Ballet For Dummies
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Ballet is a beautiful and demanding art form, with positions and moves to memorize and, often, strained muscles to heal. From the five basic positions — from which all ballet moves emanate — to the (mostly French) language of ballet, there's lots to master.

The five basic ballet positions

All ballet steps start from one of five positions, and these basic ballet positions involve your whole body — how you hold your arms is as important as what you do with your feet. The following figures show the five basic ballet positions along with variations on arm positions:


For ballet injuries, think RICE

Ballet dancers know that injuries, such as pulled muscles and tendons, are common — rigorous rehearsals combined with extreme positions can do that. To treat ballet injuries, remember the acronym RICE to aid your recovery:

  • R = Rest. Get the heck off the injured part.

  • I = Ice. Ice your injury for 20 minutes several times during the first day.

  • C = Compression. Wrap up the injury to discourage it from growing.

  • E = Elevation. Lift the injury higher than your heart.

Always consult a medical professional about any serious injury.

Important ballet terms to know

Whether you’re practicing ballet in the studio or dancing ballet for a performance, it’s important to know the lingo. The following list shows some basic ballet terms with pronunciation guides, as well, because almost all of them are French:

  • Battement tendu (bat-MAHN tahn-DUE): Brushing out your leg along the floor and pointing your foot. It also can be done lifting your legs to various heights, to the front, side, and back (also known as arabesque).

  • En pointe (ahn PWANT or on point): Balancing on the tips of your toes (for women only). This is achieved by wearing special pointe shoes.

  • Grand jeté (GRAHN juh-TAY): A forward jump with a split.

  • Pas de deux (PAH duh DEUH): A dance for two.

  • Pirouette (pee-roo-ET): A turn or series of multiple turns.

  • Plié (plee-AY): Bending your knees. This can be a small or big bend, on one leg or two.

  • Port de bras (POR duh BRAH): Movement of your arms and upper body.

  • Sauté (soh-TAY): A small jump on two legs, landing on both legs.

  • Tutu: A ballerina’s skirt, sticking straight out from the hips like a pizza.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Scott Speck has conducted hundreds of ballet performances throughout the United States and Europe. He is music director of the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and former conductor of the San Francisco Ballet. Evelyn Cisneros danced for the San Francisco Ballet for 23 years and is the artistic director of the National Dance Institute of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

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