Rise and Fall -- How, When, and Why
by Brent & Judy
There are several
things that add elegance to dancing. The primary four are sway,
rotation, syncopation, and rise & fall. We want to look at one of
these, rise & fall, for the essentials of how we do it, when we
do it, and why we do it. The major rhythms that employ rise &
fall as a fundamental characteristic are waltz, foxtrot, quickstep,
and bolero. Some other rhythms, jive and east coast swing, use a type
of elevation change but we do not group it in the conventional
definition of rise & fall (we call that “bounce” instead) and
we will not address it here.
what we mean by rise & fall and clarify the three basic types.
Obviously rise & fall are changes in elevation from a normal
standing position. We can achieve that change in elevation by using
the foot/ankle joint (foot rise), by using an elongation of the
body’s trunk (body rise), and by using the knee/ankle/hip joints
(leg rise). Fall is returning to the lowest position for a standard
figure. In most figures, rise includes all three actions; in others,
only one or two will be used.
Since we are into
mechanical parts that do the rise/fall action, lets address the how
of the process first. Later, we’ll look at how each action applies
to specific rhythms. First let’s examine the smooth dances (waltz,
foxtrot, quickstep). After the initial setup movement, everything
starts not on the first step of a figure but on the last half or
quarter beat of the previous figure. It’s the bottom of the action,
the lowest point, the lowered position. The forward moving partner
usually heel leads from that lowest position and moves upward from
there using first the ankle/knee/hip flexors then the foot/ankle
flexors. The speed of the rise action is rhythm-dependent, and the
feeling of elevation is also a function of the rhythm. The lowering
action, as noted earlier, happens at the end of the figure and on a
half or quarter beat; however, that action should not be too abrupt.
The most common problems, even among advanced dancers, are lowering
into or on the first step and heel-leading from an elevated position.
Attention to footwork (which part of the foot is in contact with the
floor on any beat or half beat) helps address these issues. In some
cases, the backward moving partner will have no foot rise but only
leg and body rise as long as they are backing. In the rhythm dance
(bolero), the action is somewhat different in that the footwork
typically is ball flat (no heel leads) and the ankle/foot flexors are
not used (no foot rise). This applies whether moving forward or
When we rise
is dependent on the particular rhythm. In foxtrot, the rise is early
so that you are fully elevated at the end of the first weight change
if you are moving forward so the leg and foot rise are completed
before the second step is taken (there are some exceptions that we’ll
discuss later). The back-moving partner’s foot action is almost
always toe/heel, which means that they will use body and leg rise
only. This action is what enables heel turns. Since turning commences
on the first weight change, the person backing is “trapped on the
heel” and turns on their heel. All heel turns in all rhythms
(except tango) are danced with foxtrot rise action (early rise).
Waltz and quickstep rise commences at the end of the first weight
change using leg rise action but is not fully achieved until the
second or third step of the figure. This delayed rise allows the
partners to “swing” with each other in basic turns. In bolero,
like foxtrot, the rise comes at the end of the first weight change
using only leg and body rise.
In all three of
smooth rhythms, lowering happens on the last part of the last weight
change in a figure. However, there is a fairly sharp contrast in the
appearance of rise and fall action in each of these rhythms that we
will highlight in the section on elegance in dancing. Bolero is a
somewhat different in its lowering action. Unlike waltz, where you
lower on the step where you gain maximum elevation, weight is taken
high at maximum elevation on the next step and then the lowering
occurs and is rather more pronounced.
The primary reason
using rise & fall action is, as noted earlier, to add elegance to
our movement. There are also some mechanical advantages for changing
elevation. One of them is that it facilitates spin rotation so
figures like the spin turn and the double reverse are easier since
they are danced from an elevated ball-of-foot position. Another is
that rise closes the promenade (semi) unless some body shaping
overrides that tendency. Yet another is that rise leads to body swing
which leads to sway.
However, it’s the
elegance factor that we want to focus on because each rhythm uses a
slightly different rise/fall display to impart that “special look”
that we think of as characteristic for that rhythm.
In waltz, we want
rise to be gradual, building to a crescendo of elevation, only to
lower and begin again. The extra height that we gain is due mostly to
the closing action of the feet in most figures on the third beat.
There is a strong feeling of being grounded to the floor even though
the rise is maximum.
Quickstep has some
similarities with waltz in that we do use closing steps, but the
elevation is not as high nor the lowering as deep as in waltz due to
the tempo of the music. There is always a little more flex in the
knees at maximum elevation, and the body flight achieved due to the
speed negates some of the swing and sway action. The feeling is of
floating above or skimming over the floor.
The foxtrot rise,
though more abrupt, is not seen or felt as such and the lowering
feels quite shallow because the feet are passing in most figures.
There should be a feel of skimming over the floor as in the
quickstep. One thing that helps is to constantly think, ”stay up,
stay up, stay up.” The rise and fall will happen naturally with
good footwork. There are two major exceptions in foxtrot to the usual
rise pattern . . . the Three Step and 4,5,6 of the Reverse Wave.
These two are danced with delayed rise, which occurs on the second
weight change; thus there are two consecutive heel leads for the
in a bolero rise is to get on the foot, usually the slow, before the
rise begins. A typical problem is to rise too quickly, but that can
be addressed by thinking of the timing as “slow-ly” with weight
taken on “slow” and the rise happening on the “-ly”. It’s
also important to take the next step from the elevated position then
lower. It is somewhat like the warning about heel leading from an
By applying these
principles, we can improve our basic footwork, make many of our
figures easier, make each rhythm distinctive, and add that elegance
that makes for beautiful dancing.
for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2011, and
reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, March 2014.
If you would like to read other articles on dance
position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit
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