How to do jazz dance moves

Jazz Dance Terminology – CLI Studios

July 15, 2021 March 7, 2022 / 3 minutes of reading

Like any genre of dance, Jazz dance has its own terminology which is sometimes specific to itself – but often shared with other styles of dance. Here are a few of the more commonly used terms to get you started in your understanding of the style.

Axel Turn

A spinning rotation in which the dancer performs a knee bend and kick in the air before bringing the legs together again on the ground.

Ball Change

A basic move found in most forms of modern dance, a ball change is a transfer of weight from one foot to the other, often performed quickly. The “ball” refers to the ball of the foot, which is the thick muscular pad just below the toes.

Barrel Turn

A spin that is executed by putting a leg forward, kicking off that forward leg, and using the outstretched arms as a means of gathering momentum for the spin. A barrel turn requires tight coordination between the feet and the arms for its success.


A popular dance from the early days of jazz and swing, the Charleston has at its core a front-to-back weight shift accompanied by a forward kick, often performed with a partner and with arm motions and sometimes jazz hands.


Borrowed from ballet, a chassé–from the French meaning, “to chase”– is a kicking forward motion where one leg “chases” the other. Often performed with arms forward or overhead, a chassé is a good set-up step for a leap.

Fan Kick

Requiring a great degree of flexibility, a fan kick is where one leg travels in a circular motion from in front of the other leg, up into the air at the full range of motion, over the head, and finally down in a resting position. It is named after its imitation of an opening hand fan.

Jazz Hands

A highly stylized and exaggerated splaying of the fingers on open, extended palms. Used to convey rhythm and feeling, very popular in Broadway productions.

Jazz Square

A version of a box step where the dancer creates a square on the ground using a four-step sequence that imitates walking without any forward movement beyond the fourth step. Usually performed as side, back, side, forward.

Jazz Walk

A forward-moving strut, the jazz walk is meant to convey a cool image, and to give the dancer a sultry and slinky gait when in motion.

Stag Leap

A high forward leap in which the dancer imitates the actions of a male deer, with arms up and the knees bent like a prancing animal.

Lindy Hop

A mixture of preceding jazz dances like the Charleston, as well as tap dance, the Lindy Hop (named after aviator Charles Lindburgh’s groundbreaking 1927 transatlantic flight) is a partnered dance that serves as the centerpiece of the swing dance style. It remains a popular dance because of its improvisational style and fun, stylized movements.

Jazz Dance Basics- Locomotor Movements in Jazz Dance

Locomotor Movements- use the arms in some way. The arms and legs are often coordinated in opposition. Opposition means that the opposite arm and leg are forward during a step.

Jazz Walks


There are many varieties of jazz walks. Jazz walks can be performd in pile, in releve, in plic-releve, with any isolation movements, in any direction, and at any tempo. The technique for the basic jazz walk is to roll through the ball of the foot and then the heel to the floor. The legs stretch and reach as far as possible, and at least one foot maintains contact with the floor at all times. The jazz walk is stylized with a step longer than the natural stride. Another stylized variations of the jazz walk is the strut. Between each step of this movement, the leg comes through a low passe position.

The Step Touch

The Step Touch is a progression from the walk. This movement can travel forward, backward, or sideward. Start by stepping with the RF to the front, back or side. The LF then touches the floor next to the RF; no weight is placed on the LF. Generally, the touch is done with the ball of the foot, without the heel touching the floor. A touch many be done with the leg straight or bent; the touch may be to the front, back or side of the stepping foot. A touch is sometimes referred to as a tap. This movement can be performed beginning with the LF and touching with the R.

The Cross Touch

Another walk and touch progressiion which can travel forward or backward. Start by stepping across in a demi plie. The opposite touches the floor to the side or second position.  

The Camel Walk

A very stylized walk using the torso movement of the body wave. Step fwd with the heel of the lead foot. Roll from the heel onto the ball of the foot while at the same time executing a body wave upward from the lower back and hips. Finish with the opposite foot sliding in to meet the stepping foot.

