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Jazz Dance Terminology

Ad Lib: Means to “improvise”. This term was coined by jazz musicians.

Axel Turn: An axle turn is basically two turns in one. It starts with a chainé turn then without stopping one leg goes to passé position and the other joins it in a jump before landing. The arms pull in for the chainé - then for the axel jump one stays in first position front while the other opens to second then circles above your head and down.

Ball Change: This is a change of weight between both feet. Change weight and do a stamp-stamp.

Barrel Jump: Basically a jump in the air with both legs bent back from the knee and both arms in the air in any basic pose.

Barrel turn: A turn with your arms straight out but one is higher then the other and as you turn the arms switch heights. The arms can stay opened or closed during the actual turning action. The body stays bent forward and the dancer spots the floor or to the front.

Bounce: Basically a swing type step or bounce to a step.

Cake Walk: A type of diagonal walk with each step the foot raises as far up as to the knee – like an obnoxious type of exaggerated walk almost with an arched back. This was developed in the old days back when slavery was still happening and the black entertainers would do this walk to imitate the white high society as a parody. So it was a comical satire that turned into a dance step!

Cat Walk: A type of walk where one leg smoothly crosses over the other in a tango like fashion or a “cat like” way with the other foot bending back from the knee and the other extends forward.

Catch Step: This is a flat footed ball change.

Chassè: A basic ballet move that is used in all styles. A chasse is a kind of gallop where one foot chasses the other. It is a traveling step.

Coffee Grinder: This is a turning step that starts with a pirouette fouetté jump and one leg is bent while the other is in 2nd position. So do the fouette and a little jump while in mid turn. Others say this movement is closer to the ground while the body squats and one leg is bent and positioned unfer the working leg. Then the straight, free leg does a floor circle around your body and the supporting leg hops over the working leg as it is going – which describes more of a Russian move that a breakdancing move is now derived from. Both types of movement are basically called the same thing but the former is a more typical jazz mvoement.

Contract: A basic modern movement used in all styles. This is where the dancer contracts the mid section and pull back against a movement for emphasis.

Curve or “arch”: This is the opposite of a contraction. The mid section pushes forward and the back arches curving the back.

Dolphin: This is a movement where the body flows in a snake type movement starting from the chest moving up. Shakira does this a lot! By the way, this movement is named several different things! We can call it the “s” move, the snake etc etc..

Drop and Recover: This is more of a modern dance step but can be used in jazz as well. It’s when a dancer has to drop to the floor in a controlled fall from a position.

Fall: A way for the dancer to fall to the ground in a graceful and controlled movement that appears natural.

Fall Over the Log: A step where the dancer steps out onto one foot while the other foot lifts and points at the knee of the other. In ballet terms it would be considered a “piquè passé”.

Fan Kick: This is a round about kick where the body stays aligned but the leg kicks high in a fan motion starting inward and around or vice versa.

Figure 8: This movement you will see in mambo or the like and belly dancing even: it is when the hips smoothly roll around in the trace of the figure eight.

Flick: A jazzy and sassy way of doing a développe enveloppé. Basically the working leg sneaks up the supporting leg and flicks out straight ahead.

Flick Kick: Another ballet move done in a jazzy way which is basically a développé battement. This is when the working leg again sneaks up the supporting leg in a passé then jets out to a high kick in a flicking motion. This is a very “Fosse” like movement.

Freeze: Just what you think it means…to freeze a movement! This type of movement (or lack thereof) is more of an accent on music then a movement. It gives a moment flare and emphasis in a subtle way.

Funk: This is more of a energy then a specific movement that tells the dancer to get into the music and ride with it or grove with it in a loose and fun way. Funk is also a rhythm and a type of music.

Head-roll: Speaks for itself! A head roll is letting the head move around it’s entire circular access in a controlled but relaxed fashion while the body stays aligned and in position. Head and hand rolls where a very popular movement Bob Fosse used. He liked small rolling movements as in his choreography from “Cabaret”.

Hinge: This is when the body is aligned but it is being tipped from the knees down with the feet on the ball pushing it forward.

Hip Walk: A basic jazz walk that jets the hips out in a circular sexy movement with the arms rounded in back while in pliè.

Hip-fall: This is a controlled drop to the floor whether on knees or feet and a slide through till the body is on the floor on it’s side and one arm is straight out against the floor.

Hip-roll: This is an isolated roll of the hips while the rest of the body stays in position.

Hitch Kick: This is like the famous “Karate Kid” finale kick! You give a little jump up with one knee in the air, and as soon as you kit the ground the other leg whips into a high kick. The former move is a preparation for the high kick

Hop: This is a jump off of one foot that lands on the same foot. Like in hop scotch…

Jazz Drag: This is a jazz walk or hip walk with a drag in it. Sort of a dragging jazz walk.

Jazz Run: A running jazz walk! This requires a fluidity and grace to make it look natural and not awkward.

