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Page Contents

General Issues
Dance History
Lead and Follow
Here are some articles and essays by Harold & Meredith Sears that discuss some basic issues and some more advanced topics in dancing. Some of these are original to the site, and some have been published in the newsletters of DRDC, CRDA, WASCA, and in other round dance publications (see Links page for information on these and other dance organizations).

Some of these essays are long. If you are interested in a specific topic, use the index to figures and actions, do a site search, or use the "find" or "search" function in your browser while on any given page. If you can't find the answer you need, if a description is unclear, or if you have any comment or question, please let me know. I'll be glad to help.

At this point, many guest writers have contributed articles to the DRDC newsletter. A chronological listing (with links) of DRDC articles can be found here. Both Sears and Guest articles are indexed by topic in the Alphabetical Index.

General Issues —

First of all, What is Round Dancing?—It is choreographed and cued ballroom dancing.
Warming Up—A few minutes of stretch and warm-up before a dance can loosen and lubricate joints and tendons and reduce the risk of pulls, twists, and strains. Warm-up feels good, too.
Walking—Dancing is just orderly movement to a rhythm. Walk to the beat, light on your feet.
Timing—One of the conspicous features of round dancing, and ballroom dancing in general, is the great variety of rhythms and the variety of step patterns that are characteristic of those rhythms.
Listen To the Music—The cueing tells us what to do, but the music tells us when to do it.
Round Dance Phase Levels—The Roundalab Phase Rating System ranks round dance figures according to degree of complexity. Each phase has a specific syllabus of basics — steps, movements, and actions.
Floorcraft—Floorcraft is the skill to dance among other couples without hitting them or intruding into their personal space.
Dancing In Your Head—Mental review and visualization, along with our usual physical paractice, can help us to learn.
Helper Cues—At it's simplest, cueing is simply a matter of naming the figures we are to dance, in order, and ahead of the beat on which we are to step. But cuers usually try to give additional information.
Keep Dancing—Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a dance with no idea of what figure you're doing and no idea of what figure is coming up, either? Don't panic. Keep dancing — something. Soon, you'll hear a cue you recognize, and you're back in the dance again.
Balance and Good Posture—One of the images that comes up again and again in round dancing is the idea that the dancer's body is a pile of boxes, crates stacked in a warehouse, and it is important to keep the pile aligned and balanced.
Dance Position and Connection Between Partners—The fundamental dance position, and the one in which you can feel most connected, is Closed Position. Good connection and smooth lead and follow come from a toned frame in the upper body and contact at the hips.
Position and Figure Photo Essays — Here are some photo essays that discuss and illustrate many of our dance positions and some of our basic dance steps and figures, especially those that create a "picture."
Cast Your Eyes Upward — As you concentrate on your dance steps and figures, don't hunch forward and look down. Lift your chest. Look up and out.
Three Gentle Reminders — Lift your feet, look left, and smile.
Smile — Dancing Is About the Relationship
Make It Look Easy — The ease and comfort in dance is in the details.
Round Dancing Is a Partnership — The three C's of partner dancing are cooperation, collaboration, and compromise.
Dance With Feeling — A dance is a physical performance, getting the movements right, but it is also communication of feeling and emotion and an interaction with your partner, even a celebration.
Dance Right Through Her — Sometimes, we men are too polite. We try to be gentle and to give our partners their space. But in dancing many figures, we need to forge ahead and dance right through her.
Foot Follows Frame — First dance your frame, your torso, then your feet.
Don't Fight — It is a basic and fundamental rule of dance: don't criticize your partner.
Be Gentle — Dancing certainly is a contact sport. But it is not wrestling, football, or boxing. We are dancing with a partner, not an opponent. So, we should try to be gentle.
Be Gentle — A shortened version (750 words).
Dance Small — So often in dance, when you do something big, you end up doing something to your partner, small and controlled, you are dancing with your partner.
Flight the Sequence — Don't dance steps and figures individually — keep your body in continuous, smooth movement.
Let's Put On A Show — The music and movement of dance feel good even if you're dancing by yourselves. Dancing with other couples feels better. Can it be still more fun to play somewhat to the audience?
The Healthy Side Of Round Dancing — Round dancing is a perfect activity for improving physical, mental, emotional, social, and even artistic or creative health. It's fun, too.
To Dance Or Not To Dance, After A Pandemic (PDF) — A discussion of issues raised by covid-19 as of May 23, 2020.

