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Smooth Out and Make Your Foxtrot Travel

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

A dancer usually moves in a straight line or rotates to change direction. This movement occurs only if a force or torque acts on his or her body. The movement will continue until a new force acts to change it. These forces are the result of gravity, muscle action, a change in speed or direction. Forces occur because your feet push against the floor and the floor pushes back.

Muscle action sets the initial position, and body weight acts through our feet to push against the floor, while the floor pushes back to support you.
Bending and sending, caused by change in muscle energy, increases the force against the floor. This causes your body's center of gravity to move in a straight line and your body to rotate around an axis. Rotation may be just in the upper body, or in the full body by pivoting on the ball of the weighted foot.
Since we are moving from one foot to the other, our center of gravity and rotation axes are continually shifting to keep us in balance and to be compatible with our partner as we execute a figure. We each have our own frame while we share a composite frame with our partner. They are different and are constantly changing. Smooth, satisfying, flowing dancing happens when minimum effort is needed to maintain these frames.

Movement requires energy because we do work. Work is a force moving thru a distance or torque acting thru an angle. Energy can also be stored by body position, muscle condition, or speed (how fast we move or rotate).

As young children, we learned to walk in a straight line but did not do a lot of turning. Then dancing came along. Turns are a fundamental part of dancing. They allow us to change direction. Let's start by having the man do a "reverse turn." This starts with the lead foot and steps straight forward while rotating the upper body to the left and blending into a left-side stretch. Your partner starts with her lead foot straight back (no heel in action) but following the rotational lead by rotating on the trailing foot toe to change direction before placing the lead foot down. The man's second step is also forward but ends straight back along the line of dance, as his body changes direction by rotating 180 degrees on the toe of his lead foot. His partner responds with a compact heel turn. The man's third step is a placement back along the line of dance in closed position as she steps forward, essentially changing places.

All of the above is wonderful, but all we discussed was our feet. Developing flow (travel) in our dancing (which is connecting one figure to the next with a "seamless" action), is not an easy thing to do, and it takes a great deal of attention to some fine details. These details, when incorporated into our dancing, will produce a much smoother dancing couple.

We all understand that there are five points of contact in the smooth dances. As a reminder, they are:
  • The M's right wrist to just behind the W's left armpit.
  • Lead hands.
  • The W's left hand on the M's right arm.
  • The M's right hand on the W's back.
  • Body contact (thinking from slightly above the lower margin of the M's right rib cage depending on the couple's height.)
Two critical goals are to maintain the offset (center-line relationship -- the feeling of having your partner on your right side -- and counter balance established at the beginning of closed position -- head weight.)


Footwork is that portion of the foot that is in contact with the floor at any moment in time. Good footwork creates the rise and fall of the smooth dances (except tango); some examples: heel, heel to toe, toe, toe to heel, inside edge, whole foot, ball of foot.

In foxtrot, the heel to toe step action of the first weight change produces early rise; you are up on the second weight change (toe) and up on the third, with a lowering to the heel (toe heel).


This is the direction that the moving foot is traveling or its ending position, for instance, forward, back , side, side and forward, side and back, etc.


Next, flowing from one figure to the next is how we turn. All turns are challenging because the person on the outside of the turn always has farther to go. Remember, all turns occur between beats, on the "and" count. Turning the body on the standing foot is a basic rule, and then we take weight onto the moving foot. A general rule to follow is: Turns to the left are always late and turns to the right are always early. This does not mean "foot" turn. We prepare a turn by creating the shape for the turn between the last step of the previous figure and the receiving of weight on the first step of the figure being executed. The shape leads to swing, which places the second weight change, and shape helps complete the action into the third weight change.

Consider the Left Turn. The forward-moving person creates a slight turning action in the upper body to the left and then steps forward to the partner's right elbow. The back-moving partner steps back to his/her right elbow, without foot turn. As weight is taken onto the ball of the foot (heel of the partner moving back), a strong shape is generated that leads to a swing of the right side forward, which creates a foot and body turn resulting in the moving foot landing to the side (but it doesn't completely stop). The shape is held and the turn is completed on the third weight change by stepping back. The shape is then lost as weight comes onto the foot and the heel is lowered to the floor.

All of the above also applies to the Right Turn, with one exception. Before the first step, there is a "commencement of turn" on the standing foot, which allows the moving foot to step in the direction indicated by the turn of the body -- EARLY turn.


The woman dances on time and the man varies his timing slightly, on occasion, by waiting fractions of a beat. One place the man has to wait for the woman is when she is making a transition from forward to back or back to forward (heel turn, feather from SCP, chasse to BJO from SCP). When the woman is dancing a heel turn, the man should wait for a fraction of a beat before taking his second weight change. This will allow the woman to get fully onto her heel. If he doesn't wait, the woman is often pulled off her heel turn, and the couple's balance is lost.

So, to make your foxtrot move more smoothly and to create travel (progression), a good knowledge of "technique" is what is required. Let's try to follow these ideas:
  • Maintain good posture and position.
  • The moving body places the foot.
  • Know the difference between "footwork" and "stepping direction."
  • Develop shape and swing.
  • Know when the man can appropriately wait for the woman and when the woman can wait for the man.

From clinic notes prepared for the ICBDA Convention, 2018, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, August 2019.


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