The most universal definition that the term Tanztheater ("dance theater") brings to mind is: the union of genuine dance and theatrical methods of stage performance, creating a new, unique dance form (especially in Germany), which, in contrast to classical ballet, distinguishes itself through an intended reference to reality.

The term had already been used by members of the German expressive dance movement of the 1910s and 1920s who wished to distance themselves from the traditions of classical ballet. Rudolf von Laban, the most important theorist of expressive dance, used the term for the dance culture he was to create. Through dance, he hoped to unite all art media and achieve an all-embracing, radical change in humankind. According to Laban, dance theater, which he understood to be an interdisciplinary total art form, should allow one to be drawn into an inherent eurythmic harmony which is then expressed on stage.

Norbert Servos, "Tanztheater" in International Dictionary of Modern Dance, Detroit: St. James Press: c1998

The name "tanztheater" refers to a performance form that combines dance, speaking, singing and chanting, conventional theater and the use of props, set, and costumes in one amalgam. It is performed by trained dancers. Usually there is no narrative plot; instead, specific situations, fears, and human conflicts are presented. Audiences are stimulated to follow a train of thought or to reflect on what the tanztheater piece express. It has been described as a new twist on an old form: German Expressionism.

Roland Langer, "Compulsion and Restraint, Love and Angst", Dance Magazine 58, no. 6 (1984)