A Few Notes On Slow Two Step
by Dan & Sandi Finch
Slow Two Step is a way to dance to those wonderful love ballads that don’t quite feel like any other rhythm, the alternative to the slow dance you did as teenagers—with arms around each other, clutching and swaying back and forth without moving from the spot.
It originated in 1965 with Buddy Schwimmer, then a 15 -year-old from Whitaker, IL, who didn’t like the teenager’s clutch version of slow dance. Coming from a family of competitive dancers, Buddy and his sister decided to find a way to “dance” to that listening music, and they created the dance form that has become our Slow Two Step. Buddy grew up and opened a dance studio in Costa Mesa, California, and began successfully competing and coaching all over the world, teaching his dance form as he went.(Condensed from an interview with Buddy Schwimmer by Philip Seyer that ran in Dancing USA)
The rhythm has evolved into two versions: Buddy’s version is called Night Club Two Step and is danced as cross behind, recover, then side with quick, quick, slow, -; timing. Round dancing adopted the second, slower, version, more like Bolero, starting with a side step on a slow count, then cross behind, recover as quick, quick. (Slow Two Step, unlike Bolero, is danced flat, without rise and fall.)
Bill and Carol Goss introduced Slow Two Step (ST) into round dancing at the 1991 Roundarama Institute with the advanced dance, Evergreen. They had seen the rhythm at the studio where they practiced and “thought it was time to introduce a new rhythm to round dancing,” Bill has explained (personal discussion ). Evergreen was written by Michael Kiehm, a San Diego, California, ballroom instructor. The Gosses followed that up in February 1992 with their own choreography, Even Now, a phase IV Slow Two Step, and they brought out another Kiehm advanced dance, Are You Still Mine, for URDC in the summer of 1992. Rachel’s Song, written soon after by Bill and Helen Stairwalt, became a RAL classic. Adeline revived interest in advanced ST when released by Kenji and Nobuko Shibata in 2000. In 2007, the Gosses gave us a taste of the faster tempo of Night Club Two Step with You’re Beautiful.
ST is one of our newer rhythms in round dancing, coming into the RAL Manual of Round Dance Standards in 1993 with several experimental figures. Figures begin in phase III. The manual currently has only one advanced figure, the Triple Traveler in phase V [and in 2012 the Passing Cross Chasse and Pull Pass in phase VI]. Advanced choreography consists of many unphased figures and figures borrowed from other rhythms.
Music & Musical Timing
This rhythm has the greatest variance of tempos, from very slow to very fast. Most round dances are written in the range of 24 to 32 measures per minute (Rachel’s Song and Adeline). The easiest to master is music in 4/4 timing, meaning you dance the slow on the first two beats of music, quick on the third beat of music, and another quick on the fourth beat of music.
ST is also written to music with 6/8 timing. Although that means there are six beats of music in each measure, choreography is still written as SQQ. You can dance the first step (S) using three beats, the second step (Q) using two beats, and the third step (Q) with just one beat. You might feel this as slow slow & (slow,-, slow,-/&;), especially to faster tempo music. Most people say they dance ST as they feel the music.
In choosing music, look for consistent rhythm and a strong beat. Because Bolero and ST are danced with the same timing, save the music with the Latin sound for Bolero. The old “doo-wop” ballads and almost any love song are a good sound for ST. Consider such Oldies as The Great Pretender (The Platters), Can’t Smile Without You (Barry Manilow), Can’t Help Falling In Love With You (Elvis), and the more modern Home (Michael Bublé), Circle of Life (from The Lion King), Lady In Red (Chris DeBurgh), and What A Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong).
The basic step is a “side, cross behind, recover.” Think “flat.” Dancers will ask: 1) what do you mean by “flat” and 2) how much of a “cross behind”? Flat means that any change in elevation caused by dancing onto the ball of the foot is absorbed in the body so you see little rise and fall. No bobbing up and down. The cross behind, in line with the standing foot, is a checking with only half of your weight. The heel should only “kiss” the floor. You don’t want to get settled on the heel with your weight back; that would make it difficult to quickly push back (recover) onto the initial supporting foot. How much does it cross behind? The ball of the crossing foot will land close to the back of the heel of the standing foot. If your hip opens out, you have crossed too far.
Slow steps forward are danced generally with a heel lead; forward steps on the quicks are danced ball or ball/flat, using soft knees. Side steps are danced to the inside edge of the ball of the foot, rolling to flat. You are not trying for hip action in this dance.
Your technique changes slightly when dancing to faster music. The steps have to be smaller, and the Basic will have a Samba Whisk feeling, without the bounce.
ST is danced with almost every hold in the book. Closed position may be typical of smooth dances or the looser Latin closed hold or even the extended Paso closed hold. You will dance into and out of many positions, using half open, open, butterfly, loose semi-closed, shadow and even varsouvienne. Shape toward your partner on each step and look at each other to complete the picture. Remember, these are love ballads.
