Meredith & Harold



MAJOR SECTIONS: Figures | Articles | Links | Alph. Index | Search | Home

Figures in the Smooth Rhythms
Viennese Waltz
International Tango
American Tango
Two Step
Five Count
One Step
Figures in the Latin Rhythms
Cha Cha
Single Swing
West Coast Swing
Slow Two Step
Argentine Tango
Paso Doble
Dance Articles
Articles Home

Dance Figures

Dance Rhythms
Lead and Follow
Dance Styling
Fred Astaire Album
Other Sections
Dance Links
Music Clips For Each Rhythm
Search Site/Web
Contact Me

Exotic Rhythms and Figures

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Let's Forró Together
Our round dance world consists of 15 basic rhythms. Through the years we have borrowed from folk dance, the competitive worlds of swing and ballroom, and from social dancing. Every now and then, a daring choreographer tries to tempt us with an exotic rhythm like bachata. But those exotic rhythms -- even the salsa, developed in the United States more than a half century ago -- don't seem to stick.

We love our waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, bolero, rumba, two step, slow two step, west coast swing, jive, cha cha, and to some extent mambo and tango, and for a few, merengue, samba, and paso doble.

One night, you might venture out to a place where others are dancing, and you may be in for a surprise. Ever heard of the Zouk? It's a fast Carnivál dance from Martinique. Or the Kizomba, which means "party" in its native Angola? Or Forró (translates variously as "stunner," "lining," or "condom"), a Portuguese word for a dance from northern Brazil? These are dances of today's social dance world.

I was surprised to learn that right before the Covid shutdowns, Anaheim, California, the home of Disneyland, hosted a BKS festival big enough to use four ballrooms of a resort hotel and hire 10 DJs to teach and run the music. (BKS stands for bachata, kizomba, and salsa.)

This is a world of dance existing under our feet, which I only learned about when I stumbled (?) across a book called Yes to Social Dance. The author breaks down the entire world of dance into eight categories that include more than 35 partner dance styles.

Those eight categories include what she calls "the sporty swing -- comical, cheeky, and vigorous yet distinguished," and "the classy ballroom -- strictly structured and precise." Swing includes the Lindy hop and its more lively cousin, the jitterbug, and east coast swing, rock & roll, the shag, and balboa (swing danced in closed position), as well as our more familiar west coast swing and jive.

The book describes all of ballroom in only four pages, breaking it down into International and American styles, as we know them. Here, she also listed hustle as not really belonging to any category -- partner dancing to disco music. She also included "sequence dancing," the version of round dancing done primarily in England. Nothing about round dancing itself.

Tango gets its own category and six pages of description -- Argentine tango and its newer version done to popular music with more leg sweeps, called neuvo tango. The chapter also includes ballroom tango, as we know it, and Finnish tango, inspired by Russian waltz mixed with Argentinian tango music, simpler and slower than the others.

The rest of the 193 pages will remind you how little you know about the world of dance in the western world.

Myra Kolm, the author, explains that she fell in love with dance after a salsa class 10 years ago, and she has traveled the western world looking for all the ways people participate in this group sport. Like almost everyone who gets involved with dancing, she too extols the positive influence it has on one's health and happiness.

Wherever she has danced, she said she finds five core values among dancers -- kindness, humility, non-rivalry, being non-judgmental and cooperative. She acknowledges that some of the exotic styles are not for everyone, especially for what she calls conservatives, meaning those stuck on a specific style. While those may be considered old-fashioned (who, us?), they play an important role, she said. "They are the ones who put their hearts and energy out there to ensure their favorite dance withstands the test of time. They may go to great lengths to preserve a style, sometimes by codifying and trademarking it." (Yea, a vote for standards!)

So, when you venture into a place where the band is playing awesome music but the dancers are not doing what you'd expect, just pull out Myra's book. She identifies those exotic styles, lists the variations within them, and compares them based on the amount of energy each requires.

The bachata she calls amorous, romantic, somewhat melancholic. It came from the Dominican Republic, like the merengue. She calls it a mild dance found usually in a calm, friendly atmosphere, but not as simple as the merengue. It comes in several styles, including fusion bachata that includes a little tango and other rhythms.

Kizomba is also described as a mild dance, more like walking, and it too comes in a variety of flavors. In basic form it is the easiest to learn but is very improvisational. One form of it dances on the spot, called tarraxinha.

Forró, described as "festive, lively, cool, and relaxed," has little of the sensual moves of the other exotics. One of its forms is called samba de gafieira, or more casually "the Brazilian tango." Another form of it is the samba no pé, or "samba on foot," the solo dance seen performed in Brazil's Carnivál parades.

