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13 Essential Hip Hop Dance Terms Every Dancer Should Know

Okay: so you’ve signed up for your first Hip Hop dance class. Maybe you’re an experienced dancer and need a refresher. Or, perhaps you’re just looking for a class to take!


There are terms you’ll almost definitely hear in a Hip Hop class wherever you are in your dance journey. This list will help you learn what they actually mean and prepare you for your next class so you don’t have a ‘what is going on’ moment in the middle of class.


Brush up on your terms and check back to this list when you need a reminder in the future.


First Things First:

What is Hip Hop Dance?


Knowing commonly used terms is an important part of learning this dance style, but it’s also essential to understand where Hip Hop dance originated and what defines this dance.


Starting in the late 1960s, Hip Hop dance was a modern style influenced by the movements of African dancing and incorporated contemporary dance, tap, and swing. Due to its complexity and variety, Hip Hop really allows dancers to find their freedom and develop an individual style.


There are many different kinds of Hip Hop dance that each have their own unique variations. East Coast and West Coast, New School and Old School, even different styles based on the numerous hip hop cultures that have developed throughout the world.


For a more conclusive history, check out this article.


Now, onto the commonly used terms in a Hip Hop class!


1. Popping

Popping is quickly contracting and relaxing muscles to create a precise jerking in the dancer’s body (often referred to as a pop or a hit). It is a standing dance move influenced by dance moves of the 60s like twisting, jerking, and strutting.


Popping is often used as an umbrella term as a style that incorporates other dance moves such as tutting or even the robot! The effect of popping can make a dancer look like they are in stop-motion or under a strobe light.


2. Locking

Originally called Campbellocking, Locking is a style of street dance. Locking refers to a dancer moving very quickly and then ‘locking’ into a distinct position, holding, and then moving at a fast speed once again. Movements in locking are often large and exaggerated.


Locking also typically occurs in music where it can be used best for dramatic effect. Locking is a rhythmic style that often syncopates with the music.


3. Isolations

In dance, isolations refer to moving an individual part of your body without moving any other part. For example, you could isolate your rib cage while your feet, arms, and head are completely still. Isolation is not only used in hip hop, however. It is commonly found in other dance styles: Fosse-style dance is known for using body isolations in particular.


4. Groove

A groove is less of a move in hip hop dance but rather, a feeling. It is your unique inner sensation you put underneath dance steps. It’s less about technique and more about allowing your body to interpret the rhythm.


This is what truly sets apart Hip Hop dance from other styles: each dancer brings a groove that can be fast, slow, jerky, or smooth. Ultimately, it is your own, and you are encouraged to embrace it as you dance!


5. Waving

This dance move refers to the illusion that waves flow through a dancer’s body. Often, this is done as a passage of energy through the arms, legs, or even the entire body from the head to feet or vice versa. Waving requires control and precision. You need to isolate small parts of your body where the ‘wave’ is passing and keep the other parts still so that the effect is convincing.




6. Levels

You might hear your teacher ask you to watch your ‘levels’ in class. This means they want you to pay attention to how high or low your body is. So, to go lower, you might need to plie more or stand straighter to go higher.


7. Freeze

This term sounds like what it means! When you freeze, you are completely halting all movement in your body. Similar to locking, the main difference is that coming out of a freeze doesn’t mean going back to a fast motion. You can slowly come out of a freeze or take on a new tempo after you begin moving again.


8. Take It From The Top

When you hear your instructor ask you to ‘take it from the top,’ they are asking you to go back to the beginning of the phrase you are working on. (You may hear them say take it from the ‘tippity top’ if they want you to take it from the very beginning of the song).


9. Tutting

Using predominately 90-degree angles with the body, tutting refers to creating geometric shapes as you dance. Inspired by the art of the ancient Egyptians, and ‘Tutting’ refers to King Tut. Generally, tutting is danced with extremities such as the arms, hands, and fingers.


10. Krumping

Krumping is a dance style all its own within Hip Hop dance. It is highly energetic, exaggerated, and expressive. Krumping is rarely choreographed. Instead, it is almost entirely freestyle and is used in dance battles due to its intensity. It is aggressive and is typically danced upright rather than on the floor (like in breakdancing).


11. Breakin’

Possibly the most well-known Hip Hop dance style, break dancing uses acrobatics and intricate body movements. ‘Break’ refers to deejays’ particular rhythms and sounds by mixing sounds from records to produce a continuous dancing beat. Dancers often spin on their heads, hold their bodies in difficult contortions, and dance more on the floor than other styles within Hip Hop.


12. Full Out

This means give it your all: at 100%! Don’t hold back, and push your own limits. You’ll probably hear this phrase in more than just Hip Hop classes, but it’s used commonly in Hip Hop dance due to the unique style and individuality dancing this way allows.


13. 8 Count

Another term typically heard in many other dance styles; an 8-count is a set period of time. Most commonly, two bars of music in 4/4 time. The choreographer uses this to plan out a dance work piece by piece, and dancers will often be taught in 8-counts.



There you have it! With this list to refer back to and remember in your next Hip Hop class, you’ll be sure to have a great start to learning this dance style.


Ready to ‘hop’ in and sign up yourself or your child for a Hip Hop dance class? Center Stage Dance Studio has what you’re looking for! Register HERE and let yourself find your own groove.


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