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Dance History —

Where Did All Those Rhythms Come From?—We have so many dance rhythms to choose among today—from the tango and rumba to the hustle and slow two step. How and when did these new rhythms arise?
A History of Waltz—A surprising number of dance rhythms are as recent as the Twentieth Century, but the origins of the Waltz go way back.
Development of Dance Through the Centuries—a list.
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Dance Figures —

Position and Figure Photo Essays—We discuss and illustrate many of our dance positions and some of our basic dance steps and figures, especially those that create a "picture."
Shall We Take A Walk—Dancing is walking set to music, but of course we are not just walking.
A Waltz Whirl—Some left turns, including Viennese Turns, Three Fallaways, Tumble Turn, and Outside Check.
Cha-Cha-Cha—Often, we dance the cha-cha-cha as a simple chasse, with the second step a closing step but there are other ways to cha that add variety to our dancing and that help us connect with our partner and dance more smoothly and comfortably.
Wheel Around—The Wheel is a figure danced in a variety of ways in many different rhythms. In the Tornillo and Ballerina Wheels, it helps to relax your frame.
Blend To Banjo—To shift from closed position to banjo position, you don't need lateral or sideways movement; you only need right-face body rotation and left-side lead.
Rise, Fall, and the Foxtrot Three Step—In foxtrot, we use early rise, but the Three Step flows more smoothly with later rise.
Feathers—The Feather is a characteristic figure in the foxtrot rhythm. There are many forms, but all move outside partner, to banjo or sidecar, with a cozy contra-body movement position (CBMP).
What Is Natural About A Natural Turn?—Natural Turns are early and perhaps easier because the woman is already to the man's right and at the center of the turn. Reverse Turns are delayed so that we can first place the woman gently onto the pivot point for the couple and then do the turn.
What Is A Top Spin?The Top Spin is a left-face spin on the trail foot, but other details of the figure vary in different choreographies.
Twists and Twist Turns—One of the common actions in round dancing is the twist, but there are Twists, which are in the hips, and then there are Twist Turns, which occur down in the legs. 
Single, Double, and Triple Twist Turns—A Twist Turn usually begins in closed position, facing reverse line of dance, trail feet free.  The man crosses behind and unwinds.  The woman runs right face, unwinding him. The figure can be repeated for a double or even a triple Twist Turn.
Is A Hip Twist Just A Fancy Half Basic?—One way to think about the Hip Twists in Rumba is to see them growing out of the phase-III Half Basic. Begin a Basic, but on the third step, use footwork and body shape to turn her to the right.
Hip Twist Figures—The Hip Twist is a latin action found in Rumba and Cha (and other rhythms).  We like to think of a Hip Twist as any sharp swivel on the weighted foot in the same direction as that weighted foot. There are Open, Closed, Advanced, Continuous, and Circular Hip Twists.
Tipples, Ripples, and Body Rolls—Sometimes there is a Body Roll, Barrel Roll, or Around the World feeling in our Tipple and Ripple Chassés, and it feels good.
The cue Switch is used in many ways in Round Dancing. In Slow Two Step, Switches are much like a progressive "man across; woman across;" or Open In and Out Runs (sqq; sqq;).
Inside & Outside Rolls In Slow Two-Step—The Slow Two-Step is a richly textured dance rhythm, exhilarating, fun to dance—and one of the characteristic components is the Inside and the Outside Rolls.
A Few Rondes In Slow Two-Step—We “ronde” in almost all of the round dance rhythms, but there have been some especially nice examples in some recent Slow Two-Steps.
Jive Change Places -- There are two "change places" figures in Jive. The cues sound alike, but there are some specifics we can listen for, to get it right.
Dancing Picture Figures—Most of our dancing progresses. But sometimes we encounter choreography in which we do not step. When faced with such figures, we must decide, are we going to keep dancing, or are we just going to stand there?
Mini-Picture Figures—Sometimes, we see a division in our dancing between regular figures and “picture” figures. Another way to view dance figures is to recognize the picture figures and then to think of most of our other dance figures as mini-picture figures.
Make A Picture—We create pictures by thinking about more than our feet and the steps they are taking. We form dance pictures by being aware of our entire body.
Animal Figures—Round dancing has quite a few figures with animal names—domesticated animals, pests, marine life, and of course terrestrial wildlife.
Continuous Figures In Latin—One of the interesting things that we do in Round Dancing is take a dance figure and make it “continuous” by adding additional steps or actions to the base figure but not in a way to change its fundamental shape or character.
Continuous, Extended, and Interrupted Figures in Smooth—There are Roundalab Standard Figures that are Continuous in both the Latin and the Smooth rhythms, but there are no Standard Figures that are Extended or Interrupted. But we do dance them, and these three terms can be informative cues.
Left Hinge, Right Hinge, Increasing Figure Variety—One way to increase the variety in our figure repertoire is to take a standard figure that in some way goes in one direction, dance it with the other foot in the other direction, and so gain a new figure.
An Alemana Is Not A Twirl—The Alemana Turn is an emotion-laden figure. There is promise and rejection, pursuit and reconciliation. If we dance it like an Underarm Turn or a Twirl, we’re dancing a whole different story.
Whip Her Across—The Whip, Cross Body, and Left Pass are three Latin figures in which the man gets to move the woman from one side of the partnership to the other. But they are by no means the same figure. The Whip is loose and appropriately "whippy." The Cross Body is a softer, more gentle turn. The Left Pass is used only in Bolero and is the most sophisticated and flirtatious of the three.
Bolero Cross Body and Left Pass—Both move the woman from one side of the man to the other. The Cross Body is done in closed position, and the left pass incorporates a partial wrap and roll across.
Left Side Pass & Freedom Of Expression—The Left Side Pass is a West Coast Swing figure in which the woman walks two and then dances two triples, as she passes the man on his left side. She can dance it with strong feeling, running away, with moderate intensity, or even with a cozy closeness.
Should We Dance the Figures or Dance the Dance?—Small figures, like a Hesitation Change or Change of Direction, are links between the figures before and after. They should be executed in a way that makes those figures flow smoothly.
Let's Cuddle—The Cuddle is a rumba figure whose name especially tells us to focus on our partner, to dance together.
Check, Checking, Contra Check—A Check is a step in which we stop and prepare to change direction. Checking is not a step, but is the process of stopping and preparing to change direction. A Contra Check is a check forward with contra-body action.
Foxtrot Bounce—In the Smooth rhythms, we are usually encouraged to rise and fall over the measures of music but are warned not to bounce on each beat. But quite a few foxtrots do call for some bounce, and it can add a light gaiety to a fun dance.
What Is A Switch? — A Switch involves a sharp turn, but the amount, direction, and number of steps all vary in different contexts.
The Switch In Slow Two Step — In slow two step, Switches are much like a progressive "man across; woman across;" or Open In and Out Runs (sqq; sqq;).
Position and Figure Photo Essays—Here are some photo essays that discuss and illustrate many of our dance positions and some of our basic dance steps and figures, especially those that create a "picture."
One Figure, descriptions of selected, single dance figures.
Round About by Roy & Phyllis Stier ©
Round Dance Tips by Tim Eum ©

