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Dance Resources: Dance Vocabulary

In this guide, you will find a wide range of credible resources for your research, as well as a list of sites to avoid. Other information include proper searches, evaluation of websites, databases, and books related to the subject of Dance.

Dance Vocabulary

Dalcroze Eurhythmic­s—was developed by Swiss musician and educator Émile Jacques-Dalcroze in the early 20th century, one of several developmental approaches to teaching music developed during this period. Dalcroze Eurhythmics teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement. It focuses on allowing the student to gain physical awareness and experience of music through training all of the senses, but particularly the kinesthetic. Eurhythmics often introduces a musical concept through movement before the students learns its visual representation. This sequence translates to heightened body awareness and an association of rhythm with a physical experience for the student, reinforcing concepts kinesthetically. Eurhythmics was used as a dance training tool and movement system by many early modern dancers and by the Ballet Russe.


Dance—is constructed human movement that follows guiding principals of structure, body language, and meaning. It can be a performing art, a participatory activity, and a religious expression as defined and recognized by performers and observers within a particular community or culture. Dance can be categorized and described by movement inventories, styles of choreography, historical period, and place of origin or occurrence. Other forms of movement activity, particularly sports, are said to have “dance-like” qualities. Some of these activities, in fact, use dance vocabulary and elements of choreography. Dance also uses movements and energies from other forms. These include: martial arts, capoeira, gymnastics, cheer squads, figure skating, synchronized swimming, marching bands. Many are also performance forms and the distinctions between them and dance may depend on context and performer identification.


Dance Educationrefers to all methods of learning dance techniques and styles. It is generally broken into two large categories. Studio  refers to centers that only teach how to dance. Dance in the schools most often refers to dance programs embedded in public and private pre-K through high school taught either by school-based educators or by Teaching Artists —dancers who are employed by outside agencies who work in the school on time-limited specific projects often in conjunction with classroom teachers. College and universitiy dance programs include curriculum that may encompass: dance practice and performance, choreography, ethnochoreologykinesiologydance notation, and dance therapy.


Dance performance—generally includes constructed sequences of movement that follow a distinct set of instructions, paths or other modes of ordering established by a choreographer following a personal aesthetic, often also shaped by general, current or historic artistic approaches. Performed movement may tell a story and may, or may not, have symbolic value depending on context and the observer. When it does not, it is called abstract.


Dance Studies—refers primarily to the academic study of dance. Dance Studies occur in such varied fields as: popular and cultural studies, performance studies, dance, music, and theatre studies, film, television, and new media studies, anthropology, sociology, art history, and history. In the humanities in general various theoretical constructs have affected these studies among them: structuralism, post-structuralism, phenomenological approaches, queer theory, feminism, critical race theory, postcolonial studies; the recent “affective turn” in the sciences and arts have all influenced the ways about which popular dance and pop dance culture are being theorized and written. 


Dance Movement Therapyis the psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance to support intellectual, emotional, and motor functions of the body. As a form of expressive therapy it looks at the correlation between movement and emotion.


Dancer—Anyone who dances.


Improvisationis the process of spontaneously creating movement. Improvisation is an artistic practice that is both used for exploration and creation of material for choreography, and is a unique performative practice. Improvised movement material is generally, but not always, facilitated through an idea or structure that provides a platform for movement exploration.


Laban Movement Analysis (LMA)—in dance today primarily refers to a method of recording dance in written form, “dance notation.”  A multidisciplinary (anatomy, kinesiology, psychology) approach for studying time/motion efficiency invented by Rudolph Laban, it was originally intended to help optimize early industrial prodution. Extended  and adapted largely by Irmgard Bartenieff, with Lisa Ullmann and Warren Lamb ,and many others, Laban as a method is a language for describing, visualizing, interpreting and documenting all varieties of human movement. The complexity of the system requires years of training before it can be effectively written or read meaning unlike music notation, most dance practitioners do not utilize the system. A related form, Choreometrics , was devised for recording traditional or folk dance by Bartenieff with folklorist Alan Lomax.


Participatory danceis intended for the participants who have a common purpose rather than the onlookers. It includes all forms of dance in which non-professionals participate in the activity. It is also known as social dance, community, or traditional dance. Dances performed to current popular musics are often improvised concerned more with musical interpretation than specific steps. On the other hand, some cultures lay down strict rules as to the particular dances in which, for example, men, women and children may or must participate and for how they are done. Purposes may include:  social interaction, observation of cultural or communal traditions, religious observation, and exercise. Participatory dances are also created by choreographers who invite the audience to join in elements of the performance.


Performancegenerally comprises an event in which one or more live, artistic constructions are presented to an audience


Performative—relates to, or of the nature of, dramatic or artistic performance. Also, used in linguistic philosophy.


Popular Danceis a general term used to refer to current and historic social dance styles.


