One Smooth and One Latin
& Dan Finch
The uninitiated may have no fears going to a beginning foxtrot class,
but if they only knew! Which foxtrot will it be? There is the social
foxtrot taught by the franchise ballroom studios, the foxtrot you learn
at phase IV round dancing (identified by the IVb figures) and the very
different “introductory” round dance foxtrot identified as phase III
foxtrot. And now in ballroom competitive levels, there is concern about
the development of the “waltz-trot,” an extreme form of foxtrot that
has waltz rise and fall.
Evolution in dance is important. That’s how new figures get introduced
and the old ones get better. It’s how we got foxtrot in the first
place. As Asis Khadjeh Nouri, organizer of The (dance) Camp on YouTube
says, “you don’t wear pullovers from 30 years ago.” But he fears too
many “fashion steps,” as he calls them, are being introduced and
competition is losing real foxtrot.
Good foxtrot needs basic figures—weaves, feathers, waves, three
steps—figures that show the linear, smooth flowing characteristic of
true foxtrot, he said in one lecture. Good old phase IVb figures.
What he is objecting to is rise on the third step, which is somewhat
characteristic of waltz. (Waltz mantra: begin to rise at the end of
one, continue rise on two and three, lower at the end of three.)
Foxtrot rise should occur on step one and continue at that level to a
gentle lowering at the end of the figure. Waltz is more up and down;
foxtrot is more linear.
Foxtrot has always been evolutionary. It is said to have come from the
vaudeville routine of Harry Fox, a New York performer whose real name
was Arthur Carringford. He had been a circus performer, played
baseball, and sang in the vaudeville theaters of San Francisco until
the earthquake of 1906. He found his way to New York, married a dancer
and formed a troupe that was hired to perform between shows at the New
York Theater. In 1913, they were performing a dance with trotting steps
to ragtime music, which became known as Fox’s Trot.
The dance form became a hit. Within a year, the American Society of
Professors of Dance began trying to standardize it. An instructor,
Oscar Duryea, was hired to promote it and discovered that the trotting
steps were too much for an evening of dance. He slowed it down and gave
it what was described as a “glide.”
Phyllis Haylor, an early ballroom world champion, wrote in her
historical book The World of Phyllis Haylor and Ballroom Dancing, said
the foxtrot arrived in London a month before fighting broke out for
World War I. “It crept in like a cat from America,” she wrote. There
was nothing complicated about it and it could be mastered at once,
unlike the waltz or the “new” tango,” she said. Social ballrooms were
packed with foxtrotters.
In1920, Josephine Bradley, a ballroom pioneer, partnered in competition
with an American, G. K. Anderson, and won doing an Americanized
foxtrot. They then won the Ivory Cross All England Competition, and
Bradley became London’s top authority on foxtrot. Four years later, in
1924, Bradley was named to chair the newly formed ballroom branch of
the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).
Their charge was to establish a standard of dance—with correct hold and
technique as well as figures—and they started with what was being
danced in competition. Her foxtrot became the standard for Slow Foxtrot
still used today. Originally called English style, the standard is
called International style throughout the world.
Meanwhile, in America, Arthur Murray and other franchise studio owners
were teaching “Fox Trot.” His basic “magic step” was and still is two
walks in closed position followed by side close, SSQQ. Waltz steps were
incorporated with a change of timing from waltz 1-2-3 to SQQ.
Round dancing introduces foxtrot at phase III, using all waltz figures
taught in SQQ timing. You will see some dances phased III +1, and it is
expected that the plus figure would be from the phase IVa list, which
includes mostly waltz figures. Phase IVb introduces the foxtrot figures
defined by the English.
The a and b lists, introduced two years ago, were extended for a
five-year trial at this year’s Roundalab convention, but a movement is
championing a change in the lists—moving the “true” foxtrot figures on
the a list to the b list, so the b list would reflect all of the “true”
foxtrot figures at the beginning level. You may see that change
formally proposed for next year’s convention.
Bradley’s committee had decided that ballroom dance should be based on
natural movement, as in walking, not on ballet movement with toes
turning outward. This was the introduction of heel leads. As in walking
forward normally, we step onto a heel and our weight rolls from the
heel to the ball of the foot as we push off. With rise, as the heel
lifts off the floor, we step forward onto the ball of the other foot
and lower to the heel. The slower the dance, the greater the rise—a
waltz has more rise than quickstep. This way of moving has been adopted
And it gives us the anomaly figure Three Step, danced SQQ. It is the
only figure that begins with two forward heel leads, instead of heel
lead rising to the ball on step one, stepping to the ball on step two
and then lowering. It is a foxtrot rarity in that partners are dancing
all three steps in closed position. It was decided that if Man danced
regular footwork in that position, he would overpower his partner, thus
the two heel leads in a row became standard.
