Glossary of Terms

Jazz Dance Terminology


  • Arabesque (ara besk)

    A term which takes its name from a form of Moorish ornament.

    In this position the body is supported on one leg which may be straight or bent with the working leg extended straight to the rear.

  • Assemble (a sahm blay)

    In French means “assembled”.

    In dance it is when the working foot brushes into the air, the other foot pushes off the floor, sweeps up and they meet or “assemble” in the air and land together.

  • Attitude (ah tee tewd)

    A term referring to a particular pose in dancing derived from the statue of Mercury by Giovanni da Bologna.

    It is a position on one leg, with the other leg bent and lifted to the front, side, or rear.

  • C

  • Chaine (shey nay)

    In French means “chained or linked”. In dance it is a two-step turn which can be performed in plie or releve.

    The body rotates 180 degrees on each step.

  • Chasse (sha say)

    In French means “chased”.

    In dance it is a step in which one foot literally chases the other foot out of its position.

    It is usually done in a series across the floor or as a lead-in to a leap or other aerial move.

    (Think of doing a gallop but with straighter legs, pointed feet and taking up more space.)

  • Catch Step

    Two steps taken in any direction using 1 ½ counts of music.

  • Choreographer

    One who creates/composes/invents dances.

  • Choreography

    The actual steps, groupings, and patterns of a dance work.

    The movement material itself.

  • Contraction

    A contracting of the abdominal muscles so the lower spine becomes rounded and the abdominal area hollowed out.

    The shoulders remain directly above the hips.

  • Coupe (koo pay)

    In French means “cut”.

    In dance it is a position and a small intermediary step that is usually done as a preparation or impetus for another step.

    The ankle of one leg is positioned at the ankle of the supporting leg either in front or behind.

    The coupe occurs when the lifted foot “cuts” away and takes the place of the supporting leg.

  • D

  • Degage (deh ga zheh)

    In French means “ disengaged”.

    In dance it is when the foot slides rapidly along and slightly off the floor, with the leg straight, in preparation for larger leg movements and quick traveling movements.

  • Developpe (dehv law peh)

    In French means “developed”.

    In dance it is when the working leg is drawn up to the knee of the supporting leg and slowly extended to an open position “en l’air” (in the air).

  • E

  • Elements of Dance

    Body, Space, Force and Time

  • En Croix (ahn krwah)

    In French means “in the shape of a cross”.

    In dance it indicates that an exercise is to be executed forward, side, back and side again.

    (Note: “side” refers to line of direction straight out of first position.)

  • En Dehors (ahn duh awr)

    In French means “outside”.

    In dance it indicates that the working leg moves in a circular direction away from the body, out away from your center.

  • En Dedans (ahn duh dahn)

    In French means “inside”.

    In dance it indicates that the working leg moves in a circular direction in toward the body.

  • F

  • Flatback

    A position in which the spine is parallel to the floor.

    The abdominals should be tightly contracted to help keep the weight centered over the feet, as well as to support the spine.

    The body should be in a 90 degree or upside down L shape. This position is also known as tabletop.

  • Fouette (fweh tay)

    In French means “whipped”. In dance it is a term applied to a whipping movement.

    There are several varieties as in the sharp whipping of the body from one direction to another.

  • Frontal Plane

    Dividing the body into anterior and posterior or “front” and “back”.

    This plane establishes a spatial stress of Vertical and in doing so creates a ”front” and ‘“back” portion of the body as it intersects.

  • G

  • Grand Battement (grawn baht mahn)

    In French means “large beating”. In dance it is when the whole straight leg is brushed through tendu and degage and sent up to a 90 degree or higher angle.


    The leg returns to the floor by brushing back through degage and tendu.

  • Grapevine

    A variation on a walk, it travels to the side and can be performed at various tempos.

    It is executed by stepping to the right with the right foot, stepping behind the right foot with the left foot, stepping right with the right foot and then stepping in front of the right foot with the left foot.

    This sequence is repeated and can also be done to the left.

  • H

  • Hitch Kick

    A scissor kick involving both legs kicking in the same direction.

    Can be done forward or back, knees straights or bent, toes pointed.

    One foot steps and as it starts its kick the other leg simultaneously kicks in the same direction.

  • Horizontal Plane

    Dividing the body into “top” and “bottom” portions.

    This plane establishes a spatial stress on the Horizon and in doing so creates a “top” portion and a “bottom” portion of the body as it intersects.

  • I

  • Isolation

    A movement separating one part of the body from other parts, taking a part of the body and placing it out of its natural position.

  • J

  • Jazz Walk

    Walks done in demi-plie, parallel position.

    Arms can be in various positions. Long torso, energy rising through body even though knees are bent.

  • Jazz split

    A slide to the floor ending with forward leg straight and back leg bent.

  • Jete (zhuh tay)

    In French means “thrown”.

    In dance it is a leap in which one leg is brushed into the air and appears to have been thrown.

  • K

  • Kick Ball Change

    A step derived from tap dance.

