What is street dance slang?
If terms like ‘she got smoked’, ‘winery’ and ‘I strongly died’, leave you with question marks floating overhead, you are not alone! Like in any community, the street dance slang is colourful and unifies those who understand. Some terms are so obscure they need true clarification, while others can be deciphered with a bit of thought.
This directory of street dance lingo will span a number of dance styles, circumstances and origins. Some will make you laugh, some will surprise and some might make you say “a-ha” – we’ve got you covered.
This list was created by asking the dance community for input and will be updated periodically. Slang is always changing and while that will be reflected, there are some terms here that have been around since at least the 80’s. There are a few lists like this on the web but very few of them are original and have duplicated content, unfortunately. Let’s talk about the 3 things that won’t be listed here.
The three exemptions
1) Avoiding the classics
The terms listed here will be more aligned with street, funk and club style dances. This will include commercial dance and ‘studio choreography’ terms.
The terms may be used in any context, as slang should be, but we will list phrases that are believed to have been born out of the cultures listed above. We appreciate that ballet, tap, modern and jazz have a rich vocabulary (‘bunheads’ anyone?), so if demand is there, we’ll explore in future.
2) No generals
Secondly, we will try to avoid phrases that are universal across dance. Terms like ‘from the top’ are recognised as ‘let’s start again from the beginning’. This phrase also exists outside of dance and so is too general for this list.
3) Moving past moves
Lastly, the directory will not feature the names of dance moves or dance styles. For a more comprehensive look at moves and styles visit our post here. There won’t be any ‘Top rock’, ‘chest hit’ or ‘dip’ listed here (although these terms are great to know).
The street dance slang listed below is in alphabetical order with dance style / cultural reference added where relevant. Words written in bold are defined in this list. If you would like to contribute to the list, drop us a line or tag us on social media and use the hashtag #DanceSlang
Alien – A dancer with a uniquely remarkable quality of movement or ability.
Similar to ‘Beast‘, ‘Alien’ is a term of admiration for the abilities of a fellow dancer. Bear in mind, just being ‘good’ is unlikely to earn you this moniker by your peers – it’s reserved for the exceptional.
Ball (Vogue term) – A voguing event where artists will compete in a number of categories. These may include, but are not limited to; Runway, Vogue Fem, Hand Performance, Sex Siren, and a host of ‘Realness’ categories.
Bang it out – To execute a routine with full energy and conviction
Also see Full Out for more context
Battle – Turn-based, competitive freestyle dance between two or more dancers, usually in a specific dance style.
Popularised by b-boy culture, there are now battles in every dance style. Rules for the battle typically include:
- A-B turn based (one dances then the other responds)
- Judges may or may not be present. In an organised competition there are usually judges. A ‘Call Out‘ may not be judged
- No touching (although in waacking this rule may be more relaxed)
Some may refer to a Battle as a Dance Off, but this term is not commonly used by street style dancers.
Beast – Positive reference to a dancer with great physical ability
The phrase ‘Beast’ can be levied at any high level dancer but typically they have great body control and / or mastery of dynamics
Beat Kill(ing) – Reflecting a specific sound in the music, particularly after an energetic build up. This acts as a physical and artistic exclamation point and often incites an audience reaction.
Beat Killing is the mark of a mature dancer with real intent. It’s quite rare for a Beat Kill to occur by mistake or without deliberate intention. Here are some examples of Beat Killing.
Beat Kills are also typically a Blow Up and may be a defining moment in a battle, performance or dancer’s public perception.
Biting – Plagerising a move, sequence or style of another dancer with little or no attempt to reinvent / reimagine the move, sequence or style.
Biting is a strongly frowned upon practice in the dance industry. Although there may be few truly unique ideas left, attempting to pass off the work of another artist as your own is bad news. As street dance slang goes, this is NOT a phrase you want to hear where you’re concerned.
Blow Up – A move that incites a massive audience reaction of delight.
‘Blow Ups’ typically occur at the end of a dance pattern, but can also be a stand alone move. Typically, Blow Ups are unlike anything the audience has seen before and really reflect the artistry and physical prowess of the dancer. A good Blow Up may leave the audience like, “What was THAT?!” A Blow Up may have an energetic build up, or appear out of nowhere.
Body (v.) – To ‘own’ a piece of choreography and set a standard for others.
“She bodied that choreo”
This is a great compliment to receive and although it can be used across different dance and art forms, it has a home in choreography.
