Do you call the pirouette position passé or retiré, or do you use both? What about the term élevé? Do you use it? Have you ever considered what these French words actually mean?

“Ballet terminology is somewhat subjective," says Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School. “Often there is no definitive way to say something. What's really important is to create a picture in the minds of your students so that they will do the step you're asking the best way possible. You can split hairs forever over this stuff!"


Another thing to keep in mind is this, says Lukens: “For the French, ballet terms are seen as verbs or action words, and to non-French speakers they're seen as labels for the movements."

Tendu Everyone in the world who knows ballet understands what you mean when you say, “Four tendus front," but the French say dégagez four times front. Dégager means “to disengage." You dégagé the leg to the front, side or back from a closed fifth or first position to an open position. You can dégagé to the floor, at half height (what Americans commonly know as dégagé) or at full height. Tendu means “stretched," so the French may command in class, “Dégagez à terre avec la pointe tendue."

Penché Pencher means “to lean." I was watching a class at the Paris Opéra Ballet School and the teacher told the
students, “Penchez en avant et relevez-vous." What do we envision immediately? A penché in arabesque and a relevé onto demi-pointe in arabesque. But the teacher was simply saying, “Bend the body forward (with both feet in first position) and recover."

Passé Passer means to pass the foot from front to back and vice versa. If the foot remains in front, where are you passing to? With pirouettes: If you're in fourth position and you bring the back foot to the front for an en dehors turn, that can be seen as a passé, but if you are in fifth with the right foot front and you lift it to the front of the knee to turn, that would properly be called retiré, which means “withdrawn." In ABT's curriculum, for consistency and to avoid confusion, we use the term retiré for all pirouettes, because you withdraw the foot no matter what position you begin from.

Tour jeté The French call this movement grand jeté en tournant and post-Vaganova teachers call it grand jeté entrelacé. Claude Bessy, former director of the Paris Opéra Ballet School, says that “tour jeté" makes no sense and that entrelacé does not pertain to the movement unless you do the movement with beats.

Élevé My biggest pet peeve is the use of the term élevé to describe a relevé without the use of the demi-plié. When I asked a former dancer from the Paris Opéra Ballet about this term, she looked at me with the most curious tilt of the head and asked, “How does élever pertain to ballet? I élève my glass for a toast, I can élève chickens," which translates as “I raise my glass," or I can “breed chickens," “but there is no élevé movement in ballet." The translation for élever is “to raise, bring up, breed or rear." The reflexive verb se relever means “to raise oneself, to get up," so when you do a relevé with straight knees, that's just what you say.

Did you know?

Entrechat literally means “between cat." All we can suppose is that the term came from French masters distorting the Italian word intrecciare (sounds like intrecharay), which means “to interweave, interlace." But who knows!

Sauté is the past participle of the verb sauter, “to jump." So when we ask a student to do 16 sautés we are asking the student to do 16 “jumped."


Show Comments ()
Photo by Collette Mruk, courtesy of Goodwin

One of the most beautiful and challenging aspects of the art of dance is its constant evolution. Dancers push their bodies relentlessly to master their craft, and with this increase in output, the risks to their bodies are higher than ever before. Dancers are athletes. Period. Yet while other sports have scientifically tested standards of training, a gap of governance in dance has resulted in twice as many injuries from the knee down as football.

Keep reading... Show less

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Dance Teacher Tips
Business major Nick Silverio found his dance community in Arts House Dance Company, UPenn's student-run company. Photo by Kevin Wang, courtesy of Silverio

When Nick Silverio was a senior in high school, he struggled to choose between dance and more academic pursuits. "I was torn," he says. On one hand, he wanted to perform professionally—but on the other, he was interested in business and entrepreneurship. After winning acceptances to both top-tier BFA programs and academic schools, he had a choice to make. "The deciding factor was that I didn't need a formal major to be able to dance," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

Schedules, routines, parents, music and so much more—there's plenty on your plate already. Why mess with the headache of collecting orders and cash if you don't have to? MoveU can take that off of your hands entirely with their Online Stores. Create beautiful one-of-a-kind designs with their designers and watch your store come to life! How much does the set-up cost? Nothing! In fact, you earn 10% back on all orders your dancers make in that store.

How do you start? MoveU has three handy steps to help you begin!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Oh, dance teachers, you are a talented, organized and slightly insane bunch, and we ABSOLUTELY love you for it! Here are 12 things only dance teachers will relate to. Check 'em out!

Keep reading... Show less
Showstopper's National Finals Opening Number Performance

Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Everyone in my dance class can get to at least 90 degrees in their développé with the correct placement, and a few of them can get to 120 degrees with the correct placement. I can only get my legs to about 45 degrees to the front and side before my teachers tell me that my placement is incorrect. How do I get my développés to consistently be at least 90 degrees and keep my placement correct?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Dancing with your hair down is a unique skill that doesn't come naturally to all dancers. For some, hair in the face can throw everything off. It can feel like a wild animal has landed on your head, impairs your vision and occasionally smacks your face and ends up in your mouth. But despite looking to be a spontaneous choice, dancing sans hair security needs to be practiced to look natural.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored