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Understanding the Similarities and Differences in Phase III/IV Waltz

by Kristine & Bruce Nelson

Waltz, one of Round Dancing’s core rhythms, is also one of the most popular! What should we know, as dancers and as instructors, to increase our knowledge and enjoyment of this beautiful, flowing rhythm?

Similarities :

Waltz is waltz no matter the level of difficulty.

Timing is 3/4. Waltz is danced with rhythmic rise and fall, with the low point being through count 1, commence rise at the end of 1, continue rise through count 2, complete rise to the highest point on count 3, and lower at the end of count 3. Normally there are 3 steps to a measure of music but various syncopated timings may be used. In Phase II there are no syncopations. In Phase III there are syncopations in the Chasse and Lock figures. In Phase IV more syncopation is used with varied timings.

The fundamentals :

The dance positions Closed, Semi-Closed, Banjo, and Sidecar are the same for all phases for all the smooth rhythms. To effectively and comfortably dance, waltz dancers need to develop and use a strong dance frame. In in beginning (Phase II), the correct body positions are (or should be) taught and practiced. Note that the need for a stable and reliable dance frame, that enables the dancers to move with ease and comfort, increases as the difficulty level of figures is raised.

The directions of WALL, LOD, COH, and RLOD are used at all phases. The diagonal directions DLW, DLC, DRC, and DRW are introduced in Phase III and commonly utilized at Phase IV (& up). And couples still dance forward, backward, turn left, and turn right, no matter the phase.

In Phase III certain concepts are (or should be) introduced that will be even more important to dancing figures at Phase IV (& up) including: contra body movement (CBM), passing footwork, heel turns, and overturned rotations, etc.

Differences :

The first difference between the phases is to understand that there are actually more than double the number of figures at Phase IV (42) than Phase III (20). These figures are more complex than Phase III, requiring more understanding of how our bodies work to perform them comfortably. We do not need to stress or scare the dancers with these figures; but as teachers we need to understand what we (and they) are getting into.

Phase IV figures --

  • generally utilize diagonals

  • often have passing footwork

  • often have syncopations

  • often utilize larger (bigger) rotations – involving more degree of turn

  • generally have more complex bodywork and footwork and foot placement

Unfortunately, we know that dancers can probably get away with dancing Phase II or III figures without a lot of body turn or body sway. It is quite difficult to dance Phase IV figures (& up) without appropriate CBM and sway.

To comfortably dance Phase IV there is considerably more use of the body. Dancers must:

  • change their focus from “foot” dancing to “body” dancing

  • learn how to use CBM in linear and rotational figures

  • learn how to use Sway

  • develop more control to sustain movement which is more subtle, requiring finesse

  • have their body in good relationship to their partner

  • improve techniques and sensitivity to facilitate lead and follow

Some may refer to dance technique as “styling” and not be favorable to the idea. It is important to understand that this is not styling, it is simply “mechanics” or learning how our bodies work to perform dance movements with ease and comfort, generating a most satisfying feeling of accomplishment!

"The waltz is the loveliest blossom of our ballroom. It is perhaps the most satisfactory dance ever achieved by man."

- Lloyd Shaw, 1949

From clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, 2012.


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