Words Used To Describe Gesture In Performance

Here is a list of words I have compiled that will assist students of drama and theatre to describe an actor’s use of gesture in performance. Often as part of their coursework, students need to analyse the play making process of a piece of their own work or evaluate a performance by themselves or others. Questions about the use of gesture by performers can also appear in written examinations.

Many known gestures are universally recognised as symbolising nervousness, frustration, excitement, etc. Others may simply be used by actors at different times in a performance that require a simple description when analysing them for your drama/theatre studies.

A-okay (circle)handshakesalute
arms foldedhead downScout handshake
back of hand to foreheadhead in handsscratch
biting nailshead shakesign
body shrughead shrugstiff
car horn signhead tiltstroking chin
chin in handshigh fivetalk to the hand
clasping handshitchhiking thumbtapping fingers
curtsylegs crossedthumbs down
finger clickingloser (L)thumbs up
finger gunNazi salutetouching nose
fist pumpnervoustwo-finger salute
gesticulateone-finger saluteuneasy
glove handshakepatting hairVulcan salute
gripping handspeace signwave
hand over mouthpointingwink
hands in pocketsraised fistwooden
hands on hipsrubbing ear
hands wide apartrubbing hands

Not sure of the meaning of a word on the list? Look it up in the dictionary.

6 Responses

  1. NameName says:

    What the F???????

    • Admiral Matt says:

      Imagine a play about wartime Poland, Germany, or France without the gesture.

      Why would one of the most recognizable, dramatic, and emotion-triggering gestures in history be excluded? It’s not like including the Vulcan salute is an endorsement of Star Trek.

  2. Maria Gallardo says:


  3. Busayomi says:

    A drama that involves gesticulation is what there is no specific circumstances answer here

  4. List of words now alphabetical by column, repeated words deleted, optimised for mobile view.

  5. Jane says:

    Great list Justin. Zen Zen Zo talk about 3 different kinds of gestures – abstract, behavioural and cultural ABC. Then of course in Laban they use combinations of words to classify quality of gestures / movements – effort actions.

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