The dance lexicon

The lexicon of Classical Dance


Comes from the term "adagio", which in music indicates a slow movement. It designates a sequence of movements executed in a slow rhythm but also the slow part of a "pas de deux".


(from Italian, "slowly") The part of a technical class where performers execute exercises for balance and sustained movement; a musical composition performed at a slow tempo.


Creating harmony in the body so that the arms and legs form uninterrupted lines without obstructing the torso.

Up to the task

The leg rises and forms a 90° angle with the ground leg.


From the Italian word for "lively", allegro refers to a sequence of "short beats" performed in a fast rhythm.


Position on one leg, the other leg stretched behind and the body gracefully bent.


A jump that is done "on the spot" and where you fall back on both feet in 5th position.


One-legged stance: the free leg, slightly bent, being raised in front or behind.


Change of supporting leg by swinging the body from left to right (or right to left) or from front to back (or back to front).




Choreographic work of dance.


Bounce. Refers to the elasticity of the landing of a jump.


One-footed jump on the same foot where the dancer lands on one foot in a half-bent position, with the ground foot on the instep.

Bounced around

Jumping on the spot from one foot to the other and from front to back, composed of alternately developed beats.


A wooden bar often attached to the wall that dancers use to control their balance during exercises: bar work. There are often two parallel bars, to choose the height.

Basque (no)

Step that can be taken forward or backward and that allows to move. It starts from the fifth or third place. One releases the front or back foot (for example the right foot) on plié to make a quarter round of leg. One changes then the weight of the body to pass on the foot which was released (right) by changing direction. Then one carries out a linked time while passing by the first. One finishes by closing in fifth.

Basque (jump of)

Jump of the throw family, moved and rotated.


The action of beating the working leg, whether it is extended or bent. There is a wide variety of beats.

Beat struck

A striking movement of the leg that works alternately bent and stretched. It is executed in the "cut" or "instep" position.

Strained beat

Movement in which the working leg brushes the ground until the foot is fully extended.

Battement tendu jeté

Movement in which the leg is "thrown" in the air at height


The movements of the legs that clash one or more times while in the air during jumps are called drums.

Hind (no):

The doe step consists in doing a step like a chase step, but from the front and with momentum.

Bourrée (no)

Three-count step that allows for a simple change of foot with a slight lateral shift. One of the first steps taught to the student. There are various types: simple, under, over, over and under...

Bourrée boat (no)

Step starting on a bent leg, the other released behind in fourth open; the foot of behind pricks behind that of in front, this one pricks in fourth open and the foot of behind is posed flat behind the right one which releases in fourth in front open. One remakes then the movement with the reverse, thus giving an impression of balancing.


The break consists in throwing one leg 15 cm from the ground (e.g.: right leg) and jumping with the other leg by crossing the 2 legs in the air (first right in front then left in front in the air) and falling back in the fifth position as at the beginning (right behind).


A capriole is when a raised beat is beaten. One leg goes in the air, the second one joins it and hits it before resting on the ground.

Foot change

jump of the family of the jolts, which starts from the 2 feet and arrives on 2. During the jump the front foot is changed.

Cat (no) 

The dancer starts from a Plié. As he ascends, he quickly bends and extends each of his knees, bringing his hips to the outside of his body. At some point, both feet will be in the air, one above the other, at the same time. The dancer appears to be suspended in the air. The contact with the ground must be perfectly timed because of the risk of injury. The dancer bends his or her knees and touches the ground on tiptoe. He/she then unrolls his/her toe towards the heel.

Chassé (step) 

A chassé step (or simply "chassé") is often used in classical or modern dance. It is a simple step that can also be used to gain momentum (e.g. for a grand jeté). A chassé step (after a dégagé, for example) is performed by "chasing" the front foot with the other foot, while moving forward. A pas chassé is usually done in fourth (i.e., forward) or second gear.

Horse (no) 

The horse step is a jump that moves. One places oneself in attitude in front (right leg for example) and one jumps by changing leg. The leg which was on the ground (left in the example) goes then in attitude in front. And so on.


Composer who regulates the steps and figures of the dances intended for the stage.


Art of composing ballets, of regulating the figures and steps. Also refers to the art of describing a dance on paper by means of special signs.

Rosin or resin 

Powder elaborated from the sap of the fir trees which is put under the soles of the slippers and prevents the dancers from slipping.


The hollowing and tightening of the muscles of the trunk.


it leaves in fifth. The back foot cuts, the front leg is the ground leg for the ensuing balance, the mounted leg in balance slides down the thigh, and lands in second and becomes the ground leg for the second balance. The mounted leg in balance closes in fifth in front.

Corps de ballet

In classical ballet, performers who do not have lead roles and dance in group and action scenes. In narrative ballets, members of the corps de ballet perform the roles of peasants, wedding guests and swans.


The coupe is the action, from the fifth or third, of bending both legs, slightly raising the back one to stretch the point behind the ankle of the ground leg.


fourth level in the hierarchy of the Paris Opera Ballet.


Single legged stance: the ground leg, while the free leg is free.


Position in which the knees are bent. They are performed in all five foot positions.


