Royal Opera House Ballet Glossary
Use this glossary to brush up on your ballet terminology.
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
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
Both arms are held out to the sides to form a strong horizontal line, but with a slight slope downwards from shoulders to wrist.
One arm is held forward in first position, the other is held to the side in second position.
One arm is held to the side in second position, the other is raised up, slightly in front of the head.
Both arms are raised up high almost vertically, but held slightly forward of the head.
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.
A movement that achieves shape and stability by balancing the weight of one dancer against the weight of another dancer.
A dance performed by two dancers. Also known as a pas de deux.
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.
Click here for positions of the feet
Heels together, toes pointing outwards. Legs straight. Imagine a clock face, with left foot postitioned at 10 and your right foot positioned at two.
Feet hip-width apart, toes pointing outwards.
One foot in front of the other, with the heel of the front foot positioned in the arch of the back foot.
As third position, then slide and place front foot forwards to create a gap between the feet.
Third position but the heel of the front foot is placed next to the big toe of the back foot. Legs are straight.
The spatial pathways the dancers travel on throughout a dance.
Used to create variety and interest in your dance, low, medium, high.
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.
A motif is a short phrase of movement, the content of which is determined by the theme or narrative of your dance.
A way of recording your dance on paper, in words or images, as a memory aid.
A bend of the legs.
A series of movements linked together.
Pas de deux
A dance for two people. Also known as a duet.
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.
Practising your dance, in sections or as a full run (in its entirety).
Performing certain movements, a phrase or a series of movements several times
Dance performed by one dancer.
The left side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, close to the audience.
The right side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, close to the audience.
The left side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, far away from the audience.
The right side of the stage from the dancers’ viewpoint, far away to the audience.
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.
The speed at which a phrase is performed.
A dance performed by three dancers. Also known as a pas de trois.
When dancers perform the same movements at the same time.