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TWISTS AND TWIST TURNS

by Harold & Meredith Sears

One of the common actions in round dancing is the twist.  There are twists in all the rhythms, from Two-Step to Paso Doble, and there are twisting actions in dozens of different standard figures.  However, it seems that we might be able to take all of these actions and organize them into just two distinct categories — the Twists, which are in the hips, and the Twist Turns, which occur down in the legs.  If we can be clear about the difference between a Twist and a Twist Turn, and if we can be clear about which action is called for in a specific figure, then perhaps we can execute these figures more cleanly.  Perhaps. 

Twists — 

A Twist is a simple, phase II action.  The dancer turns her hips independently, or at least more, than the upper body and so puts a “twist” or a bit of a spiral into the torso.  Think of the beginnings of a spiral staircase or a DNA molecule.  The hips might have been turned to face line and center, but the shoulders are still facing center of hall.  One popular dance has a “lunge and twist, behind, side, through.”  It was only the hips that “twisted.”  The shoulders and head did not turn. 

The Twisty Vine is a figure that begins in a facing position, man probably facing wall.  And through all of the twists, his head and shoulders should continue to face the wall.  He steps behind with his right foot, as the woman crosses in front.  He steps side left, crosses in front right, side left.  Your hips are turning back and forth with each crossing step, but your upper body is turning relatively little. 

In the Rumbles’ A Whole New World, a phase VI Slow Two-Step, they begin with a Twisty Basic.  Rather than both stepping side, crossing behind, and recovering (the standard Slow Two-Step Basic and a mirroring action between partners), the man steps side with the left, twists a bit right, and crosses behind with the right, and the woman steps side right, twists a bit right, and crosses in front left, and both recover onto the lead foot (more of a following action).  This Half Basic is like the beginning of a Twisty Vine.  But we keep the shoulders aligned, and turn the hips only.  This makes it a true “Twist.” 

In the Easterdays’ Slow Shag, a phase IV Jive, they have a figure, “twist down 4 and up 4.”  In butterfly, with feet together and weight evenly distributed, we swivel L, R, L, R, steadily lowering into the knees, and then repeat while rising, and finally releasing lead feet.  We’re not used to having both feet weighted, so we might dance this as a swivel left-face/step left, swivel right-face/step right, and so on, but such a pattern would come close to “skating left and right” and might lead us to turn the whole body, rather than the hips only.  So, keep both feet weighted and think Chubby Checker and The Twist (~1960). 

Hip Twist — 

If you look at the above examples closely, you will see that the term Twist is quite generic.  It applies to any action in which the hips turn more than the upper body.  The term Hip Twist is a little more specific.  In a Hip Twist, the hips turn in the direction of the weighted foot.  If you are standing on your right foot, a Hip Twist is to the right, and this is usual for the woman.  If you were standing on your left foot, then a Hip Twist could turn to the left.  (A turn in the direction opposite to the weighted foot is a Spiral, although a full Spiral turns much more than a typical Hip Twist, up to 7/8). 

In several different Latin rhythms, we have standard figures that are named “Hip Twists.”  Think of the Open Hip Twist in Rumba (phase V).  In left open facing position or in a handshake, the man steps forward left on the first quick count (woman back right), he recovers right on the second quick (woman recover left), and he closes left with tension in the joined arms on the slow count (woman steps forward right toward man and then swivels sharply right-face on the "&" of the third beat).  An important feature of this figure is that the Hip Twist is initiated through the hips and the hips turn more than the upper body.  The feet may have swiveled to line of dance, and the hips might have turned all the way toward line, but the upper body lags behind, maintaining connection with your partner.  The Closed Hip Twist and the Advanced Hip Twist begin in closed position, and they start with strong opening-out actions, but the Hip Twist within the slow count has these same features. 

