Basic Dance Steps

Benna Crawford
Dancer stepping

Taken from a wide variety of dance genres, the basic moves below will get you started on your journey as a novice dancer. Many foundational steps work across all dance disciplines -- that step-ball-change is good-to-go in jazz, tap, and samba. Brush up on your basics or break into a new flight style on the dance floor with footwork to dazzle the adoring crowd.

Ball Change

The ball change is found in most dance disciplines, including jazz, tap, lyrical, and hip hop. Due to its crossover appeal, it's usually one of the first steps taught to new dancers. The ball change is completed in two counts - transferring weight onto the ball of the foot (1), then a step back onto the other foot (2). This step is usually connected to another step, such as the "kick ball change" movement.

  1. Step onto your right foot, transferring all your weight to that foot.
  2. Lift the left foot and step back, behind the right foot, just onto the ball of the foot.
  3. Shift your weight to the ball of the left foot as you raise your right foot.
  4. Step back down onto the right foot, completing the move.
  5. Step-ball-change can be done to the right, to the left or in place. It's often used as a transition, and it happens very fast.

Box Step

This one will get you through any wedding; it's your basic tool from foxtrot to rumba. Your steps form the shape of a simple square or box.

  1. If you're leading, step forward, slide the back foot up, and end with both feet together.
  2. Next step to the side, slide, together. Two things to remember: each step involves a full weight transfer; no cutting corners, no sloppy diagonal shortcuts.

Always follow the outline of the box or square. The tidy box step opens a world of American and Latin-style ballroom dances to you.

Chaîné Turns

Chaîné turns are an introductory quick turn used in ballet and lyrical dance, though they are sometimes found in jazz and other styles. The name comes from the French, meaning "chain." Chaînés are simply a chain of rapid turns on alternating feet. Starting in first position, the turns progress either across the floor in a straight line or in a circle.

  1. Begin in fifth position, right foot pointing right, snugged up in front of the left foot pointing left, arms at your sides.
  2. Raise both arms together, elbows lightly bent so the arms curve and the fingers are just touching about waist high.
  3. As you raise the arms, bend the knees, keeping the torso erect, and slide the right foot out to the right.
  4. Open the arms wide to the side as the foot slides wide to the right.
  5. Bring the left foot in, crossing it in front of the right as you relevé onto demi-toe.
  6. Bring the arms back into the waist-high curve as you turn your entire body with the momentum of the moving left foot. This is a turn on half-toe with both feet very close together.
  7. Repeat the sequence but this time, as you turn on relevé or half-toe, bring the arms up and into a gentle curve overhead, fingertips barely touching.

Dos-i-do

The dos-i-do, used in square dancing, involves two dancers facing each other. Next, they walk around each other in a circular rotation without turning. To complete a correct dos-i-do, each dancer should face the same wall the entire time, ensuring there is a rotation rather than an actual turn.

  1. Standing next to your partner and facing the couple opposite you, walk toward each other.
  2. As you reach the opposite couple, continue to walk forward moving easily between them.
  3. Do not turn around. Keep walking and step sideways a few steps, keeping the dancer you just passed behind you.
  4. Step backwards to complete a circuit around the opposite dancer and return to your place, next to your partner in the square.

Grapevine

Facing front, the dancer steps his right foot out to the side, and crosses in front with the left. The right foot then steps out again, followed by the left foot crossing behind. Repeat. The grapevine is used in jazz dance, as well as country line dancing.

  1. Step to the right and transfer your weight to the right foot.
  2. Step to the right, behind the right foot, with the left foot.
  3. Step to the right with the right foot.
  4. Step to the right with the left foot but this time just touch the toes to the floor next to the right foot.
  5. Step immediately to the left with the left foot.
  6. Step to the left, behind the left foot with the right foot...and continue.

Heel Turn

In ballroom dance, the heel turn involves turning on the heel of the supporting foot, while the other foot stays parallel. As the turn completes a full rotation, the weight is placed onto the other foot.

  1. Step back on the right foot, turning the toes in slightly toward the body.
  2. Shift your weight to the heel of the right foot as you slide your left foot back.
  3. Slide the left foot on the heel, to the right foot and around as you turn your body, pivoting on the right heel.
  4. Come up slightly onto the balls of the feet as you complete the turn.

For a turn to the left, start with the right foot. For a turn to the right, start with the left foot.

Moonwalk

Channel Michael, or Marcel Marceau. Just be so freakin' cool on the dance floor your friends will open up a space for you. The moonwalk is dead easy, but you have to practice enough to commit it to muscle memory so the illusion remains unbroken. Go here for a break down of how to do it as if you invented the step yourself.

Rond

In ballet, the rond, or rond de jambe, consists of a pointed toe on a straight leg (or bent at the knee) drawing a semicircle on the floor or in the air. This can also be found in ballroom dance.

  1. Begin in first position, toes pointed out and heels touching. Extend the leg to the front, knees straight and foot pointed, not flexed. Your weight is all on your supporting leg.
  2. Trace a semi-circle on the floor or in the air with the leg and pointed foot -- front, side, back -- and return to first position. That's a rond de jambe to the front.
  3. For a rond to the back, simply start the move by extending the leg to the back and bringing it through side to front and to first position.

Swing

You and your partner are a ballroom dancing dream team. The simplest swing step is part of your arsenal of smooth moves -- use an open ballroom hold, slightly turned out from each other to display your footwork. The lead starts on one foot, the follower mirrors the moves, starting on the opposite foot.

  1. Keeping the weight on the right foot, lift the left foot and step down behind the right foot. Immediately shift the weight forward again to the right foot, a rocking motion.
  2. Then step forward with the left, feet now together.
  3. Step to the side, starting with the left foot: side, step (right foot moves to left foot), step (weight is now on the left foot).
  4. Step to the right: side-step-step.
  5. Repeat the sequence.

Online Resources

If you choose to learn basic dance moves online, there are many quality websites that will teach you effectively. LearnToDance.com provides you with both text and video clips, allowing you to process information in whichever way is easiest. The American Ballet Theatre presents an extensive ballet dictionary.

Things to Remember

Before learning any actual dance steps, take the preparation steps to ensure your success:

  • Warm up your body by stretching. The simplest steps can cause sore muscles and injury in a body not accustomed to a regular dance practice.
  • Learn your moves in a class taught by a professional dance instructor. This will reduce your risk of injury and ensure you learn the steps properly.
  • If a studio class is not an option, then use an instructional DVD or online video that clearly explains what to do.
  • Make sure your rehearsal space is free of heavy or breakable objects, providing you with enough room for free movement.
  • Be patient with yourself during the learning process. Even simple dance steps take some time to master.

Social Medium

Dance is your entree to parties, family celebrations, clubbing with your friends, and acceptance in other cultures. A modest repertoire of basic steps can be adapted to almost any style and may slide you right past potentially awkward moments when the band strikes up or a DJ suddenly enters the scene. Learning to use your left foot and your right foot in acceptable patterns ensures you won't be wrong-footed in any social situation.

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Basic Dance Steps