    In jazz dance it is basically executed as its name indicates: do a low kick with one foot, place that foot back with weight briefly shifting from the ball of that foot to the opposite foot.

    This step is done mainly as a transition or preparatory movement.

  • Knee Hinge

    A position of the torso in which the heels are lifted, knees flexed, and body is a straight line from knees to top of head.

    Pelvis remains locked into this alignment.

  • L

  • Layout

    A straight line position, (torso parts connected to vertebrae in a straight line).

    May be done forward, back, or side with standing heel flat or raised, knee bent.

  • P

  • Pas de bourree (pah dher booreh)

    A step which takes its name from an 18th century dance.

    A commonly used version in jazz dance has three parts: stepping behind, side and forward in either direction.

    The basic purpose is for transitioning from one move to another.

    You can also take these same three steps and turn your body around as in a pas de bourree turn.

  • Penche (pahn shay)

    In French means “ leaning or bending over”.

    In dance it is when the body leans forward as in an arabesque penchee: the rear leg in arabesque and the body leaning forward, which takes the leg high in the air.

  • Pirouette (peer oo wett)

    In French means “whirl or spin”.

    In dance it is a turning of the whole body on one foot that may be performed in parallel position or in turn-out with the supporting leg in releve or in demi-plie.

    The other leg is brought to passé (retire).

  • Pique (pee kay)

    In French means “stung or pricked”.

    In dance it refers to a stepping directly onto the ball of the foot, with a straight leg.

  • Plie (plee yeh)

    In French means “folded or bent”.

    In dance it is a bending of the knees done to render the joints and muscles soft and pliable, the tendons flexible and elastic, and to develop a sense of balance.

    There is a demi-plie, or half bending, and grande-plie, or full bending, of the knees.

  • Promenade

    A pivot turn – lift heel and pivot on ball of foot.

    Working leg may be in any position. Supporting leg is usually straight.

  • R

  • Releve (rhe ler veh)

    In French means “raised again”.

    In dance it is a rising of the body onto the balls of the feet after a plie, then a lowering of the heels to the floor.

    This exercise helps to strengthen the ankles as well as one’s ability to balance. (From straight legs it would be eleve.)

  • Retire (reh tee reh)

    In French means “withdrawn”.

    In dance it is a position in which the thigh is raised, knee bent, foot “withdrawn” to just below the knee either in front of or behind the leg.

    In jazz and modern dance this position is often referred to as passé (pah seh).

  • Rolldown

    A sequential curving of the vertebrae, starting at the top of the skull and ending with the pelvis upside down.

    This exercise is done to lengthen, as well as increase elasticity, of the spine.

    This movement is reversed by contracting the abdominals and uncurling the spine back to an upright position.

  • Rond de Jambe (rawn dher zhahmb)

    In French means “round of the leg”. In dance it is when one foot describes a half circle on the floor.

    The exercise is done to turn the legs out from the hip sockets, warm up those muscles around the hip joint in preparation for larger movements and to strengthen the six deep outward rotator muscles underneath the gluteus maximus muscle.

  • S

  • Sagittal Plane

    Dividing the body laterally, or into “right” and “left” halves.

    This plane establishes a spatial stress Sagitally, or through the body back to front and in doing so creates a ‘right’ and ‘left’ half of the body as it intersects.

  • Sissone (see sohn)

    A term named for the originator of the step.

    It is basically a jump from two feet to one foot, although there are many variations depending on what the legs are doing before and after the steps.

  • Soutenu (soo teh nu)

    In French means “sustained”.

    In dance, a soutenu turn is a turning motion which may rotate in ¼, ½ or whole turns.

    It is executed by stepping to 2nd position, pulling the other leg in to meet the first leg and the turn is done in releve with the body’s weight shared equally by both feet.

    This turn is also known as a pencil turn.

  • Spotting

    A term given to the movement of the head and focusing of the eyes in pirouettes and other turning movements.

    The dancer chooses a spot to focus on with their eyes and as the turn is made, the eyes remain focused on that spot until the head has no choice but to whip around.

    This prevents the dancer from becoming dizzy when doing multiple turns.

  • Stag Leap

    Stag position denotes lifting front foot to knee of back leg, during leap. Back leg may be in attitude position, turned out or not, or back leg may be in arabesque position.

    Torso is lifted facing forward or parallel to the floor. Arms can be in various positions.

  • T

  • Tendu (tahn dew)

    In French means “ stretched”.

    In dance it is the brushing of the foot along the floor with the leg straight without lifting the toe.

    It is done to warm up and stretch the muscles of the foot as a preparation for larger leg movements.

  • Triplet

    In modern dance, it is a three step movement executed in turn out to music in ¾ or 6/8 time, in the following order: plie, releve, releve.

    A jazz triplet would be these three steps done to a 4/4 tempo and counted as one-and-two, and most likely done in plie.

  • Turn Out

    The outward rotation of the legs from the hip sockets.

    The degree of turn out is defined by skeletal structure of the pelvic girdle and by flexibility of the muscles controlling the rotation of the femur in the socket.