The Jazz Square

Consists of four walking steps performed in a square. The first step travels forwards, the second crosses in front of the first, the third step travels backward, and the fourth step opens to the side. The hips and arms are usually used in this step to stylize and accent the movements.

The Jazz Slide

Initiated by stepping to a turned-out second-position lunge andt hen sliding the straight leg along the floor, foot pointed. The hip of the bent leg is pushed in the direction of the lunge so that the body is tilted and asymmetrical. The arms are in second position but, because the body is tilted, they are on an oblique line parallel to the extended sliding leg.

The Grapevine

It travels to the side and can be performed at various tempos. The hips can twist with the movement or they can remain stable. The grapevine can be performed in plie or releve. Can also be in a turning pattern.

The Chasse

A term borrowed from ballet where it is defined as a slide. In jazz it is also a sliding movement, but on closer examination, it can be analyzed as a step-together-step. It is a movement that travel fwd, backward, or sideward. When performed to its fullest, it brings the dancer into the air. When in the air, the legs should be straight, feet pointed and crossed in a tight fifth position.

The Kick Ball Change

A step derived from tap dance. This step is counted one-and-two and is regulary used as transition step because it involves little or no travelling. One leg kick as hgih as determined by flexibility or choreography. The kicking leg steps to the rear of the supporting leg, placing the weight on the ball of the foot, heel lifted. The other foot then steps in place with the weight changing or transferring onto this foot; hence the name kick-ball change.

The Pas de Bourree

‘Bourree’, a movement from a 17th century French dance, consists of three steps. It can be performed in several ways. It also can be counted in several ways: 1&2, 1&a 2&a. The count depends on the tempo and the accent.

  1. Pas de Bourree in Place or Travelling fwd or bck (cross, side, front)

    1. begins in second position.

    2. The first step crosses in front or back.

    3. In the second step, the opposite foot steps to second position.

    4. In the third step, the first foot steps in place.

  1. Pas de Bourree Traveling Sideward (back, side, front)

    1. first, crosses in back.

    2. second, travels to second position.

    3. crosses over the second step, travelling farther sideward.

  1. Pas de Bourree Turning

    1. first, crosses in back.

    2. second, turns the body halfway around by stepping toward the back.

    3. third, completes the turn by crossing in front of the second step.

The Triplet

A three-step movement with the first step in plie and the 2nd & 3rd steps in releve. Usually travels fwd but can also be backward, sideward or turning.

A triplet may be identified as a mamba when it is executed with a twisting of the torso and hips.

Kicks (Grand Battements)

Can be inplace or travelling across the floor.

As an inplace movement, see Ballet movements used in Jazz Dance.

As a travelling movement, step in front of the kicking leg and then kick the leg that is free. Repeat this across the floor. When doing this movement, the supporting leg can be flat-footed or in plie, releve, or plie-releve (often called ‘forced arch’ because of the exaggerated, or forced, arch of the foot). The extended leg, the leg that is kicking, may be straight or developed (leg goes through a passe position and then is extended to a high kick)

Fan Kick

The leg makes a sweeping arc through space. It crosses in front oft he body, then sweeps to make a half circle before touching the ground. The sweeping leg can be either straight or in attitude; ideally the leg should be at hip level. The supporting leg can be in plie, releve, or releve with a bent knee (called plie-releve)

Get back to the 'Kandykane's Dance Learning Notes' or go to the 'Dance Glossary'.


