World Dance Heritage Research Centre


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. I will update this page, once in a while, with new terms.



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

Accent – 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 – bharathanatyam steps.

Angasuddha – in bharathanatyam it 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 travelling 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 – debut of a bharathanatyam dancer, the first time she performs once the teacher decides that she is ready.

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


Bharathanatyam – a form of classical Indian dance.


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

Contact improvisation – 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 – 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 – notation of dance movement.


Devadasi – 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.


Floorwork – dance movements done on the floor, lying down, kneeling or sitting.


Genre – a specific form of dance, characterised by specific movement vocabularies and conventions, which are culturally influenced.


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

Kinaesthetic – relating to kinaesthesia.


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

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

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

Levels – 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 – bharathanatyam hand gestures.

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

Nubian dance – folkloric dance genre from Upper Egypt.


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


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 ball room dances.

Relevé – 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 – also sadeer attam, it is the old name of bharathanatyam.

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

Score – written text with dance notation, using systems such as labanotation, Benesh or Conté, among others.

Shaabi – in Arabic it 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 – Moroccan professional dancers who are hired for celebrations such as weddings.

Side (or team) – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.


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

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