A Few Notes On Quickstep
by Sandi & Dan Finch
Quickstep is spectacular to watch and
thrilling to dance because of its bubbly, energetic music and dynamic
movement. Moving briskly across the floor, you should get a feeling
of wind whistling through your hair.
Most quickstep figures are taken from
waltz or foxtrot -- that’s the good news. But learning to dance it
requires some new thoughts about timing and movement.
Quickstep is the fastest smooth rhythm
we dance. It is characterized by steps made up of locks and chasses
done on the forward part of the ball of the foot (usually referred to
as the toes). To make it do-able, you need to master two techniques:
♪ Dancing with one side or the other leading through the chasses and locks.
♪ Keeping your knees and ankles flexible, to be light on your feet but well grounded.
For starters, remember that quicks are
usually closing or locking steps. Slows going forward to start a
figure are done with heel leads, but the slow after a combination of
quicks will be taken on the toe, lowering to a flat foot, because the
next figure will likely start with a slow and a heel lead.
In the 1920s, with ragtime music the
rage, new dances such as the Charleston, the Shimmy, and the Black
Bottom were in full swing. Foxtrot was new too, having come onto the
dance floor out of Harry Fox’s vaudeville routine. Most dancers
found the fast foxtrot too fast for a night of dancing, so
instructors began slowing it down. In England, the faster version
was modified as the “Quickstep” and in America, it became the
“Peabody,” named for a New York police lieutenant popular in
The new quickstep moved a little like
waltz, added some flourishes of Charleston, and kept the runs,
chasses, skips, and hops of Harry Fox’s “trot.”
Three questions come up when quickstep
becomes the topic of discussion: Is the basic timing SQQ or QQS or
SSS? What figures should be taught first? And what is the deal with
“running finish” being only three steps, not four, and thus not
“running” at all as we know it in other rhythms and figures?
Tempo & Timing:
Quickstep is danced to music in 4/4
time, meaning there are four beats of music in each measure. You
will find figures with timing combinations of SSS, SQQS, QQQQ, QQS,
and even QQSSQQ. Roundalab has standardized the basic timing as SQQ,
meaning the “slow” will use two of the four beats of music and
each “quick” will use one beat of music.
When the timing switches to SSS or SQQS
or some variation, you will be dancing through split measures. Many
waltz figures used in quickstep—such as the impetus turn and spin
turn—will be danced as slow, slow, slow. This means the figures
require more than one measure to complete. For example, the spin turn
done as SSS will be danced over a full measure (four beats) and a
half (two more beats). If you are only used to starting a figure on
the strong downbeat that signifies the start of a measure, you will
feel a bit uncomfortable with split measures.
You also have to learn new vocabulary
for some strictly quickstep figures, such as V6, woodpecker, running
forward (or back) locks, and tipsy.
Quickstep is identified as one of the
International standard rhythms, meaning it is danced in closed (or
semi-closed) position. Dance holds are the same as waltz and foxtrot
but your poise should be more forward over the foot, still keeping
the spine straight. Being forward allows gravity to work with you to
generate movement. Visualize your “center” of gravity and
connection with partner as being higher than in the other dances.
This mental picture of elevating your center will lighten the lower
part of your body so your feet can move more freely through the speed
of quickstep. Quickstep music is played between 45 and 52 measures
of music per minute, compared to the modern foxtrot at 28 to 30
measures a minute.
“Side leading,” instead of having
the bodies square to each other, will make it possible to move more
freely and make turning figures easier. When moving line of dance,
partners will be in Banjo and their shoulders will have a diagonal
Don’t dance flat-footed. Use your
knees and ankles like shock absorbers. Feel like a tennis player on
the court, switching from foot to foot, ready to receive a serve to
his backhand or forehand. Steps are slightly shorter than in foxtrot
because of the faster music.
In lower levels of dancing, you focus
primarily on moving your feet from place to place and the body just
happens to get there. But at advanced levels, especially in
quickstep, you need to think about moving the body and let the feet
move as a natural reaction. When you move the body forward, your
partner can feel that and react to it. If you just move a foot, the
partner can only guess where you are going and your bodies will be
out of sync, an especially uncomfortable feeling in the middle of a
Rise & Fall:
Quickstep figures have less rise (and
therefore less fall) than their waltz counterparts because the speed
of the music and your body flight requires that you keep some flex in
the knees and ankles at all times to stay grounded. For most figures,
maximum rise occurs on step one and stays at that level until weight
is fully transferred on the last step of the figure, then lowers. In
chasse figures, the rise occurs gradually from the end of step one
through the last step, then lowers.
The Roundalab Manual of Standards
starts its basic figures for quickstep in phase III. You could also
go to I Wanta Quickstep, the classic (phase III+1) Hall of Fame Dance
by the Palmquists. Figures in the earliest versions of its cue sheet
were step-cued, not identified by the international terms we use
today, but there they are just the same – quarter turn progressive
chasse, forward forward lock forward, and fishtail. Those same
figures are in the pre-bronze (newcomer) level of the English (ISTD)
manual and are the first listed in the (American) DVIDA bronze
The late Alex Moore, MBE, author of
Ballroom Dancing, first published in 1936 and considered the dancer’s
bible, said the walk and chasse are the basic figures of quickstep
and should be taught first, then quarter turns left and right, then
the progressive chasse. The quickstep was first performed in 1927 at
a championship competition won by a 20th century ballroom pioneer,
Frank Ford (history courtesy of the Ballroom Dancing Times). His
routine was much like a foxtrot but consisted of quarter turns, cross
chasses, zig-zags, cortes, open reverse turns, heel pivots, and the
Charleston step, and that remained the basic routine until the end of
World War II. By the 1960s, competition quickstep became faster,
full of scatter chasses, hops, and skips. Still, ballroom masters
say that to do quickstep, you must first be able to dance a good
The Mystery Figure:
That Running Finish is perhaps the most
debated figure in dancing. “Running” generally indicates four
steps in most figures. But, the standardized running finish is three
steps, turning the partnership from banjo with Man generally facing
RLOD to banjo with him facing LOD. It is the ending of an old figure
called “running zig zag,” according to Sir Alex Moore. Taken
apart, the finish of the running zig zag consisted of four steps
(SQQS) which made it a typical running figure and it went into the
English manuals as running finish with that timing. But, Sir Alex
admitted the last step is really the first step of the next figure.
RAL and American ballroom manuals show the running finish as SQQ
(like a turning feather finish) and leave the fourth step to be part
of whatever follows. Thus round dancing has the anomaly of a
“running” figure that really only has three steps.
Let’s Dance (Stone, 1964, phase
IV+2) URDC Hall of Fame 1979
Dan and Sandi host two weekly Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in Southern California. These notes were originally used in their classes, © 2012. Dan and Sandi have additional dance essays and helps on their site. This article was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2012.