Did you know that the most comprehensive dictionary about ballet terminologies online currently has over 200 entries? And more terms are being added every day!
But if you’re a classical ballet learner, you might have heard of one term before: Dessous ballet.
Dessous is one of the most foundational moves that are taught to beginners. If you want to move on to more advanced techniques, you must master them.
This guide covers all aspects of dessous, including its definition, steps, and distinctions between “Dessous” and “Dessus” (they may sound the same, but they’re two entirely different concepts!)
Additionally, there’s a ballet vocabulary list filled with extra terms to help you further your ballet studies.
Ready? Let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
Dessous Ballet Definition
Like most ballet terminologies, Dessous is a word with a French root, meaning “underneath” or “below”.
In ballet, the term is used to refer to the position of the dancer’s legs. You’ll call a dancer executing a Dessous when their working leg passes behind the supporting leg during a step.
Dessous is usually done in a plié (with bent legs) or releve (raised up on pointe or demi-pointe).
Dessous Ballet Steps
Dessous is a very versatile move. Depending on the choreography being used, there are many different ways to execute it.
But for starters, the basic Dessous ballet position involves the following steps.
Step 1: Start in a plié or releve position
Dessous can be practiced either in a plié (with legs bent) or releve (raised up on pointe or demi-pointe) position.
Step 2: Move your working leg
Move your working leg either to the side or back behind the supporting leg. Make sure to keep your knee bent and one foot turned out.
But remember, you’re only moving the lower half of your body, not the top. So, as you turn your leg, engage your core and keep your upper body straight and aligned.
With your working leg in position behind (or to the side) of your supporting leg, that’s the basic Dessous position!
You can check your pose in the mirror to better memorize it.
Step 3: Reset
On the next count, bring your working leg back forward and in line with your supporting leg to your starting position, ending with the plié or releve.
Dessous Ballet vs Dessus Ballet
A lot of students confuse dessous and dessus in ballet, especially those who don’t know French. It’s completely understandable, the two words sound very similar. However, these two moves are completely different from one another!
Dessous (pronounced “des-SOO”) refers to just the lower half of the body (i.e. the legs). As we mentioned earlier, it’s used to refer to the position of the working leg when it’s either to the back or to the side of the supporting leg.
Dessus (pronounced “des-SEE”) is the complete opposite. It refers to the upper half of the body (i.e. the arms and shoulders). When we refer to a move with the term “dessus” in it, we’re talking only about moves that utilize the upper portion of the body.
These two terms are usually used in conjunction with one another to describe a complete movement.
For example, a jeté comprises both a dessous and a dessus component.
In this move, the arms and shoulders are stretched upward (dessus) as the dancer springs forward on one foot and lands on the other (dessous).
For ease of memorization, most instructors will tell novice ballet dancers to remember dessus as “above” and dessous as “below”.
You’ll love: Baroque Dance: Origin, Characteristics, Types, Music
Other Essential Ballet Vocabularies
Dessous and dessus aren’t the only vocabularies that you need to learn to become a better and more knowledgeable ballet dancer.
Here’s a list of extra terms that you should consider writing down in a journal or notebook. Memorizing them can greatly help when reading manuals, guidebooks, and textbooks!
Adagio isn’t a move. Rather, it’s a “tempo marking” for ballet.
Basically, when a movement is referred to as “adagio”, it’ll have to be slow, sustained, and expressive. This class of moves is characterized by smooth, flowing movements and long leg extensions.
Adagio is one of the fundamental styles of movements in ballet and it is used in many variations. Typically, they’re reserved for the performance of sections in ballet with slow and melodic music.
When performing an adagio, the focus of the dancer must entirely be on grace, balance, and control. After all, the point of an adagio passage in the first place is to showcase the dancers’ gracefulness and technical control!
Many adagio passages are structured in pax de deux (duets) format to showcase the partnership and connection between the main dancers (for example, the famous White Adagio in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake).
In ballet, arabesque is a movement or position in which a dancer extends one leg behind their body while balancing on the other leg. Then, they will extend their arms in front of or above the head. The working leg is generally turned out and the supporting leg is often in a plié.
The term “arabesque” is derived from the French word “arabesques” meaning “in the style of the Arabs”. The name is an homage to the fluid, curved lines of the dancer’s body in this position.