Men Can Hip Twist — 

In round dancing, the women usually get the flourishes — the turns, spirals, spins, and twists — but men can Hip Twist, too.  You might do a Hip Twist Chasse in a Cha-Cha as you lead your woman to a Fan.  Perhaps you have just done an Open Hip Twist.  To then lead her to a Fan, step back right, as she steps forward left down line of dance, recover left as she turns 1/2 left-face and steps back right, and here’s the Hip Twist Chasse on the 3&4 counts — cross right foot in front of left, turning hips left-face, close left to right turning hips right-face, and step side right. This footwork automatically produces a little Hip Twist in the man, and the crossing action moves him briefly toward the woman and so leads her back/lock, back, into fan position (the standard side chasse moves him only away from her). 

Another figure in which the man gets to Hip Twist (along with the woman) is the Jive Coca Rola (phase VI).  Usually in a side-by-side position, perhaps facing line of dance, with same footwork, swivel 1/8 right-face on the right foot, lower into the knees, and step forward left.  On the second beat, swivel 1/4 left-face on left, rising, and step back right.  On beat 3, swivel 1/4 right-face on right foot, standing high and proud, and step side left.  Finally, swivel 1/4 left-face on left and cross right in front of left to end almost in the original position but with the hips turned toward line and center. You might repeat for a second measure.  You can think of each one of those swivels as a Hip Twist, with the shoulders fairly still and facing line, while the hips twist back and forth.  This figure feels rather Chubby Checkerish, too.  Without the Hip Twists, this figure is sometimes choreographed as a "Jazz Box.”  Simply step across in front, back, side, and cross in front (maybe phase IV?). 

Twist Turns — 

Now we come to the Twist Turn.  This action has the term “Twist” in its name, but there is no Twist, as described above.  The Twist Turn is really more of an “Unwind” and usually for the man.  He hooks his right foot behind his left with partial weight, and in Waltz, she steps forward left/right around him. On beat 2, she steps forward left turning right-face and continues to unwind him. He gradually shifts his weight to his right foot. On the last beat, he steps side and back left, and she steps between his feet right to end in closed position. 

The Spin and Twist is the familiar figure (phase VI) that incorporates the Twist Turn.  We usually begin in closed position facing reverse line of dance with lead feet free.  The man steps back commencing a right-face pivot with left-side stretch, and the woman steps forward right between his feet.   He steps forward right between the woman’s feet continuing to turn, and then steps side left to face diagonal reverse and wall.  During this first measure, we are dancing an overturned Spin Turn.  Now, the trail feet are free.  The man hooks his right foot behind his left, and she unwinds him as described above.  We end in closed position facing diagonal wall, wall, or even diagonal reverse and wall.  There is a 1 5/8 to 1 7/8 total turn. 

One way to think of the Grand Circle (phase V), in Paso Doble, is as an extended Twist Turn where the man crosses his right in front of his left, and the woman walks around him left-face, unwinding him with eight or more elevated prancing steps over two or more measures. 

In tango, we do a Natural Twist Turn (phase VI), which of course contains a very similar, unwinding Twist Turn.  Beginning in semi-closed position, the man steps side and forward left (woman side & forward right) on a slow count.  He steps forward right blending to contra-banjo on a quick, and turns right-face and steps side left across the woman's line of dance (she steps forward right between man's feet) on the second quick.  In the second measure, he does his Twist Turn.  On the “slow,” he crosses right in back of left with partial weight, and the woman steps forward left with left shoulder lead.  On the first “quick,” he unwinds right-face to semi-closed position facing DLC, and she steps forward right to banjo position and swivels right-face.  On the second “quick,” he shifts weight to his right, and she steps side and back left into a tap position.  A nice modification is to dance that second measure Twist Turn with a quick-quick-slow timing.  You unwind a little quicker, snap into the tap position earlier, and then have a beat in which to hold the “picture.” 

So, you can Twist with your hips, and you can Twist Turn through your legs.  They are both graceful and attractive, but they are quite different actions. 


A version of this article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November, 2006.



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