Dance Vocabulary Help Sheet

As Requested, below are the descriptions and grouping of movements and steps covered in class. The names of the steps are loosely based on the names I learned from my teachers, I believe following somewhat the movement classification of Jamilah Salimpour of California or named after famous dancers, rhythms or regions…

Foundation Movements:

Egyptian Basic (aka step-touch or step-hip)

Step flat with the right foot, place left foot on ball of foot, twist left hip up and return to neutral, then place left foot flat and repeat on the other side.

In short code – step rt, twist lft -step lft, twist rt

Do this walking forward and back, try it at different speeds, try it soft, sharp, swingy or bouncy.

some variations:

  • cross step in front -step rt, lft, rt, then twist left hip, repeat other side
  • three step turn – start to the right, do one full trun in 3 steps -step rt, lft, rt, then twist left hip, repeat other side
  • with 1/2 turn – step rt, twist lft, step behind
    lft, pivot, twist rt, repeat to turn front. (feel free to practice
    with the left foot leading instead of the right as well.)
  • with wide side step – step rt, but a big step off
    to the right side, place the left foot in close for the twist,
    repeat, stepping wide to the left, then pulling the right leg
    in close for the twist
Egyptian Basic #2

step rt, twist-sit-twist left

Egyptian Basic #3

step rt, twist lft-step flat-twist lft

Egyptian Basic #4

step rt, twist lft-shimmy down-twist left

Sharki Step

rt foot steps in front, weight shift to left foot, then rt foot steps behind (feel free to practice with the left foot leading instead of the right as well.) -rt front, lft, rt behind, lft and repeat. This step is usually used as a base upon which other movements are layered.

Horizontal Figure 8s

Draw a figure 8 on the floor with one loop circling each leg and trace this shape with your hips, keeping your hips parallel with the floor. Practice both back to front and front to back.

Vertical Figure 8s or Mayas & Reverse Mayas

draw the figure 8 on the wall in front of your hips and trace this shape with your hips while keeping your hips parallel with the wall. Practice with your hips leading down on each side (Maya) or leading up. Practice allowing your heels to lift, then try it with your feet flat on the ground.

Chest 8s

both vertical & horizontal trace the shapes with your ribcage instead of your hips

Arabic Undulations (aka Camels)

Start by sending your chest forward, then scooping it up to a high lifted point, then you engage your abdominal muscles, starting at your sturnum and continuing in a wave down to your pelvis, allowing your butt to pook out a little at the end of the movement, then starting again at the top by sending your chest forward and up and repeating in a cyclical manner. I recommend using your hands on your belly for physical feedback, to improve the rolling quality of your wave and to make sure it is going in the right direction.

Arabic Undulation with a Rock Step

Place your right foot in front of the left and rock forward and back shifting your weight from foot to foot. When you rock forward on the front foot, send your chest forward, then up, as you rock back on the back foot, allow your abdominal muscles to engage to send the undulating wave down your body, repeat by lifting your chest to the front as you shift your weight to the front foot. (feel free to practice with the left foot leading instead of the right as well.)

Arabic Undulation #2

Do one Arabic undulation forward with a rock step (rt foot in front), then place your rt foot close to your side and draw a 1/2 circle (paralell to the floor) with your rt hip, starting in the back and swinging to the front. Repeat. (feel free to practice with the left foot leading instead of the right as well.)

Arabic Undulation #3

An Arabic undulation with a level change. You will do the rock step with the undulation on top, but your feet will go starting with the front foot: flat-ball-ball-ball, flat-ball-ball-ball, making it look like you are alternating one undulation low and one undulation high.

Reverse Undulation

Starting with bent knees, tilt your pelvis forward and place it on a shelf, then let the rest of your body stack up on top of it. – this can also be done with the rock step, but you start pelvis first instead of chest.

Diagnal Undulation

Send your chest to a forward diagnal and let the undulation travel accross your body to the opposite hip. Practice this on each side, then alternating sides.

Side Undulation

remaining parallel to the wall in front of you, send your ribcage directly to the side, then let the undulation travel down the side of your body. This is most often done with a rock step to the side.

Lower Body Undulation

the chest stays lifted and the wave happens below the chest, with out the chest getting involved.

Upper Body Undulation

the chest does it’s part of the undulation, but the lower body remains uninvolved.

