12 Common Ballet Terms

It is the French who first formalized ballet, having adopted it from the Italians. You will find, therefore, many ballet terms to be in French. There are, of course, many ballet terms in Italian as well. In this short list, we have assembled twelve most common ballet terms. Please keep in mind that there are many, many, more words used. The idea here is to give one a little flavor.



ADAGE in French and ADAGIO in Italian.

Unless you are in France, adagio is more commonly used. Keep in mind, however, that it is used in several ways:

In music, adagio means slowly. Perhaps you are familiar with the Rose Adagio in Sleeping Beauty? It is the music and not the dance itself.

In ballet, adagio means slow, enfolding movements, and not the music accompanying the dance. Think of adagio as the type of movement.


The term allegro is Italian and it means joyful. An allegro is characterized by speedy tempos and jumps.
There is a petit allegro and grand allegro. In a petit allegro, the dancers execute smaller jumps know as: petit jeté and entrechat.

The jumps are bigger in a grand allegro and are called sissone ouverte or grand jeté.


Arabesqe is a ballet position in which the dancer stands on one leg, (the supporting leg) while the other leg, (the working leg), is lifted and extended behind the body.

The arabesque can be en pointe, demi pointe, or flat foot. The key distinction is on the supporting leg. In an arabesque penchee, for example, the dancer’s supporting leg would be on flat foot.


Ballerina is Italian and means, female ballet dancer.


Ballerino, is the Italian version of a male ballet dancer. In French it would be: “danseur.”


The term ballet is French. This is why the “t” is silent. Ballet is a choreographer’s medium with which ideas are expressed through dance. Music, costumes, scenery and lighting in a ballet performance, are accompaniments to the dance.


The barre is the horizontal rail mounted along a wall in a dance or exercise studio, often with mirrors. It is usually wooden. The study of ballet normally starts at the barre.

There exists now portable barres, which have become increasingly available.


A battement is a kicking movement of the working leg. The dancer stands on one leg, the supporting leg, often en pointe while the working leg performs the technique to execute a batterment.

There are about 10 battements variations.

Corps de ballet

Corps de ballet is the ensemble of a ballet company.

Grand jeté

A grand jeté is a long horizontal jump in which the dancer appears to glide in the air.

Pas de deux

In ballet, pas de deux refers to a dance for two. It is a dance duet in which steps are performed together. (Pas de deux is also used in dressage to refer to a performance with two horses.)


In ballet, pirouette is a turning technique executed with a single or multiple rotations. Pirouette is also used in other dance genres such as modern dance and jazz. The rotation in ballet pirouettes turn out. The rotation in jazz and modern are often inward. (The term pirouette is also used in dressage.)


Please keep in mind that a collection of 12 terms used in an art form as old as ballet can only be a start for some people or a quick reference for others. It should not be mistaken for anything else.