The Language of Ballet

This lesson introduces students to the French vocabulary of ballet


Key Staff

Primary instructor.
Note: You may wish to team-teach this lesson with a dance or physical education teacher, in which case students could actually perform the positions. See the Extension for more information.

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


This lesson introduces students to the French vocabulary of ballet. They will learn basic ballet vocabulary through both verbal and technological instruction. Students will then associate the basic ballet vocabulary with the corresponding physical movements.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Be introduced to classical ballet vocabulary and movement
  • Learn some of the basic ballet leg and arm positions
  • Understand why most ballet terminology is in the French language

Teaching Approach

  • Arts Integration
  • Thematic

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type

Alternative Assessment


What You'll Need

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the ballet vocabulary that will be used.

  • Friedman, Lise. First Lessons in Ballet. New York: Workman Publishing, 1999.

If possible, consult with someone who speaks French to ensure proper pronunciation

Physical Space



Large Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts. Students with physical disabilities will need modified movement options.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Ask students what they already know about ballet.

2. Explain to students that many of the dance steps and dance terms used in ballet come from the French language. Inform students that this is because ballet was popularized in France by King Louis XIV. Explain to students that Louis loved ballet so much that he took dance lessons every day. He started the first school of ballet, and his ballet master, Pierre Beauchamps, created special steps for the king alone to perform.

Build Knowledge

1. Tell students that they are going to learn a few basic ballet terms and the corresponding dance positions. Explain to the students that there are five basic positions in ballet from which all the other dance steps are derived. Have the class view the five positions as you, a student, or another teacher demonstrates, and go over the following definitions.

First Position or Première (prehm-YAHR): In this position, the heels and knees are together, with the legs turned out from the hips toes pointed out so that the feet make a V-shape. Ideally, the feet form a straight line, or a 180-degree angle. The arms are out and in front of the torso, forming a soft curve. The spine is straight, and the head, back, and pelvis are aligned.

Second Position or Second (se-GOHND): In this position, the legs are again turned out from the hips, but the feet are separated about shoulder length apart, still in a V-shape. Eventually, with practice, the feet may form a straight line. The arms are out to the sides and slightly rounded.

Third Position or Troisième (trwah-ZYEM): Keeping the legs turned out from the hips, the dancer crosses the front heel about halfway in front of the other foot, touching it at the middle. Either foot can be used. If the right foot is in front, the right arm is raised overhead in a semicircle. The left arm is extended out to the side. If the left foot is in front, then the left arm is overhead and the right arm is extended.

Fourth Position or Quatrième (kah-tree-EHM): With the legs still turned out from the hips, one foot is placed directly in front of the other, with the forward heel directly in front of the toe of the other foot. There is a space of about twelve inches between the feet. If the right foot is in front, the right arm is raised overhead in a semicircle.

Fifth Position or Cinquième (san-KYEM): With the legs turned out from the hips, the heel of the front foot is placed against the first joint of the other big toe. The arms are lifted and extended overhead into a soft circular shape

2. Once students are familiar with the basic positions, introduce them to some of the fundamental barre exercises and dance steps. Tell the students the names of some of the steps, as well as what they mean in French. The students should guess what the steps look like. To start, tell the students that one of the basic steps is called a plié. Explain that plié means "to bend" in French. Ask students what they think this step might look like. (Ask students already familiar with ballet to refrain from answering at first.) After you have elicited responses, explain to the students that a plié is a basic bending and stretching of the knee. Pliés are good warm-up exercises because they stretch all the muscles of the heel and leg.

3. Have students view a dancer performing a plié at the American Ballet Theatre's Online Dictionary. Note that the dancer begins and ends in first position.


1. Write the following words and translations on the board and ask the students to choose one step to illustrate, based upon the French meaning.

  • Changement: to change
  • Pas de chat: cat step
  • Battement: to beat
  • Grande jeté: large "throwing step"

2. Have the students choose one term and write down what they think the word means in regards to dance. Have the students draw a figure demonstrating what they believe the movement would look like. The drawing may be as simple as a stick figure with arrows or a series of pictures. Give the students several minutes to complete the task. Have them share their responses with the class. You may also wish to have the students demonstrate what they think the movement looks like.


1. After the students share their responses, reveal the definitions of the dance steps, and have the students view the movements at the American Ballet Theatre's Online Dictionary.

2. Distribute the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel and allow students to explore the online dictionary. (Note: Not all of the entries in the online dictionary contain a visual representation of the step.)


For an informal assessment, have the students write the French terminology on one side of an index card and its definition on the other. Have the students test each other using these flash cards. Students should be able to pronounce and define the positions and steps.

Extending the Learning

If the class is being taught, or team taught, by a dance or physical education teacher, the students may actually perform the five basic positions, and some of the basic steps. (Note: students should not only attempt to perform advanced steps, such as pas de chat. Rather, they should focus on basic movements such as plié.)

Be sure to take the students through a warm-up exercise before beginning the physical exercise.

For more information on using dance in the classroom, see these ARTSEDGE "How-To" articles:


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 5-8 Dance Standard 1: Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance

National Standards in Other Subjects
Physical Education

Physical Education Standard 1: Uses a variety of basic and advanced movement forms

Foreign Language

Foreign Language Standard 4: Understands traditional ideas and perspectives, institutions, professions, literary and artistic expressions, and other components of the target culture



Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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