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Teaching Open and Closed Figures

by Joe and Pat Hilton

The primary difference between an open and a closed figure is the figure’s ending position. Quite often, the closed figure changes to an open figure based on the amount of body rotation that occurs just before the last weight change occurs. The increased or decreased body rotation results in an ending position that allows the partners to step outside each other on the first step of the next figure. The ROUNDALAB Glossary provides dance position definitions and contains pictures demonstrating the positions. A good knowledge of the different positions, and the ability to properly demonstrate and explain them, is critical to success in teaching open and closed figures.

Back Waltz vs. Back Passing Change
Comparing the Back Waltz and Back Passing Change is one of the simplest ways to start teaching the difference between open and closed figures. Because the two figures have no rotation, it is easy to demonstrate the characteristic that open figures may be executed with all passing steps. Start the Back Waltz in Closed Position (CP) by stepping back left. The second step is back and slightly side right, and the third step closes the left foot to the right foot ending in CP. The Woman’s first two steps are forward right, then forward and slightly side left. Finally, she closes her right foot to her left foot to end in CP.

When starting the Back Passing Change from CP, the Man must rotate his body slightly to the right to achieve Banjo Position (BJO). He maintains BJO throughout the figure. He steps back left with right-side lead, back right, and back left ending in BJO. The second and third steps are both passing steps. The Woman simply steps forward right with left-side lead, forward left, and forward right with passing steps to end in BJO. Because the figure only uses passing steps, there is no turn.

Maneuver vs. Open Natural Turn (Starting from SCP)
When teaching Maneuver, emphasize that the dancers must start their right face (RF) body rotation when they start lowering (early body turn) to move the Man’s right foot forward. This action results in the foot making a small “J” motion instead of landing straight ahead on the line of progression. Show the dancer that the RF rotation continues between the first and second step, which causes them to be facing their partner with the second step landing across the line of progression and to the side of the first step. Finally, body rotation ends as the dancers bring their feet together and take weight on the third step to end in CP.

The first two steps of the Open Natural Turn are the same as the first two steps of the Maneuver. The main difference for this figure is that the third step is a passing step with RF body rotation causing the figure to end in BJO with the Man’s right side leading. This allows the partner to step outside of the leader on the first step of the following figure.

Telemark to BJO (Closed Telemark) vs. Telemark to SCP (Open Telemark)
Executing Telemarks requires strong left face (LF) body rotation throughout the figure. Start teaching Telemark to BJO by ensuring that the dancers know that they must start their LF body rotation after they start lowering to move the Man’s left foot forward for their first step. The LF rotation is maintained between the first and second step causing the Man to step forward and side right around the Woman. Explain that, when the figure definition says to step “around the woman,” it means around the position she occupies at the start of the figure. This move is achieved by the Man’s dancing through the space the Woman was occupying. Another way to help the dancers understand this figure is to say that the Woman appears to be a post around which the figure revolves, and her “post position” is caused by her doing the heel turn. Emphasize the point that the Man’s second step must land close to the Woman's feet to facilitate her completion of her heel turn. The strong LF body rotation must be maintained between step 2 and step 3 to allow the Man to step forward and side left to end in a tight BJO. The Woman also starts a strong LF body rotation as she lowers to step back right to do a heel turn on her right foot bringing her left beside her right with no weight. She continues the LF turn on her right foot and changes weight to her left foot at the end of beat 2. Her final step is back and side right to a tight BJO. A point to emphasize to the Woman is that while the step is called a heel turn, her weight is not solely on the heel of her foot. This also applies to the Man’s heel turn during the Impetus figures.

When teaching the Telemark to SCP, use the same techniques as described in the Telemark to BJO for the first two steps of the figure. Make the point that the Man’s LF body rotation is reduced between steps 2 and 3 causing him to step side and slightly forward left to end in a tight SCP. The Man must keep his left side toward the Woman and provide a right-side stretch to cause the Woman to open her head and to rotate slightly to her right as she steps side and slightly forward right to SCP at the end of the figure.

Closed Impetus vs. Open Impetus (Impetus to SCP)
An Impetus is a right-turning figure that usually starts in CP. Therefore, early body turn is required to complete an Impetus successfully. For the Closed Impetus, the Man can be seen as the post around which the figure rotates. The Man initiates the figure by commencing RF body rotation as he starts to lower to step back on his left foot to turn his body to the right. He uses the same techniques the Woman uses in the Telemark figures to complete a RF heel turn. He steps back on his left foot bringing his right foot close to left and changing weight to the right foot at the end of beat 2. The Man continues his RF rotation on the ball of right foot and rises slightly. He finally stops his body rotation to step back left in CP. The Woman starts her RF body rotation as she lowers to step forward right between the Man’s feet. The Woman uses the techniques described for the Man in the Telemark figures to facilitate the Man’s heel turn. She continues her strong RF body rotation to step forward and side left through the Man’s starting position and across the line of dance. The Man’s rise at the end of step 2 causes the Lady to brush her right foot against the left before stepping forward and side on right between the Man’s feet into CP.
When teaching the Impetus to SCP, use the same techniques as described in the Closed Impetus for the first two steps of the figure. Make the point that in the Impetus to SCP, the Man’s RF body rotation is continued between steps 2 and 3 causing him to step side and slightly forward left on step 3 to end in a tight SCP. The Woman also continues her RF body rotation between steps 2 and 3 to step side on the right foot to a tight SCP.

From notes prepared for the RAL Convention, 2022, and reprinted in the DRDC newsletter, September 2023.


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