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Jazz (principles, terms)

ARCH [arch] - arch, back deflection of the torso.
ALLONGE, ARRONDIE [alonge, arondi] - the position of a rounded or elongated arm.
ASSEMBLE [assembly] - a jump from one leg to two is performed with the legs abducted in a given direction and collecting the legs during the jump together.
BODY ROLL [body roll] - a group of torso tilts associated with the alternate movement of the center of the body in the lateral or frontal plane (synonymous with 'wave').
BOUNCE [bounce] - springboard swaying up and down, mainly occurs either due to flexion and extension of the knees, or pulsating tilts of the torso.
BATTEMENT TENDU [batman tandu] - the movement of the leg, which is retracted to the toe forward, backward or to the side with a sliding motion. In modern jazz dance, it is also performed in parallel positions.
BRUCH [brush] - sliding or smearing the whole foot on the floor before opening the leg into the air or when closing into position.

CONTRACTION [contraction] - compression, reduction of the volume of the body and rounding of the spine, begins in the center of the pelvis, gradually capturing the entire spine, performed on exhalation.
CORKSCREW TURN - 'corkscrew' turns, in which the performer raises or lowers the level of rotation.
COUPE [coupe] - a quick substitution of one leg for another, serving as an impetus for a jump or other movement.
CURVE [curf] - bending the upper part of the spine (up to the 'solar plexus') forward or to the side.

DEEP BODY BEND [deep body band] - lean the torso forward below 90°, keeping the straight line of the torso and arms.
DEEP CONTRACTION [deep contraction] - a strong compression in the center of the body, in which all joints participate, i.e. this movement includes arms, legs and head.
DEGAGE [degage] - transferring the weight of the body from one leg to another in the second position (right, left) and in the fourth position of the legs (forward, backward), can be performed both with demi-plie and with outstretched legs. Synonym for shift.
DEMI-PLIE [demi-plie] - semi-squatting, in which the heels do not come off the floor.
DEMIROND [demi rond] - a semicircle with the toe of the foot on the floor forward and to the side, or back and to the side.
DROP [drop] - falling of a relaxed torso forward or to the side.
EN DEDANS [an dedan] - the direction of movement or turn towards oneself, inward.
EN DEHORS [an deor] - the direction of movement or turn from oneself or outward.
ECARTE [ekarte] - a pose of classical dance (a la seconde), turned diagonally forward or backward, the body is slightly deviated from the raised leg.
EPAULMENT [epolman] - the position of the dancer turned in 3/4 in bar 8 or bar 2; differs epaulement croise (closed) and epaulement efface (erased, open)

FLAT BACK [flat back] - tilt of the torso forward, to the side (by 90 °), back with a straight back, without bending the torso.
FLAT STEP [flat step] - a step in which the entire foot is simultaneously placed on the floor.
FLEX [flex] - reduced foot, hand or knees.
FLIK [flick] - a foot stroke on the floor to the supporting leg.
FOUETTE [fuette] - a turn technique in which the performer's body turns to a leg fixed in a certain position (on the floor or in the air).
FROG-POSITION [frog-position] - a sitting position in which the legs bent at the knees touch each other with the feet, the knees should be maximally opened to the sides,

GLISSADE [glissade] - ground sliding jump without leaving the floor moving right-left or forward-backward.
GRAND BATTEMENT [grand batman] - throwing a leg 90 ° and higher forward, backward or to the side.
GRAND JETE [grand jet] - jump from one foot to the other moving forward, backward or sideways. The legs open up to the maximum and take the position of 'split' in the air.
GRAND PLIE [gran plie] - full squat.

HIGH RELEASE [high release] - high expansion, a movement consisting of lifting the chest with a slight backward bend.
HINGE [hinch] - the position of the dancer, in which the straight, without bends, the torso leans back to the maximum distance, the knees are bent, the feet are on half-toes,
HIP LIFT [hip lift] - lifting the hip up.
NOR [hop] - step-jump, 'working' leg is usually in the 'knee' position.

