How Well Do You Know Ballet Terminology?

By: John Miller
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

In the 1400s, the Renaissance swept through Europe and fueled the rise of ballet. Since then, ballet has become an extremely technical form of dance that’s popular all over the world. With its graceful and athletic moves, both female and male dancers labor for years of their lives, yearning to perfect their form. In the meantime, they must also master the language of ballet, which is mostly based on French terminology. In this quiz, swoop into the “pas de chat” (step of the cat) and let’s see if you really know your ballet terms!

Are you on the same level as Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn? They were virtuoso performers who took the world by storm with their technical precision and dancing prowess. You can bet they knew exactly what the “pas de cheval” and “petit saut” were before they ever took the stage. Do you know the finer points of the pirouette? Or do you confuse this common move with the poisson?

In ballet, “port de bras” is extremely important, as it refers to the way dancers move their arms to various positions. And to make it even more confusing, port de bras is different from place to place all over the world, so beginning dancers may take alternate approaches to this concept. Do you really think you can parse the details of ballet’s glossary?

Let’s see your best revoltade and royale in this ballet terminology quiz! Maybe you’ll prove to be a protégé worth of the stage … or perhaps you’ll fall flat on your face!

What is "balance"?

"Balance" refers to a series of three steps. These rocking steps are a basic move in ballet.

What’s a term for a suite of dances in ballet?

A "grand pas" is a suite of dances performed by lead dancers as a highlight of a show. The grand pas is made up of individual pieces like an entree (introduction) and coda (finish).

What does it mean if a dancer does something in "adagio"?

"Adagio" means that dancers perform a move slowly and smoothly. It means to do something with gentle ease.

What does a dancer do in a "glissade"?

A glissade is one of the smoothest moves in ballet. In a glissade, one simply glides.

What is "arabesque"?

Arabesque is one of the fundamental poses in ballet. Dancers pose on one leg and create a very long line from the fingertips to the toes.

If a dancer rises to a point from flat feet, she is performing an ____.

It means "lifted" or "raised." In an eleve, dancers push themselves to the points of their toes from a flat-footed position.

What’s a "tutu"?

Tutus are the classic ballet skirt. These very short skirts allow dancers to perform acrobatic moves without getting tangled in fabric.

What’s a word for type of ballet jump?

In a brise, dancers jump and move a leg to one side, and the join the legs together in midair before landing.

What work describes moves that are done briskly?

If a choreographer wants a move performed briskly, he or she would specify "allegro."

What’s a word for when a dancer falls into a subsequent move?

In French, "tombe" means fallen. A tombe is often used to describe a falling motion that leads into a type of traveling step.

In "croix, en," a move is performed in _____.

A choreographer may specify "croix, en," and in this case, dancers perform their moves in the shape of a cross.

Which term means that a dancer is turning in the air?

Male dancers often incorporate a powerful tours en l’air into their routines. These "turns in the air" find dancers performing a full rotation during a leap.

What’s a "barre"?

A barre, or handrail, essential for ballet practices. Dancers use them for balance as they hone specific form.

What’s a term for a female ballet performer?

"Ballerina" is term that’s generally used to describe female ballet dancers. Ballerinas struggle for years or even decades to reach the apex of their craft.

In a "cambre," dancers ______.

In French, cambre means "arched." In this move, dancers bend at the waist in any direction.

What does it mean if a dancer performs "attitude"?

"Attitude" has nothing to do with a problematic dancer. It’s a pose in which the dancer holds his or her leg behind and at a 90-degree angle at the knee.

What’s a word used to describe a truly amazing ballet dancer?

Ballet dancers suffer and toil in hopes that one day they’ll approach virtuoso mastery of their craft. Only a tiny handful will accomplish the feat.

What does it mean if a dancer is "a terrer"?

Not all ballet moves are high-flying jumps and leaps. “A terrer" means touching the floor.

A "hortensia" makes it look like a male dancer is doing what?

In a hortensia, male dancers leap into the air and put one leg in front of the other multiple times. It makes them look as if they are trying to swim in midair.

What word indicates that about half a move is performed?

If a dancer performs a move in "demi," it means he or she performs a lesser variant of a full move.

In a "fouette," a dancer ____.

A fouette finds dancers pivoting rapidly. Then, he or she will often dramatically kick out the working leg.

What’s a "turnout"?

Ballet dancers frequently turn their knees and toes away from each other. This is simply called a "turnout."

What move involves one big step quickly followed by two smaller steps?

A triple run doesn’t involve a lot of running. It is simply a big step followed immediately by two smaller steps.

If a dancer performs a ____, she does two of the same move.

It’s a simple concept. If you double a move, you do it twice. Repetition is an important choreography concept.

When a dancer does a "face, en," in which direction is she facing?

"Face, en" is another fundamental term. It refers to when dancers are directly facing something, and that something is generally the audience.

If a director says a move needs more "ballon," what does that mean"

What, did you swallow concrete in your dreams last night? Add some "ballon," or lightness, to your steps.

Who participates in a "fish dive"?

In a fish dive, a male dancer holds a ballerina in downward-facing pose. It’s not the kind of lift you trust to a butter-fingered male dancer.

What does it mean if a dancer adds bravura to her moves?

“Bravura" means adding flashy showiness to moves. It is dramatic, sweeping, and grand.

“Cou-de-pied" is a move that refers to which part of the body?

The cou-de-pied finds one dancer’s foot arched and placed on the other foot. There are several variations of the cou-de-pied.

Which part of a ballet finishes the show?

The coda is the final piece in a grand pas. It is the final flourish of a performance.

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