Ballet is a highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary based on French terminology. It has been globally influential and has defined the foundational techniques used in many other dance genres. As graceful and as beautiful that ballet seems to be, it grew up with its own rules and regulations, its own jurisdiction and its own dignity.
Ballet characteristically tells a story to music, while the dancers display seemingly weightless maneuvers and techniques. Ballet's unique characteristics do well to distinguish it from other dance styles.
In ballet, there are five basic positions of the feet, numbered one through five. Each of the positions utilizes turn-out, or a 90-degree rotation of the leg from the hip joint. Refer to the pictures below and match your feet to each of them to the best of your ability. Remember: Dancers work many years to achieve a full 90-degree turn-out!
Wait...where's Third Position? Third position is rarely used anymore because with the high degree of turnout of today's dancers, Third Position looks too similar to Fifth Position.
There are multiple steps referred to as the "movements in dance." There are three movements that ballet/dance beginners learn. First learn to pronounce the terminology given below, learn the definition, and then attempt to do the movement described.
To rise. This can be done on one foot or both feet together. Start with the feet together, keep the knees straight and lift the heels high enough so all of your body weight is on the balls of the feet – NOT the tips of your toes. Repeat this on one foot.
Here’s a video to help you through this…
To jump. This sort of jump is performed "two feet to two feet." This means that you leave the ground by jumping off of both feet at the same time and you land on both feet at the same time. Begin in a plie (as described above). Using your feet the same way you did to perform releve, propel yourself into the air. Be sure to straighten and extend your legs in the air, but land in plie to cushion your knees.
Literally, bourree means to cram or stuff. The term is also used to describe a quick French dance done double time. Whether a dancer is in regular ballet shoes or on Pointe, bourree's are usually done in fifth position on releve. The dancer has her feet tightly together and quickly moves both the front or back foot and then following with the other foot as quickly as possible. Bourree's are tiny steps that are done very quickly and are beautiful to watch.
A hitting or striking action of the foot where the foot is directed toward the floor using a strong extension of the leg. The foot starts in a wrapped position called sur le cou-de-pied where the heel of the foot is placed on the front of the leg directly below the calf, and the toes of the foot are wrapped around the leg toward the back, with the knee placed directly to the side. From this starting position, the leg strikes forward, leading with the heel, hitting the ball of the foot on the floor, and extending to a pointed position with the foot. The leg and foot then return to their original positions to begin the frappe' again.
A tendu is a movement performed with the foot and leg. It is the stretching of the foot, or an outstretched position or action were the working leg extends with a pointed, turned-out foot, and the toes are in contact with the floor during the extension. For example, a dancer will extend her leg from fifth position while brushing her foot on the floor through to a pointed position. The foot stays on the floor during the entire movement. Here’s a video to help you through this move:
Half-circle made by the pointed foot, from fourth front or back through second position to the opposite fourth and returning through first position again to repeat, in effect tracing out the letter "D." Starting front going back is called rond de jambe en dehors while starting back and going front is called rond de jambe en dedans.
A slide forward, backward, or sideways with both legs bent, then springing into the air with legs straight and together. It can be done either in a gallop or by pushing the leading foot along the floor in a plié to cause an upward spring. It is typically performed in a series or as part of a combination of other movements.
Inside movement. Circular movement where a leg that starts at the back or the side moves towards the front. For the right leg, this is a counter-clockwise circle. For the left leg, this is a clockwise circle. For example, in a rond de jambe en dedans, starting from first position, the foot first extends to tendu back, then moves to tendu to the side, and then tendu front, and back in again to first position. In a pirouette en dedans, the body turns such that the working leg moving forward or ahead of the supporting leg. Opposite of en dehors.
A step of beating in which the dancer jumps into the air and rapidly crosses the legs before and behind." In an entrechat quatre ('four'), starting from fifth position, right foot front, and dancer will jump up with legs crossed, execute a changement beating the right thigh at the back of the left thigh, then bring the right leg in front again beating the front of the left thigh, and land in the same position as started. In an entrechat six ('six'), three changes of the feet are made in the air, ultimately changing which foot is in front. Even-numbered entrechats indicate the number of times the legs cross in and out in the air: a regular changement is two (one out, one in), entrechat quatre is two outs, two ins; six is three and three; huit is four and four.
