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LEARNING TO WALTZ

by Harold & Meredith Sears

Learning to dance just about any rhythm brings with it one fundamental problem. No, not only one. There are many, many challenges. That's what makes it fun, but this problem is basic: I've just danced, forward, side, close. I'm standing here momentarily with both feet together. Which foot is free!? Which foot do I next step out with? At best, you will pause a bit in confusion and get off the time. A little worse, you and your partner will not agree on the answer, and you will step on her toe. We won't speculate on the worst that could happen.

Lloyd Shaw came up with this game that he played with his begining waltz students. Instead of starting with the basic waltz step: forward, forward, close; he asked them to take a big step, a medium-sized step, and then a little step. He put his students in a big, single-file circle, and called out, "long, mid, short; long, mid, short;" Apparently, this stepping pattern is enough like walking that the beginner can do it comfortably and know full well which foot to step out with next. We walk, one foot after the other, don't we? If only we could dance that way, too.

Mr. Shaw then simply asked his dancers to shorten up that short step. Make it very short. You can even make the third step no step at all, and he called out, "long, mid, close; long, mid, close;"

He introduced the idea of an "inside foot" nearer the center of the hall and an "outside foot" nearer the wall and emphasized the alternation of the feet on the "long" steps. Step long with the inside foot (mid, close;) and then long with the outside foot (mid, close;) We wouldn't use those terms in round dancing. In single file, we would probably just cue, long with the left, mid, close; long with the right, mid, close;

Shaw then added a little body rotation. He said, "Let's try being graceful like a dancer!" When you step out with the inside foot, turn the body a little to the inside, too. When you step out with the outside foot, turn the body out, and he called, "Swing in, mid, close; swing out, mid, close;"

The emphasis on the first step, either by making it long or by making it a swing of the body, helps embed the concept of alternation into the body movement. It gets us past the question of what to do after a closing step. It also works very well in waltz, because the waltz tempo has such a strong downbeat on step one: left, two, three; right, two, three;

In this particular game, we next turn around and dance backwards in our counter-clockwise circle. Reach way back, mid, close; reach, mid, close; swing out, mid, close; swing in, mid, close; And now we are ready for couple dancing. In closed position, lead feet free, swing in, two, three; swing out, two, three; and it's a very pretty waltz, and no toes are trodden upon.




dingbat




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Page last revised 12/22/09