Bonnie and Clyde – A 2v2 dance battle with one male and one female dancer on each side.
Named after Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow. They were the robbers who committed several acts of robbery and murder during the Great Depression. Their legend lives on through street dance lingo and culture.
Buck (‘Krump’ term) – A term of appreciation and praise in the Krump dance form.
‘Buck’ could be used in reference to a moment, state, individual and more, but in summary Buck = good!
Also, ‘Buck’ is an acronym for Believers Uplifting Christ’s Kingdom, which is further explained here.
“Bruv, the whole event was Buck”
Butch Queen (Vogue term) – Butch queen = A gay (biological) male. See Fem Queen for further context.
Call Out – To challenge someone to a battle, usually without judges
Although anyone can call someone out, this term is more typically attributed to b-boy culture. If you DO get called out, how you respond will likely be quite revealing to your opponent and audience.
A Call Out may occur at or before an event and is one of the realist interactions in dance culture. Typically, a Call Out is settled in the Cypher, but organised events may also feature a Call Out element.
Cat Boy (Vogue term) – A biological man / butch queen serving female energy within the sex siren category, at a ball.
Catch It / Catch the drop – To anticipate a change in music and perform an action immediately when this change occurs
Chop (Vogue Term) – A judges decision at a ball to not let someone pass on to the next round. This could be based on a number of different reasons. Also see 10s for further context.
Collab(o) – To work with at least one other artist on a project.
This term is abbreviated from the word ‘collaboration’.
Commando -To steal a round in a battle, preventing the opposition from entering when they attempt to.
This occurs mainly in Breakin’ battles of 3 or more b-boys. Commandos can sometimes border on being unsportsmanlike, but are a skill to appreciate. This is a REAL street dance slang term.
Crack – An onomatopoetic word used instead of a number in choreography
“4 and 5 and a ee and a CRACK”
Anyone that’s been to a couple of choreography classes will be used to sounds being used as opposed to numbers. The ‘crack’ phrase could be interchanged with several other short sharp sounds. See if you can relate to this meme:
Crash – To visibly fall out of a move or not complete it, often resulting in the sound of your body hitting the floor.
A term most notably from b-boy culture, which involves a lot of high-risk manoeuvres. Crashing might be ok at training while you work things out, but in a battle, this will usually be mocked by the opposition. Jeers are normally accompanied by banging on the floor with hands. Whether the judges actually need this to help them recognise there was a crash or not is still up for debate.
Cypher / Cipher – An organically formed circle of people, where anyone that wants to enter and freestyle can (usually)
The layman may refer to this as a ‘freestyle circle’ or ‘dance circle’. Many street style dancers feel that without cyphering, one’s ability to grow is stifled. Cypher is that evergreen type of street dance lingo which will endure for years.
A cypher is typically a conversation between those who participate, so make sure you have something to say 🙂
Dance Off – Term used by people who don’t attend battles..to describe a battle.
See Battle above
Drilling It – When we repeat a movement or sequence until notable improvement is made
Drill – An exercise designed to improve physicality
Typically, drills are used to help our bodies understand how a movement is done.
Dying – When you lose your way while executing a routine
“Bro, I was dying all over the place”
Each One Teach One – Sharing knowledge with others
This street dance slang term comes from hip-hop culture and can be applied to a lot of different real life instances
Exchange – To dance with another dancer, sharing energy and inspiration
Facials – Engaging facial expressions that further ‘sell’ a dance
Let’s admit, some dancers we really admire are quite emotionless when they dance. The ones that audiences remember, though, are those who project their performance through facial expressions and connection.
Fem Queen (Vogue term) – A trans woman. See Butch Queen for further context.
Flex – A body roll
Fresh – New and innovative / unexpected
Full Out – Executing a routine with full, required energy and, if possible, performance .
Choreographer: “OK, this time full out with facials, please”
Going Hard – Pushing your level, generally
Groove – A movement that reflects the feel of a song using typically the knees, hips, chest, back, neck or any combination thereof.
Groove, in its essence does not originate in the limbs and is a consistent repetitive motion that ‘drives’ other movements
Nobody:— Still Bad, Still Boujee. (@ULoveDeAndrea) January 30, 2019
House (Vogue term) – More than a crew, a family. Those who represent a house will typically adopt the name of the house as their surname. Most houses are named after luxury brands or have luxurious connotation.
In the pocket – A position likened to a basketball player stance, on the balls of the feet, whereby direction can be easily changed.
This stance commonly occurs in hip-hop dance.
