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:
- Your weight is always traveling backward through the foot as you lower, regardless of the direction of the following step.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.