En Dehors, Out the Door

Frequently misspelled and endlessly confused, let’s go over these important dance directions!

There are typically two situations for which en dehors and en dedans are used in ballet and throughout most theatrical dance training.

  1. When indicating the direction of rotation in a pirouette, or turn.
  2. When describing the circular pathway of the leg in movements such as rond de jambe à terre or en l’air.

A bird’s eye view helps to illustrate the sometimes puzzling concepts:

En dehors

In dance, this term means outward. When turning, as the figure on the right above is showing, this outward rotation is relative to the supporting (sometimes called standing) leg. The dancer is thought of as moving “outward” toward whichever leg is lifted in the turn or, in other words, “away” from the supporting leg. Either way, the concept can be confusing for a new dancer. Sometimes thinking too hard about the explanation can confuse things further.

Wrapping one’s head around the idea of pathway is somehow easier. In rond de jambe à terre (on the ground), for instance, you would consider the pathway of the toe as it creates a semi-circle on the floor which, in en dehors, would trace from the front of the body to the back. When “working” or gesturing with the right leg, the action moves clockwise. With the left, counterclockwise.

Going back to pirouettes, it helps to apply this concept of pathway to the lifted knee. For pirouette en dehors, when “working” or gesturing with the right leg, the knee traces a clockwise pattern. When the left leg is lifted, the rotation is counterclockwise.

En dedans

As in right versus left, if it isn’t en dehors then it must be en dedans. Simply reversing the concept above will explain en dedans, which means inward in ballet. The toe in rond de jambe would begin to the back (or behind the body) and travel in a circular pathway toward the front. This time, when the right leg is working the toe orbits counterclockwise. The left moves clockwise from 6 o’clock to 12. Similarly, pirouettes with the right leg lifted rotate counterclockwise and visa versa when the left leg is up.

A few things to keep in mind:

It may help you to think of the knee drawing a circle around the axis of your body in your pirouette en dedans. However, be careful! In a classical turn, do not think of the knee as leading the body around. The leg must remain fully turned-out regardless of the direction you are turning.

Yes, this same terminology applies to fouetté turns, piqué turns (the most common of which are en dedans – read more on piqué turns here), turns à la seconde, grand rond de jambe, and rond de jambe en l’air. I won’t go into their explanations this time. If the concepts of en dehors and en dedans are not yet cemented in your mind, it is likely you aren’t ready to try all of these more advanced movements anyway!

The title of the post is an oft-used memory device reminding the dancer that en dehors means outward. Have you or your teachers used other tactics to remember the difference between en dehors and en dedans? Share them in the comments below the post!

Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)

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  1. Sarah Rowles says:

    The teachers at one of the two schools I am teaching at say, “en-dehors, out the door; en-dedans, in for a scone!” I grew up learning ballet in France and Belgium and so never needed phrases like this as I understood the literal meaning of the words. The concept of both of these terms certainly can be confusing for some students!

  2. What I’m always forgetting, and which many places don’t mention, is that there are starting positions which define if a pirouette will be en dedans or en dehors. For example, starting in 4th position means it’s always en dedans (or is it en dehors?!). It’d be great if you could clarify this for me!

  3. Sarah Rowles says:

    The RAD have a useful way of describing the difference between being in a position in which only one weight-bearing leg is bent calling that a fondu. Then when you are on two bent weight-bearing legs it is called demi-plié. Most commonly a demi-plié in fourth is used for en-dehors pirouettes, and fourth en fondu (front leg bent) for pirouettes en-dedans however, you should be able eventually, at a more advanced level, to turn in any direction from any preparation! Not forgetting that we also occasionally turn en-dehors into arabesque pirouette from fourth en fondu! The teacher should state and or mark clearly which way they want the turn to go in the piece they are setting. 🙂 hope that helps a bit…

    • Thanks, Sarah, yes, it does help, only my teacher didn’t say that both directions were possible, only that demi-plie in fourth is always en dehors and fourth en fondu is always en dedans, and that’s how you can tell which way a turn should be on your own. Is this not accurate then?

      • Thanks Sarah for answering! I love when past commenters jump in and help out other commenters. You made my day!

        Jun-Yi, if your teacher told you that one is always this, and the other is always that, this is what she wants for her classes. So yes, it is absolutely accurate for this situation. That doesn’t mean that there are not other ways to prepare for pirouette turns in either direction. As Sarah stated before, dancers eventually should and may be required to turn any direction from any position.

        Different methods have different ways of approaching the training of pirouettes (and other things). “Right” is what your teacher wants from you but be open and prepared to adapt when you find yourself in class with another teacher or choreographer.

        This applies to terminology too, as we addressed in a recent post for teachers: http://danceadvantage.net/2012/09/01/saut-de-what/

        Best wishes!

        • Sarah Rowles says:

          I second all of that! I was about to respond with the exact same thoughts!! Thanks Nichelle 🙂

  4. Thanks, Sarah and Nichelle, for all your help and clarification! Now if only I could just get good balance every single time I get up on pointe or demi-pointe… 🙂 I know all the tricks (the usual ones, anyway), but it’s so difficult to concentrate on several parts of your body at a time. Even for pirouettes en dehors and en dedans, I still need a moment to figure out which leg is my supporting leg before I think about which direction to turn to!