and the Rights: Improving Your Rotational Figures
& Sandi Finch
In the early days of ballroom, the waltz was danced turning only to the
right.* It was done this way for maybe 100 years. It was considered the
natural thing to do.
In the 1890s, basic steps began to start from line of dance instead of
wall, meaning dancers could more easily turn te opposite direction,
called reversing the turn. At first not everyone did it, so it was
considered polite for a gentleman to ask his partner "do you reverse?"
From that, left turns in general became "reverse" turns and right turns
were called "natural" turns. Foxtrot hadn't been born yet, but when it
came onto the ballroom floor, this naming philosophy was carried over
In the development of Round Dancing, Roundalab (RAL) wanted to make a
distinction between types of turns. The lefts and rights were named
thusly: Turns to the right that end with passing feet are natural turns
and those that turn to the left ending with passing feet are reverse
turns. Where the feet close at the end of a turning figure, it is to be
called either a left turn or right turn, as appropriate. Thus, a left
turn in foxtrot is called a reverse turn, while its counterpart in
waltz is called a left turn. The right-turning figure open natural is
called that in waltz as well as foxtrot because the figure ends with
Now that you know what to call them, you need to understand a few
general principles to help you do turns better:
- Rotation includes turns, spins, and pivots, each of
which has a different technique.
- Almost every figure in dancing has some form of
- A standard turn rotates 3/8ths. The largest portion
of any turn occurs first -- 1/4th of the turn first, then the remaining
1/8th in a standard turn. The same principle applies if the figure is
overturned or underturned. We tell our dancers: Turn early, turn a lot.
- You need to develop an awareness of who is on the
inside and outside of a turn and what each has to do. Some figures
start with one partner on the outside but wind up on the inside of a
turn. A radical example is heel pull curved feather.
- The amount of turn you get depends on how far one
partner moves his (her) spine past the spine of the partner. Turns go
bad when one partner lets the side of the body on the outside of the
turn lag and not continue moving far enough. You will see this in the
man's second step of a reverse turn from a feather.
Some Basic Points About Turns**
A "turn" is a form of rotation that occurs between steps in foxtrot and
the other smooth rhythms -- in flight as you go from one foot to the
next. If a rotation occurs on a foot, it is a pivot, spin, or swivel.
(Or you are dancing a Latin rhythm, where turns do occur over a foot.)
Consider the spin turn, which has a spin on one foot and also a turn
In taking turns, you will be concerned with the direction you are
going, the amount of turn being made, when the turn actually occurs,
whether the body turns less or more than the feet on any of the steps,
and who is on the inside or outside of the movement.
Shape is an all-inclusive term for a variety of actions occurring
through the body to assist in turns or to create beautiful movement. It
includes sway for banking into a turn; swing, the windup to create
impulsion; stretch of one side of the body to create shapes; side
leading. All are important in rotation.
You also need to find your vertical axis. Think of the body as divided
into two halves, down the middle from head to foot. You spine is the
center axis and your torso should be able to rotate around that axis.
When both sides of the body move forward at the same speed, you have
pure progression, or a forward step. When both sides move forward but
one side moves more than the other, swing is created, and you have the
start of a turn. If one side moves forward and the other backward, you
have a twist turn or a spiral.
You will hear the beginning of a turn described as forward commencing
to turn. This means the foot will travel forward but the torso will
begin to turn around the spine in the intended direction of the turn.
This is CBM (contra body movement), that little tic or impulse the
leader gives to signal a turn is coming. It is a slight movement of the
opposite side of the torso toward the moving leg.
(Don't confuse CBM with CBMP, contra body movement position. While they
sound the same, and the end result may look the same, CBMP occurs
because one foot moved onto the track of the other foot. CBM a movement
of the torso.)
The person on the outside of the turn is usually moving forward and
will travel more. The partner going backward will usually be on the
inside of the turn, will travel less, and his or her feet will complete
the turn sooner, but this partner must keep his/her torso to partner
(hence the term "body turns less"). The maneuver in waltz as well as
phase III foxtrot is the simplest example of this.
Our Lefts & Rights
The most common turn to the right that we do in foxtrot at all advanced
levels is the Half
Natural (SQQ). This requires the lady to step back into a
heel turn, then step forward in closed position.
-- Beginning usually in semi-closed position, this is essentially three
forward steps for the partner as the leader swings across her path
turning right. If she keeps her eyes focused on the same spot in the
room, she will find that her head changed from right to left (to go
into banjo position) but she did little or no turn. The body turned
under her head.
Want to go left? We have the basic figures Reverse Turn and Promenade Weave.
Think about the inside/outside of turn.
& Slip and Three
Fallaways increase the difficulty but follow the same
If a figure goes in one direction, can it be done in the opposite
direction? In foxtrot, we have Curving
Three Step, which turns to the left and Curved Feather, a
similar action that turns to the right. The lady will be on the inside
of the turn in both.
If you can dance the Double
Reverse Spin, how about the Double Natural Spin?
The leader puts the partner into a heel turn for both of them, but the
follower will need some practice rotating on her left foot in the
Pivots are a form of rotation that occur over a foot. Think
inside/outside of turn so that one partner can coast as the partner
going forward on the outside "works."
The impetus to semi-closed position is usually a problem figure because
the lady does not move far enough past her partner (think spine going
past her partner's) or the man turns too soon knocking her off her feet
(instead of delaying on the inside of the turn).
The rules about turns work when you remember to be consistent. One turn
may seem different each time you do it, but that will typically be
because of the amount of impulsion coming from the figure preceding the
turn. Turn early, turn a lot; move your spine; identify inside and
outside of turn -- those rules will not fail you.
**A Technique of Advanced Standard Ballroom Figures, Geoffrey Hearn,
2007, and RAL Manual of Standards, as updated through 2017
clinic notes for the ICBDA convention, 2018,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June 2019.