JACK KNIFE [jack knife] - body position in which the torso leans forward, the back is straight, resting on the hands, knees extended, legs in the second parallel position, heels do not come off the floor.
JAZZ HAND [jazz hand] - the position of the hand, in which the fingers are tense and spread apart.
JELLY ROLL [jelly roll] - a pelvis movement, consisting of a small muscle contraction with a simultaneous slight turn of the pelvis to the right and left (synonymous with a pelvis shake.)
JERK-POSITION [jerk position] - a position of the hands in which the elbows are retracted behind the chest, the forearms are parallel to the floor.
JUMP [jump] - jump on two legs.

KICK [kick] - throw the leg forward or to the side by 45 ° or 90 ° through the developpe take-out,
LAY OUT [lay out] - a position in which the leg is open at 90° to the side or back, and the torso form one straight line.
LEAP [liip] - jump from one foot to another moving forward or sideways.
LOCOMOTOR [locomotor] - a circular movement of arms bent at the elbows along the torso.
LOW BACK [low back] - rounding of the spine in the lumbar-thoracic region.

Pas balance It is performed with the advancement from side to side, less often - back and forth.
PAS CHASSE [pa chasse] - an auxiliary jump with advancement in all directions, during which one leg 'catches up' with the other at the highest point of the jump.
PAS DE BOURREE [pas de bourree] - an auxiliary dance step, consisting of alternating steps from one foot to the other, ending in demi-plle. Synonym for step pas de bourree. In modern jazz dance, the position of sur le cou-de-pied is not fixed during pas de bourree.
PAS DE CHAT [pas de sha] - a jump, a cat's limiting jump. Legs bent at the knees are thrown back.
PAS FAILLJ [pa fail] - a connecting step, consisting of passing the free leg through the passing demlplie in I position forward or backward, then the weight of the body is transferred to the leg with some deviation from the vertical axis.
PASSE [passe] - a passing movement, which is a link when moving the leg from one position to another, can be performed in the first position on the floor (passepar terre), or at 45 ° or 90 °.
PIQUE [peak] - a light injection with the fingertips of the 'working' leg on the floor and lifting the leg to a given height.
PIROUTTE [pirouette] - rotation of the performer on one leg en dehors or en dedans, the second leg in the position sur le cou-de-pied.
PLIE RELEVE [plie releve] - the position of the legs on half-toes with bent knees.
POINT [point] - the extended position of the foot.
PRANCE [price] - movement for the development of foot mobility, consisting of a quick change of position 'half-lalse' and point.
PREPARATION [preparation] - a preparatory movement performed before the start of the exercise.
PRESS-POSITION [press position] - the position of the hands, in which the arms bent at the elbows with the palms touch the hips in front or side.

RELEASE [release] - expansion of the volume of the body, which occurs on inspiration.
RELEVE [relevé] - lifting on half-fingers.
RENVERSE [ranverse] - a sharp bending of the body, mainly from the pose of atitude croise, accompanied by pas de bouree en tournant.
ROLL DOWN [roll down] - a spiral downward-forward tilt, starting from the head.
ROLL UP [roll an] - a reverse movement associated with a gradual unwinding and straightening of the torso to its original position.
ROND DE JAM BE PAR TERRE [ron de jamb par terre] - a circle with an outstretched leg, touching the floor with your fingers.
ROVD DE JAM BE EN L 'AIR [ron de jamb anler] - circular movement of the lower leg (ankle) with a fixed hip, set aside to a height of 45 ° or 90°.

SAUTE [saute] - classical dance jump from two legs to two legs in I, II, IV and V positions.
SHIMMI [shimmy] - a spiral, twisting movement of the pelvis to the right and left,
SIDE STRETCH [side stretch] - lateral stretching of the torso, tilting the torso to the right or left.
SISSON OUVERTE [sisson overt] - a jump with flying forward, backward or to the side, upon landing one leg remains open in the air at a given height or in a given position.
SOUTENU EN TQURNANT [sutenu en turnan] - turn on two legs, starting with retracting the 'working* leg into the fifth position.
SQUARE [square] - four steps in a square: forward-to-side-back-to-side.
STEP BALL CHANGE [step ball change] - a connecting step, consisting of a step to the side or forward and two steps on the half-toes (a synonym for step pa de hour of its
SUNDARI [zundari] - head movement, which consists in shifting the cervical vertebrae to the right and left and
SURLE COU-DE-PIED [sur le cou-de-pied] - the position of the extended foot of the 'working' leg on the ankle of the supporting leg in front or behind
SWING - swinging with any part of the body (arm, leg, head, torso) in a special jazz rhythm.

