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The Two Step Can Go Beyond Country to Elegant

by Annette Woodruff 

I am a great defender of the Two Step. I believe that it is a rhythm that has its place not only in Round Dancing but also in Choreographed Ballroom Dancing.

It is unfortunately a very much underestimated rhythm, the main reason being that it has been used, traditionally, as an entry-level rhythm into round dancing (for square dancers, mainly) and this has led the whole community to look at it as the typical "beginners only" rhythm. This image was implicitly endorsed by Roundalab when they placed (practically) the whole rhythm in Phases I & II.

Choreographers did nothing to challenge this concept, as they mostly wrote two-step routines intended for introductory classes or for the first year after these beginning classes, or with "rounds between square dance tips" in mind. The music often selected for two-step dances also helped to reinforce the lowly image of the rhythm: country songs, instrumentals played thinly by small bands, unsubtle boom-boom support, un-contrasted arrangements, etc.---in other words not ballroom music.

The two step can be so much more than this. A quick look at the past shows that it has had its nobility days, in dances that were so appreciated that many of them became Golden Classics. They can be divided in several categories:

  • The "false Phase II's", using only two-step figures: Roses for Elizabeth, Kontiki, Lisbon Antiqua, Maria, Moon Over Naples, Patricia, Spaghetti Rag, That Happy Feeling, Third Man Theme. These are NOT rounds for beginners but rounds that were written to fit a particular piece of music and no other.

  • At phase III, the two-step rhythm was mostly used in Mixed Rhythm dances like Apres l'Etreinte (this is how you should spell it), Autumn Leaves, In the Arms of Love, Elaine, Pop Goes to the Movies, Hold Me.

  • At phase IV, two-step figures are used in dances like Don't Cry for me Argentina and Hooked on Swing. There is even a phase V+2 that uses two-step figures: the remarkable Hawaiian Wedding Song, and Gordon Moss's evergreen Till (phase VI?).

No, I am not advocating that we should go back to writing dances that way, but I am saying that by using very good music and thinking out of the box, as we put dances together, we can produce interesting routines that are very pleasant to dance, and not designed only for the beginners' level. Some of our famous choreographers have shown us the way by making an interesting use of two-step figures: I'm thinking, for instance, of the Rumbles' phase V+1 quickstep It Don't Mean a Thing (hardest figure to teach = Back Hitch 3, said Ron jokingly) or, of course, the Worlocks' dance Shout (single swing/two-step, phase VI).

We need more two-step dances that depart from from the "2 Fwd Two Steps--Open Vine 4--2 Turning Two Steps--Twirl 2 & Walk 2" tired pattern.

I do not have much hope that the two-step image will suddenly improve, but in the long run . . . who knows? . . . it might help our community to see a spark in the middle of the general brain-washing and to understand that everything that is good in round dancing does not have to come from ballroom.

This essay was adapted from a post by Annette Woodruff to the Weavers discussion group and was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, July 2010

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