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One Smooth and One Latin

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Which Foxtrot?

The uninitiated may have no fears going to a beginning foxtrot class, but if they only knew! Which foxtrot will it be? There is the social foxtrot taught by the franchise ballroom studios, the foxtrot you learn at phase IV round dancing (identified by the IVb figures) and the very different “introductory” round dance foxtrot identified as phase III foxtrot. And now in ballroom competitive levels, there is concern about the development of the “waltz-trot,” an extreme form of foxtrot that has waltz rise and fall.

Evolution in dance is important. That’s how new figures get introduced and the old ones get better. It’s how we got foxtrot in the first place. As Asis Khadjeh Nouri, organizer of The (dance) Camp on YouTube says, “you don’t wear pullovers from 30 years ago.” But he fears too many “fashion steps,” as he calls them, are being introduced and competition is losing real foxtrot.

Good foxtrot needs basic figures—weaves, feathers, waves, three steps—figures that show the linear, smooth flowing characteristic of true foxtrot, he said in one lecture. Good old phase IVb figures.

What he is objecting to is rise on the third step, which is somewhat characteristic of waltz. (Waltz mantra: begin to rise at the end of one, continue rise on two and three, lower at the end of three.) Foxtrot rise should occur on step one and continue at that level to a gentle lowering at the end of the figure. Waltz is more up and down; foxtrot is more linear.

Foxtrot has always been evolutionary. It is said to have come from the vaudeville routine of Harry Fox, a New York performer whose real name was Arthur Carringford. He had been a circus performer, played baseball, and sang in the vaudeville theaters of San Francisco until the earthquake of 1906. He found his way to New York, married a dancer and formed a troupe that was hired to perform between shows at the New York Theater. In 1913, they were performing a dance with trotting steps to ragtime music, which became known as Fox’s Trot.

The dance form became a hit. Within a year, the American Society of Professors of Dance began trying to standardize it. An instructor, Oscar Duryea, was hired to promote it and discovered that the trotting steps were too much for an evening of dance. He slowed it down and gave it what was described as a “glide.”

Phyllis Haylor, an early ballroom world champion, wrote in her historical book The World of Phyllis Haylor and Ballroom Dancing, said the foxtrot arrived in London a month before fighting broke out for World War I. “It crept in like a cat from America,” she wrote. There was nothing complicated about it and it could be mastered at once, unlike the waltz or the “new” tango,” she said. Social ballrooms were packed with foxtrotters.

In1920, Josephine Bradley, a ballroom pioneer, partnered in competition with an American, G. K. Anderson, and won doing an Americanized foxtrot. They then won the Ivory Cross All England Competition, and Bradley became London’s top authority on foxtrot. Four years later, in 1924, Bradley was named to chair the newly formed ballroom branch of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).

Their charge was to establish a standard of dance—with correct hold and technique as well as figures—and they started with what was being danced in competition. Her foxtrot became the standard for Slow Foxtrot still used today. Originally called English style, the standard is called International style throughout the world.

Meanwhile, in America, Arthur Murray and other franchise studio owners were teaching “Fox Trot.” His basic “magic step” was and still is two walks in closed position followed by side close, SSQQ. Waltz steps were incorporated with a change of timing from waltz 1-2-3 to SQQ.

Round dancing introduces foxtrot at phase III, using all waltz figures taught in SQQ timing. You will see some dances phased III +1, and it is expected that the plus figure would be from the phase IVa list, which includes mostly waltz figures. Phase IVb introduces the foxtrot figures defined by the English.

The a and b lists, introduced two years ago, were extended for a five-year trial at this year’s Roundalab convention, but a movement is championing a change in the lists—moving the “true” foxtrot figures on the a list to the b list, so the b list would reflect all of the “true” foxtrot figures at the beginning level. You may see that change formally proposed for next year’s convention.

Bradley’s committee had decided that ballroom dance should be based on natural movement, as in walking, not on ballet movement with toes turning outward. This was the introduction of heel leads. As in walking forward normally, we step onto a heel and our weight rolls from the heel to the ball of the foot as we push off. With rise, as the heel lifts off the floor, we step forward onto the ball of the other foot and lower to the heel. The slower the dance, the greater the rise—a waltz has more rise than quickstep. This way of moving has been adopted universally.

And it gives us the anomaly figure Three Step, danced SQQ. It is the only figure that begins with two forward heel leads, instead of heel lead rising to the ball on step one, stepping to the ball on step two and then lowering. It is a foxtrot rarity in that partners are dancing all three steps in closed position. It was decided that if Man danced regular footwork in that position, he would overpower his partner, thus the two heel leads in a row became standard.

