Some notes about ballroom dancing

I’ve resumed ballroom dancing, which I first learnt (not very well) as a student, then took up again a few years after graduation, and again more recently, eventually improving and sometimes being the best male dancer in the class (not actually very good, I suspect; it was mostly a fairly basic class). The classes I’ve been to in the past few years have done a fairly small range of dances, whereas the club I’m now in does a much wider range (as I remember from my undergraduate days); so I’ve joined as a beginner, even though I know some of the dances fairly well.

It seems that there’s something that dancing teachers take for granted but which many beginners don’t realize (I didn’t when I first learnt), and that’s that for most dances, the feet move alternately: dances such as the waltz and the foxtrot/quickstep are basically modified walks. I’ve seen people puzzling over which foot to move next; it’s really not that difficult: it’s always the one which has not just moved.

In fact, while people usually learn the waltz procedurally (in computer science terms) a declarative definition of it makes it a lot easier.

Let’s start with the order of the feet. For those who don’t know: the waltz is in 3/4 time, that is, three beats to the bar. So, the movements are structured in groups of three steps.

Here’s the way walking, running and marching work, divided up as two beats to the bar, followed by how waltzing works:

march:_L___R_|_L___R_|_L___R_|_L___R_|_L___R_|_L___R_|
waltz:_L___R___L_|_R___L___R_|_L___R___L_|_R___L___R_|

Observe that the lefts and the rights are just the same; only the bar lines are different.

Note that the partners are normally standing facing each other, or, for the most co-ordinated movement, in front-to-front contact.

The next rule is that the basic step consists of a step forward or back (one partner steps forward, the other back) on one foot, then a step sideways with the other, then a “close”, bring the foot that moved first to join the one that moved second. Working out which direction the sideways motion is is easy: it’s in the direction that foot is free to move in (i.e. if it’s the left foot, it moves to your left; if your right foot, it moves to your right); although there are some steps that get your legs crossed, these are relatively rare, and are not part of the basic steps for common dances.

The waltz moves along the line of dance partly because the sideways steps are curved (without this, it would be rather like the rumba box step). The two partners move in arcs of concentric circles, and the centre of the arcs is behind the person who has stepped back. So, if you’ve just stepped back, you should normally make your side step quite small, so your partner can get round you.

(More declarative waltz definition rules to be added later, I expect.)

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One Comment

  1. Posted 2011/02/14 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for some great insight and tips on ballroom dancing. You make it sound a lot simpler than it often appears. Having some solid ground to build on will certainly help many of us get braver on the dance floor! The side steps are always tricky, and getting the alternating step patterns to the bar is too. If we can get used to starting each new bar with a different foot, it might just work!! Thanks again. Good stuff!


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