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Dance Glossary…ABC

At JumpStart, we believe in using the correct terminology when working with both children and teachers.  But you may be wondering what it all means!  Over the forthcoming weeks we’ll be creating an A-Z dance glossary which you can refer to when teaching and act as a reminder of some of the things you need to include in a dance session.

We will update and add to the glossary on a regular basis.  Please let us know if you have an idea for an entry you’d like to see.


If you are looking for definitions of specific dance styles, check out our Dance Style Guide here.


Action: the movement of the body.  The act of moving in the space.  Actions can include any of the following (but this is by no means an exhaustive list!)…

  • Lunging
  • Swaying
  • Sliding
  • Turning
  • Leaning
  • Skipping
  • Tiptoeing
  • Stamping
  • Punching
  • Jumping
  • Hopping

Alignment: refers to the correct placement of arms, legs, head and torso in relation to each other.  Correct alignment will make the dance look aesthetically pleasing as well as being efficient and safe for the dancer.  The correct definition of this term will alter according to the specific style of dance you are doing.

Assemble: a jump that starts on one foot, but lands on two feet simultaneously.  Usually referred to in Ballet class.


Ball change: a quick 2 step action with the feet.  Place one foot behind the other and place the weight of the body onto the ball of that foot.  Then transfer the weight of the body onto the ball of the front foot.

Beat: The beat of the music or sound that you are using.  Dancers usually move on the beat (counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on) although sometimes the action occurs on the off-beat, giving the movements a syncopated rhythm.

Body parts: The parts of the body that are moving or still.  Some dances focus mostly on the arms, legs / feet and head.  In creative dance we like to use the whole body including: hips, shoulders, ears, tummies and face.  It can be very useful to think about using a variety of body parts when choreographing your own dances to add interest to both performer and spectator.

Breaking: actions that are performed by B-Boys and B-Girls in Hip Hop Dance.  Elements include…

  • Top rock
  • Down rock
  • Power moves
  • Freezes

(see future glossary posts for definitions of these moves)


Canon: A method of putting together a movement phrase.  The dancers perform the phrase – NOT at the same time but one after the other.  It is similar to a Mexican wave in that the movement happens one person after the other. There are different ways to perform a canon but usually there will be some overlapping of each dancer’s movement.

Choreographic Devices: different ways to develop a movement phrase to make a new version.  This could include…

  • Canon
  • Change of speed (making it faster / slower)
  • Different levels (low / high / medium)
  • Retrograde (the phrase is performed exactly in reverse order – like it’s being re-wound)
  • Different formations (the way that the dancers stand in the space – in a line / triangle / random spaces)

Choreography: planning and creating movement. This could be a short movement phrase or a whole dance.

Contact Improvisation: moving whilst in contact with another person – often danced in pairs. Involves the sharing of weight between the dancers and often results in rolling, supporting and lifting each other.

Contraction: the tensing and contracting of the stomach muscles to curve the spine.  Often performed whilst breathing out.  Origins linked to Contemporary dancer Martha Graham and Jazz Dance.

Contrast: the act of having two or more different elements.  Often used in reference to relationships – dancers who are performing contrasting actions or dynamics for example.

Co-ordination: the ability to make parts of the body work together efficiently and effectively.

Counterbalance: the sharing of weight between dancers to support each other in a balancing position that would be impossible to perform by yourself.  Trust and sharing of weight is crucial to ensure counterbalances are effective and safe.

Crossing the midline:  the midline is an imaginary line that intersects the right and left sides of the body (from head to toe).  Crossing the midline is an important activity, particularly for children, as it helps strengthen the core as well as help the brain to communicate between the left and right spheres.  Actions that cross the midline include…

  • Tapping one elbow onto the opposite knee
  • Pointing one arm to the other side of the body (without turning in the shoulders)
  • Crossing one foot behind the other (without turning in the hips)

Check out next week’s blog for our Dance Glossary…DEF

Would you like help developing dance in your school?  JumpStart’s range of INSET packages are a great way to encourage teachers and pupils to enjoy moving whilst developing physical literacy.  Contact us to discover more or visit our INSET page here.

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