Jazz Split: This is a split on the floor with the back leg bent upward from the knee. Sometimes the knee can be grabbed or the head can be arched back towards it.

Jazz Square: This is a smooth four step movement, example: step out on your right leg, step back with your left, cross over with your right leg and step forward with your left. A full square movement in a sassy jazzy motion.

Jazz Walk: A low gravity type of walk where the body is in pliè and the shoulders and arms are curved in opposition while walking forward. This is without a hip roll. The Hip walk is the same but with a hip roll.

Jump Over the Log: This is a jump from one leg to the other that is a little more grand but not big enough to make a flying leap. It’s a control leap from one leg to the other. In jazz a slick and catlike form must be kept for the movement to “gel”.

Kick: This is a high kick that throws the working leg in the air in a controlled manner, while the supporting leg and body stay properly aligned in the jazz position of choice.

Knee Fall: This requires knee pads! It’s a fall onto the knees which usually preludes another move and lands as a “punch” in the choreography.

Knee Slide: This is a very “rock n roll” move! It requires knee pads as well so you can slide across the floor on your knees without floor burn (ouch)!

Knee Turn: A 360 degree turn or the like but on both knees or one knee (usually two).

Lay Out: This is the jazz moves of all jazz moves. The layout is a difficult one to master for some. The body must be flexible to kick out and within’ the kick the body will lean into it with the leg still high, and the entire torso will follow it until it’s parallel with the floor and the arms follow behind (or above) it.

Limbo: We’ve all done or seen the limbo! Basically walking in a hinge and sometimes adding a shimmie to the shoulders.

Mess Around: This is a static turn that starts with one leg that crosses over the other and brings the body around in a 360 degree two legged turn (in ballet it’s called a soutenu). The head sometimes roll as do the hips and the arms are straight out in opposition like an “airplane” move.

Moonwalk: Michael Jackson originated this one…

Pencil Turn: This is a spin on both feet where the body is straight and the body spins a few times with ease.

Pitch: Often the position is a deep arabesque with the playing leg up in the sky and the chest towards the floor hitting the standing led. It's a very dynamic movement often done after a pirouette (turn + pitch).

Pivot Step: This is a step forward (or in any direction) with a pivot right after.

Primitive Squat: This is a hop forward into a deep 2nd position (see ballet terms) pliè. But in jazz, you won’t be required to be turned out as much (whew)! This is to make the move more sassy then classical…as is jazz ;)

Release:The opposite of contract. A release is only done after the contraction. It is a “letting go” of whatever forced movement or pose your body was in.

Ripple: A snake movement which starts at the pelvis and works it’s way up to the torso and moves in either direction one after the other. The actual “snake” starts from the head though – this differs cause it starts (again) from the pelvis.

Shimmie: This movement is done from the shoulders. One shoulder moves forward while the other moves back and is done really fast in a shake. This movement is also a type of “breast” shaking movement in burlesque dancing (just so you get the picture)!

Shiver: This is a controlled tremble throughout the entire body. The small muscles must contract and tighten so they twitch very quickly.

Shoulder Fall: This movement started from Martha Graham and her series of “controlled falls”. Basically the dancer arches back almost into a backbend but pushes the body out when it would otherwise backbend or hit the ground so the body slides back leaving you on the ground flat on your back.

Shoulder Roll: An isolation movement of the shoulders. A shoulder roll!

Sissonne Fall: A controlled side fall after doing a “sisonne” which is a sissor like kick out to the side where you push out on two feet while the body flies sideways and one leg kicks up higher then the other. Then after you fall out to the side in a controlled manner with one arm being out flat against the ground as your hip and one same side leg will be.

Skate: This is a skating movement like a speedway skater. The leg pushes in then pulls out side forward then the other leg does the same.

Snake: Think “80s” – think “Paula Abdul” – the snake is an S movement starting from the head and curving the body sideways in a smooth and slinky movement all the way throughout the body and going to the other side in a seamless way.

Snap: A finger snap – like in West Side Story! Oh so jazzy…

Spins: Continuous moving turns (a.k.a. chainès).

Spiral: The spiral is a turn that turns the spine around in separate order. The top will be around faster then the bottom of your body or vice versa.

Stag Leap: This is a high leap or jump in a split but with the front leg bent from the knee inward.

Step: Step…need I say more?

Switch: This is a way to switch the working leg. Moving the working leg back so that the other leg is now free for the next movement.

Table top: 2nd parallel with a straight back tilting flat (like a table).

Tilt: High développé in a 2nd position with the body tilting to the opposite direction.

Touch: This is touching your pointed foot to the floor with a quiet energy.

Tripplettes: Diagonal walking at ¾ tempo (originated from Graham).

Turns: Turning on the beat.

Twists: Pivoting from one foot to the other.

Worm: Dolphin going backwards with steps or chassés.


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