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Ballet Dancers
Ballet Terminology



DANC 110

About the Russian School/Vaganova Method

The Russian School was founded in St. Petersburg in 1738 by the French dancer, Jean-Baptiste Landé. The French influence continued under such great teachers as Charles Le Picq, Charles Didelot, Christian Johanssen, Jules Perrot, Arthur Saint-Léon, and Marius Petipa. In 1885, Virginia Zucchi, a famous Italian ballerina, appeared in St. Petersburg and created a sensation with her forceful and brilliant Italian technique, which differed from the soft, graceful elegance of the French technique prevalent in Russia until then. Other Italian dancers such as Enrico Cecchetti arrived in Russia and continued to astound the Russians with their amazing dexterity, brilliant pirouettes, tours, and fouettés. The Russian dancers rapidly absorbed everything the Italians had to teach and incorporated it into the Russian system. Thus, the Russian School of Ballet is a development of the French and Italian Schools. During the 1920s, the Russian ballerina and teacher, Agrippina Vaganova developed a planned instructional system which later became known to the whole world as the Vaganova method. This become the basic method of the entire Soviet choreographic school and is still being developed by Vaganova's descendants and their descendants, today.


About Agrippina Vaganova  [ah-gree-PEE-nah vah-GAH-naw-vah]

Agrippina Vaganova is the greatest Russian ballet teacher of her day (1879-1951). She was a graduate of the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School, where she studied under Ivanov, Vazem, Gerdt, Legat, and others. She was accepted into the corps de ballet of the Maryinski Theatre in 1897 and became a ballerina in 1915. She left the stage in 1917 to devote herself to teaching. In 1921, she became a teacher at the Leningrad State Ballet School (formerly the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg) and began developing the instructional system that later became known to the world as the Vaganova method. In 1934, she became head of the Leningrad Choreographic Technicum and published her textbook, Fundamentals of the Classic Dance.

Basic Barre Movement

  1. la barre - ballet bar

  2. demi-plié - half leg bend at the knees

  3. grand plié - full/large leg bend at the knees

  4. port de bras - carriage of the arms

  5. épaulment - shouldering

  6. cambré - carriage of the body

  7. demi-pointe - to rise on to the ball of the foot

  8. relevé - to rise from plié

  9. elevé - to rise to demi-pointe from straight legs

  10. sus-sous - over-under

  11. détourné - a half-turn to change sides at the barre

  12. battement - beat or brush the foot on the ground

  13. battement tendu - foot stretch

  14. sickling- a fault in which the dancer turns in the foot in from the ankle, breaking the straight line of the leg.

  15. battement dégagé - to disengage

  16. temps lié - time measured, to transfer the weight of the body from one leg to the other.

  17. battement fondu - to melt

  18. piqué - to prick

  19. coupé - to cut

  20. passé - to pass 

  21. retiré – return

  22. pas de cheval - step of the horse

  23. rond de jambe a terre - circle of the leg on the ground en dehors or en dedans.

  24. en dehors - outward

  25. en dedans - inward

  26. battement frappé - to strike 

  27. petit battement - small beats

  28. petit battement serré - tight, quick beats.

  29. battement développé - to developed the leg.

  30. en cloche - bell step

  31. grand battement - big brush


  1. devant - to the front

  2. a la seconde - to the side

  3. derrière - to the back

  4. en croix - in a cross

  5. en bas - low position of the arms

  6. en haut - high position of the arms

  7. ouvert – legs are in fifth but appear open, uncrossed when facing corners right or left in fifth, opposite of croisé.

  8. croisé – legs are in fifth but appear crossed when facing corners right or left in fifth, opposite of ouvert.

  9. en face - to face front                       

  10. en avant - forward, a direction for the execution of a step. Used to indicate that a given step is executed moving forward, toward the audience. As, for example, in glissade en avant. 

Musical Movement Quality/Timing

  1. adagio - slow, sustained movement

  2. allegro - brisk, lively motion

  3. staccato - musical term for musical notes that are played quickly and sharply, opposite of legato.

  4. legato - musical term for musical notes that are played in a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks between notes, opposite of staccato.



  1. spotting - the action of a dancer’s head while turning.

  2. chaîné - a chain or succession of turns

  3. pirouette - A turn on one foot in relevé while the working leg is in passé.

  4. soutenu - sustained, turning on relevé in sus-sous or fifth position.


Petit Allegro

  1. petit allegro - a series of small, quick steps and jumps.

  2. sauté - to jump

  3. assemblé - to assemble

  4. changement - to change

  5. échappé - to escape

  6. royale - a jump, beating the legs once before changing the position of the feet and landing.

  7. pas de bourrée - beating steps, a three-step movement, also used in grande allegro.

  8. pas de basque - basque step, also used in grande allegro.

  9. pas de chat - step of the cat, also used in grande allegro.

  10. glissade - to glide, also used in grande allegro.

  11. sissonne - scissor step, also used in grande allegro.

  12. tombé - to fall, also used in grande allegro.


Grand Allegro

  1. grand allegro - a series of large, quick steps and jumps.

  2. grand battement jeté - thrown, a leap with a straight front leg

  3. chassé - chase step

  4. saut de chat - a leap where the front leg develops.

  5. posé - to pose in a certain position, also used in adagio.

  6. tour jeté - a jeté or leap (from one foot to the other) while turning in the air.


Movement Typically Used in Adagio

  1. attitude - to stand on one leg with the other lifted and bend at a 45-degree angle.

  2. grande reverence - elaborate curtsy, bow to acknowledge the audience or at the end of class to show respect to their teacher (and, if present, piano accompanist). 


The Arabesque

  1. arabesque - The body is supported on one leg with the other leg fully extended directly behind the body.

  2. first arabesque - downstage leg is in battement tendu derrière, upstage arm is forward, downstage arm is side. 

  3. second arabesque - downstage leg is in battement tendu derrière, downstage arm is forward, upstage arm is side.

Positions of the Feet

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Positions of the Arms

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