Archive for the ‘Rise’ Category

In both Waltz and Quickstep there are several basic figures which require us to CLOSE and LOWER on the same step. In addition there are figures like the WHISK which, while not strictly a closing action, require the same kind of control and balance to execute.

At first glance the closing action would seem to be simple, but in reality it requires a lot of control and excellent balance to produce closing actions that are clean, smooth and leave you prepared for the next step.

Unlike the moving steps which lower, where we alter sequence the transfer of weight relative to the footwork to ensure that the weight passes through the foot in the desired direction, there is really only one sequence we use. The difference in whether we move forward or backward off the closing step is not determined by the sequence, but by whether when weight is transferred onto the closing foot, it is directed to the front of the foot or the back of the foot.

Here is an exercise to help you learn how to close and lower with a great degree of control and balance:

  • Stand sideways next to a step (bottom step of a staircase, single step at a doorway, whatever you can find). A step that is less tall is actually better for this exercise than a one which makes you step higher.
  • Stand RIGHT foot nearest the step, weight on the flat of the LEFT foot.
  • Place the ball of the RIGHT foot up on the step near the edge with the heel of the RIGHT foot held as high as you can.
  • Transfer weight onto the ball of the RIGHT foot making sure the heel does not lower.
  • Straighten the RIGHT leg, again, making sure the heel of the RIGHT foot does not lower, and allow the LEFT foot to be drawn up so that is it completely off the floor and hanging next to the RIGHT foot.
  • Balance in this position for a moment. The legs should be straight but not locked, with 100% of your weight on the RIGHT foot.
  • Bend the RIGHT knee, still keeping the RIGHT heel high off the step.
  • Without transferring any weight onto the LEFT foot, allow the toes, ball, and then flat of the LEFT foot to touch the floor.
  • Once the LEFT foot is completely flat start to transfer weight onto that foot by allowing the LEFT knee to start to bend. It is very important that you never transfer weight onto a stiff leg.
  • This is the moment when you want to TARGET your balance to either the front of the LEFT foot or the back of the LEFT foot:
    • Target the front if the next step is backwards
    • Target the back if the next step is forwards
  • Continue to bend BOTH knees as you transfer 100% of your weight onto the LEFT foot.
  • Make sure that at no point do you allow the RIGHT heel to drop.
  • Continue to bend the knees until you reach the desired depth with 100% of your weight on the LEFT foot and the RIGHT foot completely free, RIGHT knee high and RIGHT heel well off the floor with only the tips of the toes of the RIGHT foot making light contact with the floor.

Repeat this action of stepping up, using the big muscles of the thigh to lift you, balancing, then lowering, again using the big muscles of the supporting leg to lower you and place the free foot flat before transferring.

Target the front of the foot several times. Then target the back several times. Once you can smoothly control both the rising and the lowering, choosing which part of the foot you will place the weight over, switch to the other foot and repeat the exercise stepping up onto the LEFT and lowering onto the RIGHT.

This action of using the supporting leg to lower you as you close allows you to easily move either forward or backward after the closing step. If you transfer weight to the ball of the closing foot, you create several problems:

  1. Your weight is always traveling backward through the foot as you lower, regardless of the direction of the following step.
  2. You are using the small muscles and delicate bone structure of the foot to control your entire body weight, as your weight shifts backward, rather than having a stable position over the ball of one foot and using the big muscles of the leg to control the movement. This makes balancing while you lower more difficult.
  3. It is difficult to coordinate the bending of the knee with the lowering of the heel, making it more difficult to control the timing of the lowering action.
  4. Although we haven’t discussed this topic yet, as you lower are you also very likely to be changing sway and upper body shape. Add that complexity to picture, and having the greater degree of control this technique offers is a substantial benefit.

I would like to credit Debbie Avalos for teaching me this technique of closing and lowering. It was truly a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to work with her.

I hope you find this technique as useful in your dancing as I have.

In the previous post, we looked at lowing while moving forward, both to change to backward, and to continue moving forward. Now it is time to look at lowering while moving backward.

Again, we have two fundamental actions: Moving backward to continue backward; and moving backward to change to forward. Unfortunately, the situation is slightly more complex than just direction, since we must also consider the footwork of the previous step.

In Waltz, we will generally be moving backward off a TOE. In Foxtrot, we will often be moving backward from a flat foot (footwork of TOE HEEL and No Foot Rise).

Another difference is that Leaders are more likely to encounter certain actions, and Followers others. In fact, there are certain combinations of rise, footwork and direction that are unique to Leaders and a different set that are unique to Followers. (True for forward actions too, but less significant to the discussion.)

Let’s start with something that both Leader and Follower actually DO. The general motion is backward to continue to backward. The specific step Right Foot Side & Slightly Back with the next being Left Foot Back (Partner outside), and the previous step having a foot of TOE.

For Leaders this is the 4th step of a Progressive Chasse to Right. For Followers it is the 3rd step of an Outside Change, or the 6th step of the Basic Weave or Weave From PP in Waltz, as well as the 4th step of a Chasse from PP, the 3rd step of the Closed Telemark, the 4th step of the Turning Lock. As you can see, there are many examples for the Follower than the Leader. And those are just the ones from the basic syllabus.

When you consider steps other than Side & Slightly Back there are several similar actions which the Leader has in other figures (3rd step of Open Natural, 4th step of Back Lock, etc.) as well as many others for the Follower. So in general looking at Moving Backward to Continue Backward (next step back with partner outside) is a good place to start.

