Basic Positions

  • Boys_1st.jpg

    Young dancers of the School in first position at the barre during technique class.
    Photo by Erik Tomasson
  • UpperLevel_2nd.jpg

    Upper level girls of the School in second position on pointe during the annual Student Showcase.
    Photo by Erik Tomasson
  • Ladies_5th.jpg

    Students of the School in fifth position during technique class.
    Photo by Erik Tomasson
  • Boys_Portdebra.jpg

    Young dancers of the School demonstrate port de bras during the annual Student Showcase.
    Photo by Erik Tomasson

When you take a ballet class, the ballet teacher will use words in French to describe the steps and movemetns. Ballet schools and dance companise all over teh world use the same words in French to describe ballet steps because teh first ballet school was established more than 350 years ago in France by King Louis XIV. 

Here are some common ballet words that describe the steps you might see in Nutcracker and other ballets!

  • Plié [plee-AY]: to bend
  • Demi-plié: half-bending of the knees, heels stay on the floor.
  • Grand plié: full bending of the knees (knees should bend until the thighs are horizontal)
  • Port de bras [pawr deh brah]: movement of the arms
  • Tendu [tahn-DEW]: to point or stretch the foot to the front, side, or back
  • Relevé [rehl-eh-VAY]: to rise to the balls of the feet (or tips of the toes in pointe shoes)
  • Jeté [zhuh-TAY]: to leap from one foot to the other in which the front working leg appears to have been thrown into the air. A jeté can be performed in different directions. In a grand jete, both legs are fully extended.
  • Arabesque [a-ra-BESK]: a position of the body supported on one leg with the other leg extended behind, forming a right angle (or higher), with the arms held in various harmonious positions creating a long line from fingertips to toes
  • Pirouette [peer-WET]: to whirl or turn; a rotation of the body on one foot
  • Fish dive: a partnering move in which the ballerina is held low to the ground with her back arched and her legs in fifth position or crossed, so that it looks like she’s diving toward the floor.
  • Pas de deux [pah duh DUH]: a dance for two people, traditionally a ballerina and a premier danseur.  
  • Corps de ballet [core duh ba-LAY]: a group of dancers who work together as an ensemble; they form a background for the ballerina and her partner in a classical ballet and are the backbone of any ballet company