Dance Glossary and Terminology

There are innumerable dance genres around the world and each with its own terminology.

Below I list some terms and their definitions, from various genres, for dance enthusiasts who are willing to find out more.




Abhinaya, also called nritya, in bharathanatyam is a narrative dance that portrays stories and emotions.


Accent when used as a term in dance, is the emphasis, in music, on a certain element of the piece, anything that stands out from the rest of the composition. A dancer can decided to reflect some of the accents he/she hears, with the body. There are many ways to do accents in dance, depending on the genre.


Adavus are bharathanatyam steps.


Allokines, are variations on kinemes (see below under the letter K). Whereas kinemes are units of movement that are distinct from one another, an allokine is a variation on the same movement.

For example, in belly dance, a hip horizontal figure of eight is a distinct movement. This movement can be performed in different ways while still being recognized as a ‘hip horizontal figure of eight’.

The difference can be in characteristics such as the speed with which it is done, the intensity etc. This can be due to a dancer’s individual style, his/her physiology or the effect they want to obtain in a specific situation.


Angasuddha in bharathanatyam is the clarity of line and shape.


Arabesque in ballet, it is a position in which one leg is extended behind at a right angle, torso bent forward and the arms extended, one up and one forward.

A modified version of the arabesque is used in Raqs sharqi. In this case, it is used as a traveling step, which is inspired by the ballet step, but the legs are not lifted as high, it can be done with flat feet or on toes, and it is layered with waving movements of the torso, and/or hips, and sinuous arms.


Arangetram is the debut of a bharathanatyam dancer, the first time she performs once the teacher decides that she is ready.


Ardhamandali is one of the basic bharathanatyam positions, in which the feet and bent knees are placed sideways, in a sort of demi-plie.



Bharathanatyam is a form of classical Indian dance. – a form of classical Indian dance.



Canon is a structure in which a movement is started by one dancer and then repeated identically by subsequent dancers, one after the other.

Contact improvisation

Contact improvisation is a technique invented in the 1970s in America and used in contemporary dance, in which dancers improvise together using each other’s weight in order to initiate movements.


Choreography is the ‘design’ of a dance piece; all the sequences of steps, patterns, and movements, which make up a dance piece and which can be repeated the same or in a similar way in different performances of the same piece.


Choreology refers to the notation of dance movement.


Cosmopolitanism literally means to be ‘citizen of the world’ from the ancient Greek words kosmos meaning world, universe and politês meaning citizen.

In philosophy, the term refers to the belief that all people, as members of the human species, all belong to the same community. Therefore, a cosmopolitan refuses to be defined by a nation of belonging.



Devadisi dancers who used to perform in Hindu rituals sadir, an ancient Indian form which was later renamed bharathanatyam.



Ethnochoreology term coined by America dancer and dance researcher Gertrude Prokosch Kurath, referring to the study of ethnic dance, or rather the study of dance in its form, as well as its ethnic roots.



In Dance, floorwork refers to dance movements done on the floor, lying down, kneeling or sitting.



Genre in dance is a specific form of dance, characterized by specific movement vocabularies and conventions, which are culturally influenced.



The word habitus was used by the French sociologist, philosopher and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, to refer to sets of dispositions (both mental and behavioral).

According to Bourdieu, people acquire these dispositions as part of the culture they grow up in, by watching, observing and reproducing them.

Habitus also includes things such as taste (i.e. the things we like) and our body language (i.e. the way we move and our posture, for example). In the field of dance, habitus explains how a specific dance tradition can incorporate certain ways of moving, which are typical of the everyday body language of the population that gave origin to that dance culture.


Hybridism is the result of mixing together elements that were previously separate.

These elements can come from different societies, from the same society but different segments within this society (e.g different social classes) or from different points in time (e.g. elements from different eras).

An example of hybridism in dance is Chinese ballet (such as the National Ballet of China), which mixes elements of European and Russian ballet with Chinese cultural elements.

Another example is tribal belly dance style as performed by Kiwi Iwi Oceanic Belly Dance Troupe from New Zealand, which fuses Middle Eastern and global elements with local Maori influences.

Hybrid Dance Genre

A hybrid dance genre is a genre that includes elements from different traditions or cultures, as explained above.

All dance genre can be hybrid to a certain extent, as cultures always influence each other, although some genres can be more hybrid than others.

Whereas fusion is just an instance, a performance event, in which different genres are fused together, a hybrid dance genre is a genre in its own rights.

For example, American Tribal Belly Dance (created in the USA in the 1980s) incorporates elements from a variety of dance cultures but it is a distinct genre, with its own movement vocabulary and aesthetics.


Interpretivist Paradigm

The interpretivist paradigm is a model for research, which is concerned with how people see the world. Thus, it refers to the subjective experiences of individuals.


Judgment Criteria

Judgment criteria, in research, are those criteria by which a research project’s standards are evaluated. That is, whether the research can be considered ‘good’.

The judgment criteria in qualitative research are generally different from those used in quantitative research.