THRUST [frast] - a sharp jerk of the chest or pelvis forward, sideways or backward.
TILT [tilt] - an angle, a pose at which the torso deviates to the side or forward from the vertical position, the 'working' leg can be open in the opposite direction by 90 ° and more.
TOMBE [tombe] - fall, transfer of the weight of the body to the open leg forward, to the side or back on the demi-plie,
TOUCH - side step or step on the half-toes without transferring the weight of the body.
TOUR CHANES [tour shenet] - performed on two legs diagonally or in a circle on high half-toes following one after another half-turns, in modern jazz dance can be performed on a full foot and in demi-plie.
TWIST - twisting and unwinding of a body part with "arrival" at the end point.
SPIRAL - the process of twisting and guiding the body through 45 degrees, or continuing twisting.

Dance Art and Sports Center "Dance-Time"

Jazz dance is, first of all, the embodiment of the dancer's emotions, it is a dance of sensations, not forms or ideas. This dance has gone from everyday, folklore through stage, theatrical, gradually becoming a special dance direction.

It is believed that jazz dance was created by Americans and African Americans, and the technique is based on Negro folklore mixed with dances of other emigrants living in the United States.

The principles of jazz dance were laid outside the musical direction of jazz, so it is necessary to separate jazz as a musical direction and as a dance technique. But the basic principles of jazz dance are similar to the principles of jazz in music. This, perhaps, was the reason for the common name.

So, basic principles : improvisation, isolation, polyrhythm, animation, polycentry, coordination, collapse (reset), impulse, wave.

Improvisation comes from the very nature of African dance. Modern jazz dance offers unlimited possibilities, requiring creativity and individuality from the performers. Someone wants to have fun, someone seeks to convey the mysterious, incomprehensible vicissitudes of life, others are fascinated by pure movement, composition, rhythm . ..

Among the technical principles of jazz dance, idea isolation is the main one. It implies that each part of the body moves independently of the other part and allows the jazz dancer to completely free the body, to make it an instrument of dance. This task is quite difficult for a beginner dancer, since according to the anatomical features of our body, all centers are closely interconnected, and the movement, for example, of the head, naturally causes tension in the shoulder girdle or in the chest. However, isolation is the main technique that begins teaching jazz dance.

In jazz dance centers, different parts of the body, can move not only in different spatial directions, but also in different rhythmic patterns, metrically independent of each other. This movement principle in jazz dance is called polyrhythm and is closely related to music in which each of the percussion instruments leads its own rhythm.

Animation is also closely related to rhythm. This concept means that a single movement is decomposed into its component parts, phased, several accents are made in the musical measure in the intervals between the main beats of the measure. Multiplied movements may be unequal in time and irregular. They can occupy the entire measure, but they can only occupy any part of it. So, for example, a step is not only a movement associated with moving in space, but also the transfer of body weight from one leg to another. With animation, several movements are performed in the interval between steps, but only one is associated with the transfer of body weight.

Polycentric provides for the occurrence of movement in different parts of the body. Movement can come from the head, shoulder, knee, very often through impulse. The body is used here as a metronome: it beats the rhythms given by musical instruments.

Coordination is used when moving two or more centers. It is carried out in two ways: by an impulse, in which two or more centers are set in motion simultaneously, or the principle of control is applied, that is, the centers are set into motion sequentially. The movements of the centers can be performed in one direction, and then we speak of parallelism, but they can move in opposite directions, and then we speak of opposition.

