10 dance idioms and phrases in the English language

DanceInternational Dance Day is celebrated every year on the 29th of April, the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, creator of modern ballet. The day intends to celebrate the art form and bring people together with the common language that is dance.

Not only does dance break down barriers in its universality but it has also had a huge influence on the English language. There are lots of words, phrases and idioms in English that have come from the world of dance.

To celebrate, we’ve picked 10 of our favourite dance idioms and phrases so that even if you don’t like dancing, you can get involved on this special day!

1. It takes two to tango

It takes two to tango is used to say that two people or groups, and not just one, are responsible for something that has happened (usually something bad).

“I don’t know why Emily is blaming Elijah because it takes two to tango.”

2. Make a song and dance about something

If you make a song and dance about something, you complain or talk about it too much when this is not necessary.

“She gives generously to charity without making a song and dance about it.”

3. Keep someone on their toes

To keep someone on their toes is to make sure that somebody is ready to deal with anything that might happen by doing things that they are not expecting.

“Sophie is really keeping me on my toes.”

4. Lead someone a merry dance

Leading someone a merry dance is to cause somebody a lot of trouble or worry.

“I really trusted them, but they led me a merry dance.”

5. Drag your heels

To drag your heels is to be deliberately slow in doing something or in making a decision.

“Please don’t drag your heels because we are running late.”

6. Sweep someone off their feet

Sweeping someone off their feet is to make them fall suddenly and deeply in love with you.

“We met in the park, and he swept me off my feet.”

7. Step out of line

To step out of line is to behave badly or break the rules.

“His boss warned him that if he stepped out of line once more, he would be fired.”

8. Have two left feet

To have two left feet is to be very awkward in your movements, especially when you are dancing or playing a sport.

“I had two left feet when I first started the dance class, but I’ve already improved.”

9. Give something a whirl

Giving something a whirl is to try something to see if you like it or can do it.

“I’m not sure I’ll like skiing, but I’ll give it a whirl.”

10. Strut your stuff

To strut your stuff is to proudly show your ability, especially at dancing or performing.

“I saw her strutting her stuff at the office party.”



 Dance idioms and phrases activity

Using the words above, fill the gaps in the sentences below with the correct idiom. You may need to change the form of the word.

  1. If you _______ you won’t be allowed back on the bus.
Click here to reveal the answer.
Step out of line


  1. We haven’t slept. The new baby is really _______.
Click here to reveal the answer.
Keeping us on our toes


  1. I know I arrived late to the family party, but I don’t think my aunt needed to _______.
Click here to reveal the answer.
Make a song and dance about it.


  1. I know she behaved badly but _______.
Click here to reveal the answer.
It takes two to tango.


  1. I’ve never made a brownie before but I might _______.
Click here to reveal the answer.
Give it a whirl.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

2 thoughts

  1. Very nice set of idioms but in the activity part number 5 the idiom (step on your toes) has not been metioned/ listed before.

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