Basic Dance Vocabulary

In this article, we’ll go over some of those pesky dance related terms. You may have heard them while watching dance competitions. These will be terms that other dance students as well as dance teachers will use. Those who are truly interested to learn ballroom dancing should take the time to become familiar with the jargon.

Besides, it will also help you understand the instructions when you finally try to learn the steps for each type of dance. In case you have the privilege to actually compete in the future, you will understand what the judges will be deliberating about if you are well-versed in dance jargon.

Arm Styling: this refers to the movement of the arms as well as the positioning of arms while you dance. The movement and position of your arms should reflect both the style of the dance as well as the character of the dance.

Amalgamation: this term refers to the combination of movements and patterns.

American Style: this is a class of ballroom dancing that has evolved from what was known as social dancing. Nowadays American style dances have been fully incorporated into competition class dances. There are nine American style dances and they are divided into two different categories. The first category or class is called American smooth dance and it includes the following dances – Viennese waltz, foxtrot, tango, and waltz. The second class is called American rhythm and it includes the following dances – mambo, bolero, east coast swing, rumba, and cha cha.

Balance Step: this involves a step (it doesn’t matter which direction) and it is followed by a close (which should be no weight), and finally followed by a hold.

Body Rise: refers to the motion where one raises the body thus stretching the spine and then going back to the original resting position.

Break Step: a step during a dance that changes the movement direction of the body.

Break: the music stops.

Ball Change: refers to the change of weight form the ball of one’s foot then to the flat of the other foot.

Cucarachas: refers to side breaks that alternate from left to right. During the breaks, the feet go from first position and then to the second position.

Cuban Motion: this refers to hip motion that uses alternate bending then straightening of the knees.

Contra Body Movement: abbreviated as CBM. This term refers to the body movement where a dancer turns the opposite shoulder and hip in the direction of his or her moving leg. This is used for turning.

Choreography: a dancer’s compilation of dance steps and movements to make a dance routine.

Close: the act of bringing one’s feet together without having to shift weight.

Chasse: this refers to a step sequence where a dancer slides out the working leg and then places his or her body weight on that leg. After that the dancer then draws the other leg along the floor to the working leg.

Chase: this figure is popular in cha cha where one partner pursues the other.

Closed Change/Change Step: this refers to a three-step sequence that is used to transfer the weight of the body from one foot to the other. An example of this is the first three steps used in the box step.

Center: that part of the body near the diaphragm, also known as the balance point of your body when you dance.

Developpé: a dance movement where the dancer draws up the working leg to the knee of his supporting leg. The dancer will then move that leg out at a 90-degree position) or perhaps parallel to the floor if possible) into the air.

Dance position: there are five basic dance positions. First: closed position (partners standing in front of one another, bodies close together, standing slightly offset either the left or the right or just standing directly in front of one another), Second: open position (any position where partners stand apart and not in closed position), Third: Open Facing Position (the same as open position, except that partners maintain a hand connection), Fourth: outside partner position (same as closed position but the feet of both partners are slightly offset, the dancer that moves forward will step in CBMP to his or her partner’s left or right), and finally Fifth: promenade (partners stand in V-shaped position while walking or moving forward).

Dancer’s compass: this refers to a diagram that illustrates the movement directions on the dance floor.

DanceSport: competitive dancing or athletic ballroom dancing that is used in the Olympics.

Freeze: stop or do not move.

Free Spin/Free Turn: to turn without any physical contact with your partner.

Frame: refers to the arm position, body position, and a dancer’s posture.

Footwork: using the five-foot positions during a dance.

Foot Rise: this refers to the elevation of one’s body using the ankles.

Following: this refers to the ability of the follower to take physical and visual hints and instructions from the leader.

Floor Craft: the ability of the dance leader to move around the dance floor leading the follower so that they do not collide with the other dancers on the floor.

Flick: a quick backward kick. Your knee should be bent and your toes should be pointed.

Flex: to bend or relax any portion of the body.

Figure: this term is used to refer to a standard dancing step or movement pattern.

Foot Positions: in dancing ballroom dances, there are five basic foot positions. First: feet together (heels together, toes turned out slightly and facing forward), second: feet apart (feet still in line but the heels should be separated), third: heel to instep (one foot in front of the other though still touching), fourth: normal walking step (feet apart with one foot in front of the other), and fifth: one foot in front of the other with feet touching heel to toe.

Fan: this refers to the circular motion of a dancer’s free foot.

Heal Lead: this style of taking a step is used in progressive dances. To do a heel lead, take a step forward but you should place front half onto the floor and then transfer your body weight to the other half.

Isolation: this means that a dancer is moving one part of the body apart from and independent of the rest.

International Style: this is the style of ballroom dancing that is recognized internationally. International style dances are divided into two categories: standard and Latin. Standard dances include quickstep, slow foxtrot, Viennese waltz, tango, and waltz. Latin dances include the following: jive, paso doble, rumba, samba, cha cha.