The Very Basics
Basic (phase III): (SQQ; SQQ) (Not the standard, but this timing can be used: SS&; SS&;)
[Man] Side L ball flat with no body rise, -, place R behind heel of L on ball of foot, recover L flat; repeat to other side with opposite footwork. (Lady opposite) [Say: Side, cross behind, recover] Can be done in closed or butterfly position.
Side Basic: (SQQ;) This is the first half of the basic. [Man moving to his left]
Basic Ending: (SQQ;) This is the second half of the basic. [Man moving to his right]
Open Basic (phase III): (SQQ;) Side to half-open [or left half-open] in a slight V-position, cross free foot behind weighted foot, recover. Starts facing partner and ends either facing partner or in half open or left half open position. [Can be danced in either direction.]
Lunge Basic (phase III): (SQQ;) Side with slight lunge action, recover, cross in front. [Can be danced in either direction.] [Say: Side, recover, cross].
Underarm Turn (phase III): (SQQ;) This is a right face turn under joined hands. Typically, Man dances a side basic, raising his lead hand to allow Lady to turn under. Lady steps side R starting a RF turn under joined lead hands, crosses L over R turning ˝, recovers forward R turning to face Man. Man can dance an underarm turn while Lady dances a basic ending.
Reverse Underarm Turn (phase III): This is a left face turn for whichever partner is turning. If Lady is turning, Man does a basic ending. If Man is turning, Lady does a side basic.
More Advanced Turning Figures
Phase IV introduces the left and right turning figures, which require Man to plan ahead. The turns have to be initiated on the last step of the previous figure. For the Left Turn, Man needs to start Lady moving into a picked-up position. For Right Turns, he dances his last step of the previous figure more side & forward to start his roll across in front of her on the left foot. Turns are usually fancied up with a Lady’s roll, as left turn with inside roll or right turn with outside roll.
The Outside Roll is a right-turning underarm turn under joined lead hands. Think underarm turn with progression. Lady can dance a spiraling action on step 2. Man leads it like an alemana by taking joined lead hands around in back of her head (outside of the couple).
The Inside Roll is a left-turning figure, like a reverse underarm turn with progression, usually part of a combination, as in the cue “left turn with inside roll.” Man leads it by raising joined lead hands and bringing them between the partners (thus “inside” of the partnership).
Switches, currently defined as a pair of switches, are sometimes called flip flops and in and out runs, in other dance venues. Men start usually, rolling across first. If only one, it will usually be the Man switching across (L,R,L). From half-open position facing LOD, Lady dances three forward steps (R,L,R) while Man crosses in front of her on his L turning right face into her free arm, then forward right in left half open, and forward left. The partner not rolling across should bring the free arm forward to receive the rolling partner. Reverse Man’s and Lady’s part for the second measure. Look at each other. Keep it compact. Remember that the person starting the first switch prepared for the turn on the last count of the previous measure.
Traveling Cross Chasses (phase IV) and their related Traveling Chasses (phase III) move similarly but the traveling cross chasse ends with both crossing in front on the last step of each measure, instead of closing as with the traveling chasse.
Triple Traveler is the only phase V figure in the ST manual. [Lady across and roll LF; Man spiral; Lady roll RF.] Starting with a pick up to closed position at the end of the previous figure, Lady steps back starting an inside (LF) three-step roll under joined lead hands while Man progresses forward, to generally left half open position; Man steps forward R and spirals LF under joined lead hands while Lady progresses forward; Lady does an outside roll (RF) under joined lead hands while Man progresses forward L, forward and side R to face, cross L in front. Starts facing line of progression; ends with Man facing partner and COH usually, ready for a basic ending. Armwork is important to assist in partner turns.
Unphased [But Frequently Used or Interesting] Figures and Combinations
Phased figures combine with other actions to create new combinations.
Traveling Right Turn is headed for the manual as a phase VI ST figure. It has been paired with an outside roll in Shibatas’ Adeline and with a free roll in their What A Wonderful World.
Sweetheart Runs (phase IV) has been combined with Sweetheart Switch in the Reads’ When A Child Is Born, Preskitts’ Beat of Your Heart, and Gosses’ Are You Still Mine.
Traveling Cross Chasses combine with the unphased figures Passing Cross Chasses, Back Traveling
Cross Chasses and Pull Pass in many new dances, such as Beat of Your Heart, Are You Still Mine, It Takes Two [now standardized at phase VI].
The Square (unphased) is really four switches, each one making one side of a box. You saw it first in You’re Beautiful, the Goss' phase VI ST, and again in their It Takes Two. It can comfortably start after a pair of regular Switches. The latest take-off combination on The Square came in the Worlocks’ You Needed Me: Square half, two Switches, finish the Square.
And there’s nothing wrong with borrowing the “cuddle” or “hip rocks” from rumba for a step or two, like the teenagers at the prom who started it all.
Dan and Sandi host two weekly Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in Southern California. These notes were originally prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2010 and published in the Journal, fall 2010. Dan and Sandi have additional dance essays and helps on their site. This article was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, February 2013.