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From Where We've Come

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Round dancing is rich and interesting because it is a blending of the best of all dance forms. Rooted in the old barn dances and tied to square dancing, our self-described “choreographed ballroom dancing” has grown from the schottische, the mazurka, and the varsouvianna to incorporate elements from the swing world and international and American style ballroom.

Our figures early on were mostly two-step and cowboy waltz; then the Arthur Murray/Fred Astaire form of social foxtrot (SQQS) came in. Our first manuals incorporating mostly dances of the era were  published in the 1950s.

The English had led the world in standardizing figures, beginning in the 1920s with the first ISTD manual for waltz, English foxtrot, tango, and quickstep. The Latins emerged from South America and the Caribbean in the 1950s, migrating to America and England, where two separate styles of standardized figures were developed. As late as 1962, the world’s dance organizations were still siding with either America or England on which form of rumba was the right form.

In the mid-1960s, round dancing found ballroom. A couple who had won the London championships, John & Jill Morton, had arrived in Los Angeles and opened a studio called Westmor. Several other English dancers came this way too and opened similar studios. Eddie Palmquist was among the Mortons’ early students, taking the medal tests in International style through bronze, silver, and gold. When Audrey joined him in 1964, she went through that Morton training as well, and the International style was unleashed.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Eddie & Audrey put the first developé in a dance, the first ronde and the first double reverse spin. Charlie & Nina Ward introduced the first International foxtrot (Maria Elena, 1972), and Eddie & Audrey brought out the second one six months later (September In The Rain). During this period, the Wards also gave us Tango Capriccioso (1973), and the Palmquists wrote Annientamento Tango (1975), the first international style tangos. Chick & Ieleen Stone gave us international quickstep—Let’s Dance (1964) and Boo Hoo (1963)—matched by the Palmquists’ I Wanta Quickstep (1967). Frank & Iris Gilbert wrote the first manual for round dancing incorporating international figures.

International style created much dissension between leaders who wanted to keep the old style and those introducing the new. So much so that Roundalab (RAL), the professional teachers organization, formally incorporated as the International Association of Round Dance Teachers Inc., dropped the word “international” from the front of its manual in the mid-1980s, lest anyone think it was only about that new technique.

From there, the gates were open. In 1984 the Humphreys gave us the first west coast swing (Hurricane Swing). Bill & Carol Goss brought slow two step from American ballroom to round dancing in 1990 (Are You Still Mine), followed a decade later by the Shibatas’ Adeline (2000). Brent & Mickey Moore borrowed bolero from American style ballroom in 1993, creating an entire new section of the RAL manual with Sleeping Beauty.

Hustle (also discofox) has appeared from the swing dance world from time to time but has not taken hold. In 2015, the Worlocks’ hustle You Owe Me One from 2005 was voted as the Oldie to be taught at Roundarama (Purdue), so you never know where we are headed.

International ballroom is known primarily for its emphasis on technique and correct footwork. American style ballroom is known mainly for its expressiveness and open work. Both have nestled comfortably into round dancing.

Because of cueing, dancers can learn an expanded repertoire of material. Leaders still lead but much like exhibition dancers, they can enjoy the beauty and flow of choreography already put together, being artful and knowing their partners don’t have to guess what is being suggested.

From a club newsletter, October 2015, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2017.


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