Jazz Dance Terminology


Learning basic jazz dance terminology can help you know the lingo at that next advanced dance class, or help you to teach your own basic session if ever given the opportunity.

The Importance of Jazz Dance Terminology

Dance is a universal language in terms of conveying a message to an audience; however within the dance world each genre of movement has its own unique dialect. Jazz dance is no different, as there are different terms and definitions that must be memorized to keep everyone on the same page. Advancing to higher levels of technique without knowing the names of basic moves will pose an incredible challenge to an up and coming dancer, making it well worth the time it takes to master the talk of the trade.

Learning jazz dance terminology will also allow you to teach and help others who are new to their craft. Once you know the right words, you will be able to teach and perform anywhere around the world where an opportunity presents itself.

Basic Terms

Below is an alphabetized list of simple phrases and definitions often used in jazz technique. Study up on these, you never know when there might be a test!

Axel Turn

An axel turn is a simple yet stunning jump often used in intermediate choreography. Starting with a chene turn, one leg goes up into passé, followed by the other, developing into a fully rotating jump in the air.

Ball Change

A ball change is a change of weight distribution on the balls of the feet. This is a popular transitory step in many jazz dance routines.


Stolen from ballet, this step resembles a galloping motion, as one foot literally "chases" the other. This is often used in jazz dance terminology to describe a way to travel across the stage, or flow two moves together.


Used in more modern jazz routines, a drop is when a dancer executes a controlled fall from an isolated position.


This jazz dance term is also used in varying styles of dance, used to describe an arm or leg extended outward and held for a determined pause of movement.

Fan Kick

The body stays in place while one leg starts inward and kicks all the way around to its original position. These are often used in kick lines and Broadway-style routines, such as Fosse influenced choreography.

Jazz Walk

Posture is low, and feet slightly drag across the floor in this modified walk used for traveling across the stage. Variations include the jazz run and jazz drag.

Knee Turn

A basic chene turn, only it is executed on one or both knees.


One leg is kicked up in the air, while the torso is leaned back into as dramatic an arch as possible. Head should be dropped back and arms should also be extended backward, almost able to touch the floor.

Pivot Step

One foot steps in front of the other, and then the body pivots around back into the original position.


Following an isolated pose, the body "releases" into a freer form.

Stag Leap

A very high jump, simulating splits in the air, only one leg is bent so the foot is tucked under the knee.

Testing Others on Their Terms

If you are a dance teacher, you can make a game out of jazz dance terminology. Challenge your students by having contests to see who can execute the most moves called out by their peers. You can also make it a relay race, where flash cards are used to give the step, and dancers must be first to complete it correctly.

Lastly, you can incorporate a written test into your class time, increasing the difficulty of the dance vocabulary as the term progresses. Your dancers will thank you when they can leave your class confident in their jazz dance lingo, ready to get out there and audition for their big break.

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Jazz Dance Terminology