We’re all guilty of it – using dance terms that we kiiinda know what they mean, but haven’t actually looked up.

We figure out their definitions based on context or asking another dancer who is only slightly more familiar with them.

You’ll feel much more equipped as a dancer if you take the time to learn what those words actually mean.

This list below includes commonly used dance terms and their definitions.

Look up a dance term you’re unsure of, or brush up on all of ‘em!

8-Count

  • An 8 count is the most general way to break down the structure of a song
  • Most dances (except the waltz) are counted and choreographed to 8 segments of count, or two 4-count measures back to back
  • Before you get to moving to any count, you first have to be able to recognize where the count is. You can do this by catching on to the rhythm of the song and counting the beats – in increments of 8
  • Hip hop usually focuses on songs on standard 4/4 time, which means there are 4 beats/counts in every bar, or every measure – but note that not all songs follow this signature! There’s 3/4, 4/8, 7/8, 11/16
  • See Related Article: The Ultimate Guide To Musicality For Beginner Dancers

Ball Change

  • A ball change is a 2-step move where you transfer the weight of the ball of foot 1 behind or by the other foot
  • The kick ball change, as the name suggests, is when you kick or scuff your foot before the ball change

Bass

  • In music, the bass is the lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano), or, the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, that supports the harmony
  • Different instruments can produce a bass sound (drums, guitar..)
  • Dancers often use the onomatopoeia “boom” to describe a bass drum sound

Cypher

  • A group of dancers in a circle
  • Dancers take turns dancing in the center
  • You’ll most likely hear this in reference to a freestyle or “jamming” circle where dancers gather around the person dancing “in” the circle

Dynamics

Focus

  • Your focus is where you are looking while you dance
  • Common ones are: right, left, up, down, and the “45”s which is the diagonals between those sides

Freestyle

  • Freestyle is improvisational dancing that allows the dancer to express their individual style (i.e. a dance that is not pre-planned)
  • It’s the process of spontaneously creating movement that was not choreographed ahead of time
  • See Related Article: 5 Dance Tips To Begin Your Freestyle Foundation

Fundamentals

  • Hip Hop Fundamentals refer to the 4 pillars of Hip Hop Culture
  • Originating in the 1970s in New York City, they are: Emceeing, DJing, Graffiti, and Breakdancing
  • Fundamental / Foundational Styles refer to the different dance styles developed from Hip Hop and funk music including: breakdancing, popping, locking, house, punking / waacking, vogueing

Full Out

  • When you dance with 100% of your energy
  • When you should perform with cleanliness, timing (that you should’ve practiced in your mark)

Groups

  • This is when the class is divided into smaller sections, and each group will take turns performing  the piece as the other students watch
  • This can get intimidating! But it’s also an integral part to your growth. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and just go for it!
  • See Related Article: How To Get The Most Out Of Dance Class (Video)

Hi-Hat

  • A hi-hat is a sound produced by a hi-hat cymbal
  • Dancers often describe this sound as “tss tss”

Holds

  • When you hold a move/pose and not move during a count

Isolation

  • When you stay in a pose and don’t move during for a count (or more)
  • See “Pictures”

Levels

  • Refers to how high or low your body gets
  • Hitting low levels require you to bend your knees or “plie”
  • Hitting high levels may involve getting on your toes in “releve”
  • Match levels with the choreographer or other dancers by looking in the mirror to check you are as low/high as everyone else

Mark

  • Dancing a piece of choreography with less energy for practice
  • Marking means that you are doing the piece more in your head than on your body – but you should still be doing it with your body
  • This allows you to be more conscious of the music, timing, and where your body placements are rather than releasing your bankai
  • The choreographer might use percentages to indicate how much energy you should be putting into your mark
    • Example: “Let’s go just 50% for this first run-through!” or “Mark it around 80%”

Milking

  • When you extend movements throughout a portion of the piece or music
  • At the end of a move, instead of “putting a period” on it and ending it definitely by stopping the movement, think of it as a “…”
    • The “dot dot dot,” connoting that you’re dragging out that move
    • Extend its pathway past “B,” what would’ve been the stopping point without the milking
  • Or, you can milk from one picture into a completely new picture
    • To practice this, set 2 poses.
    • Every 4 counts, change your position.. but here’s the challenge! Use a different pathway each time, to slowwwly get your body where it needs to be
  • Think of milking as a change in acceleration (ooh, physics terms!)
    • Really, all moves are some sort of slowing down, speeding up, or stopping.
    • Milking is just the term for gently stepping on your brakes. Where your car goes (the pathway) is up to you

