Dance Terminology

Dance Terminology: Skills of the Month

In dance classes, there are several different skills that your students are either newly learning or are focusing on to perfect.

dance terminology

One of the first skills that ballet classes, and many jazz classes are working on is the tendu which literally translates from French as “stretched”. It is taught as the action of stretching your leg and foot out from one position to another, while keeping it on the floor. While often referred to as simply “tendu” the complete term is battement tendu. Tendu’s can either be done as the main step or as a lead in to another step.

In combo and ballet classes there is a heavy focus on the relevé whichmeans “raised” and describes the action when a dancer rises up and seemingly stands “on their toes”. Relevé is a ballet step that is taught to beginners in some of the earliest classes and can be done in many different positions and on one or both legs. Relevé builds strength in a dancer’s feet, calves, and thighs that allows him or her to do many types of jumps and turns. We do relevés in a long series during class for warm up for kids to gain strength in their feet and entire legs.

While working on various leaps, a fun jump that has been introduced in some classes is the cabriole. Cabriole is a ballet term meaning “caper”. In a cabriole, a dancer jumps in the air off one leg as the other is thrown upwards, the bottom leg raises to meet and beat with the top leg. Cabrioles can be done in a variety of positions and at different degrees. They can be done devant, derrière and à la seconde (front, back or side) and in any position of the body.

Pique Turn means “pricked turn”. Dancers will step directly on to a foot in relevé while the working leg is in passe (most commonly used), arabesque, attitude or any other position that may be given.

One of the focuses in tap classes is a shuffle ball change which is first completed by doing a shuffle, which involves brushing the foot forward then in a back direction done fast in a 16th note rhythm. Followed by a ball change, which involves transitioning weight on the balls of the feet from each foot.

Another skill focus in our tap classes is a flap. A flap is a quick brush step to the front. Striking forward to the floor, then step forward and put weight on the working foot. Usually a flap is done forwards but can be done in other directions as well. 

dance terminology

Shim Sham is a shuffle step right, shuffle step left, shuffle ball change both feent, then shuffle step right. It is then repeated then reversed. This is used in tap classes as a way to challenge students to combine steps that they have already learned.

Most dance classes are working on grand jetes meaning “big throw”. It describes a big jump where the dancer throws one leg into the air, pushes off the floor with the other, jumping into the air and landing again on the first leg. This is a great beginner leap to learn as it helps kids to learn to jump high off the ground.

A turn that combo classes are working on are chaînés. Chaîné is a French term that means “chains” or “links”. Chaînés are when a dancer is preforming a series of turns on both feet, picking up each foot back and forth in order to keep moving in a line or circle.

Now that you know more about dance terminology, see if you can spot any of these moves at your child's next dance class!  Better yet, try some of them at home - just make sure you have cleared some space in your living room :) 

Considering dance class enrollment for your child?  Check out these great benefits of dance.  Already have a gymnast?  Here are some reasons why dance for gymnasts is important. 

Learn the Top 4 Benefits of Dance

Happy Dancing!

Mallory Herbert 

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