Parlez-vous français? Why is Ballet in French?

Parlez-vous français? Why is Ballet in French?

Ballet is the epitome of grace and sophistication which captivates audiences and dancers worldwide with its seamless movements and ethereal beauty. As adult dancers and beginner dancers, any dreams we may have had for a professional career are (probably) in the distant past, but we do share the same language with all ballet dancers across the world. In this blog, we explore the historical significance of French terminology in ballet and uncover why it remains an integral part of this mesmerising art form.


Ballet's rich history dates back to the Italian Renaissance, but it was in the French courts of the 17th century that the art form truly flourished. King Louis XIV, an ardent supporter of ballet, founded the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661, which played a pivotal role in shaping ballet as we know it today. To maintain a sense of exclusivity and sophistication, the French language became intertwined with ballet, reflecting the aristocratic circles that embraced this art form.

French ballet terminology has remained in use for centuries due to its effectiveness in conveying precise movements and positions. These terms have become the lingua franca of ballet, ensuring clear communication among dancers, instructors, and choreographers worldwide. As ballet evolved and spread internationally, the standardized French vocabulary allowed dancers from different backgrounds to collaborate seamlessly, preserving the integrity and universality of the art form.

French ballet terminology often captures the essence of the movement or position it represents. Each term carries a nuanced meaning, enabling dancers to convey specific emotions and intentions. For example, the term "pas de bourrée," meaning "beating steps," evokes a light and delicate quality, while "grand jeté," meaning "big throw," portrays the expansive and soaring nature of the movement. These linguistic nuances enrich the storytelling aspect of ballet, allowing dancers to express themselves with precision and poetic imagery. Exactly how we individually interpret each movement is of course subject to our own abilities!

The French language's influence extends beyond terminology and permeates ballet technique itself. The foundational techniques and codified movements, such as those found in the iconic ballets of French-Russian Marius Petipa who was the most influential ballet master and choreographer in the 19th century, were developed in France. These techniques, including the five positions of the feet and the precise alignment of the body, have become fundamental to ballet training worldwide, contributing to the French language's enduring presence in the ballet community.

ballet movement | dance | Britannica

French ballet terminology not only represents a historical legacy but also serves as a vital tool for communication and artistic expression within the ballet world. Its usage has facilitated global standardisation, ensuring dancers from diverse backgrounds can collaborate seamlessly. The poetic and evocative nature of French terms adds an extra layer of beauty and depth to ballet classes and performances. As we revel in the elegance of this timeless art form, we can also embrace the French language as an integral part of ballet's enduring legacy.

Through the continued use of French terminology, all ballet dancers pay homage to the art's historical roots while simultaneously enabling a universal language of expression. The grace and precision of ballet are heightened by the linguistic intricacies embedded within the French language, showcasing the enduring connection between language and art.

We hope you found this little bit of ballet history interesting. Next time you are in class, take a moment to remember that the terminology being used is our very special universal ballet language that we share with every single ballerina in the world! Whether we are on flat foot or pointe, if we are working with minimal turnout or perhaps we don't bend much, we are all dancers and that really is something to savour. 

Bonne danse xoxo

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