In qualitative research, for instance, instead of talking about validity, objectivity and reliability we can talk about verisimilitude (i.e. being close to what the people involved in the field consider to be true), internal coherence (i.e. if the data and its interpretation create a coherent picture) or confirmability (i.e. if the results can be confirmed by others).

The same goes for dance research. If you are investigating dance from a medical point of view, for example, you might want to use the criteria of validity, objectivity, and reliability.

If instead, you are studying dance as a socio-cultural phenomenon, you will want to create a picture that is coherent and that practitioners would deem verisimile.



Kinaesthesia the sensation of the body in relation to movement and its weight, position and muscle tension.


Kinaesthetic relates to kinaesthesia (see above)

Kinaesthetic Empathy

Kinaesthetic empathy is the ability to understand other people’s emotion by watching their movements.

In the field of dance, it is the ability of the spectator to simulate, in their mind, and to feel or anticipate the performer’s movements.

Thus, kinaesthetic empathy can help explain how dance transmits emotions through movement.


The term ‘kinemes’ was coined by the American anthropologist Adrienne Kaeppler, for her dance analysis studies, and it was inspired by the term ‘phoneme’ from the field of linguistics.

A phoneme is the unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a certain language.

For example, in the English language, the sounds ‘t’ and ‘d’ are phonemes as they distinguish words (e.g. tip and dip). In other languages, such as Korean, although they can pronounce both ‘t’ and ‘d’, these sounds are not seen as distinctive enough.

Similarly, with movement, kinemes are the minimal units of movement that people in a specific dance tradition see as distinctive enough to be able to tell the difference between one movement and another.



Labanotation is a form of dance notation created by Rudolph Laban in the first half of the 20th century.

Laban movement theory

Laban movement theory of movement is based on the ideas of Rudolph Laban.


Lasya in bharathanatyam it is grace, which adds quality to the technique.


Levels is the distance of a dance movement from the floor. From low (near to or on the floor) to medium, all the way up to lifting and elevations of the body, with various stages in between.



Mudra are bharathanatyam hand gestures.

Morris Dance

Morris dance is a traditional folkloric dance from Great Britain.



Natya in bharathanatyam is abhinaya and nritta together, which form dance and drama.


Nritta in bharathanatyam is pure abstract movement.


Nritya is also called abhinaya, in bharathanatyam is the narrative form of the dance.

Nubian dance

Nubian dance is a folkloric dance genre from Upper Egypt.



Pizzica is a popular dance genre, originally from the region of Puglia, in Southern Italy.


Raqs Sharqi

Raqs sharqi, also spelt raks sharki, it literally means oriental dance in Arabic and it refers to a specific form of belly dance, which mixes traditional Middle Eastern dance movements with western dance influences such as ballet and ballroom dances.


Relevé is rising up on the ball of the feet, or to full point. It is originally a ballet term, but also used in other dance genres.



Sadir and also sadeer attam, it is the old name of bharathanatyam.


Saidi is a type of Egyptian folkloric dance, originally from Upper Egypt, with a specific rhythm and danced using assaya (sticks in Arabic).


A score is written text with dance notation, using systems such as labanotation, Benesh or Conté, among others.


Shaabi in Arabic means ‘of the people’ and it refers to pop music and dance. They have shaabi music in Egypt and Morocco, for example, each with its own type of music and dance associated with it.


Shamadan in Middle Eastern dance, it is the candelabrum that a dancer balances on her head during wedding processions, particularly in Egyptian traditional weddings.


Shikhat is Moroccan professional dancers who are hired for celebrations such as weddings.

Side (or team)

Side is in Morris dance terminology, it is a troupe, a group of dancers.


Style within a certain genre, style is a subdivision of it. For example, within the genre of ballet, there can be classical or contemporary styles.

Also, style can refer to the individual style of a dancer or choreographer, their particular ways of moving or designing a dance, within the parameters of a certain genre.


Tala Suddha

Tala Suddha in bharathanatyam, it is precision shown in strong rhythmic relation with music.


Tandava in bharathanatyam this is the vigour, strength and speed, in particular relating to footwork.


Tarab in Arabic for ecstasy. This is the state that in Egyptian belly dance refers to the complete immersion in the music and the feelings conveyed by the dance, which the dancer can generate and transmit to the audience.


Taranta is a trance dance genre from the south of Italy, traditionally used as a way to cure madness caused by the bite of the taranta spider.


Tinmanams in bharathanatyam, these are the rhythmic sequences.


The term triangulation is often used in quantitative research to compare a set of data against another, thus achieving more reliable results.

In qualitative research, triangulation consists in the practice of using more than one method of research to answer the research questions, thus giving a more rounded view of an issue.

In dance research, triangulation can consist, for example, in using dance videos for analysis, at the same time as doing interviews to practitioners and searching textual materials in archives.

This way, you would explore the dance movements, as well as its history, and the perceptions and experiences of that dance tradition by those who practise it.



Zar is an Egyptian rhythm used for a type of trance dance, with the same name.