And then there is salsa, born out of the Cuban mambo, brought to the United States by musicians fleeing the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s. The name originated in New York, but how it is danced depends on where you learn it: New York salsa starts on the second beat of a measure, Los Angeles and Cuban salsa start on the first beat. Cuban salsa dances in closed position in a circular pattern; the LA and NY versions are slot dances, where the dancers separate to perform "shines," fancy solo footwork. Columbian or Cali salsa is fast and fiery.

It's fun to experiment, but it's nice we have our familiar, standardized rhythms. Just call me old-fashioned.

Trials & Tribulations of Cue Sheet Writing
Ask anyone who has ever tried to write a dance what the hardest part is, and the answer uniformly will be “writing the cue sheet.” Doing the actual choreography is the easy part.

Cue sheets are tough. Lots of information has to be conveyed, some of it in small print. No matter how many times you edit yourself, there will be errors. Someone invariably will be told to take a step on the left, then step left again. Most choreographers have eagle-eyed editors to check their work for that kind of thing.

Other errors will be less obvious—like misnaming a figure, mis-phasing the level of a dance, or making one change and forgetting how that might impact the rest of the dance.

Choreographers are on their own these days to get it right, or not. In the old days, record companies controlled access to music, and cue sheets were published in monthly magazines, meaning there were more eyes on the product. But sometimes that wasn’t a good thing.

The magazines felt empowered to make “corrections” to cue sheets. Not sure if those corrections were ever run by the choreographers, but I think not, based on two almost-personal examples. At least two cue sheets of Eddie and Audrey Palmquist choreography that we are aware of were made worse by such editing.

The Palmquists were in the forefront of promoting the new English (now called International) style of ballroom dance for round dance use. New rhythms and figures were being introduced, and the concept of step-cueing was giving way to a new way of cueing using standardized figures. Before 1978, there was no national standardization of figures but the move was underway.

That move was not universally accepted, and in fact, there was great resistance. When Eddie & Audrey (they were not yet married) released I Wanta Quickstep in 1967, they clearly wrote it and taught it as a quickstep using quickstep figures borrowed from the English. Eddie had taken certifications in that style and worked with coaches who had relocated here from London. The cue sheet that showed up in one of the magazines had been edited to call it an “easy-intermediate quickstep/foxtrot.”

One irate Canadian who had taken a Palmquist clinic felt compelled to take to the magazine editors to task for their “tremendous disservice to the round dance community in general and the Palmquists in particular.” The editing of the cue sheet “undermines their integrity, their expertise and their loving care of the round dance activity,” they added.

For starters there were no foxtrot figures in Eddie’s dance. But the editing changed the Quickstep chasse reverse turn in Part B to “two left turning foxtrots,” the spin turn had been reduced to step cues,  and in Part A, the quickstep quarter turn progressive chasse had been replaced by step cues and the man’s heel pivot eliminated completely.

(We are aware of this because we have the Canadian’s letter and the magazine’s “edited” cue sheet, as well as the original, from Audrey Palmquist’s files.)

Even as late as 1980, when the first Roundalab (RAL) system of rating the difficulty of dances was adopted, waltz, tango, foxtrot, two step, and cha were the only rhythms considered (based on the Fleck rating system printed in 1980). Quickstep appeared in the revised (and current) system adopted four years later.

Fortunately, no one now thinks of I Wanta Quickstep—a RAL Golden Classic and an ICBDA Hall of Fame dance—as anything other than a quickstep, a wonderful introductory dance that is fun for all dancers.

The same can’t be said for the Palmquists’ Autumn Nocturne, phase VI waltz written in 1981. Even today, an incorrect magazine-edited cue sheet is on-line. In some places, a note “possible error” has been appended. Fortunately, the original version of the cue sheet is posted with notes on why it is the better version.

The dance came to be when the Palmquists were hired to replace the regular instructor (Sam Shawver) of a high-level weekend who had died. They were told their dance had to be HARD enough that their advanced dancers would not be able to do on cues. The Palmquists went to their coaches and asked for the newest amalgamations being done in competition at that time, and that became Part A of the dance.

Unfortunately, when the cue sheet got to the magazines, someone decided there was an error and “corrected” the direction that Eddie had written to rumba cross to go. Even into this decade, some dancers can be seen doing the rumba cross to line of dance—180 degrees off how Eddie had used it.

Fortunately, now choreographers are encouraged too upload their cue sheets directly to the RAL Index of Rounds. There are still mistakes. Sometimes a cue sheet is posted so that dancers will help the choreographer locate the errant parts. If in doubt, ask.

From club newsletters, September and November, 2021, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, January, 2022. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


Alphabetical Index to
and Technique
Online since 2001 ©Harold and Meredith Sears, Boulder, CO, All rights reserved.