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Simply Speaking, It's Simply Foxtrot

by Brent & Judy Moore

Slow foxtrot is reputed to be one of the most, if not the most, difficult dances to master. But, let's make it simple. The concepts are uncomplicated and straight forward. Yes, you can keep it that way and make foxtrot a pleasant experience for both the man and lady. A nice side benefit is that most of these tips will be applicable to all your dancing. We offer three ideas:
  • Do things early.
  • Use your standing leg/foot.
  • Keep the lady on your front.
Lowering is a characteristic of all dancing. The real secret to having the lowering action be effective (that is, setting up the next figure or movement) is to lower early. Lowering at the end of a figure and being ready to do the next action is critical to maintaining smoothness and to not forcing the backing partner into a falling action as they move back. The easiest way to really focus on the technique is to get the heel down on the last step of a figure. You don't have to sink deeply into the knee to lower; just get the heel down promptly on the last step of a figure. If the heel is not down, you don't have the control and power to use the standing leg, and the backing partner is uncertain of when or where to go next.

Turning is always a problem in all activities, including dancing. The simple approach to help solve this problem is one we learned in driving school -- signal turns early. We need to communicate to our lady that we are going to turn and the signal is given from the standing foot from the preceding figure (yes, it's the one we lowered early on). It's the idea of "commence to turn, then go forward" into the first step of the turn. Trying to go straight forward into a turn without a pre-signal is an abrupt and destabilizing action that tends to disconnect the partnership.

Another big problem for all dancers in all rhythms is our very early training -- it is by necessity foot oriented. This develops a tendency to think of where the free foot is going instead of thinking of where you want the body to go, and it takes a lot of practice to overcome this penchant for foot leading. We are so eager to direct the stepping action we forget to dance the body, and then we force the foot to precede the body when moving forward. We need to be propelling the body forward with the standing foot and then catching its weight with the free foot. It is in effect a landing action rather than a stepping action. So, when moving forward, the body goes first. The focusing secret is to spend more time on the standing foot.

Keeping the lady in front of you is simple as long as you are in closed position -- it's when we are in semi and banjo and sidecar that the problems develop. But, they don't have to! Now, by keeping the lady in front we have a specific spot for that to be and it is on the right side. That is the fundamental relationship -- the partner is to the right -- on your front. The jewel for banjo is to make banjo shaping to keep the lady on your right front. If we shape too strongly to the partner, she tends to slip off our front and winds up on our side or too much on our right. Being too shaped also very much restricts our forward movement with the right leg (banjo & semi). We've emphasized for years making a "sleek ship" shape in banjo and semi, and we may have overdone it. We want a "sleek ship" but let's not make a stiletto out of it. The same goes for semi as well.

When you really get down to the nitty gritty, foxtrot is one of the easiest dances to learn and develop these basic skills that will make all our dancing better. We're almost constantly dancing from closed position to an outside partner position to a semi-closed position and back. So, there are application opportunities galore for these ideas -- more than in any other rhythm. Maybe that's why so many people think it is so hard. Just remember, it's not -- just keep it simple.

From clinic notes  for a past festival, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March 2020.


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