Smooth Dancing -- Moving from III/IV to IV/V
by Dick & Karen
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
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.
Clinic Notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2011, and
reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, September 2014.