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The Art of Heel Turns

by Sandi & Dan Finch


Heel turns are performed by both partners, to make the rotation of some turns easier for the partner on the outside of the turn. An action within a figure, they are troublesome. On what foot does the turn actually occur? How does man ensure his partner gets to her heel?

You don’t see heel turns until at least Phase III. Ladies do them most often, but the first heel turn encountered in the Roundalab (RAL) Manual of Standards is a heel turn for man, in the impetus to semi. It appears in Phase III waltz, quickstep and foxtrot. For men, there is one other, related figure—the heel pull.

Ladies don’t see their first heel turn until Phase IV waltz and foxtrot, in the telemark to semi, and the foxtrot reverse turn and half natural.

The explanation of impetus is for Man to commence a right-face upper body turn backing L, then close R to L [heel turn] and continue turning to step forward L in semi-closed position, usually diagonal line and center, completing 3/8ths of a turn.

The RAL Glossary defines heel turn like this: A turn commencing on the heel of one foot with the free foot directly along side. The turn continues through the heel of the other foot as the second weight change is taken and then weight is transferred to the ball of that foot [heel to toe] before the end of the figure.

In other words, a heel turn is exactly what it says: a turn on the heel, but the question arises—which heel. Note in the definition of impetus turn, after stepping back, Man brings his R to the L, but he doesn’t change weight at that point. The turn is done on his left heel, the right foot going along for the ride, and the transfer of weight to the R occurs when the turn is completed.

The lady’s heel turn in the Phase IV telemark to semi, also properly called open telemark, turns left over three steps, but it works about the same way. Her Phase IV foxtrot reverse turn also turns left, but her Phase IV half natural turns to the right. A heel turn for Ladies also occurs in the natural weave, a Phase V foxtrot and waltz figure. Can you spot her heel turn action in other figures? Consider double reverse spin, hover cross from Closed Position, double natural and the “tele” family—telespin, mini-telespin, double telespin, telefeather, teleswivel.

The technique to lead a heel turn varies, depending on whether it is a turn to the right or to the left. The terms early rise, early turn, and late turn are used in the RAL Teaching Progression Manual for Phase IV waltz and foxtrot to describe the proper technique for turns. Unfortunately, those terms are not yet explained anywhere in the Manual.

Early Rise
Early rise is simply a change in when rise occurs. The standard mantra for waltz is: Begin rise at the end of step one, continue rising on two and three, with lowering at the end of three. Early rise is done by Man simply stepping onto a straight leg on step one, accomplishing an immediate rise on the first step, rather than spreading it out over all three steps. This causes Lady to also step onto a straight leg, which draws her free foot in. It also prevents him from overpowering her, which would force her to take a step back on the second step instead of bringing her feet together. Use it whether Lady is turning left or right onto a heel turn.

Early and Late Turns
We talk about turns being “early turns” and “late turns”—concepts that refer to how much CBM (contra body movement) is applied and when. CBM is that impulse communicated through the man’s body to signal a turn is coming—called “commence to turn” in describing the first step of many turning figures in the manual.

When turning left, the leader takes his first step straight forward, while using CBM. This causes his right hip to move forward more than his left, creating a swing into the turn between the first and second step. This is called a late turn and is done to give his partner time to react to a turn. If he just cranked to the left on his first step, it would cause her to move out of good closed position. [In smooth rhythms, turns occur between steps. In latins, turns occur over a foot.]

When turning right, Lady is on Man’s right side and his turn will not cause her to shift out of position. CBM applied early in the right turn starts moving her out of his way so he can dance past her. Thus called an “early turn.”

Heel Pull
This Phase IV foxtrot figure begins with Man stepping back L like he is going to do a hesitation change, then pulling his right heel toward his L on count 2, allowing it to pass as he turns right face on the left heel. He transfers weight to his R taking a small step to the side. Lady essentially does two weight changes, like a hesitation change.

This variation of heel turn is a figure on its own but also shows up in other figures. Men will recognize it as the action in the second half of a reverse chasse turn [back, heel pull, touch] in Phase IV quickstep.

From a club newsletter, October 2017, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2018.


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