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5 Terms You Need to Know Before You Take Your First Dance Class


f you’ve never stepped foot inside a dance studio, certain words and concepts are bound to be foreign. Sure, knowing a few basics like turnout, alignment, plié or tendu is a plus, but some common terminology isn’t found in a typical dictionary. To avoid any misunderstanding during your first dance class, here are five terms to get familiar with before your first class:

1. Supporting leg. Especially when you are doing dance exercises at the ballet barre, there is usually a leg that you stand on and a leg that does an action, for instance grand battement. The leg that you stand on is often referred to as the supporting leg. Teachers call the other leg the “gesture” or “working” leg even though the supporting leg works just as hard.

2. Double time. Double time means dancing twice as fast. If a movement normally takes up four beats of the music, it will take only two when you dance it in double-time. Dance teachers also sometimes use the term half-time, which means twice as slow.

3. Spatial awareness. Although this term is pretty self explanatory (being aware of the space around you), keeping the right amount of distance between yourself and other dancers takes practice. Dance teachers use these two terms to help new dancers understand how to space themselves.

  • Stagger. If dancers are in one big line, there’s a lot of unused space on the dance floor. Staggering a line means that every other person steps backward or forward of the person next to them. Now there are two lines and everyone has more room to move in the dance space.
  • Window. This term describes the space between dancers in the line (or lines) in front of you. You must stand “in the window” between dancers if you want to be seen by the audience.

4. Transition. Transitions in a dance combination are the small changes your body makes to get you from one step or pose to another. Maybe it’s an extra bend of the knees as you go from one foot to the other, or the pathway your arm takes as it changes position. Copying the details of how your teacher moves between steps can actually make you a better dancer.

5. Spotting. Ever wonder how dancers don’t get dizzy when they do spin after spin? They delay the rotation of their head as their body makes each turn and then snap their focus (and their head!) back to its starting point with a technique called spotting. You can practice spotting in front of a mirror to improve your technique.