A series of notes and descriptors to help teachers;

by Mandy Chapman Fellow of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing.



There can sometimes be confusion or misunderstanding with this genre. Some choreographers take the genre title ‘Lyrical’ to mean ‘all about the lyrics’ and present a piece that is interpreting the lyrics or using the lyrics of a song, regardless of the feel of the music. However, a strong lyrical dance can be danced to a suitable piece of music with no lyrics or vocals at all, a lovely lyrical instrumental for example.

Let’s first look at the word ‘Lyrical’.  A dictionary definition ‘Something that's lyrical is beautifully full of emotion. Don't be surprised if a lyrical passage in the book you're reading makes you cry a little bit. When a movie, book, dance or work of art gives you the same feeling as the most beautiful music, you can also describe those things as lyrical. The musical connection goes all the way back to the Greek root word, lyra, or lyre.’

Lyrical dance is a pure interpretation of the music and therefore should show fluidity, sensitivity, suspension, relaxation and purpose, creating physical shapes that are aesthetically pleasing rather than harsh, sharp lines.   The choreography should have a continuous sense of flow showing breadth, expansion, release and a certain freedom.  If using floor work, while being perfectly acceptable, does it enhance and extend all the qualities needed in this genre if used extensively?  Ask yourself, ‘does the music suggest going to the floor’?


Choice of Music:

A lyrical piece of music should have a lovely flow without a jazz ‘hit’ or a regular bass beat. While interpreting lyrics isn’t the object of the exercise, choreography to lyrics should make sense... don’t leap or hold a high line if the lyrics say ‘fall’ or use a musical high note in a low position.  Use any lyrics for ‘inspiration’ rather than just ‘interpretation’. The piece should have sensitivity about it, allowing inner feeling and emotion that is not superimposed, nor look as if the dancer is in constant pain. The music should give a connection between the dancer and the track chosen: Highlights in the movement should match that of musical arrangement. The music should also be age appropriate: Some orchestrations, while lovely pieces, may overwhelm a younger dancer (indeed huge orchestrations can overwhelm any solo dancer); others may contain lyrics inappropriate for the age of the dancer.


Tricks, acrobatics and ‘show’ turns:

It is always a shame when an absolutely beautiful, flowing lyrical dance suddenly stops and the dancer performs a series of ‘fouetté rond de jambe en tournant’ or ‘turns a la seconde’ (or any series of clever turns such as staying on one spot and executing numerous turns with a leg extended to the side at 90 degrees for example) They are usually surplus to requirements! As is a series of acrobatic moves merely to show off the dancer can do them! A beautifully trained and sensitive dancer doesn’t need to break the flow and show tricks of any sort. Quite often ‘less is more’.  Some of the most exquisite lyrical choreographies don’t have any ‘trick’ moves of any sort; they allow the dancer to show their innate feeling and musicality, while showing off wonderful training and purity of line.


So why are dancers who include these tricks quite often on the podium? A very good question and you might feel the result was because of the inclusion. On the contrary, it is likely it was in spite of them!  It will have had an effect on my marks certainly! However, in some events I haven’t had a dancer who didn’t stop their beautiful dance and show off tricks, so I’d be unable to place one who hadn’t. I have been told by people who know me that I visibly wilt having watched the most stunning dancer progress beautifully through the piece and the routine be in line for an incredible mark when suddenly the ‘magic’ is lost and the inner feeling is blown away as all that stops when, in the middle of the stage, the dancer focuses and prepares for a series of unrelated tricks, be they acrobatics or spins (often accompanied by the audience going wild!). However, the dancer performing these tricks at a high level is also very likely to be at the top end of the standard in the section so should I completely penalise the dancer for something over which they have no control? The choreographic mark will go down without fail, because (in my book anyway) the whole essence of what makes Lyrical so beautiful has been lost. As an overall piece it has lost something special, but the dancer is still good and the technique still lovely. Maybe that loss of flow means the mark isn’t enough for a standout overall award, which it might have been, but still enough to win the section.  I have come away from a section and felt it is almost as if the choreographers have a checklist of things that must be included. Trust in your judges, they will know what a dancer is capable of with far less content than you can imagine. And a couple of sections/genres exist for all those things (although rarely does any piece of music shout out to me that the dancer should stop in the middle of the stage and pull their leg behind their ear, as if this is somehow award-worthy, in any genre except acrobatics!) so in Lyrical, let the purity and sensitivity flow. Let that dancer DANCE