Musicality

  • Musicality, for dancers, refers to the matching of movement to the rhythm, melody, and mood of the music
  • “Dance musicality” is demonstrated in several ways, depending on the dancer’s style, the song, and countless other elements

Lyrics

  • The words that the singer is singing to. Often in sync with the melody.
  • The lyrics are probably the easiest to distinguish, but hardest to count / dance to, since vocals don’t always match the strict structure of 8-counts
  • Sometimes choreographers will make moves that correlate with the lyrics, like miming actions or using certain body parts

Plié

  • A smooth and continuous bending of the knees outward with the upper body held upright.

Pictures

  • The body placement and angles at a specific point in time of a piece of choreography
  • Think of pictures as literal pictures.
  • If someone were to take a photo of you on the count that you’re hitting a picture, the clearer that photo turns out to be the “cleaner” you are executing that picture
  • The timing at which you reach that pose, and the timing out of it, should match the exact sound in the music that your picture’s supposed to land on
  • You can either switch directly from pose A to pose B, or “milk” in the pathway between them – but the count that the picture is supposed to be on, should be unmoving (whether it’s for .00001 miliseconds or 30 seconds!)

Rhythm

  • Rhythm is the repetitive patterns within the music
  • It’s how we “count” our beats (see “8-count”) and measure our movements.

Select Group

  • A group of students chosen by the choreographer to demonstrate the piece to the rest of the class
  • The criteria for the selected dancers is solely up to the choreographer
    • The selected dancers may have been really clean, not so clean but performed the crap out of it, had a lot of personal style, or were just fun to watch.
    • There are so many reasons you can get chosen or not for a select group, so don’t overthink it!
  • If the choreographer calls out a “any 10 people” or “any 5 people” to be in a group, and you feel comfortable with the piece, you should push yourself to go up!

Snare

  • It’s the sharp, staccato drum sound you hear, like the sound you make when you clap your hands
  • Dancers often describe as snare as “ka!”

Strings

  • The segment of music created by stringed instruments like guitars, violins, etc.
  • Guitar strums and melodies are also useful to take note of, for more instrumental / acoustic songs

Switching lines

  • When a class rotates from the front to back and vice versa to give everyone a chance to be in the front
  • When the choreographer says to “switch lines” – if you’re in the front of the room, move to the back, and vice versa
  • This is to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance at having a good view of the choreographer throughout the class. It’d be a little selfish to stay in the front the whole time, right?
  • See Related Article: The Ultimate Guide To Taking A Dance Class For Beginner Dancers

Synth

  • A “synth” sound, from a sound synthesizer, is produced by electric signals converted to sound through amps and loudspeakers
  • A common reference to a “synth” is the synth piano, which may sound like a long, slow bass like “wobba wobba”

Tempo

  • The speed of the music
  • As you’re learning a piece, the choreographer will teach in slow tempo, then speed it up to medium, and finally “tempo,” AKA the real time speed of the song

Textures

  • The dynamics and tension you create within your body
  • Think of textures the way you think of the physical connotation of the word
    • Have you ever heard dancers being described as “smooth“? They probably move like honey.
  • Visualize the way that a song feels
    • Is it staccato, with abrupt starts and stops? Is it flowy and silk-like, with lots of vocals? Is it gruff and interrupted, like an angry rap song?
  • While many songs do embody a specific “texture,” most have elements of several
  • And because a lot of songs carry with them hints of different textures, the variation in your hits, milks, and speed, are all going to contribute to how well you embody those textures, and subsequently how you match the music

Transitions

  • In a set, transitions are the movements that are used to connect 2 different pieces
  • The music will change, and there will be dancers “transitioning” on and off the stage

 

Now that you have a better grasp of these dance terms, you can see them in action. Take a class on STEEZY Studio for real-life demos of these moves and ideas. Sign up for free today!
Did we miss an important dance term? Was there one in particular that you had an “Ohhhhh..” moment while reading? Comment below and share with us!