What Is an Elevé in Ballet?

The Close Cousin of the Relevé

Male ballet dancers practicing at barre in studio
Thomas Barwick

If you've ever taken a ballet class, then you are familiar with the many French words that are used throughout rehearsal as the teacher whips together combinations for the class to follow. For many people who are not native French speakers, learning what these terms mean in ballet involves understanding the translation of the words as well as the technical aspect of the ballet position.

The élevé and the relevé sound very familiar but they are executed differently from a technical perspective. First, it's important to understand some basic vocabulary words that are used frequently in ballet. 

French Verb Plier

To understand the difference between a relevé and an élevé, it's good to first understand what a plié is. The verb plier means "to bend" in French and is a very common ballet move as well. In its most basic form, when someone performs a plié they simply bend their knees. A dancer can plié in different positions, such as first position, or land a jump in a plié and even go en pointe on plié. 

The Relevé in Ballet

The French verb relever means "to raise." There are many ways to use the word and several different conjugations, but in ballet, it refers to the dancer rising to the balls of his or her feet or going en pointe from a demi-plié. That means there is a bend in the knee before the dancer raises higher. 

Using Elever in Ballet

Going back to the original definitions of this word can help to understand the nuance of the position in ballet. The word élevé comes from the French verb elever, which means "to bring up" or "to rear." This word has a slightly different connotation in the French language as well as a slightly different technical approach in ballet. When a dancer goes on élevé, the dancer is also rising to the balls of the feet, or all the way up to full pointe, from flat feet. However, in élevé the dancer is not rising to the balls of the feet from a plié or a demi-plié. Instead, the dancer goes straight up with a straight leg that has no bend.

An easy way to remember the difference between an élevé and a relevé is to remember that an élevé is similar to an elevator: It goes straight up!