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Dance Rhythms —

Beginning Two-Step—It is ironic that the Two-Step is the rhythm that many round dancers first learn — it is one of the staples of a square-dance/round-dance evening — and yet the Two-Step is a difficult rhythm to learn.
Beginning Waltz—Lloyd Shaw came up with this game that he played with his begining waltz students. Instead of starting with the basic waltz step: forward, forward, close; he asked them to take a big step, a medium-sized step, and then a little step.
Two-Step Waltz—The two-step waltz is an old style of waltz that is not done much anymore, so this is something of a historical digression. On the other hand, you might just like to try this slightly different rhythm (freestyle ballroom; there are no round dances like this).
Foxtrot & Quickstep—favorite rhythms.
Foxtrot Feels Like Skiing—The foxtrot has a floating, gentle kind of rise and fall, as it soars to the left and then to the right, much like snow-skiing.
Where Should We Put the Slow In Foxtrot?—Foxtrot timing is slow, quick, quick. We put the slow first. But, we shouldn’t feel constrained. One of the freedoms that dancers have is the freedom to play with the timing of the music, to borrow from a slow, or even from a quick, in order to linger over another step.
Slow Two Step Is Smooth and Flowing—It is not especially slow but is a smooth, flat, gliding, elastic style of dance.
Jive and Swing—What is the difference?
Swing and Jive are Different—Swing is a little more side to side, apart and together. Jive is faster and more up and down.
West Coast Swing and Jive—What is the difference?
West Coast Swing Figure Patterns—Two-count figures.
West Coast Swing Figure Patterns—Four-count figures and more.
Jive and Swing Deserve a Little Care and Precision, too.—It's easy to be too casual about swing dancing and think "it's all rock and roll to me." But even with a fast tempo, careful footwork and compact chasses or single rhythm can tame the dance, give us clean and attractive form, and make the dance comfortable, too.
If You Like Jive, You'll Like West Coast Swing, Too
Tango: Go, Stop—International Tango is a flat dance with no regular rise and fall, and it is characterized by a staccato emphasis on each beat and alternating rests and actions.
American Tango—There is International or English Tango, with its disciplined, sharp, and rapid footwork; Argentine Tango, smooth and languorous, with sensual leg sweeps, leg crawls, swivels, hooks, and flicks; and American Tango, which is said to contain the best features of the other two.
Argentine Tango and the Flirtatious Ocho—There are three styles of Tango in round dancing. International or English, American, and Argentine. Out of the three, Argentine Tango is the playful one.
Hustle, One Of Our Less Common Rhythms
Rumba and the Latin Hip — For "latin" action, step ball-flat, step to a straight leg, and allow your hips to roll through a smooth figure-8 over each pair of steps.
The Look of Bolero — The overall look of bolero comes from both latin and smooth features.