A lowering of the body made by bending the knee of the supporting leg, the working leg extending out à terre or in the air. Saint-Léon wrote, "Fondu is on one leg what a plié is on two." Fondu at the barre often refers to battement fondu développé, where the supporting leg begins fondu with the foot of the working leg at cou-de-pied; the working leg extends out through a petit développé as the supporting leg straightens.
A traveling step starting in fifth position from demi-plié. The leading foot brushes out to degage as weight bears on the trailing leg, weight is shifted to the leading leg via a jump and the trailing foot extends out of plié into degagé. The leading foot lands tombé and the trailing foot slides in to meet the leading foot in fifth position demi-plié. A glissade can be done en avant, en arrière, dessous (leading front foot ends back), dessus (leading back foot ends front), or without a changement of feet.
A traveling sideways jump where while mid-air the legs are successively bent, brought to retiré, feet as high up as possible, and knees apart. The Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake involves sixteen pas de chat performed by four dancers holding hands, arms interlaced. In the Cecchetti and French schools, this may be referred to as a saut de chat ('jump of the cat').
A jump done from two feet to one foot. Named after the originator of the step. In a sissonne over (dessus) the back foot closes in front, and in a sissonne under (dessous) the front foot closes behind. Sissonnes finishing on two feet include the sissonne fermée, sissonne tombée, and sissonne fondue.
As we keep moving, there are many more complicated moves to conquer and many more terms and techniques to add to memory. So, once you’ve conquered the above moves, you can move forward and learn many more…Here’s some help with moving forward:
While we have so much from Renaissance to thank for, we would be most thankful for Ballet which took birth in Italy around 15th and 16th centuries. For the elegant lady she was, Ballet spread her wings from Italy to France under the reign of the Italian aristocrat Catherine de’ Medici who then went on to be the queen of France. An early example of Catherine's development of ballet is through 'Le Paradis d' Amour', a piece of work presented at her daughter’s wedding, Marguerite de Valois to Henry of Navarre. Ballet has hence, inherited most names for its moves from the language of French during the next 100 years when the French king Louis XIV himself took part in the famous performances of the time and took Ballet to a different height.
As and as this dance form grew and the rest of the world couldn’t stop itself from adoring the exquisite beauty this was, various sub-genres of Ballet like romantic ballet, classical Ballet, neoclassical Ballet and contemporary Ballet emerged.
Ballet got a great boost in the 1700s in France when King Louis XIV (14th) appeared on stage as a dancer. He founded the Paris Opera Ballet in an old abandoned indoor tennis court. King Louis' teacher was a man named Pierre Beauchamp who in 1671 became the first director of the first ballet training school in Paris. Pierre Beauchamp invented the concept of 'turnout', which is what we now call the ‘five classical positions of the feet'.
Marie Taglioni made dancing on Pointe popular in the 1830s when she danced a ballet called La Sylphide created for her by her father Filipo Taglioni. After Marie's last performance, the audience was so sad to see her go that a chef took one of her ballet slippers, cooked it, and her most devoted admirers ate it.
Marius Petipa, who originally belonged to France, went to Russia to produce more than 60 ballets. In fact, Petipa and his assistant Lev Ivanov choreographed three of the most popular ballets still performed in the world today, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. The great composer, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, set these ballets to music.
Sergei Diaghilev was a Russian impresario (a producer who was part showman and part businessman) who founded the Ballet Russes Company.
This company never performed in Russia; instead it only traveled outside of the country to introduce Ballet to the rest of the world. When Diaghilev died in 1929, the Ballet Russes died with him. However, his influence on Ballet was felt around the world for many years to come.
Anna Pavlova, born in 1881 was a Russian dancer who was famous for her astonishing performance of the Dying Swan, a dance created just for her. Beyond her talents as a ballerina, Pavlova had the theatrical gifts to fulfill Fokine's vision of ballet as drama. Legend has it that Pavlova identified so much with the swan role that she requested her swan costume from her deathbed.
Frederick Ashton, an English choreographer, created the ballet Daphnis and Chloe for a great British ballerina named Margot Fonteyn, who in the 1960s, at the age when most ballet dancers are ready to retire, partnered with the young ballet sensation Rudolph Nureyev. At one performance of Swan Lake in Austria, they set a world record for curtain calls, eighty-nine!