Circles, Slides & Isolations

Chest Isolations
  • sliding the ribcage from side to side
  • drawing a circle horizontally on the ground around you (don’t sink in your chest – just go to neutral)
  • drawing a circle vertically on the wall in front of you
  • practicing your alphabet – pretend there is a pencil sticking out between your breast and write the alphabet on the wall in front of you in lower case letters
Hip Isolations
  • hip drops
  • slide the hips from side to side while keeping the hip bones horizontal to the floor
  • forward crescent or 1/2 circle (aka Jewel) the pelvis stays neutral, done in place and with a side step
  • outward hip circle – keeping head centered and sending the hips around, drawing a circle around you on the ground, the pelvis stays neutral.
  • full outward hip circle – keeping head centered and sending the hips around, drawing a big circle around you on the ground, bending at the hip flexors.
  • inward hip circle or umi – the pelvis tilts in each direction to create this circle.


Standing Straight Legged Shimmies

the thighs wobble, you let your knees work, alternating sides, straightening and bending, your belly shakes side to side

Inner thigh driven shimmies

you bend your knees slightly and let your inner thighs work, lifting each hip, your bum jiggles, it vibrates up your belly

Both together shimmies

both legs work together instead of alternating to send the vibration up your body a little differently

hip twisting shimmies

the hips twist front and back instead of going up and down.

front back full body shimmies

your torso rocks front and back, this can be more chest driven or more pelvis driven depending on the focus.

glute driven shimmies

this shimmy happens by squeezing alternating glutes.

Shoulder shimmies

your shoulders alternate, your breasts jiggle

Hand shimmies

yes, a little jazzy, but they are done in some folkloric dances (like Khaliji) and so are also sometimes seen in Oriental (aka Belly Dance)

Triplet shimmies (aka 3/4 shimmies)

this is a walking shimmy that is done with an accent either on the down or the up. Your hips will alternate rt-lft-rt-lft-rt-lft. You will take one step every 3rd alternation: step rt, hips continue lft-rt, step lft, hips continue rt-lft, step rt, lft-rt, step lft, rt-lft and so on. If your hip goes down as you step, for example, rt foot steps, rt hip is down, the accent is on the down. If the hip goes up as you step, rt foot steps, rt hip up, then the accent is on the up.

Arm Movements

Folkloric V

Arms are held slightly in front of the body in a long low upside-down V. Energy out to the ends of the fingers.

Social V

Arms are held slightly in front of the body in a V above the head. Energy out to the ends of the fingers.

Ballet Arms

Soft and rounded, held slightly in front of the body, elbows turned to the back, palms facing down.

Jazz Arms

Arms somewhat stiff and straight to the sides (not common).

Oriental Arms

Working in a column around and close to the body


Using arms to frame movements and not cover them

Snake Arms

lifting through the elbow, then wrist, falling the same way, alternating sides – can be done with or without rolling the shoulders.

Various Oriental Movements

there are several, if I break down specific ones, I might put them here.

Walking/ Traveling Steps & Patterns

  • Step Together Step
  • Long -Quick -Quick or Quick-Quick-Long aka Suspend-Release
  • Arabesque
  • Sexy Walk
  • Dancer’s Run
  • Jack’s Square
  • Grape Vine
  • Sharki Step
  • Egyptian Basic – Step Touch
  • Spins
  • Barrel Turns (more than one variety)
  • spotting
  • traveling turns (what are those ballet ones called? chene turns?)
  • 3 step turns
  • pivot turns
  • pencil turns
  • paddle turns
  • tippie toe turns
  • flat-ball turns
  • entering/exiting turns
  • turns with layers
  • placing hands in turns


This is when you layer one movement on top of another. These can be complex and beautiful steps or just complex. Make sure you don’t allow complexity to replace elegance. It doesn’t matter how difficult the step is to execute if it doesn’t look good, it isn’t worth bothering.

The most common layering you will see is the shimmy. You can layer various types of shimmies over Arabic Undulations, Figure 8s, Circles & Isolations, Sharki Steps and even Egyptian Basics and if done right they can be quite nice.

Advanced, Complex and Culturally based Movements and Combinations

There are many complex and advanced movements, many of which have not been classified and do not have names, or the names vary extensively, often named after a famous dancer that used that movement. As you advance in my classes we will relate movements to specific rhythms and relate them mechanically to the rhythm and culturally to the rhythm. Some movements that I may mention by name include:

Jewels, Samihas (2 kinds), Sohair Zaki Hips, Hagallah walk, Horse Step, Mona’s belly pop, Saidi Step, etc..but most the time the names end up sounding like that down to the side hip we do to the Maqsum, or figure 8/Undulation with the hip drop, or something like that.

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