Position of the foot raised on the phalanges.


The foot of the free leg lands behind the foot of the ground leg. Synonymous with "under".


The foot of the free leg lands in front of the foot of the ground leg. Synonymous with "top".


A slow, sustained movement in which the rising leg bends, moves up along the ground leg forward, backward, or to the side.


The two diagonals of a surface are the oblique and crossed axes that connect two opposite angles. Any sequence of steps that takes place along one of the two diagonals or along a line parallel to one of them is said to be "diagonal".


A position in which one leg is released in the 2nd position and placed in half profile on a diagonal.


A movement in which the two legs move apart and together simultaneously, on the ground or in the air.


Position in which both legs are "open" to the audience: they do not cross.


A sequence of dance steps associated to form a sequence.


External rotation of the thighs (head of the femur) in the hip joint. It influences the degree of opening of the feet.


Leap during which the dancer strikes his heels in the air.


The action of "erasing" a shoulder backwards by a slight rotation. To shoulder right means to erase the right shoulder to present the left half-profile to the audience.


Highest rank in a ballet: this title is reserved for only a few exceptional dancers.


Rest the free leg on the floor in front of or behind the ground leg in 3rd or 5th position.

Fade in

Refers to any pose that bends on one leg.


Rotation on one leg thanks to the momentum given by the other leg.


No course and "slipped" swing, often serving as a call to the next step or jump.

Big beat

The leg is "thrown" in the air with energy, and forms a 90° angle with the ground leg.

Great escape

A variation of the jumping escape in which the legs open just before the fall to the ground.

Big throw

A jump from one foot to the other consisting of two large beats performed in opposite directions.

Large folded

Position in which the legs are completely bent.

Great height

The leg that has cleared rises to 135°.

Ground leg 

Supporting leg that carries the entire weight of the body.

Free leg

Refers to the leg that performs a movement without having to support the weight of the body which rests on the other leg, the ground leg.


Jump from one foot to the other.

Ballet Master

Organizer of the ballet, distributor of the roles, he is responsible for the show.


Reconstruction of dance steps without the help of the bar. 

Not run

A series of small steps used to cover and launch into a large jump.

No bourrée

Resulting from the dances of the Center of France. There are different steps of bourrée. The " classical " bourrée step, composed of three successive steps, is very much used in the academic dance.

No cat

Jump that evokes the movements of a cat.

Pas de deux

Part danced by two dancers.

Small beat

Lively and dynamic beat of the leg working in front and behind the ground leg.

Little rat

Young dancer, student of the dance class, employed in figuration.


Support on half-point or point.


A raised turn from a two-footed position to one foot raised on half-point.


Bending one or both knees.


Being on pointe means that the foot is stretched out on the tips of the toes, held in place by a rigid shoe.

Wearing of arms

Linking of several arm positions.


Stand on one foot flat, leg extended.

Preparatory position

Holding the arms is a preparation for what will follow.


The five foot positions on which the ballet is based.


Refers to a particular type of jump from two legs to one leg. The sissonne has many variations.


Person dancing a part of a ballet in solo.

Lifted time

Simple one-legged jump on the same leg.

Time related

No link used mainly in slow sequences.


Stage costume of the dancer, composed of a fitted corselet and a skirt with many folds. The classical tutu comes to the knee, the romantic tutu to the ankle, the Italian tutu is very short and the skirt is almost horizontal.

The lexicon of Jazz Dance

Ad Lib

Contraction of AD Libitum: at will, at choice, to continue, to improvise, to add (jazz musician terminology).


Back arching which is done in the dorsal section (high), projection of the sternum.

Ball Change

Change of feet. Contretemps, from 1/2 pointe to flat foot.

Barrel Jump

Cat jump (or cut and throw back). Staggered jump.

Barrel Turn

Pirouette - plane, the arms are like propellers, bust leaning forward.


Bounces - bounce back

Cake Walk

Small throw in place 4th out/front in back

Cat Walk

Cat walk. Advance by crossing the feet (folded very low) by accentuating the spiral of the back.

Catch Step

Change of feet, counter time, from flat to flat.


One foot chases the other.

Coffee Grinder

Pirouette fouettée (fouetté is skipped). Deboulé with leg under foot.


Contract a muscle (often referred to as an abdominal contraction)

Curve (Cunningham)

Make a forward curve with the back, from the sacrum to the cervicals, curving towards the inside of the spine, without contraction

Drop + Recover "Splash

Release and resume in suspension (resume, stabilize). start with the head or pelvis) sagittal frontal



Fall over the log

(see jump over the log).

Fan kick

big beat or developed in round of leg by crossing in front (fan = fan), can be made in or out. Big round of leg in front.

Figure 8

movement which draws a 8, work of arms (lasso towards the sky and towards the ground), basin (mambo), legs (example: round of legs out 1st to 2nd closed 1st, then idem back in).

Flick Kick

developed beat.


developed wrapped with the dynamics of a flick.


freeze, stop, stand still

Funky Chicken

do the chicken. Charleston type by beating the "wings" with the elbows

Funky for corners

funky four corners, or funky for coners.