Technique—Particular, stylized approaches to movement  connected with different movement styles. The correct way to do a movement for that style. 


Theatrical or Concert Dance—is an umbrella term for the many dance forms that are used in theatrical performances and in particular in the U.S. “Broadway” musical, but it can be applied to any dance is intended to be observed by an audience. Theatrical dance often draws on tap, ballet, jazz, modern, and social dance forms, all of which are described here. Theatrical dance, however, is always in the service of furthering the plot or storyline. The Black Crook—is often called the first Musical. While tied by an extremely loosely structured melodrama, it is the first known performance where songs and dances are interspersed throughout a single story line. It ran for a record-breaking 474 performances, then toured extensively for decades with various companies. It was revived on Broadway in 1870–71, 1871–72 and, in Fall 2016, a version was performed celebrating the shows 150th anniversary at New York City’s Abrons Arts Center. Oaklahoma, with choreography by Agnes DeMill, is considered the first modern musical. It introduced the idea of dance not as detached entertainment, but as an extension of the action. In particular, DeMille created the dream ballet where the dance allows the audience to see into the characters inner dialogue or state. Michael Jackson notably used this device in



World Danceis an umbrella term arbitrarily covering world dance. It is impossible to catalogue the wide range of traditional performance and social dance styles found throughout the world. Many countries dance traditions are far older than those of the United States and Europe, and many have a more active, commonly recognized social dance style. A number of dance styles are discussed under Dance Styles and History here.

Vocabulary for Writing and Talking About Dance

Body Words—

  • Abdominals:—Muscles found on the belly of the body
  • Core —Includes the abdominal muscles and those surrounding it that form the central part of the body, Core initiation or moving from the core refers to movement that starts in this part of the body.
  • Hip joint—The big, strong joint where the leg bone enters the pelvis.
  • Hamstrings—Group of three muscles on the back of the thigh that act to extend the hip and flex the knee.
  • Pelvis—The large bones, almost like a bowl that form the hip area. The bones and muscles of the legs insert into the pelvis. The pelvis is the primary support for the weight of the upper body before it passes into the legs.
  • Quadriceps—A group of four muscles on the front of the thigh that act to extend the knee.
  • TorsoThe big middle part of your body; from hips to shoulders.

Movement Words—

  • Alignment—The body’s organization in relationship to dancing.
  • Adagio—1. A slow movement series. 2. The beginning of a pas de deux.
  • AlignmentThe organization of the body with the torso balanced evenly over the legs.
  • Allegro—brisk, lively, often fast movement.
  • Arch—An extension of the upper back body (shoulders) toward the lower back body (hips)
  • Barre—1. The long, sideways pole that helps dancers develop balance and gives support as dancers develop their technique. 2. The name for the portion of a dance class that includes exercises done at the barre.
  • Brush or Tendu—brushing the foot along the floor.
  • Curve—Any movement in which the hips and shoulders are brought closer together in a rounding movement. Can occur in all directions.
  • ContractionTightening the muscles in the core/middle of the body until it curves.
  • Flat back—Torso is suspended horizontally in space like the top of a table.
  • Focus— Where your eyes are looking. It can also mean paying attention to what your body feels and what it’s doing.  Concentration.
  • Footwork—Foot patterns. Sometimes used to refer to isolated and often complex movements of the feet.
  • GallopQuick exchange of weight picking up one leg, knee bent, after the other. There is a brief moment with both feet in the air. The rhythm is uneven.
  • Hop—Like a jump but it takes off from one leg and lands on the same leg.
  • Intention—How the choreographer and dancer want the movement to look and be performed.
  • Isolation:Moving or holding still one part of the body at a time.
  • Jump—An elevation off the floor from two legs to two legs.
  • Leap or jeté—a big jump from one foot to the other foot. There should be a moment when both feet are off the ground.
  • Pas de deux— dance for two dancers.
  • Pirouettea spin or turn on one leg.
  • Pliè—bending the legs
  • Port de bras—literally carrying the arms. It refers to a set path that the arms follow during a dance exercise or movement sequence.
  • Postion—There are five positions of the feet that all dance moves from. Each has a corresponding arm position.
  • Prance—Changing from one foot to the other by stepping on the toe-ball-heel while picking up the opposite leg. Like a slow gallop.
  • Pulse—A beat at regular intervals.
  • Push—To move energy from one body into another, often with force. Also, the energy needed to move one’s own body, for instance away from the floor.l
  • Relevé—to rise to the toes
  • Rhythm—A sequence of varied accents and durations in either motion or sound.
  • RotationTurning a limb in or out, moving in a circle.
  • Run— Changing weight from one leg to the other, with a brief moment when both feet are off the ground, while moving in any direction. The body usually leans slightly forward in a run.
  • Skip—A step onto a foot followed immediately by a hop on that same leg.
  • Slide or chassé —a traveling step in which one foot leads and the other closes to it. It usually begins by bending the knees and stepping out, an undercurve. It that can go either forward or sideways. It can be done on the floor or launched into the air between the each foot.
  • Spiral —A turning or twisting movement of the torso initiated from the central axis of the spine with or without moving the legs. When the legs are involved the body often moves in a turning pattern.
  • SpottingA practice of keeping your eyes focused as long as possible on a single point while turning to prevent becoming dizzy.
  • Swinging—Pendular movement consisting of a release with gravity, an arcing follow through, and a suspension. Usually done in a triple rhythm.
  • Tilt—In modern dance, a movement that leans to the side away from an extended leg.
  • Triplet—Three steps. Usually done in a down, up, up (bend, tiptoe, tiptoe) sequence.
  • Turnout:Rotating both legs outwards from the hips. In ballet turnout is maintained in all dance work. Early modern dancers  rejected turnout sometimes going as far as turning in. Today, modern dance uses both turnout and parallel (side-by-side) feet. Turnout starts in the pelvis.
  • Walk—Changing weight form one leg to the other, one foot always on the floor, while moving in any direction. The heel usually touches first.
  • Weight shifts—Transferring weight from one leg to the other. 
  • Yeild—To soften your body in reaction to another body.

