Ballet 101: 8 Confusing Terms You’ll Hear In Class

Maria Teijeiro | Getty Images

Maria Teijeiro | Getty Images

As if the French terminology in ballet wasn’t difficult enough, many words used in ballet class sound similar to or are used interchangeably with other ballet terms. From passé to coupé, here are eight confusing terms you’ll hear in ballet class if you’re a budding ballerina:

  1. En dehors. A classical ballet term meaning “outside” or “outward,” en dehors is used to describe the direction in which the dancer should be moving. En dehors would mean the dancer is turning outward, away from the supporting leg.
  2. En dedans. The opposite of en dehors, en dedans is when a dancer is moving “inside” or “inward” to their supporting leg.
  3. Passé. Meaning “to pass,” passé is used to describe movements in which the working foot or leg passes the supporting leg, making contact on the supporting leg but not resting as the foot passes. To be a true passé, the working foot should change from fifth position front to fifth position back, or vice versa.
  4. Coupé. Coupé is a term that means “to cut.” In ballet, this is where one foot cuts the other foot away taking its place, and is often used as a connecting step to another movement.
  5. Sur le cou-de-pied. When the working foot is placed on the part of the supporting leg between the base of the calf and the beginning of the ankle, the pointed position it takes is called sur le cou-de-pied.
  6. Fondu. Just like the food dish, fondu means “to melt,” and describes a slow lowering of the body (sinking down) made by bending the knee of the supporting leg.
  7. Sous-sus. A highly versatile ballet step, sous-sus means “under-over,” and is a quick rise from demi-plié to a tight fifth position onto the balls of the feet (if the dancer is wearing pointe shoes, then she’ll spring onto pointe). Because of the turn out of the feet, both heels are rotated forward—giving the illusion of one foot.
  8. Assemblé. Meaning “joined together,” this is a ballet step in which the working foot slides along the ground before being brushed into the air. As the dancer’s foot is in the air, she pushes off the floor with her supporting leg. Both legs meet in the air and “assembles” into fifth position, landing on the floor with a plié en fifth.