Inside Turn: There are two ways to perform an inside turn. First, the follower turns to her left side while going under the leader’s left arm. The second way to do it is by turning to the right while going under the leader’s right hand.

Lunge: this refers to a transfer of weight to your bent leg. The other leg will remain extended in a lunge position.

Lock: also called the lock step. Simply put, this is when both feet (particularly the lower part of your legs) go into a crossed position. In this cross-legged position, your back leg will get locked behind the lead leg. Your legs will only get out of this locked or crossed position when the lead leg moves. A good example of this is the triple step in cha cha.

Line of Dance: this refers to the flow of the traffic on the dance floor – which should be in a counter clockwise direction. Do you notice that in some dances that the dancers, usually in pairs, turn and move around the floor and then eventually go back to their starting positions? This overall movement of the dancing crowd is called the line of dance and it is more common in dances like samba, tango, waltz, and foxtrot.

Leading: this is the action performed by the leader where he communicates the intended actions to the follower. The leader leads the follower using either visual or physical connections or cues.

Latin Dances: these are dances that originate from the Caribbean. Examples of these dances include merengue, rumba, mambo, and others.

Modern Style Balllroom: This refers to dances in International Style ballroom, which include quickstep, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, and waltz. You won’t hear people use this term that much since they just call these dances as “standard.”

Natural Turn: a turn going to the right.

Natural Opposite: this is when a dance partner takes the same foot positions in the opposite direction or using the opposite feet.

Outside Turn: An outside turn can be performed in two different ways. The first way is when the follower makes a right turn going under the left hand of the leader. The other way to do it is when the follower does a left turn going under the right hand of the leader.

Open Break: this is a break step but it is done when the partners are in opposition and in open face position.

Picture Line: this is also called simply as a line. This is a dance figure that is in stationary position but with changing shapes.

Quick: a quick is either a weight change or just a step that only requires one beat.

Rhythm Category: this is a category in American style ballroom dances which includes the following: swing, mambo, bolero, cha cha, and rumba.

Rock: this is when you make a couple of weight changes while you have your feet apart. This can be done facing any direction.

Rise and Fall: to rise means to go up on your toes (i.e. tip toe) which will raise your heels. When you rise you also stretch your spine as if trying to make yourself go taller. A fall is the reverse of that movement–you lower your heels and return to the usual posture.

Reverse Turn: this simply means you make a turn but this time to the left instead of the right.

Slow: this refers either to a weight change or a step that will require two beats of music to perform.

Slide: this is a step where a dancer brings the free foot slowly to the weighted foot.

Shine: this refers to the movements when dance partners are not physically touching one another. This is a point in the dance routine when the partners can dance similar patterns though disconnected or they perform different movements complementing each other’s steps.

Syncopate: this is a technique for personal expression during a dance. You can say that it is a degree of creative license that is afforded to a dancer. When you syncopate a dance step, it means you either add or remove some of the usual steps in the pattern of a dance. This modification is done within a number of beats.

Step: a step-in dancing is pretty much the same thing as what you do in real life. A step is when you take a step with your foot while transferring your weight from one foot to the next. The term step can also be used to refer to a pattern of dance steps. I know it can be a bit confusing sometimes but you should consider the context to be sure which one is being referred to.

Spotting: this is a technique that dancers use so that they won’t get dizzy whenever they turn during a dance. Here’s how you do it – find a spot or object in the room and then keep looking at it while making your turn. Keep looking at it until you can’t see it anymore. After that you should turn your head quickly so that you can see the same spot or object again.

Split: this is a position where both feet are far apart and the legs are spread wide open. The weight of the body should be spread evenly between both legs.

Smooth Style Ballroom: this is the term used to refer to Viennese Waltz, tango, foxtrot, and American Style Waltz as they are used in dance sport events.

Theatre Arts: DanceSport events are divided into divisions and one of these divisions is Theatre Arts which is also known as the Cabaret Division. Those who perform here are some of the elite dancers in the world of DanceSport. These dancers are known for their unusual flexibility, strength, and balance. The lifts they perform are extremely dramatic and the drops they do is second to none.

Top Line: A frame concept or posture. This refers to that imaginary horizontal line that runs from one the dancer’s elbow to the other elbow and also through the two shoulder blades.

Triple Step: this refers to a sequence of three steps, which is popular in swing dances. The triple step is taken in two music beats. That means after taking the first step in count 1, you will need to take the second step on the half beat between count 1 and count 2. Finally, the third step should be taken on count 2. The step timing usually follows as 1-and-2. Note that the first two steps are actually quick steps while the third step is a slow step, which is why your instructor will call out the steps as “quick-quick-slow.”

Variation: this refers to a modification of a common step pattern. Needless to say, a variation is a step pattern that does not follow the syllabus or in other words, it is a step pattern that is non-standard.


Interested in other dance styles:

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Ballroom dance styles

Argentine Tango dance steps

Basic dance vocabulary

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