Royal Opera House Ballet Glossary

Use this glossary to brush up on your ballet terminology.

  • Accumulation

     

    Arm positions

    Ballet uses strictly defined positions through which most arm movements travel. There are five basic positions: first, second, third, fourth, fifth.

    Click here for positions of the arms

     

    First position

    Both arms are held out in front of the body at approximately 80 degrees, maintaining rounded elbows and an oval shape, sloping down a little from the shoulders

     

    Second position

    Both arms are held out to the sides to form a strong horizontal line, but with a slight slope downwards from shoulders to wrist.

     

    Third position

    One arm is held forward in first position, the other is held to the side in second position.

     

    Fourth position

    One arm is held to the side in second position, the other is raised up, slightly in front of the head.

     

    Fifth position

    Both arms are raised up high almost vertically, but held slightly forward of the head.

     

    Canon

    Choreographic device. The same movement is copied by each dancer at set intervals. A musical example of this is ‘Frère Jacque’.

     

    Corps de ballet

    Literally the ‘body of the ballet’. The group of dancers who work together and dance in unison.

     

    Counterbalance

    A movement that achieves shape and stability by balancing the weight of one dancer against the weight of another dancer.

     

    Duet

    A dance performed by two dancers. Also known as a pas de deux.

     

    Dynamics

    The quality or ‘effort’ that is given to a movement. A movement can be performed with speed or very slowly, or it can be performed with a sense of resistance or a sense of flow. These different states refer to the dynamic quality of the movement.

    Feet positions

    Click here for positions of the feet

    First

    Heels together, toes pointing outwards. Legs straight. Imagine a clock face, with left foot postitioned at 10 and your right foot positioned at two.

     

    Second

    Feet hip-width apart, toes pointing outwards.

     

    Third

    One foot in front of the other, with the heel of the front foot positioned in the arch of the back foot.

     

    Fourth

    As third position, then slide and place front foot forwards to create a gap between the feet.

     

    Fifth

    Third position but the heel of the front foot is placed next to the big toe of the back foot. Legs are straight.

     

    Floor pattern

    The spatial pathways the dancers travel on throughout a dance.

     

    Levels

    Used to create variety and interest in your dance, low, medium, high.

  • Mime

    Mime is the use of gesture to convey narrative meaning. Classical ballet has a distinct language of mime where specific gestures convey precise meanings such as love, marriage, king, queen, etc. Highly stylized mime sequences are often used to spell out particular moments in the story, and to offer a vital change of pace between set pieces.

     

    Motif

    A motif is a short phrase of movement, the content of which is determined by the theme or narrative of your dance.

     

    Notation

    A way of recording your dance on paper, in words or images, as a memory aid.

     

    Plié

    A bend of the legs.

     

    Phrase

    A series of movements linked together.

     

    Pas de deux

    A dance for two people. Also known as a duet.

     

    Pirouette

    A famous ballet movement in which the dancer performs a complete turn. Origin: from Old French pirouet, spinning top.

     

    Port de bras

    A movement sequence of the arms.

     

    Rehearse

    Practising your dance, in sections or as a full run (in its entirety).

     

    Repetition

    Performing certain movements, a phrase or a series of movements several times

     

    Solo

    Dance performed by one dancer.

     

    Stage Directions

     

    Downstage left

    The left side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, close to the audience.

     

    Downstage right

    The right side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, close to the audience.

     

    Upstage left

    The left side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, far away from the audience.

     

    Upstage right

    The right side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, far away to the audience.

     

    Tendu

    A dance movement in which the foot slides along the floor and peels off the floor until it is extended to create a pointed foot.

     

    Tempo

    The speed at which a phrase is performed.

     

    Trio

    A dance performed by three dancers. Also known as a pas de trois.

     

    Unison

    When dancers perform the same movements at the same time.