French is considered the language of ballet and the majority of steps have a French name. Quite often a step will sound more complicated than it really is because of the translation into French, such as a ‘plie’ means ‘to bend’. The language of ballet is universal and the steps are taught worldwide.
Ballet originated in the court of King Louis XIV who was an advocate for dance and his court from 1643 – 1715 played host to many a performance. Louis began to dance as a boy and first danced in public in 1651 at the age of 13. By the time he was a young man he was performing in several ballets a week. Louis began to make his whole existence a ‘performance’ and his everyday routines, such as eating, getting up and going to bed became theatrical ceremonies! He became known fondly as ‘The Sun King’ as his court was filled with golden and palatial belongings. The formality of ballet was greatly admired and contributed to the structure and order of courtly life. Courtiers were part of the theatrical spectacles and French court life enabled the courtiers to show off and ‘be seen’. The King’s dancing master Pierre Beauchamp was one of the most highly paid of his servants and it was he who implemented some of the foundations of ballet technique, such as the five basic ballet positions and the turn out of the feet.
It was here that dancers were first ‘trained’ and moved from the French court to the theatres and a more formal style of dance emerged. King Louis established the first official ballet school; The Paris Opera, which still exists today. Many of the names given to certain steps and movements at that time, still remain today.
FRENCH NAME TRANSLATION
Plie to bend
Tendu to extend the foot
Glisse to slide the foot off the floor
Fondu to melt
Developpe to unfold the leg
Ronde de jambe a terre to circle the leg on the floor
Ronde de jambe en l’air to circle the leg in the air
Frappe to strike
Grand Battement to throw the leg
Battement Cloche to swing the leg
Devant to the front/forwards
Derriere to the back/backwards
En Croix in the shape of a cross
Ports de Bras carriage of the arms
Adage slow at ease movements
Chase to slide
Arabesque to balance on supporting leg, with working leg extended.
Pirouette to Turn
Chaine turning like a chain
Balance waltz Step
Pas de bouree linking step
Petit Allegro small jumps
Grand Allegro big jumps
Saute jump 2 feet to 2 feet
Changement to change feet whilst jumping
Assemble to assemble the legs mid air – 2 feet to 2 feet
Sissone scissor jumps – to jump from 2 legs to 1 foot.
Pas de Chat step of the cat