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The Telemark Figures I

by Roy & Phyllis Stier
November, 1988

We move on to figure analysis and will develop this in a logical order, somewhat following the phase system, noting that the latter is still in a fluid stage. Our first considerations will cover the following rhythms: waltz, fox trot, quickstep, tango, and Viennese — the latins will follow someplace down the line, well beyond the apparent horizon. Our format will be to give the necessary ingredients and then add a few nuances not normally found in the available descriptions. There will be some repetition from past articles as we have already touched on the Telemark, Whisk, Feathers, Chasse, etc. in a different context. Hopefully, the following will serve as reference material for whatever use you may want to put it to. 

OPEN TELEMARK: The word "telemark" means to turn and, therefore, deals with different degrees of turn depending upon the type, direction, and what is to follow. The most common usage is that of the Open Telemark, which really is a more advanced figure than normally categorized. 

We usually call this "Telemark to Semi" because it is more descriptive to the dancer. It does require three different steps and starts with what we have previously described as "shaping" to the left (CBM) as the man leads a contra-body type of motion on his first step. He first develops the forward motion from his right foot and starts his shaping to the left after weight is partially taken on the left. This is a heel lead and the rotary action left-face is made from heel to ball of foot. The second step on the toe (really the ball of the foot) requires a long count in waltz and is a side step in final development but is still a continuation of the DLC basic direction of step 1, thus the ending facing direction is DRC. Step 3 is very important because it determines how well the partnership will fare for what follows. The man opens his head (turns to the left) before taking this step to the side on his left while blending to a compact semi-closed position. This position is really a slight opening out from closed position as the man actually steps slightly back from side as he uses the inside edge of his toe before lowering to the heel, now facing DLW in the normal usage. His toe will be pointing on the diagonal toward the lady as he employs what we call a "slow head" in the opening out slightly to the left of where he would look in closed position. 

The lady starts a left-face curve backward on her right toe which is her counterpart to the shaping action, then drags her left heel back to her right and makes a left-face heel turn with most of her weight on the right. It is important that she keeps her head to the left (closed head) as she continues the left-face rotation and turns her head to the right on step 3. Her third step is sideward on her right with a shoulder lead, while using a little springing action from flexed knees to nearly straight ones. The lady's footwork is best described as TH HT then TH., indicating that she must lower after step 3 is taken to prepare for what follows. 

Additional Notes: The Open Telemark usually starts from DLC but can be done from other positions. The amount of turn is dictated by the figure to follow. In fox trot, there are three possible ending alignments (only two in waltz), which the man must keep in mind, depending upon the next figure. 

Ending #1 — Man's third step is side and slightly forward (to face DRW) which leads the lady to turn a little left-face. This is followed by figures like the Natural Turn, Natural Telemark, Open Natural, etc. 

Ending #2 — Man's third step is side although he is still facing a little toward DRW and commences to lead a right turn. This is the best position to start a Natural Weave. 

Ending #3 — Man's third step is side and slightly back which leads the lady to prepare for a left-face turning figure. This is the best alignment for the Weave, Wing, Big Top, Telespin, etc. It is often described as an overturned Telemark and is the one described above. In every case, the lady will still take her third step side and diagonally forward. 

The count for waltz is 1,2/ah,3; where the "ah" adds to the length of count 2 by stealing from the third step. This gives a sort of hovering action, which is used by the more advanced dancers. In fox trot, the timing is s,q,q; but again, this is only a relative thing and the first quick is not hurried. Quickstep timing is s,s;s, where the hovering action is at a minimum, and in tango it is usually q,q,s. We like to teach the man, particularly in waltz, to do an "almost brush" action between steps 2 and 3. This adds to the hovering action and slows down the timing so that the lady can complete her rotary action more easily. This little ploy is usually eliminated after the man has mastered his correct body mechanics and timing. 

CLOSED TELEMARK: Round dancers often refer to this as a Telemark to Banjo. In any event, for us, it is a variation of the Open Telemark, although the ballroom people consider it as the generic version. The man must give the lady even more time on step 2 as she continues her rotation, and he will eliminate the hovering action for the most part. Step 3 is to the side and slightly forward with the left foot pointing DLW, although the body hasn't quite caught up with the foot direction. The lady must step side and slightly back as she keeps her body turned toward the man in a compact contra body position (= banjo). The heads will remain closed and the shoulders should be parallel. The footwork is the same as in the Open Telemark, however, the man should not attempt to use the "almost brush" action. There is no such thing as an overturned Closed Telemark — it would defeat the purpose of any standard figure to follow. 

More on the Telemark figures next month.

This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, January 2010.


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