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There's A Funny Thing About Turns

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Very few dancers stop to analyze how they turn. We think we just go forward, turning and facing a new direction. A turn goes left or right. Simple, clear, and works just fine -- for one person walking or dancing. Add a partner and now you have three-dimensional space to calculate.

Most dancers are not mathematicians, so the dance world has developed rules to made it fairly simple to understand and describe what happens in a turn. When you talk about a turn, you describe it in amounts by 1/4 or 1/8. If you start facing one wall and end facing another, you have turned some multiple of a quarter: 1/4, 1/2 , or 3/4. If you start facing a diagonal and end facing a wall, you have turned some multiple of 1/8. Think about turns in two parts—1/4 plus 1/8 is a 3/8 turn, 1/2 plus 1/8 is a 5/8 turn. Simple enough. And remember, look to the feet to measure how much turn is done, not the body.

It starts getting more complicated when you describe where you started and where you end because now you have a direction and an alignment, which can be two different things. (See explanation at end.) In round dancing, we take out some of that mystery because you know where you started and the cuer will usually tell you where to end, such as “turn left to face the wall.“ If you don’t hear the ending alignment, you dance the basic figure, with the standard starting and ending positions that you know.

We add a little mystery when we mumble those infuriating letters—CBM, often confused with CBMP. We use CBM (contra body movement) to start a turn. It is a body turn, not something you do with your feet, to alert your partner that a turn is coming. The amount of impulse indicates whether the turn is slight as to feather position or a full turn as in a big double reverse spin. CBMP (contra body movement position) is the placing of one foot onto the same track or across the track of the other foot.

And then we add words like “commence to turn” and turn “on,” “over,” or “between” steps in describing turns in the smooth rhythms. “Commence to turn” means you are preparing to step by applying CBM (a shift through the body) but no change of alignment occurs until “between” the first and second step. In smooth dances, turns occur between feet. In Latins, turns occur on a foot. “On” means you have full weight on the foot as it turns, as in a swivel, spiral, or pivot. “Over” means making the prescribed amount of turn over a number of steps, as in a three-step turn.

The real corker, of course, is that in a turn, the two dancing partners have different amounts of turn on each step. Huh, you say? When you are moving forward, you are most likely on the outside of a turn. The person going back generally is on the inside of the turn. This matters because the person on the inside will travel less than partner, and in waltz, for example, all her turn is made between steps 1 and 2. The body turns less than the feet between steps 1 and 2 but catches up on step 3. (This is so her body can remain in closed position.) The person on the outside of a turn has farther to travel and his turn is divided into two parts: In waltz, the leader makes 1/4 turn between steps 1 and 2 and 1/8th turn between steps 2 and 3.

So, the simple maneuver (phase II waltz), dressed up and explained in all its glory, goes like this: Man commencing to turn steps straight forward R (using CBM), then forward L making 1/4 turn between steps 1 and 2, and finishing with 1/8 turn before he closes on step 3. Lady steps back L pointing R where it will go next, completing her full 3/8 turn as she steps forward R, closes L to R with no additional foot turn but allowing her body to catch up (complete the turn).

Do you care? It’s not so important when dancing a phase II waltz figure, but the technique, when applied, will make more ambitious variations of it much easier.

Those who have taken a teach with us on Grecia’s Waltz (Blackford phase VI waltz) or our Apassionata (phase V waltz), have heard some of these words in describing the outside run & pivot; maneuver. It’s like two maneuvers in a row, separated by a pivot. Lady is on the inside of the two turns, one into the pivot and in the maneuver, but on the outside of the pivot. It is especially important that she get her first turn done (staying in closed position while the man comes around on the outside) so she is ready to drive into the pivot.

[*The difference between alignment and direction: Alignment refers to where the feet are pointing in relationship to the room. Direction is where you are moving in the room. As in semi-closed position, we may move down LOD (our direction of travel) but we would be facing diagonal line and wall (DLW), which is our alignment because that is where our feet are aimed.]


From a club newsletter prepared by Dan and Sandi Finch , August 2013, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2014/January 2015.



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