Ever been in a dance class and heard your teacher say “it’s a ball change”, “we’re just going to mark it”, or “isolate those arms” and you have absolutely no idea what they mean so you just end up looking at them like they have three heads? Well don’t worry friend I’m here to explain those rather interesting dance terms that might confuse you, and by the end of it you will be speaking fluent dancer. So without further ado, here are 15 dance terms every beginner dancer should know.
1. 8 count
An 8 count is another way of breaking down the music through counting. Most dance teachers or dancers use a generic 8 counts or 4 back-to-back for each section of choreography. It’s a way of listening and understanding the music and connecting each move to that section of music.
More on 8 counts here
2. Ball change
A ball change is a 2-step move where you partially transfer the weight on the ball of a foot from one foot to the other, followed by a step on the other foot. In other words, you are taking two steps just the first step is usually slightly faster than the second. (don’t worry your teacher will show you how it’s done and its rather simple)
Explanation vid for you here
Isolations are when you focus on a certain section of your body, whether that is with your head, arms, core or legs, depending on the section of choreography, isolations (like the name suggests) isolates one section of your body without moving the rest.
p.s: see how they are isolating their arms and head from the rest of their body? They are moving their upper half without moving a muscle in their lower half; therefore isolating :)
Holds or holding is the same as you hear it. Holding is another way of pausing in the moment. Your dance teacher might tell you “in this upcoming section you will be holding for 2 counts”, meaning you will not be moving for two counts. Think of it this way you get a little break in between dancing :))
“Marking” or “Mark it” is a fancy way of saying “we’re just going over it”. Marking is just allowing you to go over the movement or choreography without having to go full out/ perform it to the best of your ability. It’s a way of allowing yourself to get familiar and remember all the choreography you are about to do so you don’t forget anything.
6. Full out.
As mentioned above, Full Out is the opposite of Marking. Full out means you are giving it your all, you are fully performing the piece of choreography you have been taught and using 100% of your energy, pizzaz, and having your Beyonce moment. Next time you hear your teacher say go full out, go all in!
7. Clean/ Cleaning up.
Cleaning is another way of making sure you are doing each movement accordingly and accurately. When your dance teacher says we need to clean up that section, what they mean is that this section is looking a little rough (or as our founder likes to say “it’s looking a little funky chicken”) so we should go over it to make sure it looks clean and everyone has it down. They might also say “we should make that cleaner”.
Tempo is the speed of music. As you are learning a piece of choreography, your teacher will also teach you the tempo, whether it be fast or slow. Oftentimes your teacher will start off teaching each movement slower so you get the hang of it. Then they work their way up to tempo or real-time, so when it comes time to practice with the music you are at full tempo.
Transitions, as the name suggests, are you transitioning from one section to another. This is usually done in longer pieces of choreography where you move from one side of the “stage” (AKA the studio) to the other. Whether you are closer to the mirror or further behind, on the left side or right side (AKA centre stage, upstage, or downstage). For example; you would be transitioning from upstage to downstage.
Scatting, while not a term per-say, is something that choreographers, dancers and dance teachers often do to express the type of movement beyond just showing you. For example, You teacher could scatt a noise that might sound like “Shhwoop”, “Brraahh” or the classic “Ha”. When you hear your teacher say these along with showing you a move you understand the type of movement a lot more and how they want you to express it. While each person has different “scatts”, universally it’s usually understood.
11. Working Leg/ Supporting leg
Your working leg can be referred to the leg that is going to be lifted/ moving around, while your supporting leg is the one that is firm on the ground and not moving therefore supporting all of your weight. For example your teacher could tell you, your left foot is the supporting leg and your right leg is the working leg.
Meaning the bending of the knees. A plié consists of a movement which the dancer bends their knees and straightens them again. Your dance teacher might say “stay in a plié” to make sure that your knees are continuously bent and you are low to the ground.
Freestyle is another way of saying improvise it! Freestyling allows the dancer to do anything they want to. You have full range on what moves you want to do allowing you to express your individual style while spontaneously creating a piece of movement unique to you within the moment.
Whether high or low, levels allow you to use your entire body. A low level requires you to bend your knees to get “low” to the ground, and high levels involve you to get onto your toes to get “higher”. When your dance teacher tells you it’s going to be a low level choreography, expect to get low to the ground. In order to know how low or high to get, match your level with other dancers or the teacher that way you know where to be exactly.
15. Texture/ Flavour
Oftentimes when a teacher or choreographer is saying add texture or flavour, they are implying they want you to add your own individuality to it, or to add some pizzaz to the movement. This allows for a transformation to the move changing the vibe completely when it is performed or seen. So next time your teacher says add some flavour, they mean make it more spicy or add your own interpretation to it, have fun with it!
That’s a wrap! Now you have a better grasp at the most common and important dance terms and you are officially ready to hop into your next dance class! Come take a dance class with us to see these terms in action, we’re cool I promise :D . To learn more about what we offer, check us out here, and how to get registered here! Can’t wait to see you out there!
See ya later!
The STU Arts Dance Team.