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Smooth Dancing -- Moving from III/IV to IV/V

by Dick & Karen Fisher

Sadly the first step in moving dancers to higher phase smooth or standard rhythm dances is breaking old habits. It is possible for two people dancing in close proximity to one another to dance most phase III and IV waltzes and foxtrots. It may not be comfortable, especially at phase IV, and that is one reason many dancers decide that dancing higher level dances is not for them. Things that are seldom taught at lower levels, such as the hold or frame, poise, balance, the walk, contrary body movement, foot work, rise and fall, body stretch and sway, and leading and following become very important in waltz and foxtrot. Even in phase III we encounter figures such as chair, hover, impetus, spin turn, whisk, and wing that require a proper static frame if they are to be danced comfortably. We can add to that list phase IV figures such as diamond turn, hover telemark, telemark, and weave, which require more technique than the average phase III/IV dancer has yet been exposed to.

When we begin an introduction to waltz and foxtrot, we begin with the frame. The hold is somewhat different for each couple, but there are some basic rules. For the man, the left arm should slope slightly downward from the shoulder. The elbow should be in line with the back and it should move neither forward nor backward as the couple dances. The forearm should be bent upward at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. The wrist should not be bent. The right arm should slope downward from the shoulder in as nearly as possible the same line as the left arm. It should be held only slightly in front of the body. The right hand should be placed on the lady's side and back, just below her shoulder blade. The man will have to angle his right forearm and hand down a varying amount depending on the couple’s height difference, but the right elbow should be held as high as is comfortably possible. The fingers should be held together and pressure applied to the lady’s back through the heel of the hand and the lower two fingers only. For the lady, the right arm should slope slightly downward from the shoulder to the elbow and then upward from the elbow to meet the man’s hand. The left arm should be placed on the man’s right arm so that as nearly as possible the elbows are together. The left hand should then be placed, wrist first, on the man’s upper arm.

Correct poise and balance is achieved by having all of our blocks of weight in alignment. When we stand normally, this is usually not achieved. There is a tendency to have our chest and head out of alignment. To correct this, use the abdominal muscles to lift the chest and then move the head back so that it is aligned over the spine.

Both partners should stand very erect with the knees relaxed but not bent and the body inclined forward from the feet upwards so the weight of the body is on the balls of the feet but the heels are not lifted from the floor. This will bring the hips together and both people should lift them toward their partner. The upper body should have left poise or slight inclination to the left with the heads turned slightly to the left. If either person moves their head to the right, this will destroy the balance and make turning figures difficult.

We now look at a new position. Most dancers have learned that semi-closed is a V shape with the man turned to the left and the lady turned to the right. This is not correct at the higher levels of round dancing. We emphasize that the man presents his left side to the lady and stretches his right side to turn her to semi and to open her head. This allows the couple sufficient freedom to execute the thru step.

The thru step is one of the most abused steps in dance. All thru steps are similar, whether it is a chair or simply a thru, face, close. The man lowers and steps forward with a heel lead with as small amount of leftward rotation as possible, and the lady steps thru with her leg following his through the same space.

Let's return to closed position and look at the walk. This seems silly at first, but although we know how to walk normally when not in closed position, we are often uncertain how to walk as a couple. The man lowers swinging the knee of the free foot forward allowing the ball of the foot and then the heel to just skim the floor and then extends the foot. At the full extent of the stride, the heel of the moving foot and the ball of the standing foot will be in contact with the floor. As the hips move forward, the man lowers the toe of the moving foot so that the full foot is on the floor allowing the hips to continue to move forward until the weight is on the ball of the new standing foot. The lady swings the free leg back from the hip with the ball and then the toe skimming the floor. As the forward motion of the couple moves the center of gravity, she begins to take weight on the ball of the moving foot. Continuing to move backward, she releases the toe of the standing foot and, dragging the heel, draws it back under the body. When the feet are parallel, she completes weight transfer to the new standing foot. The lady must be careful not to take weight onto the moving foot until the forward motion of the couple has caused a weight shift that forces her to do so. Taking weight onto the moving foot too early will impede the couple’s flowing movement over the floor. When the couple is moving backward, the rolls are reversed.

Contrary body movement seems to be an alien concept to many, although we have it when we walk down the street. It simply means moving the side of the body opposite the striding foot forward. Most round dancers think that stepping to banjo or sidecar position means turning the partnership to the right or left and stepping outside the partner. This commonly leads to an exaggerated hip-to-hip position, which makes executing the next figure difficult. .

If the man steps forward with contrary body movement he will achieve a contra body position, either banjo or sidecar depending on the foot used in the forward step. This is very different from the scissors to sidecar, scissors to banjo we learned in two-step. Thus, three cross hovers ending in semi become a linear figure moving very much down line of dance. The third element in this sequence is by far the most challenging. The man using contrary body movement to achieve contra body position accomplishes the first two figures. The third figure requires that the man use his frame to turn the lady to semi between the first and second steps.

We cannot forget footwork. Too many dancers dance flatfooted. In waltz and foxtrot almost all figures begin with a heel lead for the person going forward. We need to lower to accomplish a heel lead, and if the man is moving backward, he needs to lead the lowering so that the lady can take a heel lead.

Rise and fall, or lowering and rising, help us accomplish footwork. In waltz we like to think of the first step as the strong step, the second step as the long step, and the third step as the tall step. The man lowers into the supporting leg and drives forward with a heel lead; then weight is taken onto the ball of the foot and he begins to rise. The momentum generated by this strong step allows him to continue to rise and take a long second step onto the ball of the foot. Then, continuing to rise, he closes the foot with weight on the ball of the foot. At the end of the third step, he lowers into the next figure. We say there is no rise and fall in foxtrot, but what we mean is that there is no foot or ankle rise. Foxtrot has a softening of the supporting leg and a strong step with a heel lead followed by two “floating” steps on the ball of the foot.

Many figures are aided or even created by actions of the body. Curving figures such as a curved feather or curving 3-step and left and right turns are not made with the feet. The body initiates these turns, and the feet follow. Rotation is not the same as turn. Rotation is a circular motion around the balance point or central axis of the partnership and is essential in such figures as the double reverse spin. Sway is created by stretch and is important in figures such as the hairpin and curving 3-step. Stretch is the elongation of one side of the body without shorting or collapsing the opposite side, and it is the responsibility of the man. Left side stretch by the man produces the lady’s left sway.

To dance the more challenging waltzes and foxtrots, both the man and the lady need to have a thorough knowledge of the figures, but it is the man’s particular responsibility to place the lady so that she can dance the figure. Thus, the man must have some idea of what the lady’s figure entails, and the lady must allow the man to place her rather than simply dancing her figure on her own. We are now dancing as one and not as two people each doing the figure in close proximity to one another. It takes time and considerable travail to reach the point where the lady gives her dance to the man, and he dances her, but it is a wonderful feeling and well worth striving for.


From Clinic Notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2011, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2014.



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