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What's In A Name?

by Sandi & Dan Finch

You say “tomato (with a long “a”)”, I say “tomato (with an “ah” sound).” Is one more right than the other? How about if you say “hitch 6” and I say “double hitch?”

We do a clinic periodically for Round Dance Teachers Association of Southern California, sometimes about dance figures, rhythm technique or what’s new at Roundalab (RAL). Last month, the clinic was on cueing preferences. Nobody is doing much cueing these days, and it seemed like a good time to refresh our memories about the RAL preferred cue terms (PCT).

Teachers know this but dancers don’t necessarily know that RAL, when it standardizes a figure, also adopts a preferred term to be used when cueing. This is done in the interests of ensuring dancers hear a consistent name for what they are supposed to do, no matter where they are dancing.

In a few cases, a figure will have two more or less acceptable cue terms, such as the foxtrot Impetus to Semi-Closed Position. That is the formal name of the figure and also its preferred cue term, but a note in the RAL manual description says it can also be cued as Open Impetus. You can thank “double hitch” for that.

That hitch figure has a long history, and one of the questions for the RDTA participants last month was designed to catch the anomaly about it. The question asked, what term would you use or, if you are a dancer, what cue would you want to hear, of these choices:
  • Hitch 6
  • Double hitch
  • Hitch ‘em up
  • Hitch forward & back
  • Hitch both ways
The answer for what should be cued can be found in the RAL Manual of Standards under the phase II Two Step. (The name of the cue term is “hitch forward and back,” but it is to be cued as either hitch 6 or double hitch, a double preferred cue term.)

In the old days, before standardization came to us in the 1950s, cuers made up their own figure names. When it came time to survey what most cuers were using—with the first efforts at standardization—a lot of interesting terms came to light. In those days, for example, some cuers called the “maneuver” a “fudge.” RDTA was formed in 1952 and immediately started creating a standards manual. When Roundalab was formed in 1977, one of its first actions was to appoint a committee to develop a standards manual for cuers to use internationally.

Putting together that RAL manual generated its share of turmoil but nothing like the discussion over the “hitch” family of figures in 1982. Such an obvious division existed among the membership in whether to call it “hitch 6” or “double hitch” that RAL put out a survey asking its members which one should become the new standard.

Jim Bahr of Colorado, writing a column in the June 1983 Round Dancer Magazine, said he thought to himself as he marked his preference, “at last they’ll see the majority feels the same way I do (after all, my friends all do).”

At that year’s RAL convention, the survey results were announced. Of the 500 ballots returned, the votes were almost exactly evenly split between the two names.

Everyone could agree on how to define and cue “hitch” itself, Bahr wrote, but “the problem arises when we do two. It seems like such a simple thing to cause such strong feelings in so many people, and really, folks, I have seen friendships dissolve over this.”

If a choreographer writes a hitch and decides to add a second one, why not just say: “hitch; hitch again?” Bahr suggested in jest to give it a completely different name, maybe even call it the Jim Bahr Step. Before the voting was over, someone had thrown “full hitch” into the mix.

The RAL convention in 1983 resolved the seemingly unsolvable dispute by making both hitch 6 and double hitch the preferred cue terms. Although several figures are defined today with notes that say they are “sometimes cued” by another term, this is the only figure that has two official preferred cue terms. (as far as I can recall).

We were happy last month to see that so many of our local family of cuers and dancers have not forgotten their basics, in spite of being laid off for 10 months. They weren’t tripped up when confronted with the following:

Do you say “vine & twirl” or “twirl vine” or “vine twirl?” Does it make a difference? The RAL Cueing Guidelines to the rescue if you don’t know. When the man does one figure while the woman does another, the first cue is to the man, as in hitch scissors. But when the figure for the woman includes any type of twirl or spin, the man must first hear to lead her into her part — as in twirl vine 3.

No one was tripped up by the difference between check and checking. [Manual of Standards Glossary] A check is an actual step taking weight as in check to a fishtail, while checked or checking means you will start moving in a different direction from the last step, as in curved feather checking.

Some hesitation came with how to cue a switch (phase IV rumba, cha cha and bolero). The preferred cue term is switch cross, not to be confused with the figure that is named and is to be cued as switch rock.

If our local clinic is any guide, it will likely all come back to us when we get back to dancing. Without a hitch.

From a club newsletter, February 2021, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2021. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


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