The Ultimate Dance Type and Style Guide

My child wants to learn what???

So your little one wants to learn to dance or your bigger one wants to try some different types of classes and you have no idea what you are exactly forking out that money for! Seriously, what is the difference between lyrical and contemporary dance or hip hop break dancing and krumping?

The Dance Parent 101 team has you covered with simple explanations of every dance style your child might come across with some added information on how that type of dance is beneficial for your child. Best of all we are constantly updating and adding more to this list all the time. So if the dance style you are after is not here check back soon or even better email us on [email protected] and we will get straight on it.

We have also included links to some of our more comprehensive articles on  types of dance, so if you have a little more time click on a link for more information on that style.


What is

Acro -batic Dance

Acrobatic dance is exactly a combination of it's name. A good acrobatic dance routine seamlessly mixes traditional dance skills ranging from jazz, ballet, lyrical or even hip hop with acrobatic skills.

Within an acrobatic dance class, the focus is generally on the learning of acrobatic skills. The dance part of the genre is usually gained through the learning of jazz or ballet in seperate classes, which is then amalgamated to create an acrobatic dance routine. Therefore Acrobatic classes are usually an add on class to enhance a dancers skill set.

Some of the main skills learnt in an acrobatic class are hand and elbow stands, cartwheels, walk overs, flips and aerials. Strength and flexibility are also developed so the dancer is able to perform the skills more easily.

The performance of acrobatic 'tricks' within other dance genres when examined or in competition is a contentious issue. Some feel that the addition of flips and other acrobatic skills to a hip hop, lyrical or jazz routine enhances not only the entertainment value of a performance but also showcases a dancers multidisciplinary skills. On the other hand Acrobatic dance is a genre of it's own and therefore some feel these skills should be limited to the acro-dance category to ensure fair and standardized judging.


What is


Ballet is a formalised set of movements performed with skill, technique and grace. A ballet class anywhere in the world will follow a consistent pattern involving barre and centre work all developing strength, technique and flexibility. Ballet is very traditional with many of the great Ballet's being performed by different dance companies and schools all over the world, either reinvented or with the original traditional choreography.

Ballet originated in Italy during the 15th century. It was introduced to France through royalty, where it was developed into a coded system of movement and is why Ballet terminology is in French. Ballet as a profession spread throughout Europe to Russia by the 1700's and eventually throughout the world.

Did we already say Ballet is very traditional? Well we will say it again because stereotypically there is also a very basic universal ballet uniform worn in various ways all over the world. This uniform for females consists of ballet or pointe shoes, tights (both usually pink, although this tradition is currently being challenged to reflect the diverse range of dancer skin tones), a leotard and a bun in the hair - just add a tutu for performances. Males also wear ballet shoes and recently in some all male ballet companies pointe shoes, tights (there really isn't a standard colour for men here) and either a leotard or tight t'shirt.

Ballet develops discipline, technique, strength and flexibility which are needed for all forms of dance and are beneficial to living in general. Ballet develops muscle strength, memory and tone which can last a life time.  It is also a profession in which talented dancers can make a career. Ballet creates passionate people who are artistic and work tirelessly for their craft.


What is

Contem porary Dance

Contemporary Dance or Contemporary Ballet, requires the skills, technique and flexibility of a ballet dancer. It uses these skills to create movement and choreography that deviates and distorts traditional ballet. Contemporary dancers and choreographers take risks with movement with the intention of making the viewer feel something in relation to what they are seeing. Contemporary dance is is dancer-centric, with a focus on choreography, a theme, an idea or concept.

Contemporary dance developed in the late 19th century predominately in north America before spreading throughout the world. Contemporary dance was a kind of rebellion against the tradition of classical ballet, and although freedom was gained in the formation of the style, it does have key elements that characterise the style. Some of these include parallel leg and arm positions and abstract and twisting movements of the body.

Modern or Contemporary dance is there a difference? Yes and no depending on who you talk to, but generally modern dance refers to the contemporary style dance created in the past. Contemporary on the other hand is the evolution of modern dance and is what we are creating today and will continue to develop. This is why is can get confusing. Martha Graham's school for contemporary dance focuses on techniques of the past so they teach modern dance. In 1920 it was contemporary to that era but now it is modern also known as classic modern.

