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Explaining Dance Terms

The vocabulary used in dance is huge and can be confusing to someone who isn’t used to using it. In this post, we’ll clear up some of that confusion by explaining a list of common dance words.

Combo - short for combination. Combo is usually used to mean a combination of steps, and people will sometimes add the length of the combination (in units of counts) as a prefix. Ex. That 8-count combo was surprisingly difficult.

Count - basic unit of time measurement in dance. 1 count often equals 1 beat in the music. Ex. Make sure you hit that pose on the first count, not the 8th.

Cleaning - the act of practicing a learned dance with the express purpose of “tidying up” the details and making sure everything is precise as possible. Ex. We finished choreographing our jazz dance last night, but today we have to clean it.

Marking - the act of practicing a dance without fully performing the moves involved. Usually to help with actually remembering choreography as opposed to polishing details. Ex. We’re going to go over the last section of the dance, just mark it through this time.

Spotting - the act of keeping your gaze focused on a single point for as long as possible before whipping it around during a turn. Done to maintain balance and reduce dizziness. Ex. Make sure you spot during the turn section or else you’ll fall out of your turns.

Window - the space between two dancers in a formation. Dancers are told to “find a window” in formations to make sure that everyone is seen and that the formation is still clean. Ex. Alex, you’re being blocked - find a window!

From the Top - from the very beginning. Typically used during practice. Ex. Now that we’ve learned that new section, let’s take it from the top and see how it looks all together.

5678 - four counts used to prepare before starting a dance. Ex. Ok let’s run that again. 5, 6, 7, 8, and go!

8-count - an 8-count is a unit of measurement that dancers use to break the dance down into manageable parts. 8-counts typically contain 8 beats of music. Ex. I keep messing up the second 8-count in the turning section.

Comp - Short for competition. Ex. I can’t wait for comp season this year!

Warm Up - a series of exercises performed at the beginning of class to get the muscles and joints ready for dance. Ex. Ok class, let’s begin our warm up with tendus.

Barre - a ballet barre is typically a wooden bar at which dancers will perform certain exercises to improve technique. Sometimes this word is used to describe the set of exercises performed at the barre. Ex. A) Let’s practice pliés at the barre. B) I don’t want to do barre today, my feet are sore.

Across the Floor - used to describe an exercise in dance class where dancers perform the same move in succession across the floor. Ex. Alright class, time for across the floor. Julia, you start.

From the Corner - Similar to across the floor. Dancers will line up along one side of the room and go one at a time across the floor from corner to corner performing the same move in succession or a small combination of moves.

Turnout - the act of rotating your legs in their hip sockets away from the centre of your body. Also used to describe the amount of rotation that one can do. Ex. Her turnout is incredible!

Alignment - making sure that your body is positioned in a way that keeps joints and muscles healthy while maintaining proper posture. Ex. Check your alignment, your hips are poking out.

Finding Your Centre - the act of finding one’s balance or centre of gravity. Ex. When doing those turns, be sure to find your centre so you don’t fall out of them.

Stage Right - used to describe location on a stage. When looking out into the audience from the stage, stage right indicates the right half of the stage. Ex. Devon, move slightly more toward stage right.

Stage Left - used to describe location on a stage. When looking out into the audience from the stage, stage left indicates the left half of the stage. Ex. Can the girls on stage left move toward centre? Thank you!

Centre Stage - used to describe location on a stage. When looking out into the audience from the stage, centre stage indicates the very middle point of the stage.

Upstage - used to describe location on a stage. When looking out into the audience from the stage, upstage is used to refer to the back half of the stage, furthest from the audience. Ex. Turn to face upstage before you begin walking back.

Downstage - used to describe location on a stage. When looking out into the audience from the stage, downstage is used to refer to the front half of the stage, closest to the audience. Ex. Use those jetés to make your way downstage before your fan kick.

Levels - used to describe different heights at which dancers are posing, performing, or appearing. Ex. We want lots of levels to make sure that there’s visual interest in this dance.

Spacing - used to describe the amount of room between dancers. Ex. Watch your spacing during that part, you tend to drift to the side.

While there are many more terms that are used in dance, we thought this would be a good introductory list for anyone wanting to learn more. If you have any dancewear related questions, feel free to reach out and let us know.

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