German word of the day: Der Traumtänzer

German word of the day: Der Traumtänzer
A dance troop of literal 'Traumtänzer' performing in Berlin in summer 2019. picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken
Here's how to use this descriptive word, which has both positive and negative connotations.

“Der Traumtänzer” is someone who has their head in the clouds. They’ve got big dreams – but they’re also completely out of touch with reality. 

While it does have an entry in the Duden, one of the most widely-used German dictionaries, “Traumtänzer” is more of a colloquial word, used in everyday language and slang. 

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It developed as a teasing word for political dreamers – people who believe in Utopian futures where all social problems are solved. 

It can also be used on individuals who use a “this time next year, we’ll be millionaires” logic. These are people who swear they’re destined for greatness – but don’t want to put in the work to get there. 

Though it can be quite a negative word, it’s also very beautiful. It translates literally to “the dream dancer”, from the German “Traum” (dream) and “Tänzer” (dancer). 

Occasionally, the word is used in a positive way, as in this example from an obituary in Die Zeit

“[Der Fotograf] bewegte sich wie ein Traumtänzer.”

(The photographer moved like a dream dancer.) 

In these rare cases, the meaning of the word shifts slightly. It translates into a “dream-like or sleep-walk-like easiness or perfection”. 

These two meanings seem contradictory. And this is partly what makes the word so interesting. 

Because of the compound (putting together two different nouns), it’s possible to read it as both “a dream dancer” – a person who dances like a dream – and “a dream dancer” – someone who dances in their dreams. That’s why you’re also bound to see many dance studios or troops in Germany bearing the name.

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“Traumtänzer” is a grammatically masculine noun (“der”) but was once used to refer to idealists of any gender. Nowadays the grammatically feminine version “die Traumtänzerin” is increasingly common when referring to women. 

Some similar German words include “Himmelsstürmer” (heaven stormer), which is someone who has chosen a seemingly unreachable goal for themselves, “Schwarmgeist” (heart-throb ghost), a fantasist or idealist, and “Weltverbesserer” (world-improver), which has the same connotations as social justice warrior. 

Examples

Die idealistischen Studenten werden als Traumtänzer verspottet.

The idealistic students are ridiculed as fantasists. 

Lionel Messi, der Traumtänzer mit einem Ball. 

Lionel Messi, an effortless master of the ball.


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