The arabesque is considered one of the most important and classic positions in ballet. There are four different variations of the traditional arabesque in total, and they’re simply referred to as the first, second, third, and fourth arabesque.
We won’t be going into detail in this article, but there’ll be an article dedicated entirely to the arabesque soon!
You may already know the meaning behind this French term. Meaning “assemble” in French, the assemblé is a move in ballet that consists of a big leap into the air using the working leg. Then, while airborne, the dancer will bring their feet or legs together (assemble) and land with both feet.
The assemblé is considered an intermediate step in ballet since the learner will need a degree of control and coordination in order to execute this move perfectly and safely.
It can be performed in various directions, such as forward, backward, or to the side. The assemblé is a highly versatile move, too, and can be performed as a single step or in a sequence.
Similar to adagio, ballon isn’t a specific move, but rather a tempo marking for the dance.
In ballet, ballon refers to the appearance of lightness and ease in the movement, as if the dancer is “bouncing” or “floating” on the balls of their feet. When done correctly, a dancer will appear as if they’re defying the laws of physics when they’re executing a ballon passage.
For example, watch this series of grand jeté being performed by Natalia Osipova. She looked like she was hovering mid-air. That’s the aesthetic that the term ballon refers to!
In ballet, a coupé is a step where one foot is quickly cut in front or behind the other foot. This sharp cutting motion is the defining characteristic of the coupé. After all, the word “coupé” in French means “cut” or “cut off”!
Coupé is often used in combination with other steps such as sautés, glissades, and chassés, to create a sense of speed, sharpness, and precision. There’s also the coupé dessous, meaning to cut behind your supporting foot with your working foot.
While it may look difficult, coupé is actually one of the very first steps that you’ll learn in ballet.
It’s quite easy to master, too. And it shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours of practice to get the basic motion down.
But don’t mistake its simplicity for being unnecessary: mastering the coupé is a must if you want to learn advanced techniques later on.
Yet another basic step in ballet, a dégagé is a step where one foot is quickly brushed or “swept” out to the side, and then immediately brought back to line up with the supporting foot.
The word “dégagé” means “disengaged” or “released” in French, referring to the brushing or sweeping motion of the foot to the side. It is a quick, light movement, often used in combination with other steps such as pirouettes.
Developpé is a move that showcases the perfect control of a ballet dancer over their body. In this move, the dancer raises and slowly extends their working leg to the front, side, or back while keeping the supporting leg straight.
The word “developpé” means “to develop” or “unfold” in French and perfectly describes the gradually-raising motion of the leg.
The developpé is one of the most beautiful moves in ballet, but you don’t have to be a pro-level ballet dancer to study it. In fact, the developpé is often taught to novice dancers in order to strengthen their muscles and test their flexibility.
At first, you’ll be expected to perform the developpé at the barre to aid with balance. Once your movements are correct and you can stand on your own, the barre is removed.
Glissade is a movement where a dancer moves one foot quickly and smoothly to the side. When you perform this move, imagine your foot as “gliding” across the top of the floor (“glide” is the meaning of glissade in French, anyway!)
Port de Bras
In ballet, Port de Bras (or “carriage of the arms” in French) refers to the movements and positions of the arms and shoulders. It is one of the most important aspects of classical ballet.
Port de Bras includes a wide range of movements, such as lifting and lowering the arms, reaching out and up, and circling the arms. Each movement has to be smooth, graceful, and in perfect sync and harmony with the movement of the lower body (i.e. the legs and feet).
But Port de Bras doesn’t just include the motions of the arms. This concept also encompasses the head and shoulders (épaulement), as well. As a result, in Port de Bras exercises, you’ll be working both your arms, shoulders, and head, combining them to create the perfect picture of grace!
Together, the two arms have five positions that they can be in. Each arm also has five single positions on its own. Therefore, in Port de Bras, you’ll have fifteen different exercises in total to go through in class to improve the quality of your upper body movements.
Dessous, dessus, dégagé, developpé … so many foreign words with complicated meanings behind them all!
But no worries, with consistent practice and repetition, the meanings of these terms will become second nature in no time. Before long, you’ll be able to rattle them off at the top of your head just by seeing a video or recording of the move.
We hope this guide has been useful for you both in understanding the dessous as well as giving you a few extra terms for your study notes!
If you have any other questions about these moves, leave them in the comment section. We’ll get back to you as soon as we’re able to!