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What Your Dance Teacher Really Means When They Say...

Dance Culture

What Your Dance Teacher Really Means When They Say...

Nilcia Lieuw-Renfurm
December 21, 2021
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Have you ever heard your teacher say some unconventional stuff? 

Like they’re speaking their own language and you’re just an innocent bystander in their own little creative world? 

Yup, same here. 

BUT, today I’m the bearer of good news, dancers! 

We're about to unlock some of that universal “teacher talk."

Here are some of the most commonly used dance teacher phrases and what they really mean. 

1. ONE MORE TIME

So you’re tired and sweaty and the end of class is near. 

While you’re side-eying the clock at the studio, you hear those magical words: 

“All right guys, one more time. Give it your all!”

The music starts and you give it your all indeed.

Time to wrap up and go home right?

WRONG.

Your teacher says it again.

“Everybody up. Let’s do it again”. 

And you immediately think:

“If you want to play mind games with us, just say that!”

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT: 

If your teacher says “one more time”, it’s always said with good intention. 

But honey, if they see too many dancers out of sync, if they change their mind about parts of the choreography, or if they simply want to enjoy seeing the dancers nail that choreography again…

You best believe you will go for round 2 before you can pack your dance bag and leave.

2. BREATHE!

Every dance class, you start off with a warm-up. 

That’s usually when you start hearing that one single word: breathe. 

During choreography, you start hearing it again. 

This time a little louder, with a lot more urgency to it.

You might think:

“It’s like the teacher thinks I’m dead or something. Of course I’m breathing! I don’t get it” 

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT: 

First thing’s first: holding your breath could actually cause stress points and tension in your body.

Basically, you’re exerting all this energy to hold air inside your ribcage instead of focusing that energy on moving your muscles in a free, relaxed, intentional way. 

It’s not so much about whether you’re breathing or not but whether you are filling your lungs with enough air at the right moment so it can be released in the next moment. 

So when your instructor’s telling you to breathe, they’re reminding you that, in a particular moment, you should be syncing your breath with your movements.

For example, if you’re about to do a movement with your arm that should look soft and flowy, you might want to exhale through that movement – it’ll make you look relaxed and effortless. 

Jessie & Clay talk more about this concept here:

3. DANCE BIGGER

You’ve probably heard this one before. 

It sounds exhausting, and you don’t know whether you need to over-exaggerate your every move or just jump like a crazy person.

You’re in luck. It’s neither. 

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT: 

Your dance instructor is telling you that you need to be aware of your space. 

It’s not about being as big as you can, or moving with wild abandon.

It means that you need to use up all of the space within your personal space.

Picture yourself dancing in a box where you have the freedom to move around. 

You should be using the full extent of your box – not half.

To do this, follow through on all of your movements. 

So if you’re supposed to glide from left to right, glide from the far left of your box allll the way to the far right and don’t stop halfway.

Don’t be afraid to hit hard, use up the floor, and put energy behind everything you do.

Watch this video for more tips!


 4. DANCE WITH MORE FEELING

No matter what dance style you’re doing, you’ve probably heard this at least once in class. 

You got all the steps down, you're making proper use of your dance space so you know you are moving big enough... 

But suddenly there’s talk about feelings? 

What does that even mean and how do I make them show???  

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT:

What it really means is that you have to practice connecting a story to your movement. 

These connections produce a certain feeling that will not only be written on your face but also seen in your movement. 

This is where dance imagery can come in handy – try thinking about yourself as a character and imagine what feelings, smells, tastes, etc, that character might be experiencing in each moment of the piece. 

And before you think to yourself “Bruh, that’s that Contemporary dance talk so… PASS," guess again! 

When it comes to styles like Hip Hop, Salsa, or even K- Pop, putting your emotion into portraying a certain character is definitely the cherry on top!

5. CLAPPING AND COUNTING

Granted, this is more of an action than a phrase but I’m talking about those moments when the music is on and then you suddenly hear clapping. 

At first you thought it was because you’re rocking it and your teacher is just so overwhelmed with emotion that they had to clap. 

But then you see a frown on their face. 

You now also hear that there’s some counting going on along with the clapping. 

Why is my teacher clapping right beside me? 

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT: 

Translation: you are dancing off beat! 

Your teacher is trying to signal to you that you need to dance at another pace. 

To help you find that pace, they are clapping and counting out loud because they want you to actually hear and follow along with the beat. 

If you notice that you are not in sync, follow along with the clapping and the counting during rehearsal and ask questions about how you can dance in the pocket

6.CONNECT YOUR ARMS TO YOUR BACK

So the first question that might pop up in your mind upon hearing this is “Aren’t they already”?? 

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT: 

The teaching moment here is to really see your arms as an extension of your torso, rather than just flesh sticking out on each side of your body. 

For example, when you twist your torso and shoot your arm forward in a diagonal, make sure that you don’t just flick your arm to the front, only moving from the front of your shoulder to your fingertips. 

This can make the movement look disjointed rather than strong and fluid. 

Watch this video for more mistakes that can make you look stiff and awkward:

What your teacher really wants you to do is start swinging all the way from your shoulder blade to beyond your fingertips.

7. LET’S DO IMPROV/FREESTYLE

Improv? 

It’s just a time-filler, right?

Yeah – if this is what you think when your teacher asks you to ad-lib, put your own flavor on it, etc…

You’re not alone. 

WHAT THEY REALLY MEANT: 

When your teacher says it’s improv time, It's NOT just a cute little circle moment to kill time in class. 

It’s a way for you to dance freely and get in touch with your unique style of movement.

Wanna get more comfortable with grooving in your own way?

STEEZY Studio has Groovalong classes where you follow the instructor, BUT you're encouraged to explore different ways to hit the same groove.

It’s also a great way to practice in a low stakes environment.

Try the classes here!

8.BOOM KAK KAK SHHHHHHHH

What? Y'all thought I could make it make sense to you? 

These funny sound effects are just your teacher's way of sounding out the rhythm.

Don’t overthink it – just enjoy how hilarious they sound.


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Now that you know the real deal about what dance instructors mean, head over to STEEZY Studio to put your knowledge to the test!

Got any more common teacher phrases that you want translated?

Comment below. :)