Dance Studio Vocabulary

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

‘Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.’ –Aristotle

As many know, I am a former studio owner, with three locations in MA who transitioned into public education in 1988 when my local school district asked me to work 6-weeks as a maternity leave long-term substitute in the English Department at the high school level. Six weeks turned into a year, then twenty, another degree in education certifying me as a technology integration specialist and working for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation teaching public and private school educators across the US.

What I did learn and continue to learn is that education is changing because society changes, and that includes dance. I see a lot of misunderstanding on social media discussion boards. When a teacher shouts out “who has a jazz syllabus” there are many responses. For dancers the term syllabus often refers to a ballet syllabus, which since I often wear two hats one in dance one in education, I understand. Then I see many terms, dance classroom, dance education, dance curriculum, some used correctly but sometime incorrectly. So here is my response to those uses in a dance vocabulary form.


This one is easy, it is where we teach. For some it can mean the physical space, what is in it, mirrors, barres, floor gym mats, decorated with images or in some cases a logo stenciled on a wall. It has another meaning, it can mean what you teach at your facility private or public.


Again, dance teachers-instructors know what this is based sometimes on what categories are offered in dance competitions. Web pages shout ballet, tap, jazz, modern, contemporary, hip-hop, street, break, Zumba, yoga, Pilates, and of course more. What do you advertise and why?


This is a relatively new term for dance. Public education has frameworks for its subject genre, which specifies what children should learn at each grade level before progressing to the next grade. Of course, states go to great lengths to modify these frameworks with committees. The modifications now meet the use of technology because public education is teaching the next generation of workers skilled and unskilled. What are your methods for moving children forward if they return each year? Does your facility use terms like recreational, community, enrichment, competitive, intensive? Are you stating you have levels? If so who creates the levels and how are they understood by parents?


Again, another relatively new term for dance educators. What is it? This can be defined as what specific skills do you teach in each class, for each grade. Have you trained your faculty to all present the same skills in each class they teach based on what you the owner and faculty have agreed upon for each dance subject and school grade level? Have you defined the structure based on time constraints of each class for students? Example how does your jazz class for school grades 1 & 2 start? Center floor barre, progressing to floor flexibility stretches, to across the floor technique in turns and jumps, to a combination that becomes part of a performance routine?


Unit plans are how one defines a specific time frame of dance class learning. For dance it can be 36 weeks divided into four segments for a specific dance subject, in other words what are you telling your faculty or you to cover in an eight-week time frame. How will you encourage student memory retention? What rubrics did you design to hand out when a parent asks, what is she/he learning in class? How well is my child keeping up with the others? Did you create rubrics or student-parent reports for each 8-weeks? Did you create handouts for the preschoolers to color with a list of what they learned?


Lesson plans can be as simple as a checklist for an owner to review as to what a teacher is teaching and accomplished to a video review of a class, which I think is better. Keeping records of absences in a class is helpful for tuition, creating a video of class performance at the beginning and end of an 8-week term is better. Videos can be used by an owner for faculty evaluations for continued employment by a facility.

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