French is known to be the language of culture, with many technical words in all sorts of artforms being French.

This is particularly obvious in Ballet. As any young dancer knows, they don’t tell you to twirl, you are told to pirouette, you don’t bend, you plié.

The simple reason for ballet terms being French, is that though it first originating in Italy, it was truly developed in France, it actually came from courtiers entertaining themselves with a dance version of fencing. The first public ballet company was opened in 1661 and at that time moved into the public domain. This theatre company still exists with a name change, it is now the Paris Ballet Opera.

If you are interested in French but not a trained dancer you may be curious about these terms, though they sound formal and technical they are essentially basic French words.

To English ears it certainly does lend an air of formality to the dance, and Ballet to this day is still a very formal affair. So if you want to better fit in with the ballet crowd or understand this beautiful artform better, a good grasp of French will help you enormously.

Key words:

  • Plié (bent): bending the knee(s).
  • Changement (change): jumping from one position, then changing the legs and landing in that same position.
  • Pas de chat (cat step): jumping from one foot to the other, with both feet in the air mid jump.
  • Pas de ciseaux (scissor step): jumping and scissoring the legs in mid-air, and landing onto one leg.
  • Pirouette (pirouette): a twirl done on one leg.
  • Chassé (chased): A step where one foot chases the other from its original position, in a series of movements.
  • Développé (developed):  standing on one leg, the other is drawn up to the knee and slowly extended.
  • Fondu (molten): Lowering the body on the supporting leg.