And this figure too is an evolution. It was originally danced QQS, based on a theory that all foxtrot is comprised of a walk and three steps. Thus, the feather was walk (S), then three steps (QQS). Three step went into the ISTD manual as QQS, as it exists still today. DVIDA, the American version of the English standard, shows it as SQQ, and that’s how you will learn in round dancing. Thank goodness.

Samba -- It isn't just sequins and feathers but always a mix of attitude and abandon.

Samba is known worldwide as the dance of “Carnaval,” a Mardi Gras event held annually 50 days before the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox (or more simply, four days before Ash Wednesday). It is also known as a 1930s classic movie routine and a powerful workout for your pelvis.

It is historically a very old dance, but it wasn’t standardized for ballroom dancing until 1956. It is one of the standardized Latin dances in the Roundalab Manual of Standards, beginning at phase IV. But, how many sambas can you remember dancing? Tico Samba, written in 1987 by Eddie & Audrey Palmquist, is the standard but even it is not recognized as a Hall of Fame dance or a RAL Golden Classic. We just don’t do them much. Why not? It is a lively, flirtatious, fun dance.

Samba is believed to have grown out of the music African slaves brought to South America. Their music mixed with the rhythms of the Portuguese who settled in Rio de Janeiro in the 16th century. An early couples form of the dance was called the mesemba, popular in Rio’s high society in the 1880s. By the time the dance got to Europe, at the beginning of the 20th century, the samba had combined with another Brazilian dance called the “maxixe.” (Modern samba has a step called the maxixe -- one pronunciation: "ma-sheesh").

Samba appeared in the United States in the late 1920s in a Broadway play called “Street Carnival,” and later was featured at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. It was popularized in nightclubs by bandleader Xavier Cugat and in the movies by actress Carmen Miranda with her fruit-basket headdresses. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performed a form of samba, called the carioca, in their first film together, “Flying Down To Rio,” in 1933. It was said to be a mixture of samba, foxtrot, and rumba. Samba got another boost when Britain’s Princess Margaret was publicized dancing it.

Although the movies did much to make the samba popular, it is believed that economics had more to do with its popularity. Then as now, radio stations are charged royalties for playing copyrighted music, but back then they didn’t pay royalties for the new, unlicensed music coming from out of the country. The more air time given to the “free” music, the less in royalties to be paid. All the better that the audiences loved the samba beat.

The name “samba” derives from a Brazilian word meaning to pray or to invoke your personal orixa (patron saint).

Maybe we see so few sambas because they seem intimidating to learn. They have a vocabulary of their own—corta jaca, copacabanas, cruzado, marchesssi, bota fogo, to start. And samba has more than one standard rhythmic timing, depending on the figure danced. You will see slow-slow, slow-a-slow, and 1a2a3a4, not to mention slow-quick-quick, quick-quick-slow, and slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. Most dance experts say two beats make up a samba measure, but for the sake of choreography, Roundalab includes four beats in a samba measure. It feels faster than most Latin dances, given that we often take 6 or 7 steps in each 4-beat measure (compared to 3 in rumba). And there is more than one form of samba—the sexy form danced solo in Brazil with skimpy costumes and lots of feathers and sequins; ballroom competition samba that moves; and social samba, done more on the spot.

All Samba has a signature “samba bounce” or pulse that starts most figures. It is a slight rise by lifting the heel and taking a deep breath, exhaling and flexing the knee as the first step is taken. The second step gets only partial weight onto the ball of the foot, like limping on a sore toe. The third step is a full transfer of weight allowing the knee to compress so there can be rise for the next step. If it helps, think: take a deep breath, step over a log, squash a bug and recover.

The basic, usually done in closed position, starts with that deep breath, then forward/close, in place; back/close, in place, done 1a23a4. Bota fogos and voltas are samba staples and can be done traveling, going in opposite directions from the partner or in shadow. The bota fogo is danced forward/side onto inside edge of big toe with turn, then recover. The volta can travel (traveling voltas), curve (circular voltas), turn on the spot (spot voltas or maypoles), and change sides with partner under joined hands (criss cross voltas). Voltas can start on any either foot, going cross in front/side, cross in front/side, cross in front (1a2a3a4). Repeat as many times as desired. The corta jaca is a bit like a marchessi in closed position, but that’s not much help if you don’t know the marchessi from cha cha.

If you are being authentic, there is a samba dramatic climax—end the dance by throwing back your head and extending your arms to the side. Or simply do it the Palmquist way—thru, side lunge, as in Tico Samba.


From club newsletters, June & July 2019, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, August 2019.


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