by Harold & Meredith Sears
The Feather is a phase IV
foxtrot figure. It is characteristic
the rhythm. One teacher recently said that she couldn't imagine any
foxtrot without the feather. We might begin in closed position (CP),
man facing line of dance (LOD). He steps forward R (lady back L) with
a little upper-body rotation to the right or left shoulder lead (lady
right-shoulder). The second step is forward L (lady back R). Finally,
step forward R across the left leg and outside partner to banjo
position. The timing is SQQ.
Feather can begin in other dance positions (and progress in other
directions). For instance, from semi-closed position (SCP), the lady
would step through L turning left-face, side and back R, and finally
back L to banjo (again SQQ). This form of the Feather can feel quite
different if you are sensitive to the details. Of course, the lady is
turning LF from SCP to banjo, but the man too is already in his
"sliced" left-shoulder-lead position, so he feels much less
body swing. From SCP, the figure has even been given a different
name, a Feather Ending, but for the most part, we seem to be
comfortable with the idea of dancing a "Feather" from a
variety of dance positions. The cue "Feather Ending,"
instead, will likely refer to the last two steps of the Feather:
quick quick to banjo. For instance, a creative (non-standard) bit of
choreography might be a Slow Change of Direction (SSS) to a Feather
weakness that we can watch out for is dancing the Feather with a
sideways direction to our steps. All three of the man's steps should
go forward in a straight line. We might step forward R but then,
mistakingly, side and forward L. It is as if we are rushing to get
into banjo, and the result will be a side-by-side banjo, which puts
us both too far from our partner and no longer oriented toward our
partner, either. Banjo, especially in foxtrot, is not a side-by-side
position with the man's right hip next to the lady's right
hip. It is almost a CP with his right hip in front of her
right hip. So, gentlemen, make all your steps clean, forward steps.
Don't hurry to get to banjo, but drift smoothly into that third step
-- light as a feather. And use left-shoulder lead and a crossing
third step to step outside of partner. Don't use a side step to get
to her right side.
practice exercise to help you feel the swing of the body from CP to
banjo position is to dance a Three Step to closed; Feather to banjo;
and repeat. In each figure, don't keep your shoulders square, but
swing the right side just a little ahead (right side lead) in the
Three Step, then swing the left side forward in the Feather. The left
side lead turns both of you from a flat, breasting progress to a
diagonal, slicing movement. Your shoulders are parallel but diagonal
to the line of progression. Given the left side lead, the final step
of the feather will be a crossing of the thighs into a cozy banjo
It is also
helpful to use a little right sway during the Feather (lady left
sway). Right sway is inclination of the body to the right or a
lifting of the left hip and stretching the left side, and it shapes
you toward your partner. Again, one of our goals is to focus on our
partner, to dance with our partner, not just next to her. Right sway
also keeps the lady's head closed (turned to her left) and in her own
dance space. Notice that, although she is sliced and dancing down the
line of dance with her right shoulder leading, she does not get to
look where she is going. She is dancing with her partner in a close
dance position and trusting him to take her along safely.
can think about foxtrot rise and fall. The man takes his first step
with a heel lead and then quickly rises to soaring height onto the
ball of the foot. We use not only foot rise, but we straighten our
knees (don't lock them), stretch our torsos, and even raise our chins
just a little. The man's second step is on the ball of the foot, and
his third step is ball and then flat, as we lower to start the next
figure. The lady takes all her backing steps toe to heel. This helps
to keep her body moving and allows more freedom of motion for the
man. If she did not progress through her heel but stayed on the ball
of the foot, her flow would briefly stop or poise there. So, the lady
sacrifices foot rise in favor of smooth flow.
dancing a Back Feather, the man takes back steps, and the lady
dances the man's part of a standard Feather. In CP RLOD, the man
steps back L (lady fwd R between his feet), back R with right side
lead and right side stretch (turning upper body a bit right-face),
and back L (lady fwd R outside partner with left-side lead to a
"cozy" banjo lady facing LOD). Of course, the Back Feather
may be danced from other facing directions, such as DRW, in which
case we might turn the figure 1/8 RF to RLOD. We might also start
facing LOD and progress toward RLOD.
The Feather Finish always starts
with a back step for the man,
it turns to the left anywhere from 1/8 to 1/2. You might begin in CP
DRW. The man steps back R beginning to turn LF (lady fwd L). He steps
side and forward L continuing to turn LF but beginning to swing the
upper body a little RF to produce his left shoulder lead. Finally, he
slides his R foot outside partner, crossing his thighs, to end in our
cozy banjo position, maybe facing DLW (SQQ). It may seem odd to have
a figure that both turns to the left and includes man's left shoulder
lead, but the direction that the feet go is often different from the
direction the torso or shoulders face, and we certainly see that
difference here. In this example, the man's third step is toward DLW,
but his shoulders are aligned parallel to the wall.
Feather Finish is widespread in foxtrot. Not only is it a figure in
its own right, but it is built into many longer figures. Steps 2, 3,
and 4 of the Top Spin and steps 4, 5, and 6 of the Reverse Turn are a
Feather Finish, as are the last three steps of a Diamond Turn to
banjo and the last three steps of any Weave or Natural Hover Cross.
