On Body Mechanics V
by Roy & Phyllis Stier
Perhaps the Slow Foxtrot or International version has captured our fancy above all other rhythms. First, it appears to be the best method to separate the men from the boys; in other words, the standard of comparison for the modern dance ethic. Second, except for a few above-average experts, most dancers cannot handle the rhythm. Simply put, they "waltz" the foxtrot and fail to feel what the music is telling their bodies to do. We like to characterize the Slow Foxtrot as a dance where we have a relatively slow, -, relatively quick, and relatively quick; It is not a metronome type of production but an opportunity to meld good body mechanics with this distinctive music.
Our third consideration is that the actual dance mechanics are almost unique and most difficult to emulate from watching the more accomplished dancers. In its simplest form, the basic dance steps are a driving step by the man (normally), which the lady must relate to, followed by the body flight commitment with the use of early rise, and then a follow-through which really amounts to neutralizing the strong directional coasting movement and adjusting for the smooth transition to the next figure.
To illustrate, we will describe the Natural Turn in more detail than presented earlier, to further the point given. As the man leads with his right heel, he will appear not to place it but to caress the floor in a motion where it is difficult to tell where the weight actually is transferred. This is accomplished at the same time that the man presents his right side to the lady with just a hint of right sway. It is important that he is concentrating on the direction of line and wall even as he starts his right-face turn. Ladies must start an elevation of their hips to allow the man to dance a little "under" them as they start the backward step with hardly any weight on their heel as they get some body rise. Meanwhile, the man uses the long count on this step to continue to rise and prepare for the turn and accompanying sway so that he is ready to step side and slightly back on his left, where he appears to be dragging his left toe. Note: This is primarily a side step where he almost touches his knees together in going from step one to step two. It is actually a pointing downward of the foot as he keeps his affinity to the floor and maintains body control to offset the power of the movement. At this point, the "book" has him backing diagonal center, however, this is not a static position because he never stops the slight right-face rotation but continues to turn on the toe of his left foot to position himself for step 3, where he will end facing reverse. This is called the Eggleton swivel as first presented by the former world champion.
While all this is going on, the lady is dragging her right heel back as she continues her body rise and right-face rotation for her heel turn. The heel turn is on her left, but she takes continued weight on her right heel where the motion continues past her left heel a little to position herself to face line of dance before the man has completed his turn. When you see the ladies bring their toes up on the heel turn, it is because their concentration is on the heels coming exactly together (wrong!) and they lose body control in the process.
As the man completes his step backward on step 3, he loses his right sway with a rotation of the shoulders to bring the left down to nearly the height of the right (ladies opposite). While this is going on, there is also an adjustment from full body height to the lowering process for the next step. The man must take care at this point not to fall backward but to present a forward poise toward his partner, now in compact closed position. Ladies step forward on the ball of the left foot between the man's feet and keep moving forward in a diminishing driving action. Since the Slow Foxtrot is a dance where continuous movement is the key, both must feel that the figure does not end here, but they start the dynamics of the shaping and action of whatever follows. Note: We do not like the term "Half Natural" because this 3-step figure is nearly always followed by something other than the Heel Pull of the original description.
One important consideration of body mechanics that is particularly needed in the Slow Foxtrot is the concept of "shape" — not to be confused with CBM as indicated in the literature. Actually, it is quite a complicated procedure, and we need to point out some features that are rarely available to the teachers and dancers in round dancing. Shape is really static balance and it starts in the feet, more particularly with the inside edge of the ball of the foot. This enables the dancers to keep their knees balanced over their feet with the thigh muscles centralizing the body weight.
Turning the body line to accommodate one's partner is another way of presenting shape. Both partners would feel a diagonal line with each other — lady's center line slightly turned toward the man and the man's center slightly turned leftward. A good rule to follow is for the man never to shorten his right side and to keep this distance from center line to right arm constant with the elbow slightly forward of the chest.
The taller a man is and shorter the lady, the more she should be on the right side to keep the top line balanced. Ladies should always be aware of keeping their left side lengthened. The man's right hand is normally placed on the diagonal with the pressure mainly in the heel of the hand area, not in the fingers. He should feel a slight lifting of the lady's upper body to maintain the dancing "under" effect that is maintained for all forward or forward turning steps.
This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2009.
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