The Terminology of Classical Ballet – (H to Z)



HORNPIPE: The Hornpipe is the national dance of England where it has been performed since the 16th century. There is a mention of the dance by Chaucer (ca. 1343-1400) who writes “ …with hornepypes of Cornewayle”.

The instrument known as the hornpipe consisted of a wooden pipe with spaced holes and an end piece of horn. The small space required for the dance made it suitable for use aboard ship, and as singing (shantying) was not allowed on Royal Navy ships, the dancing of the Hornpipe was an outlet for the sailors’ energy. In 1579, the dancing of a Hornpipe is mentioned by a sailor on Drake’s Golden Hind following the daily prayers. Captain Cook(1728-1779) ordered his sailors to dance the Hornpipe to keep them in good health in the cramped space of the sailing ships of that time.


JETÉ: throw.

Jeté battement: the leg is ‘thrown’ to the side followed by a beating movement.

Jeté ordinaire: an ordinary throw (ordinaire means the basic form of the step).

Petit or Grand jeté: a small or big throw.


Levé: lifted. (See Temps levé).

Lié: linked. (See Temps lié).


Maillot: tights. Tights were invented by the hosier to the Paris Opéra in the early 19th century, M. Maillot.

Marché: walking. Pas marché = a walking step.

Minim: a note lasting for 2 beats.

MINUET: The Minuet was originally a peasant dance from Poitou (west France). Like the Gavotte, it was introduced into the court of Louis XIV by Lully and refined for court use by Beauchamp (dancing master to the King). For about 150 years every State ball opened with a Minuet and its popularity faded only after the French Revolution.

Minuet is derived from the old French ‘menu’ meaning small, a reference to the small steps of the dance. The dance is in 3/4 time with a dignified, unhurried tempo. The Marquis de Flamarens introduced the Minuet into England in the reign of Charles II where the graceful and dignified steps were executed by one couple while spectators admired or criticised. Any lady intending to dance a Minuet wore a lappet, a special flap, on her head-dress and immaculately clean gloves. She carried a large fan, the gentleman wearing a sword. Children practised with smaller fans and swords as considerable expertise was required. Gentlemen with insufficient skill sometimes disgraced themselves by tripping over their swords.

Manège: see En manège.

MAZURKA: The Mazurka is a dance in 3/4 time. The name comes from Mazovia, the province around the Polish capital Warsaw where it originated. The Mazurka is one of the traditional dances of Poland, normally danced by four couples and sung at the same time. It is an energetic dance performed with a proud bearing which shows the influence of horse-riding. The lady chooses her partner who strives to show off her beauty for the admiration of his rivals. The Mazurka came to England in about 1830.

The most famous composer of mazurkas is Frédéric Chopin who was born in Mazovia and composed 52 mazurkas.


Ordinaire: ordinary. This denotes the basic form of a step (as in jeté ordinaire).


Pas: a step

Pas de deux (trois, quatre etc.): a dance for two ,three, four, etc.

PAS DE BASQUE: a Basque step. The Basque country is in south-west France and north-east Spain.

PAS DE BOURRÉE: a bourrée step. The Bourrée is a traditional peasant dance from Auvergne (central France). ‘Bourrer’ refers to the boisterous, noisy movements of the original dance which, like the Minuet and Gavotte, was refined for use at the French Court. The balletic pas de bourrée is from this refined form of the dance.

Pas de bourrée à cinq pas: a pas de bourrée with 5 steps.

Pas de bourrée à quatre pas: a pas de bourrée with 4 steps.

Pas de bourrée couru: a running pas de bourrée.

Pas de bourrée en première: a pas de bourrée passing through first position.

Pas de bourrée en tournant: a turning pas de bourrée.

Pas de bourrée piqué: a sharp pas de bourrée.

PAS DE CHAT: step of a cat.

Passé: passing (one foot passes the other).

Petit: small (Petite batterie= small beats; petits jetés = small throws)

Penché: leaning or tilting (Arabesque penchée = a tilted arabesque).

PIROUETTE: a spin on one foot (from the Italian ‘piruolo’, a spinning top and French ‘girouette’, a kind of windmill).

PLIÉ: a bend of the knees (from the Italian ‘plicare’, a bending of the knees, originally to pray).

POINTE: Exercises on point.

Demi-pointe: exercises on half point.

POLKA: a dance in 2/4 time which originated in Bohemia (now the Czech republic).

PORT DE BRAS: the carriage of the arms.

Porté: carried: the step is carried through the air (as in assemblé porté).

POSÉ: a step (posé, assemblé soutenu en tournant = a step followed by a sustained bringing together of the feet while turning).

PRÉPARATION: a preparation.


Quaver: a note lasting for half a beat.


Raccourci: shortened (the movement is shortened). (See coupé fouetté raccourci).

RELEVÉ: a lifted up step. The body is lifted up onto pointe or demi-pointe, the supporting foot snatched up into a central position for balance.

Relevés passés: the working foot is lifted up, passing the supporting leg.

Battements tendus relevés: the working foot is lowered, then lifted up again.

RENVERSÉ: knocked off balance, upset. The balance appears to be upset by the inclination of the body.

RETIRÉ: drawn up or drawn back.

Retirés sautés: drawn back steps with a spring.

RÉVÉRENCE: a curtsey or bow expressing respect or gratitude.

ROND DE JAMBE: round of the leg. The leg describes a circular movement.