Jam – To dance with others in a non-competitive fashion
A jam can also be a party which dancers frequent.
Kiki (Vogue term) – A good time, a cute moment. Usually spent with friends. This term may also reference small Houses or events.
Kill Off (Krump term) – When a dancer produces a sequence that moves the crowd so much that battle is effectively over as they ‘killed off’ their opponent. It’s extremely rare to come back from this.
Labbing – When one develops their material and dance concepts
Labbing may be considered Research and Development or simply trying out some new ideas. It’s in the lab that most dancers we admire today create their most memorable signatures
Marking it – Executing a routine without full energy.
We use a Mark to make sure everyone is moving as one and to clarify details, amongst other benefits. The natural progression of this is to then dance Full Out.
Milking it – Prolonging a movement as a kind of ‘bridge’ into the next dance move / phrase
Not strictly street dance slang, but useful to know
Music (In, On and Through) – These 3 terms all have a different place in dance
- In the music – Connected to the overall feel of the music. The dancer may not express overt Musicality, but will certainly reflect the mood and energy of the music. The important word here is ‘connection’
- On the music – Obvious reflection of sounds in the music. Closely related to Musicality
- Through the music – Movements that may not be connected to sounds or the feel but may be character work or travelling from one location to another, for example.
Musicality – Reflection of different individual sounds in a piece of music
Dancers with ‘good musicality’ are able to reflect sounds most people can’t hear in a way that may be unexpected. Also, the ability to dance different sounds in quick succession or at the same time is the mark of someone skilled.
Some say true musicality is responding to what you hear in the moment, rather than ‘knowing a song’ in advance. Comment your thoughts below
Off Beat/ On Beat – These terms have two meanings:
- Being ‘off beat’ means dancing out of time with the music. Dancing ‘on beat’ is self explanatory
- Dancing ‘ON the off beat’ means dancing in the spaces BETWEEN musical accents. This is still rhythmic and IN TIME with the music, but may give unique inflection to the performance.
Ovah (Vogue term) – The best. Everything or a climax.
Pick Up – The speed at which you can learn choreography.
There is no absolute measurement for Pick Up, but some of us can retain information more quickly than others
Reading (Vogue term) – Searching and pointing out the flaws of someone. See Shade for further context
Schooled – Taught a lesson
Although this phrase also exists outside of dance, particularly in the sports industry, we can tell when some one gets ‘schooled’ in a Battle
Shade (Vogue term) – The subtle(!) art of insult. A part of Reading.
Smoked – Definitely losing a battle
Spank (LiteFeet term) – Individuality in performance and showmanship
Outside of good technique, a sprinkling of personal characterisation and detail really makes us memorable to onlookers. In LiteFeet, this is called Spank!
Tea (Vogue term) – Tea, or T, is the truth. ‘Spilling the Tea’ equates to, ‘what’s the gossip?’
T.K.O. (LiteFeet) – When a dancer produces a sequence that moves the crowd so much that battle is effectively over as they ‘Technically Knocked Out’ their opponent. It’s extremely rare to come back from this.
Tweak (LiteFeet) – When a hat trick or shoe trick doesn’t go to plan
Vague (Vogue term) – When something ISN’T Voguing, but wants to be.
Props to Lasseindra Ninja for sharing this with me, haha
Vim (Afrobeat term) – Putting that good Afro sauce and energy into the dance
Thank you to Crazy Mike for this one
Wack – Not very good
Wavey – A move or combination that looks good
Werk (Vogue term) – An exclamation of encouragement or celebration when observing someone dance
This term is not limited to dance only.
Wine / Whine / Winery (Caribbean term) – A gyration of the hips, typically to soca, dancehall or afrobeat music
7 to Smoke – A battle involving 8 dancers in a ‘winner-stays-on’ format
7 to smoke comes from Breakin culture and was created in 2002 by by Dutch b-boys Dutchbboyn and Got Skillz crew from Rotterdam. Thank you to D2MG for sharing this knowledge and street dance slang.
10s (Vogue term) – A judge’s decision to let a contestant pass on to the next round. The contestant needs to get their 10s from every judge…the full saying goes, ’10s across the board’. See Chop for further context.
Help to grow this list
With Street Dance terms always changing we’d like your help in keeping this list fresh, relevant and interesting. Comment below what your favourite was, any corrections we should make and anything you’d like to contribute. Also, if you know the people behind the names of some of this street dance slang, please let us know!
Much love to all,
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