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How Much Technique at Phase II?

by Don Casper & Heike Beck

Webster defines technique as “the manner in which basic physical movements are used (as by a dancer); also: the ability to use such movements.” We, as experienced dancers and leaders, know it takes technique to get us in the right position, the right way, at the right time.

Technique is not to be confused with styling (the way we look), although it is a major contributing factor thereof and will also help us feel “good” about our dancing by enabling us to go from one position to another with comfort, grace, and ease.

We all know that technique is very important at the higher ROUNDALAB phases, and some figures are next to impossible to execute without the use of proper technique. But where and how do we learn this technique when starting out as dancers?

Phase II is very important, as it is the first step of our "Round Dance life," and we should follow the principle that what we do not learn in our "youth" we will never learn at a later stage; i.e., “ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Many teachers at the higher RAL phases have also criticized that dancers will have to unlearn their bad dancing habits if they continue dancing into the higher phases, so the best solution is to teach them correctly right from day one. After all, we don’t want to lose them because they have become aware of their difficulties and can’t "keep up." From personal experience, we know some dancers who have claimed foxtrot is "too difficult" because they were not taught the proper execution of turns at the phase-II level in waltz. So technique can certainly become a thread throughout a dancer’s whole lifetime.

We have listed a few topics which need to be stressed from the beginning, not only in round dancing, but in any kind of dancing. Repeated consideration of these topics from time to time will reinforce these techniques in our minds, and the more attention you pay to them, the less likely we will slip into bad habits.

1. Posture --

Dancers need to stand and dance upright. Feet should never be wider apart than shoulder width. The weight must be centered over your feet. No slouching or leaning forward or back (exception: see Turns, below). Although we like to start in an open or butterfly position, it is imperative that a closed position be taught ASAP. When explaining CP, be sure to call attention to the points of contact of the partnership, also that the lady is always in front of the man and never to his side, even in BJO or SCAR (see Positions, below). When moving, be sure not to scuff the floor, but pick up your feet and move deliberately (like your mother told you!).

2. Frame --

The dance frame must be sturdy. No “spaghetti arms,” but no “death grips,” either. The man’s right arm must reach the lady’s shoulder blade to offer support. If the lady leans slightly back, then the man must counter with a slight lean back so the couple, as a whole, is erect. The lady’s left arm should rest on the man’s right arm, preferably at the seam of his shirtsleeve (there is some allowance for different heights for man and lady), and she should not grip his upper arm or elbow! The man’s right side is where the lady’s lead will come from, and she is depriving herself of this lead if she constricts her partner’s movement on this side.

3. “Lead hands” and true leads --

Although the man’s left hand is called the “lead hand,” he actually does no leading with it at all! His leading signal comes from his right side and the body contacts of the couple. Lead hands are part of the entire frame and should be firmly held (no “dead fish”).

4. Balance --

Dancers must be able to keep their balance by keeping weight on one foot only. There is no figure at this Phase that will require having even partial weight on both feet. Dancers must be taught to be consciously aware of which foot is free at all times, and if they make a weight change they need to commit fully to that foot.

5. Dance positions --

Closed Position: slightly offset to the left, never toes to toes! Heads look over the partner’s right shoulders. When dancing forward, as in CP M fcg LOD, steps are between the partner’s feet. Forward steps come from the knee, but backward steps come from the hip, so there is no danger of the person backing up to be stepped on. Bodies must remain parallel to each other -- teachers may want to use “parallel” as a magic word -- it is the key to dancing with each other and not next to each other. In CP, M facing wall, the lady is slightly behind the man (in regards to line of dance) due to the offset nature of CP.

Semi-Closed Position: never side by side (hip to hip)!! It is closed position with the toes turned slightly to line of dance. The hold may be relaxed a bit for comfort but should not become too loose or the leader (man) will lose some ability to lead! The bodies are turned slightly toward each other but remain parallel (magic word!).

Banjo/Sidecar Position: never side by side (hip to hip)!! It is closed position but the toes are angled to the left (BJO) or right (SCAR). The lady must remain in front of the man and always parallel (magic word!) to him.

Open Position: as the number of contact points for a lead have been reduced to one, the lady must take over more control of her own dancing and know where to place her steps. Both partners need to be aware of where the other partner is and remain on the same plane.

Butterfly Position: the number of contact points has been reduced to two here, so remaining parallel (magic word!) is essential. Keeping a rigid frame and using equal pressure on both hands will help smooth out your dancing.

6. Facing directions --

Dancers must be aware that the 4 main facing directions (LOD, RLOD, COH, Wall) are not the only ones they may be facing. Introduce dancers to the 4 diagonals ASAP, as they will become imperative when teaching Scissors in Two Step or Twinkles in Waltz.

7. Leading and following --

Dancers who cannot lead or follow at Phase II will be greatly hindered at Phase VI!

Leading comes though the signals given by the man (the natural leader?) It will be his right side that signals to the lady where he wants her to go, even on left turns (see Turns, below). There is no pushing, pulling or shoving whatsoever! Dancers should not overtake each other and all movements must be done parallel (magic word!). The man should not hesitate to use a strong lead so there is no doubt in the lady’s mind regarding the step or direction she should take. Many ladies have gotten used to “Lead what you can and follow what you get!” Dancers should be made aware that the leader’s job may be temporarily handed over to the follower; i.e., when the lady has to move forward in the direction of dance and the man is backing up (Backward Waltz or Backward Two Step traveling down LOD).

8. Foot placement --

Feet should be placed straight forward, heel first, never turned – even on turns. Always step first, then turn as you bring the body to the foot. Backward steps are toe first and the leg is extended back from the hip, not from the knee. Even when steps outside the partner are called for, as in SCAR or BJO, a turn into the figure is never done, only a step into the figure. The bodies must remain parallel (magic word!).

9. Turns --

Remaining parallel (magic word!) is an absolute MUST!! Dancers must remain in CP throughout the turn!! Any step in the direction of partner must be placed between the partner’s feet! The degree of turn must be led strongly by the man, for example:

  • (Waltz) left turns: first turn 1⁄2, second turn 1⁄4 (unless otherwise noted, i.e. two 1⁄4 L turns)

  • (Waltz) right turns: first turn 1⁄4, second turn 1⁄2 (or less depending on ending facing direction)

  • (Two-Step) 2 turning two-steps: each turn exactly 1⁄2 (or less, see waltz right turns)

  • (Two-Step) pivots: each turn exactly 1⁄2 (like steps 3 and 6 of 2 turning two-steps)

As rotation occurs, especially if there are many turns, i.e. double pivot (pivot 4) in Two Step or 4 left waltz turns, leaning back slightly may aid with the turn (centrifugal force) but only if both partners lean back away from each other. Leaning towards partner while he/she is leaning away will cause a loss of the axis of the turn and lead to wobbling and falling out of position.

When turning, heads and eyes should face in the direction of the turn, not away from it and not towards the partner (however pretty her/his eyes might be!).

Summary --

We have tried to cover many points we feel are valid for any dance activity and extremely important when teaching to beginner dancers at the Phase II level. We try to impress technique without being too technical and encourage our dancers to use proper technique as it will help them to dance more smoothly and gracefully.

We hope this information will be helpful with YOUR new dancers coming into the activity at the Phase II level. Remember, what the dancers learn in the early stages will follow them for the rest of their dancing lives!

Happy dancing, cueing and teaching!

From clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB annual Convention, June 2012, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, February 2014.


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