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Lead and Follow —

Leading Styles—We can recognize three different styles of lead and follow: the traditional man's lead, a more collaborative style, and the woman's reverse or back lead.
Pitfalls In Lead and Follow—In lead and follow, there are several pitfalls to watch out for and to avoid.
Move Your Body First—In taking a dance step,we must give as much thought to the movement of the body as we do to the movement of the foot. 
Adjust To Your Partner—A big part of dancing is adjusting to your partner as you go. The woman does this as a part of following, but the man cannot simply lead. He must lead, read his partner's movements, and adjust.
Dance In Response To Your Partner—Our dancing becomes smooth only when we pay primary attention, when we watch, feel, and respond, to our partner.
Attend To Your Partner—The cues, the figures, even the music are just the context within which you are "partnering" someone else, so it is important to attend to your partner.
Lead and Follow in the Swing Rhythms—In the swing rhythms, lead and follow come from the toned frame, as usual, but at a remove, through joined hands.
Lead and Follow in West Coast Swing—In leading, it is important not to rely on the hand and arm only. If the man wants to lead the woman forward, he must not pull her to him with his arm. Instead, both he and she must maintain toned arms. He steps back, not pulling, but drawing her toward him with his whole body. He “takes her with him.”
Leading An Underarm Turn—When leading a turn, get your joined hands up and over her head, but don't forcefully twirl her.
Lead That Hockey Stick—We can reclaim some of the fun in well-known dance figures if we think beyond the steps and focus on lead, follow, and connection with our partner.
Give Her Leg A Nudge—The man leads his partner using body rotation, sway, and rise and fall. A category of lead that might deserve extra consideration is the nudge - a gentle and subtle push with the foot, knee, thigh, and/or hip. Lead and follow is communication between partners, and a “little nudge” can be a surprisingly clear and comfortable signal.
Anticipate the Check—To check in dance is to stop our progression in one direction and, more or less suddenly, to continue to dance in some other direction. If we don’t anticipate the Check and communicate with each other, the sequence will be rough.
Lead With Lead Hands Low—In the Latin rhythms, the man’s lead is often solely through his left hand. One way to lead more comfortably is to keep those lead hands low. 
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Dance Styling —

Efforts We Can Make To Improve All Our Dancing — Fifteen basic principles that are helpful in all dance rhythms.

Smooth Your Dancing — You can dance more smoothly if you maintain good dance position, develop quick responsiveness and strong mental focus, and if you make use of lead and follow.

Icing On the Cake—Good dancing is much more than the dance steps. Here are six features of styling that can produce grace, shape, and flow—body frame, floating, dancing on the diagonal, side lead or contra body action, rise and fall, and body sway.
Dance Frame—Good frame means a toned and stable upper body with the torso stretched, the arms up and heads left. It is good posture.
Float—A floating dance is one in which the body never stops but is always moving in smooth, graceful arcs centered and on balance over both feet.
Dancing On the Diagonal—Dancing on the diagonals produces a soft, flowing pattern—a little into the center, then back toward the wall—a wave-like motion, something more like natural flow and less like plane geometry in school or soldiers marching in straight lines.
Side Lead—Just as dancing looks better if your progression is along curves and diagonals, rather than down straight lines, so does it look more graceful if your body is gently angled.
Rise and Fall—Rise and fall gives a whole new layer, a third dimension, of natural flow and movement to our dancing.
Body Sway—Walking is pretty much straight up and down. Our dancing will be much more interesting if we make use of body sway, the inclination or tilt of the body to the right or to the left.
Matching Body Lines—A Fred & Ginger photo showing that the shape of the body can be pleasing and can add to the beauty of the dance.
Squeeze the Trigger—Muscle tone throughout the body can eliminate the jerks and bangs and give smooth flow to your dancing.
The Long and the Short Of It—Partners of different height or size can dance smoothly together if you adjust your frames to match your partner, tone your frames so that you can both communicate clearly, and finally adjust your movements to those of your partner.
Dancing Is Not Walking—Two strategies to make your movements feel more like dancing are anticipation/preparation and rise/fall.
Playing With Waltz Timing -- Spin and Twist—Waltz timing is 123, but sometimes it feels good to depart from the standard.


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