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Ballet Terms That Can Be Confusing

by | Aug 10, 2015 | Articles, Just Beginning, Technique, Tips

It can be difficult for adult students to remember the vast ballet vocabulary, especially when some of the sounds and phrases seem to blend together. Here are a handful of terms that can be confusing to the untrained ear, and what makes them different.

1. En croix vs. Croisé

En croix (pronounced ahn-crawh), means “in the shape of a cross”.

en croix from first position

en croix, do one tendu side

3- en croix, tendu back

en croix, do one tendu side



How you might hear it: “From first position, do one tendu, en croix.”

The breakdown: This means you would perform the step in every direction. You would start in first position, do one tendu to the front, one to the side, one to the back, and return to the starting point with one final tendu to the side.

Croisé (pronounced crwah-zay), means “crossed”.


How you might hear it: “Tendu front, starting in croisé”

The breakdown: This means instead of facing the mirror and doing tendu directly to the front, you would position your body more towards the corner of the room (or the corner of your imaginary box you’re standing in, as some learn it) and cross your leg to the audience while maintaining your turnout.

2. Tendu vs. Fondu

Tendu (pronounced tahn-doo), means “stretched”.

tendu to the side

How you might hear it: “Tendu front, tendu side, tendu back”

The breakdown: This means you fully stretch your foot from flat to pointed until your toes are the only thing touching the floor. Of course, you would maintain your turnout no matter which direction you performed the step.

Fondu (pronounced fahn-doo), means “melted”.

fondu position

How you might hear it: “Fondu, then extend front”.

The breakdown: This means you plié both legs, and while both knees are bent, only one foot is on the floor and bears all the weight. The other foot is pointed, and possibly wrapped around the standing ankle. As you return to the standing position, and both knees straighten, your working leg would extend in front of your body.

3. Sous-sus vs. Sauté

Sous-sus (pronounced soo-sew), means “under-over”.


How you might hear it: “Plié sous-sus!”

The breakdown: This means you swiftly rise up from demi plié to demi-pointe, or full pointe, with your feet tightly squeezed together in fifth position.

Sauté (pronounced soh-tay), means “jumped”.

saute, means jump

How you might hear it: “In first position, do 16 sautés.”

The breakdown: This means you stand in first position, do a plié, then jump straight into the air, toes pointed, and end in first position, landing with your toes first and your heel last. These are usually very quick, small jumps that your teacher may have you do in rapid succession as a training exercise (as the above example, the teacher is instructing you to do two 8-counts of the step). They can likewise be used sparingly in a simple combination, to help you learn the concept of jumping.

These are some commonly misunderstood terms for adults and youths as well. If you’re ever confused in class, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.

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