How to Choose a Keyword and Why YOU Need Them


The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

~ Socrates

Before we get back to the wisdom of Socrates, let me know if this has ever happened to you:

It’s seconds before you walk on the floor, you look the part, and you’ve put in the hours, but then it happens…The speed of your breath increases, your mind starts racing, and you are no longer in control of your body.


This is a scary place to be, and I imagine we’ve all experienced it to some extent, at one time or another. The GREAT news is, it doesn’t have to stay like this. Like Socrates said, change comes from building the new, which brings us to the topic of the day (and hopefully to your future training strategies):


Keywords are something I’ve used extensively throughout my own dancing. Initially, I used them unintentionally; the result was an increased awareness of my inabilities and a heightened stress level. It wasn’t until I read the book “Dance to Your Maximum”, by Maximiliaan Winkelhuis, that I finally understood how to use keywords to create successful and calm performances.


A Keyword is a long lasting concentration point. It works by occupying your mind with a word of your choosing, that creates the right tone necessary to dance. It follows the fact that “physical activity always happens after mental activity.” By default, the presence and positive habit of using keywords eliminate wandering minds, and dreadful thoughts.

When used correctly, keywords follow this cycle:

  •  Pick a keyword, and create a positive habit by practicing it during each training session.
  • Before you dance use the keyword to tone your body, and prepare your mind.
  • With repetition, your Autonomous Nervous System (ANS) relaxes because it identifies the keyword as a habit.
  •  Ultimately, you create better performances and more enjoyment.

According to Maximilian, there are 4 ways to pick a keyword, let’s check them out:

1. Compensate a Weakness: When choosing a keyword based off of a weakness, you want to make sure you have overcome this weakness on multiple occasion. For example, if your keyword was “soft knees” in Cha Cha, you would want to make sure you have been able to step on a soft knee more than a couple times in practice. A keyword cannot create a new skill, but if you have proven you can accomplish this weakness a few times, the keyword would make you more aware of your newly mastered skill.
2. Accentuate a Strength: If you go this route for choosing a keyword, it can immediately give you a positive result. By focusing on something you do really well, your A.N.S relaxes because it knows you’ve accomplished it. Let’s say you have an incredible brushing action in rumba, your keyword could be “brush the floor” or “grounded”.
3. Accentuate the Character of the Dance: Choosing a keyword by this route can be a good option if you’re looking to enhance the story of the dance, rather than just the technique. The character helps you create the feeling of what you’re dancing. For example, Rumba could be sensual, Swing could be playful, and Tango could be dominant or powerful.
4. Accentuate a Fitting Part of your Personality: This one takes a twist on the last one. For this keyword, tune into what part of your personality corresponds well with the dance. For example: if you are sophisticated and smooth, try those words out in Foxtrot. Are you playful or energetic? If so try it on for Swing! Are you cool or strong? If that’s you, try one of those keywords for Tango. One disclaimer, you are consciously choosing the characteristic that you are tuning into, it does not mean this characteristic defines you. For example, we may know what arrogance feels like and could benefit from this as a keyword in Tango, this does not mean you are an arrogant person.

So, we’ve covered what a keyword is, why you need to start implementing them in your dancing today, and how to choose one that enhances your performance and decreases your stress. (Yes, please!)

In upcoming blog articles we’re going to talk more about making keywords effective for you, but for now, start playing around with choosing a keyword for each dance. Remember, you’ve got to give it a fair shot, and I’d recommend sharing it with your instructor to help you in the selection process, and to keep you on track.

Like always I LOVE to hear if you’ve tried this out, and how you’ve found it! Feel free to share this article with someone you know who is wanting to up their performance game.

Until next time,


Freebie: Click here for our event preparation checklist
Previous PostNext Post