Picture Figures: The Magic Act In Dancing
by Sandi & Dan Finch
Picture figures in smooth
big expressions of the body, when the feet stop but the bodies
continue moving to the music.
The body expresses music
shape, rotation, rise and fall, and sway. Like a magic act, what you
think you see as a graceful couple dances a picture figure is
generally not what is happening. When we attempt to copy them, the
results are usually too little, or too much. Too little expression
and you have the feeling of “just standing there” waiting to get
moving again. Too much and the partnership becomes contorted, balance
goes out of whack, and one or the other partner complains about a
pain in the back (or lower!).
The magic of picture figures
on three primary factors:
Balance -- The two
bodies each remains in balance with weight over a standing foot, and
the partnership of them together has its own balance.
Continuous Movement -- Even
though the feet stop, the two bodies continue dancing,
completing the music choreographed for the figure. Use the music and
strive for the type of body motion that befits the rhythm. In waltz and
foxtrot, you want continuous movement of the body throughout the
figure; the tango look calls for fast shapes and holds. Although
artistry plays its hand here, we offer a formula (below) to help make
Lady Finishes The
Picture -- Man must
remember that the picture is finished by the Lady. Man sets the frame,
then allows Lady to extend and make the picture. Problems occur in
picture figures when Man tries to shape the same as his partner.
I. Body Mechanics: Balance
Other Laws Of Physics.
This elegant art form we call
relies on several physical principles. Newton gave us one of them: Two
bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The
Chair (phase III), the most elementary picture figure we do,
epitomizes this principle.
To do a Chair properly, Lady
wait for the
move his inside leg forward; then she can move hers in behind him.
Moving them at the same time causes the infamous “hip to hip”
position with twisted shoulders. The figure is often followed by the
cues recover and slip (making
it phase IV), and again, the Lady must wait to slip until she feels
her partner begin the slipping action. This delay is
imperceptible to someone sitting on the sidelines but it is enough to
create room for the Lady to move comfortably.
Balance is achieved when a
moves his or her center of gravity over a standing leg. The Lady can
remain in a Contra Check or Throwaway Oversway—even if her partner
walks away—when her weight is balanced. Balance for the partnership
is usually achieved by one partner counter-balancing the other, i.e.
Man’s upper body will have a shape that offsets the Lady’s
II. Finding A Formula For
Most picture figures work
sequence: First, set the base (1), then move the body (2), and
finally allow the heads and/or a stretching of the body to finish the
picture (3). In any line, when stretching one side of the body do NOT
scrunch the other side.
Contra Check (phase V) --
From CP, set the base by
Man’s R with slight LF body rotation, causing Man’s forward step
L (with heel lead) to land in front of R. He does not step across the
track of his R, but his legs should feel connected at the top inside
of the thighs. Lady will lower on her L and match the rotation,
drawing her R under the body and extending it back. Her right knee
should tuck in behind her left knee. Her weight will be balanced
between her feet, and she will NOT lower the heel of her R. Taking
her weight to the R or lowering the heel will make it difficult to
come out of the figure, overbalance it, and cause her to pull her
partner onto her.
With the base set, the partners
have a diagonal LF stretch through the body, then the heads complete
the picture (Lady stretching and looking up and out over her left
shoulder; Man looking over Lady’s head). Lady must NOT do a back
bend; Man must NOT lean over the Lady. Rotating before the base is
set will cause over-rotation and throw the partnership off balance.
Man’s frame from elbow to elbow is set (but not stiff and rigid);
his arms from elbow down can breathe allowing his right hand to
follow the Lady’s back as she extends and finishes the
picture. If she feels heavy to him, he is holding her too tight.
Right Lunge (phase IV) and
Lunge with Roll & Slip (phase V) --
Man lowers on L (Lady R) and
base by stepping side and slightly forward R (Lady side and slightly
back L) as though trying to step under their elbows. Man maintains a
counter balance; Lady remains balanced over her L while stretching to
keep her right side to partner and looks out over her left elbow.
To create the “roll” from the
lunge position, Man will lift his right side while rotating his left
side slightly toward Lady, causing her to roll her head to open
position, then he recovers L and slips R back bringing Lady into
Same Foot Lunge and
(phase VI) --
This is usually cued as “preparation
to same foot lunge” to put the partners in proper position on
the same feet. Both lower on L; Man steps side and very slightly
forward R, to set the base, Lady steps back crossing R behind L. Lady
should feel a connection through the outside of her left thigh
against the inside of his right thigh when she steps back. Both will
have their L legs extended in the same direction. Lady’s head is
usually open to start, closes with Man’s LF body rotation, and can
be opened again with Man’s RF body rotation for change of sway.
Same Foot Lunge Line is
a lowering on the R and extending the L, with no side step into the
figure. When complete, it looks the same as the Same Foot Lunge. A
Same Foot Lunge Line often follows a Hinge or Throwaway, with a rise
out of the previous figure to bring Lady up to stand on her R foot. She
then swivels on her R, then both lower and extend their L legs
into the new line.
