ROUND DANCE PHASE RATING
by Harold & Meredith Sears
ROUNDALAB is the International Association of Round Dance
Teachers, Inc. They have created the Phase Rating System of round
dancing to provide a vehicle for rating the round dance figures
according to degree of complexity. Each phase has a specific syllabus
of basics — steps, movements, and actions.
The concept works as follows:
If all figures in a dance are from the same phase, the dance
will be phased at that phase. A dance cannot have more than 2 figures
from the next higher phase and remain at the lower phase. A dance
cannot be rated any lower than one phase below the highest figure used.
If a dance has lots of phase II figures, and two phase III
figure, it will be rated as Phase II+2. But if the dance has three
phase III figures, the whole dance is rated as phase III.
Or even more complicated:
If a dance has lots of figures phase II and one phase IV
figure, then the dance is rated as III+1. Some figures are not
represented in the phase rating system yet. They are called unphased
figures. If you have a phase II dance with two phase III figures and
one unphased figure the dance will be rated as II+2+1.
The Six Phases of Difficulty in
Round Dancing from ROUNDALAB
Coincidentally, whitewater river canoeing and rafting
recognize six classes of difficulty; so, for comparison, I offer the
six difficulty classes for river whitewater from American Whitewater.
If you have absolutely no interest in whitewater, you can safely ignore
this entire column, but I think there are some parallels to be noted.
|Phase I is the beginner level, mainly seen in two-step
and waltz. For instance, a simple forward or back step is considered
phase I, as is the side, close, rock, and recover. Many of these
single-step, single-beat dance moves are described in the glossary. However, phase I also includes
some simple figures of more than one step, such as the waltz box and
||Class I: easy; fast moving water with
riffles and small waves; few obstructions; all obvious and easily
missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is
|Phase II is the easy level. It includes
many figures that take a full measure of music or even more. Where the
simple box was phase I, the progressive box (two measures) and the left
turning box (four measures) are phase II.
Perhaps unfortunately, there is also a historical
component, along with the level-of-difficulty component, to phase I and
II figures. These waltz and two-step figures originated in the 19th
century, whereas most of the rest of what round dancers do comes from
the 20th century. They are phase low because they have been around a
long time, and dancers have been traditionally learning them first. So
phase II round dancing is sometimes "old" and not necessarily "easy."
|Class II: novice; straightforward rapids
with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting.
Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized
waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom
injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids
that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated
|Phase III is essentially a transition
level, used to introduce additional rhythms beyond the two-step and
waltz, and of course to introduce new steps and figures. At phase III,
you can begin to dance fox-trot, cha-cha, rumba, and most of the other
rhythms listed in the navigation bar to the left. It is unexpected to
see that the fox-trot box is phase III figure, where the waltz box was
a phase I figure, even though the two figures have the same footwork.
Roundalab is telling us that the fox-trot is the more difficult rhythm
(done correctly, anyway), and it is a much more recent rhythm.
||Class III: intermediate; rapids with moderate,
irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an
open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in
tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or
strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and
powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume
rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while
swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may
be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper
end of this difficulty range are designated "class iii-" or "class
|Phase IV, the intermediate level, builds
on the transition to the advanced level. New rhythms are introduced,
such as samba and paso doble, another 20 or 30 figures (varies with
each rhythm) are added to our growing repertoire, and the use of the
entire body becomes more and more important. Many figures at this level
simply cannot be performed without the use of stretch, sway, rotation,
and rise and fall. So body mechanics becomes just as important as the
steps in the overall flow of the dance.
||Class IV: advanced; intense, powerful but predictable
rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on
the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and
holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure.
A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout
rapids, or rest. Rapids may require "must'' moves above dangerous
hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury
to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make
self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential
but requires practiced skills. a strong eskimo roll is highly
recommended. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range
are designated "class iv-" or "class iv+" respectively.
|Phase V takes us
into the advanced level where we continue to add sophisticated steps,
step combinations, and body movements. Some of these new figures are
modifications or extensions of lower level figures. For instance, the
waltz weave is a phase IV figure; the natural weave is phase V. The
open natural turn is phase IV; the running open natural is syncopated
and phase V.
||Class V: expert; extremely long, obstructed, or very
violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain
large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with
complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances
between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may
be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the
scale, several of these factors may be combined; scouting is
recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is
often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper
equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are
essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond
class iv, class 5 is an open ended, multiple level scale designated by
class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc... each of these levels is an order of
magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty
from class 5.0 to class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as
increasing from class IV to class 5.0.
VI is the highest level within round dancing, and it is the level with
the greatest breadth. That is, if you compare learning round dancing to
climbing a ladder, and phase I is the first rung on that ladder, phase
II is the second rung, and so on, then phase VI simply begins with the
sixth rung and continues on to the top (only there is no top, because they
keep writing new material). Of course, I say this with no suggestion of
criticism, because it is precisely this continued opportunity for
growth that draws us on and makes round dancing endlessly facinating.
As you would expect, phase VI figures are complex and
sophisticated. We have been working on paso doble lately, and were
introduced to two unusually extended figures, the fregolina, which is
seven measures and 28 steps long, and the chasse cape, which can run
for eight measures and 36 steps (including some syncopation).
Phase VI dances are also known for their "modified"
figures and "unphased" figures. That is not to say that these do not
turn up in intermediate and even "easy" dances, but phase VI
choreographers often seem to delight in creating clever or innovative
challenges for the dancer to overcome or master. A modified figure is a
figure that is recognized by Roundalab but that has been changed in
some way for a particular dance. It might be longer or shorter, have
extra or fewer steps, be performed more quickly or more slowly, or
start from or end in an unusual position on the floor. Needless to say,
you can know all the standard figures published in the Roundalab
manual, and you won't know this modified figure. You'll have to learn
it for this dance and then remember it for next time. An unphased
figure is a new figure created by the choreographer, perhaps never used
in a round dance before. I was just looking at a phase VI quickstep, Five
Guys Named Moe, by Bill and Carol Goss, and introduced at the URDC
convention, this year (2004). In part D, they have a two-measure figure
called "Hopscotch." It suggests some of the moves in the child's game,
and I sure don't see it in my manual. I think they made it up. But I
also think it is going to be neat, if I can learn it.
Finally, let me say that the phase rating system only
begins to give you an idea of the difficulty of a dance. (In this
respect, the American Whitewater scale is more objective and
informative.) But there are phase VI dances that can be done to cues,
with no prior practice, and there are certainly phase II dances that
must be studied and practiced, if you want to dance them, and then
reviewed and practiced some more, if you want to keep dancing them. The
considerate cuer will tell you that, "this is a phase II dance, but it
dances like a VI." Often, at the phase II or III level, the tough ones
turn out to be full of step cues, instead of standard figures, and the
cues just come at you too fast. I can mentally process a cue every
couple of measures or even every measure, but if I get a new cue with
every beat of music, I lose track and fall behind:
"Forward, side, cross behind, unwind, dip . . ."
"Wait a minute! Which way am I facing? What foot is
And so we come full circle, back to the "easy" level
again. The dance phases give us some indication of the difficulty of
the dance, and some indication of the specific figures to expect in the
choreography, but choreographers may ask us to perform those figures a
little differently than usual or facing a different direction, and step
cues can be used to take us through a unique and totally unexpected
sequence, all without raising the phase level at all. It is indeed a
rich and interesting game.
|Class VI: extreme and exploratory; these
runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes
of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors
are very severe and rescue may be impossible; for teams of experts
only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and
taking all precautions. After a class VI rapids has been run many
times, it's rating may be changed to an appropriate class 5.x rating.
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position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit
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