The costuming helps create the feeling of flow and fluidity and the atmosphere of the dance. It is very unlikely a highly decorated, diamante or sequin encrusted skin-tight catsuit would create the picture of a soft, flowing emotive dance. Something more delicate, ethereal and something that flows with the dancer enhances the overall piece. Colour can also quite significant – the neons and brights don’t lend themselves naturally to this genre. Look at the choreography and design something that enhances the work. Include any references to colour in the lyrics or title, or perhaps something that adds to the piece by ‘painting the picture’ - References to water or rivers could include aqua colours in the costume.  A specific example:

Eva Cassidy’s ‘Fields of Gold’ wouldn’t create the same emotive image danced in navy blue, nor indeed in a metallic gold catsuit. The text reference for ‘fields of gold’ is a barley field – the song refers to a woman who is in a field of barley where she remembers spending happy times with someone she loved, so perhaps soft yellows, ochre, old golds and amber. Yes, it could easily be ‘the girl’ in the field so anything works, but which enhances the overall image? How does a barley field move – can the costume give the dancer that ‘extra something’? While there are no marks set for a costume, it is all about how the choreography is delivered and performed, so using something that enhances, and highlights can only help!



Some competitors sometimes use the title of the selected music as the title of the dance. While this is an option, does it give the judges any context or anything for the choreographer to use as a motif? The track will be heard and so the title of the track will be (usually) familiar. So, there is nothing wrong with taking the piece of music as the title but a good example is ‘Chasing Cars’ – does that create anything in a judges mind? However, in the lyrics of ‘Chasing Cars’ are some lovely lines that might suggest something to create the piece around such as ‘If I just Lay here’; ‘Forget the World’; ‘In Your Perfect Eyes’.  Remember, a title holds the power of a first impression, and the meaning behind the title should be relevant to the piece and/or the concept for the creation. 

In short: The dancer should demonstrate a sustained technique, extension, continuity of line and fluidity in the movement without force or strain and should interpret the music fully. The choreography should highlight a freedom of movement, with evident use of breath control. The piece should reflect the age and emotions of the dancer and come from an inner feeling rather than a contrived, set, presentation. Creating a full package, from the title right through to the final moment of the dance, will enhance and make the piece stronger in every sense.


Where a competition has the title ‘Jazz’ as the genre, this will include and encompass pure jazz, industry jazz and theatre jazz, which can differ around the world.

So, what are we looking for and what sets Jazz and Showdance apart from each other?



With a variety of titles like ‘Theatre Jazz’ ‘Industry Jazz’ and ‘Performance Jazz’ it is often a misunderstood genre with some choreographies being purely a ‘fast and flashy’ modern dance. Indeed, in some examination grades for various governing bodies, the ‘Jazz’ amalgamation is just the faster one rather than being actually ‘Jazz’ and so it is completely understandable there is confusion...


Jazz utilises the underpinning of a clear jazz technique in its presentation.  Prior to the 1950s, jazz dance was a style that originated from African American dance and in the 1950s “modern jazz dance” emerged, with roots in Caribbean traditional dance. Every individual style of jazz dance to this day has roots traceable to one of these two distinct origins. Beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, jazz became a form of dance that required the dancer to be highly skilled, and during this time both modern and ballet choreographers and practitioners including George Balanchine, Jack Cole, Matt Mattox, Luigi, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse experimented with jazz dance. We continue to see the development  of jazz dance explored through various mediums and demonstrated through the work of Susan Stroman, Gillian Lynne and Andy Blankenbuehker to name a few.