Demi-grand rond de jambe: half a big circle of the leg.

Rond de jambe sauté: round of the leg with a spring.

ROTATION: Rotation. This refers to the rotation of the leg in the hip socket. A rotation turns away from the supporting leg.


SAUTÉ: a spring. (As in pas de basque sauté, échappé sauté etc.)

SAUT DE BASQUE: a Basque (see pas de basque) spring (also known as jeté by full turn).

SEMIBREVE: a note lasting for 4 beats.

Serré: tightened or contracted. This refers to petits battements which are contracted to become smaller and faster.

Simple: consisting of one part only (See ballonné simple). The opposite is composé (See under C)

SISSONNE: There are many kinds of sissonne. The invention of the step is attributed to the Comte de Sissonne, a 17th century nobleman at the French court. It has nothing whatsoever to do with scissors!

Sissonne changée: the sissonne changes feet.

Sissonne doublée: a doubled sissonne. Doublée = making several jumps in succession.

Sissonne fermée: a closed sissonne. The sissonne finishes in a closed position.

Sissonne ordinaire: an ordinary sissonne (See ordinaire).

Sissonne ouverte: an open sissonne. The sissonne finishes in an open position.

SOUBRESAUT: A sudden spring. Soubre = sudden, saut = a spring.

Soutenu: sustained. The movement is slow and continuous (See assemblé soutenu

or battement soutenu).

SUR PLACE: on the spot (as in couru sur place).


TARANTELLA: In the heel of Italy is the seaport Taranto and in the surrounding countryside is found a large spider thus named Tarantula. The bite of this spider was thought to cause Tarantism, a sickness similar to epilepsy (St Vitus dance). It was considered that by dancing with great energy the poison could be sweated out of the body and the dance became known as the Tarantella. At harvest time fiddlers used to walk around the fields, hoping to be hired to play for those who were bitten. In the 17th century there were huge epidemics of Tarantism and these musicians made a large profit (See Pepys diaries, 1662). It is now known that the bite of the tarantula is relatively harmless but the dance was used as a remedy even in the 1800s! Many Tarantellas written to help cure Tarantism (recorded ca. 1742) were written in 4/4 common time but all the ones we now know are in 6/8 time, played rapidly in a continuous six quaver to the bar manner.

Well-known composers of the Tarantella include Weber, Liszt, Chopin, Heller and Rossini.

TEMPS: There are so many incorrect translations of temps. It has nothing to do with ‘time’ and sounds ridiculous if so translated. The word comes from the old French tems, a step or movement without changing weight onto the other foot.

TEMPS LEVÉ: a hop on one foot, a lifted step.

TEMPS LIÉ: a linked step. The steps are linked together in a continuous movement.

TEMPS DE CUISSE: a step of thigh pressure (cuisse = thigh).

TEMPS DE FLÈCHE: (See flèche).

TEMPS DE POISSON: a fish step: the body twists in the air like a fish suddenly changing direction (poisson = fish).

Tendu: stretched.

Terre à terre: a manner of performing steps keeping close to the floor. The steps skim over the floor without elevation.

Tombé: falling, a falling movement.

TOUR EN L’AIR: a turn (or more) in the air.


Volé flying. The step is danced whilst ‘flying’ through the air (as in Entrechat six de volée or brisé volé).


WALTZ: (French Valse). The waltz is a dance in 3/4 time with the accent on the first beat of the bar. The melody is smooth and flowing like the steps. Sliding and turning steps are characteristic of all forms of the Waltz which takes its name from the German walzen, to roll or turn. The Waltz was derived from the Ländler, which in turn had evolved from the folk dances of southern Germany. It is evident from writings of the time that there was a certain lack of decorum in the performance of the early Waltz and a book soon appeared entitled Beweis dass der Waltzer eine Hauptquelle der Schwäche des Körpers und des Geistes unserer Generation sei (Proof that the Waltz is a main source of the weakness of body and mind of our generation), warning people about the evil consequences of participating in this new dance. But as the Minuet became outdated, the Waltz took its place. Waltzes written by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were danced at the famous masked balls in the Vienna Hofburg and the Emperor’s summer residence at Schönbrunn. The dance arrived in England in 1791 where it was considered most improper as the gentleman placed his arm around the lady. It was referred to as a riotous German dance because walzen can also be translated as ‘rolling in the dirt’. By 1800 however, the Waltz had become firmly established in the French ballet, and it reached a new height as a concert piece, the credit for this being due to Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) with his famous composition Invitation to the Waltz (1819), the first concert waltz ever written. Later Léo Délibes (1836-1891) was to have much success with typical examples of the refined French waltzes in Coppélia and Sylvia.



Dictionary of Dance Terms (Chicago, 1932)


Dictionnaire de Danse (Paris, 1767)


Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française (Paris, 1938)


Dictionnaire de la Danse (Paris, 1895)


Encyclopédie méthodique: Equitation, Escrime, Danse et Art de Nager (Paris, 1786)


Lexique de l’ancien français (Paris, 1884)


Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française (Paris,1935)


Dictionnaire général de la langue française (Paris, Librairie Delagrave)


Petit glossaire des classiques français du 17. Siècle (Paris, 1907)


Handbuch des Tanzes (Stuttgart, 1930)


Grand Larousse de la langue française (Paris, 1977)


Dictionnaire de la langue française (Vesoul, 1835)


Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française (Paris, 1964)

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