It is also important to understand that there IS a difference between Lyrical and Contemporary dance especially for those entering competitions. Lyrical dance is fluid and dynamic, it should follow and match the tone of the song and lyrics being danced to and is emotionally expressive. Where as contemporary dance distorts ballet technique, is generally avant garde, and is dancer-centric, with a focus on the choreography or a theme, idea or concept. Similar dance steps may be used in both styles but it is they way in which they are sequenced, performed and matched with sound and music that can make them different.

What is

Comm -ercial Dance

Commercial dance pulls moves from jazz, hip hop, breakdance, popping, krumping and street dance, but for entertainment purposes might also include ballet or even musical theatre. It's style will differ depending on the purpose, but generally commercial dance will include the most popular dance moves of an era and will appeal to the widest possible audience.

Commercial Dance is dance is often created for the intentions of promoting popular music, a brand or a product with the intentions of boosting awareness or creating profit for that music, brand or product.

Commercial dance can be seen in music videos, on television, at night clubs, in advertising, in cheer team routines, at dance competitions and more.


What is

Demi- Character

Demi Character Dance is generally found in addition to classical ballet sections at dance eistedfords and competitions. They allow the ballet dancer to showcase their technique whilst protraying a character. Competition organisers who offer the demi-character category will often define the demi character dance as having to have a story line with a beginning, middle and end. Props may be used with the dancer dressed in an appropriate costume to assist in the portrayal of their character. Gestures, facial expressions and movement is used to tell the story. Demi-Character dances are generally danced to classical or similar music without words.

Demi Character dances can be based on traditional roles from the Great Ballets such as Giselle, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty or Odette from Swan Lake for example but there is opportunity for both teachers and dancers to be creative within this genre, with any role and story the mind can conjure being told from a life guard saving a swimmer on the beach to a retelling of the movie Frozen.

Because of the name, Demi-Character Dance should not to be confused with Character Dance. Character dance is studied within many ballet syllabuses and is used by ballet companies and within many of the great ballets. Character dance is the balletic representation of folk and national dance and uses gestures and movements to represent people, nationality and even occupation for example that of a king compared to a peasant, or a Russian, Spanish or Arabian character within the ballet.    





What Is

Hip Hop Dance

Hip Hop as a dance type is a popular form of movement that has evolved since the 70's from it's origins of break dancing. It was when musical rhythms slowed down that hip hop and it's cruisy head nodding beats developed.

Hip hop dance continues to grow through the popularity of hip hop music and the style of dance seen in hip hop music videos, in night clubs and in street dance.

Hip Hop is a genre of its own and other styles such as popping, locking and krumping which are sometimes interwoven into the style developed independently, although are generally danced to the same hip hop, rap or funk music.

Some classic hip hop moves are the cabbage patch, robo cop, the prep, running man, humpty dance and roger rabbit. The vocabulary used to describe moves is continually developing as can be seen today in moves such as the dab, floss, superman and soulja boy.

To learn hip hop dance, a student does not need knowledge, skills or technique from another form of dance such as Ballet or Jazz. Hip hop can be taken independently and many schools offer a variety of classes from beginner to advanced.

Many schools also offer a variety of hip hop classes that are cross combinations of some more technical forms and therefore do require some knowledge of Jazz or Ballet to competently perform such as Jazz Funk Hip Hop or JFH. Some tap dance classes also incorporate hip hop steps and might be known as Funk Tap classes or similar.


What Is

Irish Dance

Irish dancing was born from the rituals and folk dances of the celts and druids. Irish dancing was also influenced by the Norman culture when they invaded and settled in Ireland in the 12th century. It was around the 18th century that Irish dance became more formalised and it was common for a dance master to travel from town to town holding lessons for peasants. When the Gaelic League was developed in 1893 to promote Irish Culture formal competitions, lessons and rules for Irish dancing were developed. With the creation of the Irish Dancing Commission in 1930, the genre evolved in to the style we see danced today

Irish dance is popularly known for the restriction of arm and upper body movement whilst employing quick precise footwork with steps such as cuts, overs, lifts and sevens. Irish dance is commonly called a step dance, because when you put enough of these steps together you get a 'step dance' or 'sean nos'. Two other common Irish dances are set routine and social or ceili. Based on the French Quadrille, or couples dancing in squares, Ceili dances can get quite complicated with different step patterns being danced whilst swapping sides or partners.