Making Dance Words— 

  • Accent— In music, accent refers to stress or an emphasis created by changes in loudness, pitch and rhythmic placement. In movement accents occur when a dancer emphasizes a certain movement or phrase.
  • Accompaniment—Generally music, but can be natural sounds, industrial sounds, etc. that accompanies a dance. Generally accompaniment is set, but it can be random or incidental.
  • Choreographer is the person who makes up the dance.
  • Choreography-The art of making dances. How the body is shaped and moves in space. Key elements of choreography include structuring movement shaped by the body, these actions move through space in time requiring various types of energy. Choreography generally has a theme, but not always a story.
  • Dynamics—The use of weight, space, flow and time to create different energetic statements. Relates to accent.
  • Improvisation—Movements that are created on-the-spot by a dancer with or without specific directions. Can be done alone or in a group. A Structured improvisation  happens when ideas or instructions given to guide improvised movements.
  • Notation—A way of writing dance. The most well-known formal method is called Laban Notation, but many dancers make up their own way of recording their dances.
  • Pas de deux—dance for two.
  • Phrase/Combination/Sequence/Pattern—Two or more movements linked together. Many of these make a dance.
  • Phrasing—How a dancer uses their weight, space, the flow of movement, and time to express a sequence of movement in time.
  • Presence—The ability to be aware and fully invested in the moment.
  • Rehearsal—Practicing a dance or other performance.
  • Rhythm—a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound, systematiclly arranged in patterns through duration with periodic stresses.
  • Staccato—Quick, sharp movements.
  • Sustained—Flowing Movement performed without accent.
  • Warm-up—Movements and stretching performed before or at the beginning of a class or performance to prepare the body for more demanding movements and to prevent injury.
  • Warm-down—Movements and stretching performed after or at the end of a class or performance to release tension from the body and to prevent injury.

Stage Words—

  • Applause—The audience clapping at the end of a performance.
  • ApronA small section of the proscenium stage that extends past the prosencium arch in front of the curtain.
  • AuditoriumThe part or area of the theatre where the audience sits to watch a show.
  • Backdrop—A piece of material hung at the back of the stage, often painted with scenes.
  • Backstage—The area that is off the stage, including wings, dressing rooms, control booths and green room.
  • Blocking—Where performers stand and move on stage in relation to the action, to the sets and to each other.
  • Curtain callWhen performers bow after the end of a concert because the audience is applauding a lot.
  • CrewA group of technical people who work backstage during a performance.
  • Dressing roomA room backstage where performers change clothes and put on make-up before, during and after performances.
  • Dress rehearsal—The last rehearsal before a performance, always in costume with lights and sets.
  • House—The part of the auditorium where the audience sits. Also the audience.
  • Negative space—Space that is not filled by someone’s body.
  • Props—Items or objects positioned on stage or carried by performers.
  • Proscenium Stage—A stage that does not extend into the audience and is framed by the Proscenium arch.
  • Run-through—A rehearsal without interruption.
  • Stage Directions—
    • Centre stage: The central or middle area of the stage.
    • Downstage: When facing the audience, the area closest to the audience.
    • Upstage: When facing the audience, the area farthest away from the audience.
    • Stage right: When facing the audience, the area of the stage to the right of centre.
    • Stage left: When facing the audience, the area of the stage to the left of centre.

Theater directors and choreographers must call directions that are opposite their orientation in the audience.

  • Wings—Flat panels or curtains at the side of the stage that hide backstage crew  from the audience and performers during entrances and exits.