There is plenty of scope for freedom in the style and choice of music. Choreography should reflect the rhythms and dynamics of the music, with clear sustained technique in turns, kicks and elevated steps. Jazz has a ‘feel’ and ‘style’ that echoes the musical choice. The piece should have clarity of line and display control of all technique showing a good use of accents and dynamics, rhythmicality, isolated movement, and focus. Jazz uses a strong depth of plie com and lower centre of gravity, working closer to the floor.  Jazz dance should also look at movements that can be syncopated between the beats of the music with the backbeat being important too. This can allow the performance to feel laid back, even when working with dynamic and highly energised accents and movements.


Jazz is very much an individual journey: Swing, syncopation, rhythm, communication, dynamics, pop. Jazz isn’t just a style of dance, it’s the ability to express the emotions and reflect the rhythms of the musical choice. A keyword is “Rhythm”. It’s what separates the jazz umbrella from the rest of other styles. Syncopation originates from the dances of the African people; it’s in most modern-day music, making a huge appearance in the early 20th century. It’s what makes dance interesting, enjoyable to watch and do. A series of acrobatic moves merely shows off the dancer can do them. If a trick is incorporated into a jazz routine then it is important that it is ‘incorporated’ and doesn’t break the innate jazz feel nor halt the choreographic flow. Jazz is pure dance, it doesn’t need tricks or gimmicks; the skill of the technique, inner passion and musical connections speak for themselves.


SHOWDANCE -The opportunity to do pretty much anything you like!

The first misunderstanding about Showdance is that it must come from a show or should be a mini show. Think of Showdance as a ‘showstopper’; the standout piece that everyone remembers from a show. This is where the gimmicks, tricks or themes can come into their own. It’s a mini production that should hit the audience. However, it should also be upbeat with pzazz. I watched a few really stunning pieces at a competition where they did create their own little show, taking me on a journey with wonderful dance content and clever choreography. They were absolutely good enough to get very high marks. However, these pieces were sombre and at times even mournful, which set me wondering why they didn’t really hit the genre as they seemed to tick all the boxes. I realised then that the boxes they didn’t tick were ‘wow’, ‘energy’ and ‘excitement’. In some competitions some Showdances are just another modern or jazz solo, so they might tick ‘energy’ but they don’t tick ‘creativity’ or ‘originality’, nor have that extra something that holds my attention other than just a great dance. They also don’t truly entertain the audience. Looking at examples from recent competitions I found those that really stuck in my mind, after seeing many thousands of dances throughout the year, had a clever theme; fabulous musical choices; were very well crafted; contained theme-appropriate choreography and they all entertained me. I would have paid to see them again! What you are trying to do is create an item that has impact and delivers on every level.


Costuming :

Showdance is also where a costume plays a huge part: If you could pop on another dance costume and happily put the piece on stage then it probably isn’t a real Showdance – the costume should be very unique to that piece and the piece should need that specific costume.

In Jazz, while I might get confused at a dance to the music Black and Gold when dressed in Black and Silver, I am totally focussed on technique, style, quality, and all the things stated in my opening section on Jazz and so I am not overly concerned about the costume unless it actually detracts by hiding lines or just not flattering to the piece. In a Showdance, ideally, the costume completes the picture or theme you are creating.


Some final thoughts...

Jazz should make the audience feel comfortable in delivery, glowing with feeling, technique and quality whereas a Showdance can have the audience intaking breath or wanting to spontaneously applaud.

There are always going to be exceptions to these comments but this is just an attempt to offer thoughts on the two genres that have me commenting the most when judging:  “this isn’t a Showdance” or “this isn’t Jazz”.

Finally – do avoid copying YouTube videos! Aside from judges probably having seen them, some competitions have very different requirements for genres, especially from the USA, so the one you might be strongly influenced by may not fulfil the Dance World Cup definition.