the word dance

Dance Glossary

Review terms related to dance to improve your communication skills.

Grade Levels: K-12
Resource Types: Glossary Terms, Word Wall Printouts (3)


accent: a movement or shape performed in such a way as to give emphasis.

actions: what the body is doing; includes locomotor and non-locomotor movements.

aesthetics: standards on which to make judgments about the artistic merit of a work of art.

alignment: body placement or posture; the relationship of the skeleton to the line of gravity and the base of support. Proper alignment lessens strain on muscles and joints and promotes dance skills.

analyze: to examine the unique features of a work of art as they relate to the elements of the art form and principles of design, composition, performance, and/or production; to identify and examine separate parts as they function independently and together in works of art.

asymmetry: uneven, irregular design.

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body bases: body parts that support the rest of the body. For example, when standing, the feet are the body base; when kneeling, the knees are the body base.

body parts: the sections of the body or body appendages, as in the arms, legs, head, torso, etc.

binary form: two-part structure; AB.

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call and response: a structure often associated with African music and dance forms, although it is also used elsewhere, including in classical, folk, traditional, and other primal forms. One soloist/group performs, with the second soloist answering or entering in “response.”

canon: choreographic form that reflects the musical form of the same name, in which individuals and groups perform the same movement/phrase beginning at different times.

choreographic structure: the specific compositional forms in which movement is structured to create a dance.

classical dance: dance that has been developed over time into highly stylized structures and forms within a culture. Classical forms are generally developed within the court or circle of power in a society.

compositional forms: structures of dance composition. Examples include

  • AB—a form made up of two contrasting sections, each of which may or may not be repeated.
  • ABA—a three-part compositional form in which the second section contrasts with the first section. The third section is a restatement of the first section and can be in a condensed, abbreviated, or extended form.
  • narrative—choreographic structure that follows a specific story line to convey specific information through the story.

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dance criticism: the process and result of critical thinking about dance. It usually involves description, analysis, and interpretation of dance, as well as some kind of judgment.

describe: part of the initial process of responding to works of art. Refers to identifying and communicating, orally or in writing, the elements of the specific art form present in a work; also refers to when, where, and by whom the work was done.

directions: forward, backward, sideways, up and down.

dynamics: the dance element that relates to how a movement is done; movement quality.

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elevation: the body’s propulsion into the air away from the floor, such as a leap, hop, or jump.

ethnic dance: dances that are usually created and performed by specific ethnic groups within societies or cultures.

expression: a process of conveying ideas, feelings, and meaning through the selective use of the communicative possibilities of dance.

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focus: a central point or focus of attention in the movement space; the concentration, attention, or specific energy given to movement in space.

folk dances: dances that are usually created and performed by specific groups within cultures. Generally these dances originated outside the court or circle of power within a society.

force (energy): degree of muscular tension and use of energy while moving, such as heavy/light, sharp/smooth, tension/relaxation, bound/flowing. Tension/relaxation: Tension feels hard and tight; relaxation feels soft and loose.

flow: continuity of movement. When energy is released freely, we describe the movement as free-flowing. Energy can also be released in a controlled, restrained manner.

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improvisation: movement that is created spontaneously, ranging from free-form to highly structured, but always with an element of chance. Improvisation provides the dancer with the opportunity to bring together elements quickly and requires focus and concentration. It is instant and simultaneous choreography and performance.

initiation: the point at which movement is said to originate. It particularly refers to specific body parts and is generally said to be either distal (from the limbs or head) or central (from the torso).

interpret: this process of responding to works of art identifies the ideas, feelings, moods, and overall meaning communicated by the work of art. It also calls for the investigation of the influence of time and place upon the artist who created the work.

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kinesphere: see space.

kinesthetic: refers to the ability of the body’s sensory organs in the muscles, tendons, and joints to respond to stimuli while dancing or viewing a dance.

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landing: the manner and quality in which the body returns to earth following an action of elevation such as a leap, hop, or jump.

levels: the vertical distance from the floor. Movements take place on three levels: high, middle, and low or deep level.

locomotor movements: movements that travel from one location to another. Examples include

  • walk: steps from one foot to the other, with the weight being transferred from heel to toe.
  • run: steps from one foot to another performed at a relatively fast tempo.
  • hop: a movement whereby the body is propelled through space by springing from one foot and landing on the same foot.
  • jump: a movement whereby the body is propelled through space by springing from two feet and landing on two feet.
  • leap: a movement whereby the body is propelled through space by springing from one foot and landing on the other foot.
  • gallop: a sliding step whereby the body is propelled through space in an uneven rhythm, so the same foot is always leading.
  • skip: a step and a hop, alternating feet.

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metric rhythm: the grouping of beats in a recurring pattern.

movement quality: the identifying attributes created by the gathering, release, follow-through, and termination of energy in the body, which are key to making movement expressive and therefore dance-like. Typical terms denoting movement quality include, but are not limited to, smooth, sustained, swinging, percussive, and vibratory as well as effort combinations such as float, dab, punch, and glide. See also dynamics.

movement theme: a complete idea in movement that is manipulated and developed within a dance.

musicality: the attention and sensitivity to the musical elements of dance while creating or performing.

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non-locomotor movements: movement that is performed around the axis of the body rather than designed for travel from place to place, such as bend and stretch, push and pull, rise and sink, swing and sway, twist and turn, shake; also called axial movements.

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pathways: patterns we make as we move through the air or around the floor (i.e., straight, vertical, horizontal, zig-zag). Can be made with locomotor or non-locomotor movements, separately or in combination.

pattern: a repetition of lines, shapes, and/or movements that results in a spatial or movement design.

phrase: a brief sequence of related movements that has a sense of rhythmic completion.

purpose: the intended function of a dance within its cultural and/or aesthetic contexts.

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rondo form: a dance structure with three or more themes where one theme is repeated; ABACAD …

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shape: the form created by the body’s position in space. Aspects of shape are open/closed, symmetrical/asymmetrical, angular/curved.

space: includes directions, size, pathways, levels, and shapes.

  • general space—the dance area.
  • personal space (also called kinesphere)—the area of space occupied by the dancer’s body.
  • size—the magnitude of a body shape or movement, from small to large.

style: a distinctive manner of moving or dancing; the characteristic way a dance is done, created, or performed that identifies the dance of a particular performer, choreographer, culture, or period.

symmetry: a balanced, even design of shapes and/or movements in space.

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tension/relaxation: tense movements feel hard and tight; relaxed movements feel soft, loose, and flowing.

tertiary form: three-part structure; ABA.

time: includes duration, tempo, and beat.

  • duration—the length of time a movement lasts.
  • tempo—the speed with which a movement is performed.
  • beat—the underlying rhythmic pulse.

time signature: a written symbol in music that denotes a metric rhythm; for example, 3/4, 4/4.

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warm-up: movements and/or movement phrases designed to raise the core body temperature and bring the mind into focus for the dance activities that follow.

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K-12English Language Arts and LiteracyThe Arts