The Complete Roundalab Phases 101
by Annette Woodruff
The purpose of this article is to describe the Roundalab Phase System, neither to criticize it nor to praise it. A number of other approaches to rating round dancing components could have been chosen but this is the current system which has been in place for the last 20-some years, hence the one that should be understood thoroughly.
The Roundalab phase system appears simple enough — not hard to understand — but there are a few tricky aspects.
The general principle is as follows:
A number from 1 to 6, expressed in Roman writing (I, II, III, IV, V, and VI) is attributed to each figure. A phase I figure would be the simplest, for instance Walk, Run, Side Two Step, Box. A phase VI figure, at the opposite end of the range, would be a complex figure like a Continuous Natural Top or a relatively simple figure the execution of which requires experience like a Ballerina Wheel. So, yes, the phasing of every figure is an indication of its difficulty.
All the rhythms are not represented in all the phases. Traditionally, two step has been considered as the easiest rhythm, and was, for many years, the first rhythm that was introduced to newcomers. It is covered in phases I to III.
Waltz is the only rhythm that runs through all the phases, from I to VI.
A number of rhythms run from III to VI (bolero, cha cha, jive, foxtrot, mambo, merengue, quickstep, rumba, tango, slow-two-step) even if some rhythms are currently lacking figures above a certain level (we don’t have any merengue figures phased V or VI, for instance).
Three rhythms are listed in phases IV to VI: paso doble, samba, west coast swing. From this you may surmise that round dancing considers these three rhythms harder than the rhythms that start at phase III, like cha cha and jive. You may also deduce that the rhythms that start at phase III are considered as more complex than two-step or the first levels of waltz. This is a matter of regular controversy, especially since, in recent years, teachers have started introducing phase III rhythms to newcomers before phase I & II two step.
Let’s look at how a dance is rated by its choreographer.
If all the figures within the dance are, for instance, Phase II figures, the dance is rated Phase II. If the dance contains mostly phase II figures but also contains one phase III figure, it is rated II+1. If it contains two phase III figures, it is rated II+2. But as soon as it contains three phase III figures, the dance is rated III.
This is one of the reasons why the phase of a dance does not reflect its difficulty in the absolute.
Compare these two waltzes:
Cue-sheet A contains Waltz Away and Together, Balance L & R, Twirl Vine, Pick up to Sidecar, Progressive Twinkles, Maneuver, Right Turns, Left Turns, Impetus to Semi, Thru Face Close, Spin Turn, Box Finish, Left Turns, Solo Turns, Box, Forward Waltz and Back Waltz.
Cue-sheet B contains Forward Waltz, Maneuver, Spin Turn, Box Finish, Left turns, Cross Hovers, Hover, Chasse, Back/Lock, Back, Hover Fallaway, Slip Pivot, Whisk, and Wing.
These two waltzes would both be rated III. It is obvious, however, that Dance A, containing only 3 Phase III figures (I’ll let you determine which) is a lot easier than Dance B which contains many phase III figures (how many?).
If you only look at the top of the cue-sheet, however, you’ll see “waltz, phase III” in both cases and it is not until you read the whole cue-sheet that you’ll be able to estimate its true degree of difficulty. Note too that the figures contained in the dance are not the only elements contributing to its difficulty. Other factors that may influence it are: timing (syncopation?), unusual combination of figures, and overturn, for example. These factors are not reflected in the phase rating.
Let’s suppose now that we have a waltz that contains only phase II figures except for one: a Telemark to Semi. The Telemark is a phase IV figure, so how do we rate this dance? If you spontaneously and enthusiastically shouted “II+1!” I do sympathize, but you missed the jackpot. The rating “II+1” would indicate a dance with phase II figures plus one phase III figure. The fact that it contains one phase IV figure makes it a Phase III+1 dance, even though it does not contain one single Phase III figure. Odd, isn’t it? Want something even odder? It is, in principle, possible to have a two-step rated IV+1, even though two-step is not represented in Phase IV or V. It would suffice for this to end the dance with a Hinge, for instance “Box;; Back-2-Step; Hinge”. NOT A GOOD IDEA, I agree, but quite possible and even danceable.
Please note that, for some older dances (including a great number of Classics), the Phase System is totally inappropriate and does not reflect – AT ALL – the actual difficulty of such dances.
“Feeling,” “Old Vienna,” and “Roses for Elizabeth” are typical examples.
It only remains now to address the unphased figures, those that are NOT in the RAL manual and to which a phase has not been attributed. A dance that contains phase III figures, plus one phase IV figure, plus one unphased figure would be rated III+1+1. A dance containing mostly phase III and IV figures as well as two unphased figures would be rated IV+0+2. And no, there is no limit to the number of unphased figures that you can have in a dance, so, in theory, you could have a IV+0+5 (NOT A GOOD IDEA either!). At phase VI, you can only add unphased figures, so there is no such thing as a dance VI+1, but I swear I have seen some that should be rated VI+7.
Quite recently, Roundalab added a refinement to the Phase rating system. Recognizing that a Phase V dance, for instance, could be very easy (containing only three Phase V figures and no unusual feature), or very difficult (lots of transitions and picture figures for example), Roundalab encourages the choreographers to add to the phase rating the appreciation EASY, AVERAGE, or DIFFICULT. “Easy” means that, if you are a dancer regularly dancing Phase V, you can do this dance to cues. “Average” means that you would be able to dance it with one or two simple instructions. “Difficult” indicates that a special teach of the dance would be needed.
One last word: the choreographer bears the main responsibility for phasing his/her dances. However, should you chance upon a dance which has not been phased, be aware that anyone (you!) can phase it. Also, if you notice a recent cue-sheet that seems wrongly phased, feel free to question the choreographer and do not take “tempo” or “general complexity” as an excuse. Such parameters are not part of the phasing equation. They do, however, justify a “Difficult” appreciation. There are cases where it is in the choreographer’s interest to inflate the phasing or, on the contrary, to downsize it (for instance by a step description of an unnamed figure). Such practices are a disservice to the teacher who wastes precious time decrypting a dance that, eventually, (s)he will not be able to use. So let’s try to avoid them and practice Honest Phasing.
If you read and understood all of the above, thank you for your patience and you are now a Phase Expert.
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