  • Stand high on the balls of both feet with the legs straight but not locked, and the heels well off the floor, and FACING CENTER OF HALL.
  • Place the edge of your RIGHT hand into the crease between your hip and the top of your RIGHT thigh, little finger touching the body.
  • Point the RIGHT foot side, toes still in contact with the floor, but do NOT allow your body weight to shift (either forward or backward.)
  • Slide the toes of the RIGHT foot slightly backward (approximately 1/2 the length of your own foot, weight still on the ball of the LEFT foot.
  • Several things need to happen at once:
    • Draw the edge of your RIGHT hand UP the crease
    • Toe in slightly on the RIGHT foot so that the HEEL of the RIGHT foot is moving to point toward Diagonal Wall (DW)
    • Transfer weight from the ball of your LEFT foot to the toes of your RIGHT foot
    • Bend your RIGHT knee
    • Raise your RIGHT hip slightly with the drawing motion of your hand
    • Rotate your center RIGHTWARD toward the toes of the RIGHT foot
    • Project the head weight forward, leftward and upward
    • As the weight transfers into the front of the RIGHT foot, allow the LEFT knee to bend
  • Transfer your hip weight back and forward between the two feet several times repeating the simultaneous group above until all the elements are synchronized.

Remember, you are trying to create a position that will allow your partner to step FORWARD outside partner while you step BACK with your LEFT foot. The Outside Partner position requires that your center is 1/8 of a turn to the RIGHT of the alignment of your feet, so if the alignment of your RIGHT foot is BACKING DW, then your center needs to be FACING COH.

In addition to allow the space for both you and your partner to be able to move outside of each other your right hip needs to be higher than your left hip.

Of all the aspects of Rise and Fall, LOWERING is perhaps the most difficult to truly master. And the written technique simply does not address at all the complexity of this topic.

Fundamentally, LOWERING is bending the knees while maintaining a clear vertical posture and consistent relationship with partner. But exactly what happens when you lower is determined by the step you are taking as well as the next step that you will take. The combinations create five (5) separate distinct ways in which you can lower:

  1. Moving Forward to continue Forward
  2. Moving Backward to continue Backward
  3. Moving Forward to change to Backward
  4. Moving Backward to change to Forward
  5. Closing

Probably the most common lowering action is the first listed: Moving Forward to continue Forward. This is because in Closed Position and Outside Partner, approximately half the time we will move forward into the next step, plus if we are in Promenade or Counter Promenade Position, our next step will also be forward. Thus mastering this technique will give us the most return for our investment of effort.

First, we need to understand our goal. We want to move smoothly from the end of one figure into the start of the next one. All lowering steps have a footwork of TOE HEEL. In addition, (virtually) all figures end with a LOWERING action at the end of the figure. (We are excluding Tango since it has no rise.)

We need to sequence the action of TOE HEEL with the transfer of weight onto the foot and with the bending of the knees to create the correct movement of body weight through the foot.

In the case of moving forward to continue forward, we need the hip weight to move from the back of the foot through the arch into the toes. In order for this to happen, the weight must actually transfer onto the foot starting at the heel, even though the footwork is given as TOE HEEL. Although this is the most common action, it is not the easiest to understand, so lets start with one that is a bit more simple to grasp: Forward to change to Backward.

When taking a forward step that lowers, and is followed by a backward step, we want the hip weight to actually CHANGE direction, i.e., it our weight was moving forward through the standing foot, and now we want it to move backward through the standing foot: from toe to heel.

Lets look very closely at this effect.

  • Stand high on the balls of both feet with the legs straight but not locked, and the heels well off the floor.
  • Point the LEFT foot forward, toes still in contact with the floor, but do NOT allow your body weight to shift (either forward or backward.)
  • Transfer the weight forward onto the ball of the LEFT foot, keeping the LEFT heel well off the floor. Make sure you transfer 100% of your weight onto the ball of the LEFT foot, keeping the RIGHT leg straight (but not locked) behind you.
  • Now start to bend BOTH knees while allowing the LEFT foot to lower to the floor so that the LEFT heel touches the floor, but the weight is still primarily over the ball of the foot.
  • The RIGHT knee should be pointing directly to the floor and the RIGHT foot should NOT collect forward.
  • Once the LEFT foot is flat continue to bend the knees allowing the hip weight to start to move backward from the ball to the arch and toward the heel.
  • Clearly at this point the next step wants to be BACKWARD. Our weight has changed from moving forward on when we took this step to moving backward into the next step.
  • Quite literally the spine moved forward, then down, then back.

Repeat this action several times until you have complete control over the speed of lowering and timing and direction of weight transfer. Once you are confident that you can do it well, switch to stepping from the LEFT foot onto the RIGHT foot and repeat until you have equal control.

We have created a specific sequence involving footwork, knee bend and weight transfer which causes the desired effect:

  1. Place the foot (TOE)
  2. Transfer weight forward onto the foot (still TOE)
  3. Start the knee bend (still TOE)
  4. Complete the footwork (HEEL touches floor, foot now FLAT)
  5. Complete the knee bend, weight transferring from ball toward heel

The nice thing about this particular step is that for most people it is fairly easy to feel the weight move forward, come down and then shift backward.

Now, lets look at a slightly more challenging weight transfer: Moving Forward to continue Forward: