Dance Terms List

dance terms list

Becoming familiar with dance requires a knowledge of the sport's terminology and lingo. Members of the dance community have their own unique language when it comes to describing certain aspects of the sport. This glossary of terms includes some of the most commonly used words and phrases within popular forms of dance such as ballet, breakdancing, and ballroom dance.


List of Dance Glossary Terms

Adagio: Used to describe slow, sustained movements within ballet dances. Adagio exercises focus on slow, controlled movements that require balance, extension, strength, and poise.

Allegro: A type of ballet dance that involves a fast or moderate tempo. Allegro dance is typically made up of fast turning or jumping movements.

Aplomb: A stationary position in ballet.

Arabesque: A common ballet position in which the dancer stands on one leg with the other leg extended backward at a 90-degree angle.

Arm styling: Positioning and movement of the arms within ballet dance. Arm styling is used to reflect the character and style of the dance.

Attitude: A ballet dance position in which the dancer raises one leg and bends their knee while simultaneously raising one arm.

Backspin: A breakdancing move in which the dancer balances weight on their upper back and spins their body by pushing their hands against the ground.

Ball change: A dance move in which the dancer's weight is partially transferred to the ball of one foot, followed by a step on the other foot.

Ballerina: Italian term for a female ballet dancer. Prima ballerina, otherwise known as the first dancer, is a term used to describe ballet dancers who take on leading roles.

Ballerino: Italian term for a male ballet dancer.

Ballet: A form of dance that is classical and theatrical in nature. Ballet is performed on stage and makes use of costumes, scenic design, and lighting to tell a story or express an emotion.

Ballon: A ballet dancer's ease of jumping. Ballon essentially describes a dancer's ability to remain suspended in the air during a jump.

Ballroom dance: Social dances performed by a couple. In ballroom dancing, couples use step-patterns and move rhythmically to express the characteristics of the music. Ballroom dancing consists of two styles - Smooth / Standard and Rhythm / Latin.

Barrel jump: A turning jump in which the dancer's body is parallel with or horizontal to the floor.

Breakdancing: An energetic form of dance that involves stylized footwork and floor movements such as spins, freezes, poses. Also known as breaking or b-boying, breakdancing was born in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was popularized by African-Americans and Latinos.

Cabriole: A ballet dance move in which the dancer leaps in the air, beats their lower leg against their upper leg at an angle, then lands on the ground with the lower leg.

Cambre: A ballet position in which the dancer bends at the waist, either to the side or to the back.

Choreography: The compilation of steps, patterns, and movements that make up a dance routine.

Ciseaux: A ballet dance move in which the dancer leaps in the air, opens their legs so that their feet are wide apart, then closes them upon landing. The dancer's body is meant to resemble a pair of scissors.

Croisee: A ballet dance position in which the dancer holds their body at an oblique angle and places their working leg across the line of their body.

Cuban motion: The rhythmic swaying of the hips often observed in Latin and Rhythm ballroom dances. Cuban motion is caused by the bending and straightening of the knees, which allows the hips to move from side to side. Cuban motion is more noticeable in slow dances such as the Rumba and Bolero.

Cypher: An event in which a group of dancers gather together in a circle and everyone takes turns dancing in the center. Cyphers are also referred to as freestyle circles. Dances that occur within cyphers are typically improvisational in nature.

Drop: A theatrical ballroom dance move in which the follower's body weight is partially or completely supported by the leader while a part of the follower's body remains in contact with the floor.

Entrechat: A ballet move in which the dancer repeatedly crosses their legs in the air.

Fifth position: One of five ballet positions. When in fifth position, the dancer's feet are turned outwards from each other while both arms are rounded above the head.

First position: One of five ballet positions. When in first position, the dancer's heels are touched together and the toes are pointed outward, forming a line with the feet. Additionally, the dancer's arms should be rounded.

Fourth position: One of five ballet positions. When in fourth position, the dancer's right foot should be turned out in front of the left foot while the left arm is rounded over the head. The dancer's right arm should be rounded in front, just like it would be in first position.

Freestyle: An improvisational form of dancing that allows dancers to express their individual style. Freestyle dancing involves spontaneous movements that are not choreographed ahead of time.

Freeze: A move done in breakdancing where the dancer stops their performance and holds a position, typically balancing on their shoulder, head, or hands.

Gyro: A breakdancing move in which the dancer continuously rotates on one shoulder while their feet are extended in the air and their legs are spread apart. The gyro is also known as the Windmill or Helicopter.

Hand spin: Also known as the hand glide, this is a breakdancing move in which the dancer spins on one hand with their body positioned parallel to the ground.

Head spin: A breakdancing move in which the dancer assumes a headstand position and spins by pushing their hands against the ground.

Lead and follow: This concept is an essential part of ballroom dancing. Partner dancing requires one person to take the lead while the other person follows. Leaders initiate movement, transitions, and guide their partner through the dance. Meanwhile, the follower reacts to the leader's movements and follows to create a unified dance.

Line of dance: In ballroom dancing, this refers to the imaginary line on the floor meant to represent the flow of traffic for dancers. The line of dance always moves in a counterclockwise direction to prevent dancers from accidentally making contact with each other. Travelling dances such as the foxtrot, tango, and waltz make use of the line of dance.

Locking: A breakdancing technique in which the dancer repeatedly collapses their body then locks it back into shape.

Open and closed position: Positions in ballroom dancing. Closed position refers to a couple holding each other while standing face to face. Meanwhile, open position refers to a couple standing apart from each other. When assuming an open position, partners have the option to face inward or outward, hold one or both hands, or stand independently of each other.

Plie: A ballet dance position in which the dancer bends their knees while holding their torso upright.

Popping: A breakdancing technique in which the dancer continuously flexes their muscles to the beat of the music. A common popping move is to form arm and body waves so that it appears as if an electrical current has passed through the dancer's body.

Promenade: In ballet, this is when a dancer slowly pivots their body while standing on one leg.

Rhythm / Latin: A form of ballroom dance that includes the cha-cha, rumba, east coast swing, bolero, and mambo. This style of ballroom dance emphasizes vibrant displays of energy and personal flair.

Saute: In ballet, this is a simple jump in the vertical direction.

Second position: One of five ballet positions. When in second position, the dancer's feet should be separated about shoulder-width apart with the toes turned outward. Additionally, the dancer's arms should be outstretched and slightly rounded.

Smooth / Standard: A form of ballroom dance that includes the waltz, tango, foxtrot, and Viennese waltz. This style of ballroom dance emphasizes the elegance, grace, and fluidity of movement. Dancers rotate in a counterclockwise direction across the dance floor and constantly transition from one place to the next in a fixed pattern.

Spotting: A technique used in ballroom dancing to reduce dizziness during spins and turns. When spotting, a dancer chooses a reference point to focus on for as long as possible while spinning or turning. When the dancer can no longer see the reference point during their spin or turn, they quickly whip their head around to spot the reference point again.

Third position: One of five ballet positions. When in third position, the dancer's left foot should be placed forward while the heel of the right foot is placed against the arch of the left foot. The dancer's right arm should be extended out to the side while the left arm is rounded over the head.

Tour: In ballet, this is a turn of the body.

8-count: The manner in which music is counted and broken down. Hip-hop dances are typically choreographed to eight counts at a time.