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Phase III—Smooth Figures conclusion and Phase IV Reverse Turn

by Roy & Phyllis Stier
April, 1989

FISHTAIL: A four-step figure that used to be exclusively a quickstep entity but lately has been used in other rhythms (also used to be two words). It invariably starts with a checking motion as the man steps outside his partner on his right in strong contra body with a heel lead, rising to the toe (ladies back on the left toe). We will describe the standard action where the man is facing diagonal line and center (DLC) on his checking step, although it can be started in any direction. Step 1 is more of a replacement on the left as the man places his toe only slightly to the right; however, since his body is turning approximately 1/8 to the right, it has the appearance of a crossing step. The ladies follow suit with the same amount of turn, having placed their right foot slightly to the left on the toe and maintaining parallel shoulders with the man. Step 2 is a small one for the man while still on the toe forward and slightly to the right as he continues the right-face turn an additional 1/8, now facing DLW. The lady's part is exactly opposite except that she is also on the toe. For step 3, the man develops a strong left-shoulder lead as he steps diagonally forward on his left still maintaining the compact contra body, then crosses behind on his right for the lock step that completes the figure with no more turn. The lady's third and fourth steps are again exactly opposite the man's except for remaining on the toes. To give emphasis to the correct Fishtail appearance, the man develops a right sway on his first step (lady left sway) and then straightens up for the next three.

When used in other rhythms, the Fishtail is still four quicks, except in waltz, where it becomes four even counts and requires one and 1/3 measures. Although the normal Fishtail will turn 1/4 to the right, it can be turned only 1/8 or not at all, depending upon desired alignment. To double the Fishtail requires two steps in between where the second one becomes the checking motion. If a continuation of the Fishtail is used so that the normal fourth step becomes a partial checking one followed by the replacement step and small forward one (no turn) this becomes a figure known as the Six Quick Twinkle. This is erroneously referred to as a "Whaletail" by many.


The fox trot turns were listed in Phase III but since have been changed to Phase IV, along with the waltz turns. We will treat the tango later as a separate entity. Reverse turns are more easily accomplished than Natural turns, although the nomenclature indicates otherwise. This is because of the dance hold and normal left-foot lead for the man. There is a move afoot to separate the turns by retaining the traditional "right" and "left" for waltz, however, it is not gaining much favor and the trend is more toward conformity with ballroom terms.

REVERSE TURN (Waltz): We will consider this figure as having three steps and then indicate the following three as a continuation, leaving it up to the individual to determine how to handle or cue it. More often than not, only three steps are used in choreography, particularly in the Natural Turn.

Step 1 from closed position normally facing DLC, the man starts a left-face turn by shaping his body slightly before placing weight on his left heel and starting to rise to the toe. Ladies will have opposite footwork going from toe to heel with body rise only. It is important on step 2 for the man to continue moving toward DLC as he completes a 1/4 left-face turn now ready to back up DLW. He facilitates the turning motion by continuing to rise on the toe of his right foot and lifting his right side (= left sway). Ladies will match the man's body turn but overturn their foot placement by pointing their left foot down line of dance (LOD). It is also a side step but she must keep the diagonal alignment while developing a right sway with continued rise, now on the toe. Step 3 for the man is a closing one where he draws his left to right by using a great deal of thigh pressure, still maintaining his left sway and taking an additional 1/8 turn to end facing reverse line of dance. The lady will allow her body to turn 1/8 left-face as she closes right to left while maintaining her right sway and ends facing LOD.

To continue the Reverse Turn, both partners will lower to the heel and simply exchange places in dance action as the man does what the lady did on her three steps and vice versa. Again, the amount of turn is 3/8 left-face, and the ending position will now be man facing DLW, still in closed position. We should add at this point that the cardinal rule for turns is that the person on the inside will divide up the amount while the outside person overturns the foot placement on step 2.

REVERSE TURN (Foxtrot): Starting from closed position normally facing DLC, the man starts a left-face turn by shaping his body slightly before placing weight on his left heel and rising to the toe. Note: This is a quicker rise than in waltz. Ladies will also shape to the left but rise only slightly while keeping their right heel on the floor in their backward step (toe/heel). Once again, the man will continue to move primarily toward DLC while turning left-face as he maintains full body height on step 2 in a left sway, now facing DRC. Ladies actually drag their left heel back to close with their right while pivoting (called a heel turn) left-face to face LOD while transferring weight to their left and rising to the toe. This necessitates a strong lift of the left side to create the right sway while the body is rotating to match the man's body line. In preparation for step 3, the man will continue to turn left-face an additional 1/8 using what is known as the Eggleton swivel and be ready to back LOD. He maintains his left sway on this and then steps back on the left toe, now in compact closed position with his partner. Ladies should wait until the man positions himself before stepping forward between the man's feet on her right, ready to lower to the heel for a continuation or for the next figure.

To continue the Reverse Turn, we will do what is known as the Feather Finish. Step 4 for the man is a shaping one as he moves back on his right down LOD while rising to full body height. This calls for a toe-heel-toe action, which most dancers do not think about. Ladies will step forward on the left shaping and rising a la man on step 1. Step 5 for the man is to the side and slightly forward on the toe using a strong right sway as the toe points DLW but the body faces wall. Ladies take their standard 1/4 left-face turn on the toe with left sway but lower to the heel with the body at full height, now facing COH. Step 6, the feathering one, is forward on the man's right as he loses sway and steps outside partner in contra body, now facing DLW as his body catches up with his foot placement. Ladies turn their last 1/8 left-face while keeping their shoulders parallel to the man in contra body and step back DLW ready to lower from toe to heel.

This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, June 2010.


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