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Dancing on air: unpacking ballet allegro

Updated: Mar 13

ly Dance teacher Diana Scalzi performing a grand jeté
Dragonfly Dance teacher Diana Scalzi performing a grand jeté

One of the most exciting elements of ballet are the steps of elevation, collectively known as ‘allegro’ steps. ‘Allegro’ is an Italian word used to describe music that is fast and lively, whereas in ballet, it refers to the types of steps where the dancer leaves the floor. 


In a standard ballet technique class, the ‘allegro’ section comes towards the end of the class, once the dancer has completed all the relevant movements to prepare their muscles for the extreme effort required to leave the floor, and land safely and without injury.

Types of ballet allegro – take off and landing


‘Steps of elevation’ in ballet refer to movements where the dancer propels their body upwards, using the strength in their legs and feet, to leave the floor. 

There are not really five types of ballet jumps, because not all allegro steps are 'jumps'.

They can be categorised into different types depending on how many feet the dancer takes off from and lands on.  There are three main types – leaps, hops, and jumps.  And jumps can be further divided into three sub-types.


Leaps or springs

Leaps or springs, are where the dancer takes off from one foot and lands on the other.  For this reason can be called a ‘one to one’ step.  Some of these steps are called ‘jeté’, meaning ‘to throw’. Another ballet step in this category is a glissade, which means ‘to glide’.


Hops, are where the dancer launches from one foot and lands on the same foot.  Thes are also called ‘1 to 1’ steps.  The ballet term is ‘temp levé’, which means ‘time raised’.


Jumps refer to either taking off or landing on two feet, and can be subdivided into:

  • Sauté, which means ‘to jump’ is a ‘2 to 2’ step where the dancer takes off from and lands on both feet

  • Sissone is a ‘2 to 1’ step, meaning the dancer launches from two feet but lands on one.  The term is often mistranslated as ‘scissor’, because some types of sissonne look like the legs are scissoring, however, the step is named after le Comte de Sissone, le François César de Roucy, a dancer and nobleman in the court of King Louis XIV who is widely considered the creator of this step, and excelled at its execution.

  • Assemblé, meaning ‘to assemble’ which is a ‘1 to 2’ step.  The dancer takes off from one foot and lands on two.  The assemblé usually starts in a demi plié, then one leg swishes out and the dancer pushes off the floor with the other foot, ‘assembles’ their feet together in the air, and lands on two feet.  To the casual observer, an assemblé looks like the dancer is taking off from two feet, which can make it quite a tricky step for a novice dancer to learn.


Speed and size of ballet allegro steps


Within the allegro section, there are four different sub-sections, which include:

Petit allegro

  • Small and fast movements

  • Petit allegro might include steps such as sauté in 1st or second position, echappé sauté, soubresaut, changement, petit jeté, and jeté ordinaire, sissonne ordinaire, temp levé cou-de-pied

Grand allegro

  • Large and expansive movements,

  • Grand allegro includes steps such as grand jeté, saut de chat, cabriole, full contretemp, saut de basque


  • Types of elevation steps where the feet beat together in mid air.

  • Types of batterie steps include entrechat quatre, changement battu, jeté battu, assemble battu, brisé

Medium allegro

  • Steps that fall between petit and grand allegro.

  • There isn’t a specific name for medium sized steps of elevation, and these steps are really part of a continuum from small and fast to large and expansive.

  • Medium allegro might includes steps such as sissonne ouverte or fermé, assemble, glissade, pas de chat.


Of course, some of these steps will fit into more than one category, such as cabriole, which is both a batterie and a grand allegro step, and glissade which might be found in petit allegro and medium sized allegro.


Ballon for ballet allegro

An important element of allegro is ‘ballon’, which refers to the appearance of floating or hovering in the air and landing effortlessly.  The word ‘ballon’ means ‘balloon’ in French, which wonderfully describes the floating quality achieved by a dancer with good ballon.  Ballet is known for striving to create movement that looks effortless, and ballon contributes to this illusion of weightlessness.


Tips to improve ballon


The plie preceding the takeoff and following the landing are key.  It’s important to think of the abdominals and torso actively lifting even as you melt into the plie.  This concept of lifting up while descending in the plie is called ‘dynamic opposition’. Work on creating a plie that doesn’t ‘stop’ at the bottom of the plie, and instead slows down at the bottom of the plie before stretching legs again.


Foot articulation

Focus on articulating through the foot every time you perform a battement tendu, working through demi pointe to full pointe, and back through demi pointe as you close.  Working on articulation every time you perform a battement tendu and  related steps (such as degage, battement glisse, battement jete, grand battement) helps to develop power nd control in your toes and ankles.  The foot articulation used in the battement tendu is also used in elevation, on both the take off and landing.


Quality of plié

Make sure you don’t ‘sit’ in your plie.  There should be less tiem in the plie, and more time in the air.  If you are performing sequential hops, springs, or jumps, as soon as you reach the dept of the plie, you take off again.  Sitting in the plie reduces momentum and makes jumps look and feel more heavy.


Use of arms and legs

Consider how you use your arms and legs while jumping. Whenever you lift your arms or legs, your centre of gravity rises.  In a leap, the dancer’s arms often move from 1st position to arabesque or 5th, and in certain leaps, such as grand jete, the legs split in the air.


When standing with feet hip width apart and arms by your sides, your centre of gravity is located in your pelvic area.  Whenever you leave the floor, your centre of gravity follows a ballistic trajectory.  By raising the arms or legs while ascending, and lowering them while descending, you change the path of the centre of gravity, which makes it look as if you are floating. 


You have the power to improve your ballet allegro by simply understanding the five different types of allegro (or elevation) steps, based on knowing how many feet to take off from, and how many you land on.  This knowledge is important, because it’s not always easy to see this detail, particularly for steps like assemblé, which looks like you are taking off from two feet because you swish one leg out and then push off from the other foot) and sissonne fermé, where you land on one leg and quickly close the other. 

Another way to improve your allegro is understanding ballon, and implement the techniques to improve ballon, such as strengthening your feet, learning to control your plie, improving coordination of the plie in the take off and landing, and being aware of the trajectory of your centre of gravity.

Stay tuned for more posts, coming soon, which will unpick details of the various allegro steps.


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