And this figure too is an evolution. It was originally danced QQS,
based on a theory that all foxtrot is comprised of a walk and three
steps. Thus, the feather was walk (S), then three steps (QQS). Three
step went into the ISTD manual as QQS, as it exists still today. DVIDA,
the American version of the English standard, shows it as SQQ, and
that’s how you will learn in round dancing. Thank goodness.
Samba -- It isn't just sequins and feathers but always a mix
of attitude and abandon.
Samba is known worldwide as the dance of “Carnaval,” a Mardi Gras event
held annually 50 days before the first Sunday after the first full moon
after the Vernal Equinox (or more simply, four days before Ash
Wednesday). It is also known as a 1930s classic movie routine and a
powerful workout for your pelvis.
It is historically a very old dance, but it wasn’t standardized for
ballroom dancing until 1956. It is one of the standardized Latin dances
in the Roundalab Manual of Standards, beginning at phase IV. But, how
many sambas can you remember dancing? Tico Samba, written in 1987 by
Eddie & Audrey Palmquist, is the standard but even it is not
recognized as a Hall of Fame dance or a RAL Golden Classic. We just
don’t do them much. Why not? It is a lively, flirtatious, fun dance.
Samba is believed to have grown out of the music African slaves brought
to South America. Their music mixed with the rhythms of the Portuguese
who settled in Rio de Janeiro in the 16th century. An early couples
form of the dance was called the mesemba, popular in Rio’s high society
in the 1880s. By the time the dance got to Europe, at the beginning of
the 20th century, the samba had combined with another Brazilian dance
called the “maxixe.” (Modern samba has a step called the maxixe -- one
Samba appeared in the United States in the late 1920s in a Broadway
play called “Street Carnival,” and later was featured at the New York
World’s Fair in 1939. It was popularized in nightclubs by bandleader
Xavier Cugat and in the movies by actress Carmen Miranda with her
fruit-basket headdresses. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performed a
form of samba, called the carioca, in their first film together,
“Flying Down To Rio,” in 1933. It was said to be a mixture of samba,
foxtrot, and rumba. Samba got another boost when Britain’s Princess
Margaret was publicized dancing it.
Although the movies did much to make the samba popular, it is believed
that economics had more to do with its popularity. Then as now, radio
stations are charged royalties for playing copyrighted music, but back
then they didn’t pay royalties for the new, unlicensed music coming
from out of the country. The more air time given to the “free” music,
the less in royalties to be paid. All the better that the audiences
loved the samba beat.
The name “samba” derives from a Brazilian word meaning to pray or to
invoke your personal orixa (patron saint).
Maybe we see so few sambas because they seem intimidating to learn.
They have a vocabulary of their own—corta jaca, copacabanas, cruzado,
marchesssi, bota fogo, to start. And samba has more than one standard
rhythmic timing, depending on the figure danced. You will see
slow-slow, slow-a-slow, and 1a2a3a4, not to mention slow-quick-quick,
quick-quick-slow, and slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. Most dance experts
say two beats make up a samba measure, but for the sake of
choreography, Roundalab includes four beats in a samba measure. It
feels faster than most Latin dances, given that we often take 6 or 7
steps in each 4-beat measure (compared to 3 in rumba). And there is
more than one form of samba—the sexy form danced solo in Brazil with
skimpy costumes and lots of feathers and sequins; ballroom competition
samba that moves; and social samba, done more on the spot.
All Samba has a signature “samba bounce” or pulse that starts most
figures. It is a slight rise by lifting the heel and taking a deep
breath, exhaling and flexing the knee as the first step is taken. The
second step gets only partial weight onto the ball of the foot, like
limping on a sore toe. The third step is a full transfer of weight
allowing the knee to compress so there can be rise for the next step.
If it helps, think: take a deep breath, step over a log, squash a bug
The basic, usually done in closed position, starts with that deep
breath, then forward/close, in place; back/close, in place, done
1a23a4. Bota fogos and voltas are samba staples and can be done
traveling, going in opposite directions from the partner or in shadow.
The bota fogo is danced forward/side onto inside edge of big toe with
turn, then recover. The volta can travel (traveling voltas), curve
(circular voltas), turn on the spot (spot voltas or maypoles), and
change sides with partner under joined hands (criss cross voltas).
Voltas can start on any either foot, going cross in front/side, cross
in front/side, cross in front (1a2a3a4). Repeat as many times as
desired. The corta jaca is a bit like a marchessi in closed position,
but that’s not much help if you don’t know the marchessi from cha cha.
If you are being authentic, there is a samba dramatic climax—end the
dance by throwing back your head and extending your arms to the side.
Or simply do it the Palmquist way—thru, side lunge, as in Tico Samba.
newsletters, June & July 2019,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, August 2019.