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Foxtrot You Say?

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Foxtrot is the biggest anomaly in dancing. What does that mean, you ask? An anomaly is something that is difficult to classify, according to the dictionary. Couldn’t describe Foxtrot better.

We know Foxtrot is a smooth rhythm, meaning it moves around the floor. But, which Foxtrot do you mean? I know at least three kinds.

First, there is the International ballroom version, as developed in England. Its basic timing is SQQ. It is designed to have flight, skimming across the floor, earning it the title the “dancer’s dance.” It is the rhythm seen in ballroom competitions, and the choreographed ballroom (round dance) version taught beyond beginning levels.

Second, we have the American social Foxtrot, as taught in franchise dance studios. Its basic timing is SSQQ or QQS. Its basic step is called the Rhythm Step or Magic Step -- Man forward left, forward right, side left, close right. Combine it with walking steps, an occasional box or progressive box and you’ve got a dance. No special technique required.

And third, there is Foxtrot as taught in phase III round dance classes--basically Waltz and Two-Step figures with a change of timing to SQQ instead of 1-2-3 or QQS. If dancers stay at this level, that may be all they need to know to enjoy melodic Foxtrot music. But, if they progress to high-intermediate (phase IV), they need to forget that and think totally new rhythm. The more advanced Foxtrot, also called slow Foxtrot, is characterized by fluid movement resulting from passing feet on almost all steps, not closing as in Waltz.

For the teacher, which do you pick to teach? If you start at the beginning of the Roundalab Manual of Standards and teach through it, you will probably do phase III Foxtrot. The Manual is logically put together, from easiest to more difficult, and for most rhythms, that is a normal progression. Teachers who do this say it is easier for dancers to learn the Foxtrot rhythm when applied to Waltz figures they already know.

Those who choose to ignore phase III Foxtrot--and there are many--say their dancers have no trouble learning the new timing except when they try to put it to Waltz figures. If they learned rise and fall in Waltz, that will make their Foxtrot choppy. They will miss the gliding, smooth character of Foxtrot, in which their steps and body move so there is no stop-and-go action. Starting with “real Foxtrot,” as many teachers have called it, means they go right into the phase IV list of Foxtrot figures.

Which style to teach is a topic that has engendered passionate exchanges in online dance discussion groups. Some say the skills needed for the phase IV Foxtrot are too demanding. Consider the heel turn needed for telemarks--not immediately rewarding and nonsensical until you learn that body mechanics necessitate it. Are phase III dancers ready for body mechanics? Aren’t they still just trying to figure out where their feet need to go? Not just “feet,” but now the teacher will be droning on about “heel, toe, toe heel” to get dancers to do a proper Feather. Or “heel, heel toe, toe heel” for the Three Step. Both are the most basic of Foxtrot steps and can be the most difficult to master.

Dancers learn a form of rise and fall for Waltz designed to create its undulating characteristic. Rise begins at the end of step one and continues to a peak on step three to bring the feet together, and lowers at the end of three. Foxtrot uses rise and fall in a different way. In Foxtrot, rise occurs on the first step only. The feet pass on each step, with the body staying at the same level, creating a linear look instead of up and down.

It may be the first time dancers hear about “rolling through their feet.” This occurs when you step forward with a heel lead, and as the body moves onto the foot, body weight will shift from being over the heel, to being over the center of the foot, then onto the ball as you take the next stride. Without thinking about it, you are dancing the “heel, ball, toe” mantra.

We confess, Foxtrot is one of our favorite rhythms. It just feels good. It makes you think of a swan floating on a lake, serenely gliding along, seemingly without effort. Yet, like the swan, strong feet are working in powerful strokes to create that movement.

We would love for all dancers to experience it. But at what point will we teach it? It would probably come after Jive, because many intermediate Jive dances mix in some Foxtrot music and throw in a little Foxtrot, just enough to whet your interest.

Foxtrot is considered a strictly American creation. Most believe it was named for Harry Fox, a vaudeville star who first showed it in New York in 1914. It was called Harry’s Trot, for its combination of fast trotting steps to ragtime music.

Some say the name came from the American Foxtrotter, a horse breed with a smooth trot unlike other breeds due to the horse always having one foot on the ground as it strides. Others say it was named for the fox, which has an unusual gait, moving its feet under its body on a single track, much like dancing into a Feather.

Here is the image you should have in your head when doing Foxtrot: You are skiing across the countryside on a crisp winter day, a gentle slope here, a straight run downhill ahead, a banking turn coming up. You sway, you counter balance, you bank into the turn. When you hear concepts such as feathering, swing, side leading, and sway as you start into a turn, bring that image to mind.

From a club newsletter, August 2022, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2022. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


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