The Curved Feather turns to the
right. In SCP, we both step
through with trail feet and begin to turn right-face, with left side
lead and with right sway. We are beginning to turn right, but do not
make this first step a maneuvering step. Most of the turn is in the
upper body, not the foot, and most of the actual turn in this figure
will happen on the last step. Second, the man steps side and forward
L (lady sd & bk R). On the third step, continue to turn the upper
body and step fwd R outside partner to our cozy banjo with crossed
thighs, facing DRW (SQQ). Check the last step, preparing to move back
during the next measure. In making this rather tight turn into your
partner, you might be tempted to look at her or simply look where you
are going. Don't. Keep your heads left in a good "closed"
banjo position. As in the Feather, the Curved Feather can begin in CP
or in banjo, in which case the lady's first step would be back L.
closely related figure is the Hairpin, a term that used to be
reserved for waltz, while Feather was reserved for foxtrot, but both
are used almost interchangeably in both foxtrot and waltz today.
Given the name, we might dance the Hairpin with a stronger left-side
lead and a sharper curve, to RLOD or even DRC. We can increase the
drama one more notch by dancing fwd R, fwd L with left-side lead but
no curve to the steps, and finally fwd R outside partner and with up
to 1/2 turn sharply RF (SQQ). The idea is to produce a sharp,
"hairpin" turn within the figure.
a Back Curved Feather, the lady dances the man's Curved
Feather and the man dances the lady's part. In Honey On the Vine
by Kay & Joy Read, we begin in banjo RLOD with lead feet free.
The man dances 3 back steps, curving to banjo DLC. Notice that the
lady dances fwd R curving, fwd L, fwd R outside partner to face DRW,
just as the man would do in a standard Curved Feather.
"feather" is to step outside partner while still
maintaining parallel shoulders; in other words, a reluctant banjo or
sidecar deviation from closed position. (Roy & Phyllis Stier, Cue
Sheet Magazine, December 1987)
pause for a moment and see what happens if we distinguish between the
various Feathers (capitalized), which all go to banjo, and a
"feather" step or a "feathering" action (lower
case), which can go either to banjo or to sidecar. As the Stiers have
said (above), "to feather" is to step outside partner with
strong side lead, shaping toward partner, and in such a way that
shoulders remain parallel to each other and angled with respect to
the line of progression. We feather to banjo with a step forward R
and with left-side lead. We feather to sidecar with a forward L with
right-side lead. The value of recognizing this more generic
"feathering" action, that can go to banjo or to sidecar, is
that it emphasizes the symmetry of dancing on the two sides of our
partner. On both sides, we step outside our partner's feet, but we
dance with our partner in our upper bodies, in as close to CP
as we can get. Admittedly, it is harder to achieve that upper-body CP
when in sidecar than when in banjo, but thinking of a "feathering"
step there gives us an ideal to aim for. It helps us think of
shaping left, looking left over the lady's right shoulder, and
swaying left (lady right). To feather is to step into a reluctant
banjo or sidecar. We are moving outside partner, but at heart we want
to stay in a close dance position.
The Left Feather is a standard,
phase VI figure that spans
one-and-a-half measures, uses five steps (SQQQQ), and includes both a
feathering to sidecar on step 3 and a feathering to banjo on step 5.
We might start in banjo position LOD. The man steps forward L (lady
back R) blending to CP, fwd R with right-side lead, fwd L to sidecar
position, side R turning left-face to CP COH (lady side and back L),
and finally back L with right-side lead and left sway to banjo RLOD.
Note that we keep heads left in the same upper-body, closed-position
dance frame through the whole figure.
the Left Feather is particularly rich in "feathering"
actions. If we begin in banjo position, the man is in a feathered
position. His right foot and left side are forward; his sway is to
the right. As he steps forward L, R, L, he shifts from the lady's
right to her left side. He blends from left-side lead to right-side
lead, from right sway to left sway, from a cozy banjo to as cozy a
sidecar as we can manage. On step 3, he is "feathered" to
sidecar position. I wonder if the name Left Feather came from this
feathering to the man's and lady's left sides? On step 4, we blend
back to CP, turning left, and on step 5, the lady steps forward R
outside partner with left-side lead. She is dancing a "Back
Feather End." She is feathering to banjo.
The Back Left Feather is the
inverse of the Left Feather, with
man backing and the lady dancing the man's part of the standard Left
Feather (SQQQQ). In banjo position RLOD, the man steps back R (lady
fwd L) blending to CP. Over the four quicks, the man steps back L,
back R to sidecar RLOD, side L to CP wall, and fwd R to banjo DLW.
The starting position and facing directions may vary, but the body
shaping should be just the inverse of that in the Left Feather. The
man begins with right-side lead and left sway. On step 3, he has
left-side lead and right sway. At this point the lady is feathering
to sidecar. We end the figure in our cozy banjo, and he has left-side
lead and right sway again, this time moving forward. Here,
the man is feathering to banjo.
is even a Four Feathers (Popular Variations by Alex Moore, 2002, p. 40),
which is a straightforward amalgamation of a Feather, Left Feather,
and Back Left Feather (see components above for details). Many have
asked, why is it called four feathers? If we count the steps
outside partner, we count five. Even if we restrict ourselves to
steps outside to banjo, we get three, not four.
& Carol Valenta solved this problem of "5" in a neat
way. They included the figure in On a Little Street in Singapore,
but cued it: Feather; Four Feathers;;; By cueing the initial Feather
separately, his Four Feathers does have 4 feathers, 2 to sidecar and
2 to banjo. On the other hand, maybe the name simply comes from the
fact that we are using four measures, and both the man and the lady
are feathering repeatedly.
foxtrot means Feathers, and if we can pay attention to side lead with
contra-body motion as we step outside partner, maintaining snug dance
position, those frequent feathers will dance smoothly, comfortably,
in Dixie Round Dance
(DRDC) Newsletter, January 2014.
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