What is collapse in jazz dance? We are talking about a kind of holding the body, when there is no tension and elongation upwards. The body is free and relaxed, its curves are slightly exaggerated, the knees are bent, the torso is slightly tilted forward. If in classical ballet the spine is the axis of the whole body, the axis of rotation and jump, and there is even a special term “put the back”, then in jazz dance everything is diametrically opposite - the spine is soft and relaxed. With tension, it is impossible to move individual centers, for example, the hip or chest, while with sufficient relaxation, such movements are possible.

In jazz dance there is a concept, at first glance, contrary to isolation, when one center activates another center, as if controlling it, but when controlled, a time gap between movements is noticeable. Initially, one center begins to move, then after a certain period of time - another, third, etc. When the center is activated, we expend a certain muscular effort, which is called impulse .

The main task of the teacher at the first stage of training is to achieve sufficient freedom of the spine to make movements of its various parts. At the same time, the body must be tense enough (but not tight) so that the movements are energetic. The distribution of tension and relaxation (relaxation) is the basis of jazz dance technique.

Jazz is very diverse. Some are attracted by primitive African technique, others combine modern with ethnic dance, others use tap-dance and so on. To excel in jazz dance, the dancer must also practice classical ballet techniques, which allow excellent control of his body, give strength to the muscles, improve balance (balance), and combine parallel leg positions with turnouts, as in classical dance.

Basic styles of jazz dance .

CLASSICAL borrowed the discipline of movements, positions of arms and legs from classical dance. The founder of classical jazz Matt Matox.

BLUES is the slowest of jazz dances, incredibly stylish and very simple dance. It is pleasant to learn and is increasingly seen at various dance parties and even as a wedding dance. Initially, the blues was danced exclusively to blues music, however, then any non-fast music of a certain tempo began to be used for the dance, in particular, rock and R&B music.

LYRICAL is a dance style created from the fusion of ballet and contemporary jazz. It is distinguished by a large number of different movements per unit of pace, performed very gently, without visible tension.

HOT - this style is full of high expressive steps and exciting movements, in this style of jazz dance there are many elements of the step, because. the rhythm is too fast, the poses may allow for a stooped back, raised shoulders and swaying hips, most often this style is performed in television, commercial shows and musicals.

BROADWAY . Musicals, which became popular in the 20-30s of the twentieth century, demanded ever stronger choreography, understandable and incendiary for the viewer. This is where the style of Broadway jazz appeared, taking its name from the New York street Broadway, where the famous theater is located.

AFRO . Afro-jazz is an opportunity to combine modern jazz technique with its original ancestor - African ethnic dances. Afro-jazz, which has absorbed a voluminous layer of native culture, immerses in the appropriate mood of unity with nature, the world and oneself. The dance is not classical, but ethnic, which adds to its simplicity. Ethnic music and its arrangements are used as musical accompaniment.

JAZZ-MODERN is an energetic and expressive dance, a figurative dance that takes all the best from jazz choreography and modern.

JAZZ-POP is a jazz dance that has evolved under the influence of modern culture, incorporating elements of vogue, waacking, street-dance, disco. It is devoid of hip-hop bounce and is distinguished by the predominance of mannerism over technique, restraint over swagger.

LATINO-JAZZ is a dance that combines jazz elements with samba and salsa. It is performed to Latin American rhythms and is distinguished by the emancipation of the torso.

We have considered only a part of jazz dance styles that are considered to be the main ones. There is also a huge number of sub-styles of jazz dance. There are a great many of them. In recent years, the theory has been practiced that each choreographer creates his own unique style of any direction, different from others. This, in turn, is both a positive and a negative moment in development. The downside of this is that there are a lot of young as well as experienced choreographers, and even with a great desire it is impossible to comprehend all forms of dance. And a huge plus is that the school of jazz dance, which is different from classical dance, offers the choreographer an unlimited number of expressions of his individuality, his uniqueness.

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