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A Turn Like No Other

by Sandi & Dan Finch

We refer to “heel turns” often in smooth dancing, to designate a compact form of turn with its own technique. It is predominantly a woman’s action, but men have their own version—the back turn of an impetus, the heel pivot and heel pull—which we will deal with in another issue.

In waltz, most turns—left turns and maneuver—require Lady to step back, side and close. But the telemark to semi is a left turn that requires her to step back, close her feet, then step forward. In foxtrot, where passing feet are the norm, she has heel turns not only in the open telemark but also in the half natural, the full reverse turn and double reverse spin.

Her part is to step back, keeping her right shoulder back so she doesn’t start the turn too early, and not close her feet on her own. Let the man do it! If he dances the figure correctly, he will have “early rise” and then “cut her off”—two actions that will close her feet and cause the turn.

Early rise? Where is that written? Round dancing attempts to keep it simple for those who don’t have a background of dance training, so the manuals mainly focus on where to put your feet. But even in the ballroom technique manuals, you have to understand “early rise” to know it when you read it. In waltz, the ballroom books describe the first step of a figure as “commence to rise” at the end of step one. Where early rise is intended, the description changes to “rise” at the end of step one.

As he rises going to a straight leg, that rise will create an upward impulse for his partner, causing her to bring her feet together. Ladies complain they are pushed off a heel turn. That occurs because men have used the standard formula for rise, moving more forward than up, thus pushing their partners to step back with feet apart.

A lady will be so busy responding to the early rise that she will not notice that her rise is through the leg with “no foot rise.” She steps back on the ball of her right foot, going to a flat foot (on the slow count) and controlling her left foot by pulling it to her right. Her turn is done mostly on the heel of the right foot and is completed before she takes weight to the left at the end of the first quick. Where she places her third step (the amount of rotation) is controlled by how much turn the man chooses—2/8ths of a turn for an open telemark, 3/8ths for a reverse turn, more for a double reverse spin. The heel turn part of any figure will always be the same. Men must not be in a hurry to turn until his partner’s heel turn is set up. Ladies must remember they are using 21⁄2 beats of music to make the turn on the heel of the right foot. Take your time before you transfer weight, and no turn on the toes (that would be a toe turn, which has its own place—elsewhere).


From a club newsletter prepared by Dan and Sandi Finch , December 2013, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2015.



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