Irish dance is also compared to tap and ballet pointe dance. This is because Irish dancers learn to dance on their toes in fibreglass covered hard shoes or heavies. The fibreglass helps to create that familiar tapping sound that Irish dancers make with their feet.

Irish dance is generally taught at a school that specialises only in that genre. Teaching is fairly regulated with global rules such as no pointe work for under 12's being followed in competition and exam work. That being said step vocabulary can differ from region to region especially as the style evolves.


What Is

Jazz Ballet

Jazz Ballet or Jazz Dance as taught and examined at a dance school or competition today is basically another deviation of classical ballet, although it hasn't always been this way originally developing from strong African American roots with references to early Caribbean dance.

Today a great jazz dancer requires technique, flexibility and strength to showcase dynamic movement, fluidity as well as percussive sharpness with their bodies.

Jazz dance is a cornerstone of any multidisciplinary dance school. Once the domain of fan kicks and spirit fingers, as popular culture and music evolve so does jazz dance, with many sub-genres and styles being created from its core. Jazz lessons can differ from teaching classic traditional style to incorporating the latest moves from music videos into a class.

Some movement forms that characterise Jazz dance are moving from a parallel position of the feet, dynamic jumps, isolations of the ribcage, body rolls, high kicks, fan kicks, strong and sharp arm and head movements and of course those spirit fingers.

Some popular variations of Jazz Dance that are are taught within one or in seperate classes are Jazz Ballet, Broadway or Musical Jazz, JFH (Jazz/Funk/Hiphop), lyrical jazz and burlesque.



What Is

Lyrical Dance

Lyrical Ballet or Lyrical Jazz? Are they different types of dance or the same? Ironically they are the same but different! Lyrical dance can be more ballet or more jazz. It can be more contemporary or even more hip hop. So if a style of dance can be both Ballet and Hip Hop what exactly is it?

Lyrical is a quality of dance. It is expressive and fluid. Poses showing off dancers flexibility and strength are held as long as possible, jumps are high and explosive and turns are fluid and melt into the next.

Movement in lyrical dance is used to show intense emotions and music and lyric choice helps to determine the emotional tone and choice of choreography of a lyrical dance.

Lyrical dance is generally an addition to the ballet or jazz dancers arsenal. Technique and amalgamation of both disciplines needs to be mastered so that the dancer can concentrate on emotionally performing the steps rather than on their execution.

It is also important to understand that there IS a difference between Lyrical and Contemporary dance especially for those entering competitions. Lyrical dance is fluid and dynamic, it should follow and match the tone of the song and lyrics being danced to and is emotionally expressive. Where as contemporary dance distorts ballet technique, is generally avant garde, and is dancer-centric, with a focus on the choreography or a theme, idea or concept. Similar dance steps may be used in both styles but it is they way in which they are sequenced, performed and matched with sound and music that can make them different.









What Is

Tap Dance

Tap dance is essentially making rhythmical percussion sounds using your feet. To enhance the noise being produced metal plates are screwed onto a tap dancers shoes. A shoe with a wide heel is generally best for this. Sound is then made by tapping the balls or heels onto a hard wooden or similar surface to create a 'tapping' sound.

Tap dance has a broad set of steps and terminology that is fairly universal throughout the world and includes steps and labels for steps such as the shuffle, digs, slides, taps, slaps, toe, drops and wings.

With American origins, Tap dance was born through a merging of Irish and African dance which were both brought to America through slavery and immigration. Originally performed in vaudeville during the mid 19th century it was developed into what was known as broadway tap through the popularity of Hollywood movies and dance legends such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. As popular culture evolved dancers such as Gregory Hines took tap dance to the next level showcasing a more rhythmical tap dance style.

Today a tap dance is practiced and learnt in many different ways. A class may be based in the broadway style, it might be focused on creating new noises, rhythms and movements whilst dancing in workman boots ala 'The Tap Dogs' or it might be set to popular movement with funk and hip hop choreography like the group 'Syncopated Ladies'.