as long as possible, until her head has to turn. Then she whips her head around, re-focusing on her target. Most styles of dance that include turns, incorporate spotting as well. Dancers do this to prevent dizziness and to center their balance.

T is for Tendu. Tendu changes to “to stretch” in English. When a dancer executes a tendu, she extends her leg to a straight line, pointing through the foot. Her hips are turned out, and her back is straight with her sternum lifted. Tendus can be done from all positions, with first and fifth being the most common, to the front, side, and back of the body. Traditional arms are in the fifth, second, and arabesque placements to match the front, side, and back tendus, but can be done differently based on she is at the barre, in the center, or with a partner.

U is for Upbeat. The upbeat is the unaccented note in a measure. Most commonly, it is the last beat in a measure of sequence. It can also be used to describe a faster song with a cheerful mood or tone or quick and lively movement.

V is for Variation. A variation is a distinct part or section of a longer piece. For example, in the Nutcracker’s 2nd act, there are multiple variations relating to the different cultures who have come to bring gifts to Clara and the Nutcracker. The Spanish, the Arabian, the Candy Canes, the Chinese, the Clowns, the Mirlitons, and the Flowers, just to name a few, are all variations of a long dance.

W is for Waltz. A waltz is a group of steps done to waltz music, which is played in ¾ with a strong accent played on the first beat. A waltz step has a down-up-up rhythm to it. When a dancer executes a waltz step, she fondu’s or pliés her standing leg with her other leg pointed in front of her. Then she steps onto the pointed leg into a releve and takes a second step with her other leg. She repeats these steps. Arms can be choreographed in many ways, often moving through several of the positions at a time.

X is for XVI. XVI is 16 in roman numerals. In dance, the 8, 16, and 32 are very important number because most music is counted in 4/4. When a dancer executes several plies, fouettes, or tendus very quickly, for example, she will often mentally count to the number 16 to keep the beat and stay with the music.

Y is for ‘Y do you dance.’ I dance because it allows me to set free and tell my story along with the stories of others through my movement.  It lets me to relieve stress in a healthy way. Dance helps me get to know my own body, its limitations and talents, along with my friends and partners inhibitions and aptitudes. Dance lets me grow… Both physically by building strength and flexibility, and mentally, teaching me to overcome obstacles and barriers, relying on minimal materials to create a spectacular performance. Finally, it lets me explore different shapes and interpret movement into a language through music creatively.

Z is for Zzzzz. At the end of a dancer’s day, they are exhausted. Dance exerts the body and mind. When a ballerina dances, she works muscles she didn't even know she had. Especially after a four hour practice, her body is worn out and needs to recover by sleeping. It is important after a class or preformance(s) that you get enough sleep to heal your body and rebuild the muscle you broke down. This makes you stronger and prepared for the next day of challenging work.

The author's comments:

Ballet is my passion. Many people think of two-year-olds and tutus when the word ballet comes up. Ballet is actually a vigorous lifestyle for all those who live it. This is a book for those brave enough to begin a late start in the world of ballet.

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