Dance style in vogue since the 80s. The word was born from a mixture of "fun" and "skunk".

Head Roll

Roll your head

Hinge (Horton)

Alignment of shoulders, pelvis and knees in a backward bend in 2nd parallel position

Hip Roll

Rotation on the ground on the pelvis.

Hip Fall

(falling hip): The motor of the movement is the pelvis. The step starts with a wiggle of the pelvis on the side of the ground leg followed by a lateral wiggle on the side of the free leg which is placed in retiré. The step ends with a fall on the withdrawn leg.

Hip Lift

(pulling hip): We start with one leg in parallel withdrawal. We go up on the leg with a lateral wiggle on the side of this leg to finish by falling laterally on the side of this leg in withdrawn.

Hitch Kick

Arrow time

James Brown

DR. and GCH. quick heel set

Jazz Split

American split, split by bending the back leg. (split = to spread).

Jazz Drag 

same as the cat walk but dragging the kick (drag). Always behind the direction of the movement.

Jazz Run 

same as jazz walk but running.

Jazz Walk

walking by accentuating the oppositions (of the back). Linear.

Jazz Square

Also jazz-box, drawer, square; crosses over to D. not on L. not on D. crosses over to G.

Jump over the leg. 

Jump over the leg, stretched or bent, revoltade. It seems that this step, is originating from the lumberjacks of Mississippi or the "Lumberjacks", the Canadian lumberjacks. The transport of the trees being done by the rivers the "lumberjacks" had fun to be upright on the trunks, to make them roll, to jump there from one to the other by changing leg


big tense beat


front and back bust.

Knee Fall

fall on the knees.

Knee Turn

pirouette on the knees.

Knee Slide

slide on the knees (slide)

Lay Out

Position in which the pelvis is off axis with the back flat (in line with the pelvis (can be done at 2nd, 4th front and back)


hinge while advancing with a shimmie. (Jamaican dance).

Mashed Potatoes

kind of Charleston. Fast work with the feet as if we were crushing potatoes (J.Brown).

Mess Around

rotation of the pool but very relaxed and cool.


walking in a swooping attitude in slow motion, inspired by the first man who walked on the moon, "Walking on the moon" by Sting.

Pencil turn

spin - screwdriver in 6th or 5th tight (skaters). Outside or parallel.


Ground leg stretched or bent, the bust dives towards the ground while the free leg rises in arabesque.

Pivot Step

one step forward, one step back and one step forward.

Pivot Turn

pivot and turn on one foot

Pop Corn

step flick. No output (Chorus line).


small jumps in 6th grade with rebound (opens close)

Primitive Squat

move forward (small jerks) in pliés 2nd (African)


release the contraction (but remain toned and not relaxed)


undulation starting from the pelvis (on a sagittal plane). Also moving or jerky with resonance.


shoulder vibration, "Brazil" type.


move, transfer


the whole body trembles, shivers, vibrates.

Shorty George

lame step, 1937 (not lame) front step in fold with fingers pointing to the ground (hi-hat).

Shoulder Fall

fall backwards on one shoulder and slide to the ground (Graham technique).

Shoulder Roll

roll the shoulders.

Sissonne and fall

Lateral sissonne finished on the ground in a crossed position.


foot slide




torsion of the spine, in a succession from pelvis to head or vice versa


change, change, change!


Spin through the rhythm (chained) Spins do not follow the rhythmic pulse. Explanation: the pulse of the music is 1+2+3+4. The head in the spin accentuates the 3 and 4, in a spin the rotation is faster than the rhythmic pulse. In the déboulé ditto; déboules 1+2+3+4 2 déboules in 4 beats, chained-spins the dancer does 5 or 6 in 4 beats


finger-snap (Spanish origin "picos").


Undulation of the spine starting with the head on the side (on a frontal plane)

Stag Leap

doe jump. Throw with the front leg bent.



Susy Q. 

typical tap dance cross step (charleston era 1920).

Sugar Foot

step in half bend on ¼ of a point. The free leg does external rotations with each step. Step repeated many times in Bob Fosse's ballet "Sing Sing Sing".

Table top 

2nd parallel and flat forward leaning back (like a table)

Texas T. 

Contretemps and 2nd (West Side Story ballroom).  


developed at the 2nd with the bust shifted on the frontal plane compared to the axis.


pointing (touching with the tip or the 1/2 tip of the foot).

Touch Turn



Walking on the spot with the back bent forward with the arms in opposition. Games of the lumberjacks of Mississippi and Canada which consisted in walking on the trunk of a tree in water while making it turn.

Triplets (Graham)

movements in three times, and three successive supports. (regular in the movement).


small beats raised while moving forward with the index finger that is no-no or pointing down or up


pirouette in the rhythm, following the pulse.

Tutch tur 



Typical jazz position, it is a 4th. Rotation of the femur in the hip joint: Two possibilities: the pelvis is the fixed point or the femur.

Worm (earthworm) 

Undulation starting from the rib cage backwards (on a sagittal plane).

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I have been dancing since I was 4 years old, I followed the teacher's course at Studio Harmonic in Paris and I currently teach in the East of France.