Glossary A-M

Can you tell the difference between a relevé and a rumba? A pirouette and a paso doble? A fouetté and a foxtrot?

In the Dani Spevak Mystery Series, Dani and her friends have been dancing for years, so the ballet terms are pretty much a second language for them. Even still, they are just learning the ballroom lingo. But for those not familiar, here’s a cheat sheet.


À la seconde –To the side or in the second position. À la seconde usually means a step that moves sideways or a movement done to the side such as grand battement à la seconde.

Adage; adagio — In song, “adagio” means “slowly”, and in ballet it means slow, enfolding movements. In a classical ballet class, the Adagio portion of the lesson concentrates on slow movements to improve the dancer’s ability to control the leg and increase extension (i.e., to bring the leg into high positions with control and ease). In a Grand Pas (or Classical Pas de deux, Grand Pas d’action, etc.), the Adagio is usually referred to as the Grand adage, and often follows the Entrée. This Adage is typically the outward movement of the Grand Pas where the female dancer is partnered by the lead male dancer and/or one or more suitors. In ballet, the word adagio does not refer to the music accompanying the dance but rather the type of balletic movement being performed.

American Style — This term describes a particular style of ballroom dance developed in the United States that contrasts with the International Style. It denotes the group of dances danced in American Style ballroom competitions, consisting of two categories: American Smooth and American Rhythm.

Allegro — A term applied to all bright, fast, or brisk movements. All steps of elevation such as the entrechat, cabriole, assemblé, jeté and so on, come under this classification. The majority of dances, both solo and group, are built on allegro. The most important qualities to aim at in allégro are lightness, smoothness and ballon.

Arabesque — A pose in which the dancer stands on one leg, with the other leg lifted and extended to the back.

Avant — “Forward”, to the front, as opposed to arrière. For example, a step travelling en avant moves forwards towards the audience.

Barre — Horizontal bar, approximately waist height, used for warm-up and exercises for ballet techniques. Barre work usually takes up to the first half of each class. Warm up exercises may sometimes include stretching and various ballet positions that relax a ballerina’s muscles. The study of ballet, and each class, will commonly start at the barre for everyone. Usually wooden or metal and mounted along a wall, often with the mirrors, there are also portable barres for individuals or group work.

Battement — Kicking the leg as high as possible into the air.

Brisé — A jump in which one leg is thrust from the fifth position to the second position in the air; the second leg reaches the first in mid-air executing a beat.

Bolero — Originally a Spanish dance in 3/4 time, the Bolero was modified in Cuba to become 2/4 time, and then eventually into 4/4. It is part of the American Rhythm syllabus.

Boureé — Small, quick steps usually done on the toes. In ballet it is used to describe quick, even movements often done en pointe; the movement gives the look of gliding.

Bunhead – Term for a ballet dancer, either used affectionately or to imply a degree of snobbery.

Changement — A jump in which the feet change positions in the air.

Chaîné — A series of short, quick turns on pointe by which a dancer moves across the stage.

Cha-cha — The most recently developed of the Latin dances, it is usually danced to music with a tempo in the range of 110-130 beats per minute.

Coda – Literally, “the tail.” In ballet, this is the finale in which all the dancers return to the stage to dance in unison.

Corps de ballet – Literally, “body of the ballet.” This is the group of dancers who are not soloists. They are a permanent part of the ballet company and often work as a backdrop for the principals. A corps de ballet works as one, with synchronized movements and corresponding positioning on the stage.

Echappé – Literally “escaped.” A movement in which a dancer jumps from a closed (first or fifth) position to an open (second or fourth) position.

En pointe – Literally “on pointe.”

Fish dive – A term used to describe various lifts used in partnering. A fish dive is one of many classic poses in ballet, and is often used to conclude a combination or dance between two dancers. To perform this pose, a male dancer may hold a female dancer above his head in a horizontal position, or she may fall from a sitting position on his shoulder and be caught in a fish dive.

Flap – In tap dancing, a flap is a simple step that involves a brush forward and a step on the ball of the foot.

Fouetté — A turn with a quick change in the direction of the working leg as it passes in front of or behind the supporting leg.

Foxtrot — One of the five “standard” ballroom dances, typically danced to Big Band-style music written in 4/4 time. Foxtrot appears in both the American-style and International-style syllabi.

Glissade – Literally, “to glide”. This is a traveling step starting in fifth position with demi-plié: the front foot moves out to a point, both legs briefly straighten as weight is shifted onto the pointed foot, and the other foot moves in to meet the first.

Grand battement – Powerful beating motion of the active or working leg, where the dancer “throws” the leg as high as possible, keeping it straight, while the supporting leg also remains straight.

Grand jeté – A long horizontal jump, starting from one leg and landing on the other. Known as a split in the air. It is most often done forward and usually involves doing full leg splits in mid-air. The dancer must remember to hit the fullest split at the height of the jump, with weight pushed slightly forward, giving the dancer a gliding appearance. Commonly used in modern ballet, as well.

Grand plié – A full plié, or bending of the knees. The back should be straight and aligned with the heels, and the legs are turned out with knees over the feet. As a movement, it should be fluid. It may also be in preparation for another movement such as a leap. Often done in first, second, third, fourth, or fifth position.

Grand révérance – A movement made to acknowledge the rest of the ensemble cast, the instructor (at the end of a class), the choreographer, and/or the orchestra.

Jive — One of the five Latin competition dances, this is a fast tempo triple-step swing dance made popular during WWII by the swing music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glen Miller.

Isadora Duncan (1877—1927) was the inventor of American modern dance. In her style, the torso began to be seen as the source of the dance movement instead of the feet. Ballet was rejected in favor of less artificial movements, unrestricted costumes and emotional expression utilization. Duncan inspired not only dancers, but also other kinds of artists.

Marius Petipa (1818—1910) was a French ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer. Petipa is considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer of ballet that has ever lived. He is noted for his long career as Premier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, a position he held from 1871 until 1903. In this role, he created over fifty ballets, some of which have survived in versions either faithful to or reconstructed from the original including Don Quixote (1869); La Bayadère (1877); The Sleeping Beauty (1890); The Nutcracker (1892); Les Saisons (1900), and Les Millions d’Arlequin (a.k.a. Harlequinade) (1900).

“Merde” – Generally, it is considered bad luck to wish someone luck in the theatre. Prior to performances, it is traditional for the cast to gather together to avert the bad luck by wishing each other bad luck or cursing. In English-speaking countries, actors use the phrase “break a leg.” In countries that speak Romance languages, actors join hands and scream “muita merda!/mucha mierda!/merde!” “A lot of crap” reputedly comes from the success of a play. Where historically people would arrive by carriage, lots of people (eg., a successful, popular show) meant lots of carriages and horses, leaving “a lot of crap.” Instead of saying “break a leg”, those who want to wish good luck to the performers wish “mierda” or “merde” to them. The French “Merde!” is also popular among ballet dancers across the world regardless of their mother tongue.

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