A variation is the same
& flick. Man does the SFL, rotating RF after getting on his
R. As Lady steps back into the SFL, she stretches her left side and
flicks her L across in front of her R knee. Man’s shape keeps her
head open throughout.
Opposition Points (phase VI
Here, Man and Lady both lower
same standing foot (his R, her R)and extending the same free foot
(his L, her L) out to the side, Both will rotate RF slightly and
stretch their right sides to have an arching away from the center of
the partnership and look in the direction of their extended feet. The
preceding figure will end with a transition to put partners on the
same feet, as having Man close and Lady touch. It can be done with
the opposite feet.
III. Not One But Two
For The Work Of One.
Some picture figures actually
two pictures, the first while setting the base and then the final
picture. This group includes the Oversway,
Throwaway Oversway, Hinge, and Left Whisk. Each begins with
a high line,
then rises, lowers, or extends, and rotates into the final
picture. The difference between them depends on how fast or how much
they rotate and whether the lead is a rise, a lowering, or a level
A high line is defined
RAL Glossary as “any one-count picture figure that ends with a high
poise.” This generally occurs as a side step in semi-closed
position, onto a flexed knee, free leg extended back, looking up and
over joined lead hands, and a strong “up” feeling through the
Oversway and Promenade Sway
Oversway begins with a momentary high line (picture #1) but
immediately has a softening through the knees of the lead feet, a
stretch of Man’s left side (Lady’s right), and a slight LF
rotation to close her head. Too much rotation will put a strain on
backs and knees.
The Oversway is often combined
an extended high line to make the promenade sway and change the
sway. Promenade Sway is
a form of high line with a stretched right side (Lady’s left). You
often get a full measure of music to develop the promenade sway, then
another measure to slowly change to an Oversway—a lot of time to
wait for “the next thing” if you rush through it.
Throwaway Oversway (phase
The name comes from the feeling
Man has in executing this figure. What he is “throwing away” is
the Lady’s left side (while still maintaining contact). From CP
facing RLOD, Man lowers and steps back L swiveling into SCP. His
swivel and diagonal stretch through the body create Picture #1, the
high line. He lowers and quickly rotates LF, bringing Lady to CP and
causing her L foot to come under her and slide out behind her. The
base is now set, and he can stretch his left side to finish the line.
Lady steps forward R from CP
high line, swivels LF extending her L to the 6 on the clock on the
wall (while her R is aligned with the 2:00 position) to keep a thigh
connection with Man. With her base set, she creates a diagonal
stretch from her right hip up through her body and finishes the
picture with her head to the left looking over her shoulder.
Errors: Man shapes too quickly,
allowing the first picture to occur, and his center rotates away from
Lady; Man uses his arms to turn Lady; Lady shapes into the final
picture while still moving from SCP to CP (set the body before
finishing with the extension); Lady arches her back, throwing
shoulders straight back to finish the picture rather than extending
head toward her left shoulder with a diagonal LF stretch through her
Hinge (phase V) --
This begins like a Throwaway
Oversway, except Man rises in the high line, lifting Lady into CP,
drawing her L in and causing her to change weight, so that when he
lowers, her right foot will extend forward and she will have a
feeling of sitting on his left inside thigh. She has an “up and
over” feeling that distinguishes the lead from a Throwaway.
Left Whisk (phase IV) --
From CP facing RLOD, this
begins with the first two steps of a Throwaway, into a high line in
SCP. Instead of just rotating his center at this point to close the
Lady as in a Throwaway, Man continues to move his center LOD, hooking
his R behind his L with a delayed LF rotation. Lady follows, hooking
her L behind her R instead of extending it behind her. Lady can
finish by flicking her R high across her left knee or across the
front of her left foot.
Error: Man uses arms to swing
upper body (and Lady) into the hook before the base is set.
IV. Same Figure, Different
Tango is staccato, creating a
of quick movement followed by stillness. Forget fluid, continuous
motion (except for special effect). Almost any waltz or foxtrot
figure can be done in tango by applying this characteristic of the
tango rhythm. For example:
Right Lunge: Lower and
sharply side and slightly forward for Man to set the
sending Lady out fast, then holding the pose. Throw in a tic for
Some lines are fundamentally
Left Lunge into Spanish
From CP, flex R knee, step side L on flexed knee, keeping pressure on
right big toe. Straighten L and stretch left side to drag up, close R
to L, and turn to SCP. Lady: Flex L knee, step side R with flexed
knee keeping head closed, weight over R with strong right side
stretch, left leg extended; drag up straightening R knee and looking
at Man. Extra connection occurs through inside of Man’s left thigh
and outside of Lady’s right thigh.
Errors: Lady does not step big
onto her R and she is pulled off her feet in the drag, or Man uses
his arms literally to drag the Lady.
and Sandi host two weekly
Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in
Southern California. This
article comes from clinic notes prepared
for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2006, and
reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, December 2013.