Smooth Out and Make Your Foxtrot
& Barbara Blackford
A dancer usually moves in a straight line or rotates to change
direction. This movement occurs only if a force or torque acts on his
or her body. The movement will continue until a new force acts to
change it. These forces are the result of gravity, muscle action, a
change in speed or direction. Forces occur because your feet push
against the floor and the floor pushes back.
Muscle action sets the initial position, and body weight acts through
our feet to push against the floor, while the floor pushes back to
Bending and sending, caused by change in muscle energy, increases the
force against the floor. This causes your body's center of gravity to
move in a straight line and your body to rotate around an axis.
Rotation may be just in the upper body, or in the full body by pivoting
on the ball of the weighted foot.
Since we are moving from one foot to the other, our center of gravity
and rotation axes are continually shifting to keep us in balance and to
be compatible with our partner as we execute a figure. We each have our
own frame while we share a composite frame with our partner. They are
different and are constantly changing. Smooth, satisfying, flowing
dancing happens when minimum effort is needed to maintain these frames.
Movement requires energy because we do work. Work is a force moving
thru a distance or torque acting thru an angle. Energy can also be
stored by body position, muscle condition, or speed (how fast we move
As young children, we learned to walk in a straight line but did not do
a lot of turning. Then dancing came along. Turns are a fundamental part
of dancing. They allow us to change direction. Let's start by having
the man do a "reverse turn." This starts with the lead foot and steps
straight forward while rotating the upper body to the left and blending
into a left-side stretch. Your partner starts with her lead foot
straight back (no heel in action) but following the rotational lead by
rotating on the trailing foot toe to change direction before placing
the lead foot down. The man's second step is also forward but ends
straight back along the line of dance, as his body changes direction by
rotating 180 degrees on the toe of his lead foot. His partner responds
with a compact heel turn. The man's third step is a placement back
along the line of dance in closed position as she steps forward,
essentially changing places.
All of the above is wonderful, but all we discussed was our feet.
Developing flow (travel) in our dancing (which is connecting one figure
to the next with a "seamless" action), is not an easy thing to do, and
it takes a great deal of attention to some fine details. These details,
when incorporated into our dancing, will produce a much smoother
We all understand that there are five points of contact in the smooth
dances. As a reminder, they are:
Two critical goals are to maintain the offset (center-line relationship
-- the feeling of having your partner on your right side -- and counter
balance established at the beginning of closed position -- head weight.)
- The M's right wrist to just behind the W's left armpit.
- Lead hands.
- The W's left hand on the M's right arm.
- The M's right hand on the W's back.
- Body contact (thinking from slightly above the lower margin
of the M's right rib cage depending on the couple's height.)
Footwork is that portion of the foot that is in contact with the floor
at any moment in time. Good footwork creates the rise and fall of the
smooth dances (except tango); some examples: heel, heel to toe, toe,
toe to heel, inside edge, whole foot, ball of foot.
In foxtrot, the heel to toe step action of the first weight change
produces early rise; you are up on the second weight change (toe) and
up on the third, with a lowering to the heel (toe heel).
STEPPING DIRECTION --
This is the direction that the moving foot is traveling or its ending
position, for instance, forward, back , side, side and forward, side
and back, etc.
Next, flowing from one figure to the next is how we turn. All turns are
challenging because the person on the outside of the turn always has
farther to go. Remember, all turns occur between beats, on the "and"
count. Turning the body on the standing foot is a basic rule, and then
we take weight onto the moving foot. A general rule to follow is: Turns
to the left are always late and turns to the right are always early.
This does not mean "foot" turn. We prepare a turn by creating the shape
for the turn between the last step of the previous figure and the
receiving of weight on the first step of the figure being executed. The
shape leads to swing, which places the second weight change, and shape
helps complete the action into the third weight change.
Consider the Left Turn. The forward-moving person creates a slight
turning action in the upper body to the left and then steps forward to
the partner's right elbow. The back-moving partner steps back to
his/her right elbow, without foot turn. As weight is taken onto the
ball of the foot (heel of the partner moving back), a strong shape is
generated that leads to a swing of the right side forward, which
creates a foot and body turn resulting in the moving foot landing to
the side (but it doesn't completely stop). The shape is held and the
turn is completed on the third weight change by stepping back. The
shape is then lost as weight comes onto the foot and the heel is
lowered to the floor.
All of the above also applies to the Right Turn, with one exception.
Before the first step, there is a "commencement of turn" on the
standing foot, which allows the moving foot to step in the direction
indicated by the turn of the body -- EARLY turn.
The woman dances on time and the man varies his timing slightly, on
occasion, by waiting fractions of a beat. One place the man has to wait
for the woman is when she is making a transition from forward to back
or back to forward (heel turn, feather from SCP, chasse to BJO from
SCP). When the woman is dancing a heel turn, the man should wait for a
fraction of a beat before taking his second weight change. This will
allow the woman to get fully onto her heel. If he doesn't wait, the
woman is often pulled off her heel turn, and the couple's balance is
So, to make your foxtrot move more smoothly and to create travel
(progression), a good knowledge of "technique" is what is required.
Let's try to follow these ideas:
- Maintain good posture and position.
- The moving body places the foot.
- Know the difference between "footwork" and "stepping
- Develop shape and swing.
- Know when the man can appropriately wait for the woman and
when the woman can wait for the man.
clinic notes prepared for the ICBDA Convention, 2018,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, August 2019.