Relevé is a classical ballet term meaning “raised.” It describes the action when a dancer rises up and seemingly is standing “on their toes” in a demi-pointe or a fully en pointe.
Relevé is a ballet step that is taught to beginner’s in some of the earliest classes. It can be done in many different positions and on one or both legs. For example, a dancer can do a relevé in all the positions of the feet (first, second, fourth and fifth), and also in positions like arabesque or attitude.
A relevé can “end” in a couple different positions. The first being demi-pointe, which is usually done in flat ballet shoes. A dancer relevéing to demi-pointe will raise their heels while trying to relax their toe joints so they can have be in a “high demi-pointe” which would describe the dancer’s heel being high off the ground. The toes remain flat and relaxed on the floor.
When a relevé is described going to full pointe, or en pointe, it is usually done by a female dancer in pointe shoes. This is because it is unsafe and unpractical to rise on to the tips of the toes if not properly supported by pointe shoes.
A male dancer in flat shoes will never, or should never, attempt to go on full point when doing a relevé, again, since it is not safe and there is not a step in classical ballet that calls for it.
Relevé is a step that builds a lot of strength in a dancer’s feet, calves, and thighs that allows him or her to do many types of jumps and turns. This is why some ballet classes will have a combination at barre, or center, that has the dancers doing a long series of relevés on one or two legs.
Practicing series of relevés at a barre is a great way for dancers to gain strength in their feet and entire legs, including the calves and thighs. Finishing a relevé is almost always, and therefore usually assumed by dancers, finished with straight legs, even if starting from a plié. Because engaging the thigh muscles and “lifting” the knee cap in order to maintain straight legs, a relevé exercise ends up conditioning and working the thigh muscles. The calves also get worked because they are engaged to help maintain the foot’s arched position over the toes.